When Living with Integrity Became Optional
It was high noon in June of 2016 and I was wiping my forehead with an already drenched shirt. Right around the corner from my house is a neighborhood outdoor rec center. It has tennis courts, a few baseball diamonds, a playground, and a big open field for flag football. I take my dog there regularly and do makeshift boot camp workouts. I was just halfway through and cursing myself for choosing to get my workout started at the hottest point in the day and questioning, as I do every summer, why I continue to live in Florida (an inkling that always disappears mid-January). I sat down for a breather and began thinking through the rest of my workout. For this particular day, I’d chosen a pyramid structure – 100 reps of a cardio exercise, then 90 of a resistance exercise, then 80 of a cardio, and 70 of a resistance, all the way down to 10.
I played sports as a kid through high school and during nearly every workout I can still hear one-liners from coaches of my past – both good and bad. One of my favorite coaches always preached the parallels of sports to life. He always said how you practice a game would reflect how you do life on a day-to-day basis. If we cut corners on the court or the field, we would cut corners in everyday life. It was easy to work hard for him.
In the moment of reflecting back on my workout, I swallowed a tough truth: I’d not actually finished one leg of my workout. On every level of the pyramid I’d stopped a few reps short of the total goal before moving on to the next. That’s not how I want to do life, but in that moment I started considering all the ways stopping short had already bled through. If I was willing to stop short in something as inconsequential as a workout, how many other areas of my life had been compromised? It was in that reflecting God gave me vision into all the ways I had let living with integrity become optional.
I immediately remembered so many things I’d exaggerated unnecessarily – and there were many. Is it lying exactly? No, but it’s close enough. Why the hyperbole when the truth is all there needs to be? I was rounding up by a few minutes on my timesheet at work – if I left at 5:12 PM I called it 5:15 PM. And no, it’s not a lot but it’s still inaccurate – even one minute is inaccurate. I think what’s more important is what it reveals about where my heart was. I wasn’t showing up to things I’d agreed to attend. Call it flaky. I’d say I’d be somewhere knowing I had no intention of going and then text a few minutes before, politely bowing out with a half-hearted excuse Stevie Wonder could see through. I even realized I was seeking short cuts in housekeeping and finances and work habits and development rituals and almost every other way I could.
Let’s talk about how practice reflects how you do life: measure how you clean the house against other habits. It’s amazing the parallels it has to life and it’s easy to see how the whole “sweeping the mess under the rug” analogy came around. These are not things that happen in a day’s time, and as I looked back, I saw a slow progression over a two to three year course that led me to the place of optional integrity. It’s scary how insignificant these choices seem until they’re stacked one on top of the other and you’re on tip toes trying to see over the pile. It’s even scarier how many ways these ‘insignificant’ choices actually do affect a life. Coach was right.
Renaut van der Riet is the founder and teaching pastor of the church I attend. He’s a remarkably gifted teacher and he provides historical context in a way that nourishes a deeper understanding of, and practicality in, the gospel. In a Palm Sunday sermon, Renaut teaches about Jesus’s ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, and the steps He took to save us before He ultimately hung on the cross. I’d never realized the fact that the first thing Jesus does once He’s arrived, is clean house. He comes into the temple and turns the tables upside down to run merchants out. His house is a mess (difference being, I made my mess and He had nothing to do with His). He comes to save the world and the very first thing He does is look inward and clean out. Duly noted.
I thought it would be a slow climb out of optional integrity but it wasn’t. I simply began doing what I knew needed to be done. It was like a light switch – and it started with finishing the reps in my workout. Then, believe it or not, I made it a practice to deep clean my house once a week. It literally became a form of worship. So weird.
What’s true is we will all have times in our lives when we aren’t doing what we need to be doing. And regardless of how much integrity we want to live with, there always be times when we make choices to the contrary. Next time it’s easy to skip a rep, or call out, or mindlessly exaggerate, or sweep something under the rug, stop to consider what else might be going on that’s making that choice so easy. It might be time to turn over tables and call it a hunch, but I think you’re going to like it.