For most of my life I have struggled to live with integrity. If living in integrity means living a virtuous and moral life, I believe I do fairly well at it. If it means living a sinless life, I am a failure. Growing up in West Texas, I often heard the definition of integrity as, “walking your talk.” I judge that for most of my life I have imperfectly done that. I have struggled.
As a young adult, husband and father, I purchased every new Christian men’s book I could find on how to be the man God called me to be. I went to small groups, meetings with accountability partners, huge auditoriums and stadiums packed with other men in an effort to find the answer to my struggles.
What I heard and read could be summed up like this: “Stop sinning and you will have integrity. You must help each other stop sinning. Do what you say you will do, especially what you promise your wife, kids and church.”
As I pursued this approach, I continued to struggle with integrity. I mustered all of my will to stop sinning and yet I would still say and do things that the Bible calls sin. I met with accountability partners and we would report every week on the same struggles with sin that we reported on last week. I especially improved in doing what I promised my wife, children and church, although I still had moments of failure. With that working definition of integrity, the opposite of integrity would be lying. Dishonesty with my self and others seems costly. I lose respect and trust. Sometimes my dishonesty also costs those I love something.
A New Definition of Integrity
In my journey with The Crucible Project, I have come to view integrity differently. Integrity is about wholeness. It is the alignment of my head, heart and body. Integrity is being aware and welcoming all that I think, feel and do and lining them up as I strive to be all God has called me to be. Integrity means accepting that the things I dislike most about myself (things I hide and deny) are also a part of who I am.
With this new definition, the opposite of integrity is disintegration. It is when what I think, feel and do are out of alignment. When I have thoughts about how much I do not like someone yet I use my body to flatter and tell them otherwise, I am out of integrity. My wife wants to spend some time talking to me during the football game and I use my body to fain interest in her story while hiding anger about the interruption, I am out of integrity.
This definition fits hand in glove with Apostle Paul when he said, “I am not able to do the things I want; and at the same time, I do the things I despise… I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out. “
“Listen, I can’t explain my actions. Here’s why: I am not able to do the things I want; and at the same time, I do the things I despise. If I am doing the things I have already decided not to do, I am agreeing with the law regarding what is good. But now I am no longer the one acting—I’ve lost control—sin has taken up residence in me and is wreaking havoc. I know that in me, that is, in my fallen human nature, there is nothing good. I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out. I can determine that I am going to do good, but I don’t do it; instead, I end up living out the evil that I decided not to do. If I end up doing the exact thing I pledged not to do, I am no longer doing it because sin has taken up residence in me. Here’s an important principle I’ve discovered: regardless of my desire to do the right thing, it is clear that evil is never far away. For deep down I am in happy agreement with God’s law; but the rest of me does not concur. I see a very different principle at work in my bodily members, and it is at war with my mind; I have become a prisoner in this war to the rule of sin in my body. I am absolutely miserable! Is there anyone who can free me from this body where sin and death reign so supremely? I am thankful to God for the freedom that comes through our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One! So on the one hand, I devotedly serve God’s law with my mind; but on the other hand, with my flesh, I serve the principle of sin. Romans 12:15-25 (VOICE)
The True Cost of Lack of Integrity
In my personal work and in my journey with other men, I have come to realize that the separation and lack of alignment of head, heart and body are far more costly than what I had ever realized before.
- Energy – It requires energy to hide what I really think or feel. It takes energy to keep secrets.
- Gratitude & Happiness – The things I hide, repress and deny intrude into my thoughts and steal my joy.
- Meaning & Purpose – My attention is drawn away from finding and living in the mission that God built me to do.
- Relationships – What I want is incongruent with what I feel and what I do which results in distancing my self from the very ones I love the most.
- Closeness with God – I try to hide from God the very things He already knows about me. I move away and feel like He has abandoned me.
As John Ortberg puts it so well in Soul Keeping, “it distorts my perceptions, alienates my relationships, inflames my desires, and enslaves my will”.
The Path Toward a Life of Integrity
It makes sense that so many men “feel like my life is falling apart.” It is not out there… it is inside of me. My life isn’t falling apart … I am. It is not a behavioral issue or a thought problem or a lack of will… it is an identity problem. It is a brokenness of the soul. Willing myself to not sin anymore and being in accountability meetings with other men has not worked for me. I believe it has not worked because, like the Apostle Paul, the problem is deeper than that approach approximates.
The fact that we notice and care about our integrity breaches reflects a desire deep within us to become whole and to heal. As Parker Palmer in A Hidden Wholeness writes, “The divided life is a wounded life, and the soul keeps calling us to heal the wound.”
Our work to live in integrity requires us to face all that is true about who we are. It requires us to open our eyes to our wounded places. It means taking those things we hide, repress and deny and bringing them into the light where we can make conscious choices about what to do with them going forward. It requires us to do hard personal work at the soul level.
I have integrity when I align my thoughts, feelings, words and actions with my core values. I seek to align my core values with those of Jesus. I am not striving for self defined integrity. I want the wholeness and completeness that comes when that indefinable spark, Spirit, is added to the mix. – Athol Prior
I am thankful for The Crucible Project community, a community of authentic Christian men who help me continue to do my soul work and invite me into to their soul healing journeys. And the journey continues!
– By Roy Wooten
Roy completed his initial Crucible weekend in 2009 and has been the longtime leader of The Crucible Project community in Houston. Roy and his wife Devra have led over 135 of their Life Together Forever Couples Weekends and are the authors of The Secret to Lifetime Love: Speaking and Hearing Truth. He also authored Full Throttle Into Fatherhood and is the Executive Director of Shield Bearer Counseling Centers in Houston, Texas. Follow Roy at LifeTogetherForever.com.
Photo Credit: Quinn Domborwski