By my integrity I am defined. Out of that integrity I make the choices that become my life.
A friend was sitting at a conference table with colleagues at his company. He was struggling to be understood. Their legal counsel was explaining the nuances of what was technically within the letter of the law. Finally, my friend, somewhat exasperated, said, “I’m not asking if it’s legal. I’m asking if it’s right.”
Integrity . . . it’s doing the right thing when we know it’s the right thing to do. It’s who we are. It’s being true to the lives to which we have been called. It’s who we are when someone’s watching and when there is not a soul in sight.
It’s called integrity.
Integrity is vital throughout life. Our circumstances change. We grow and mature. We are always searching for what makes us whole, for what we believe, for who we are at our finest in each of life’s challenges and joys.
This...is an appeal for personal integrity, and it is a call for moral integrity. Personal integrity is when we are authentically the persons we were created to be. It means living a life of wholeness and congruence. Moral integrity is when we do what is right simply because we know it is the right thing to do. It means living a life of character and virtue. Integrity takes both.
...My goal is to help in the discovery of what it means to live as God created us, congruent with the life to which we are called.
In...writing I tell stories. Some come from my life, while most are drawn from the lives of others. You might think of these stories as metaphors. I think of them as parables.
Parable is an interesting word. Culturally, it has been shaped to mean “a story with a lesson,” but that is so much less than what the word originally meant. Parable meant “a placing beside,” from the Greek parabole, meaning “to compare.” A parable is something placed alongside something else to compare, to illuminate, and to understand it more clearly.1
Jesus’ stories were parables—stories he placed alongside the stories of our lives to illuminate them, to convey a meaning and depth we might never have seen before. Think of [my] stories in this...way—stories meant for you to place beside your story, to see if it turns on any new lights or resonates with your life, your integrity.
An elderly man once spoke out of the wisdom gained from a lifetime of rich experience. “As I have aged, my priorities have changed and narrowed. I am down to one. I focus on it daily, and my life is guided by it. It is, ‘Don’t fall.’ ”
Like that elderly man, my priorities have changed as well. The longer I live, the more I, too, focus on the fundamentals. “Don’t fall”: don’t fall away from the person God created me to be. I focus on this principle daily, and my life is guided by it.
By my integrity I am defined. Out of that integrity I make the choices that become my life.
Personal Integrity: A Life of Wholeness
“ Is not . . . the integrit y of your ways your hope?” Job 4:6
The story is told about Hendrik Kraemer, a remarkable lay missionary from the Dutch church who spent much of his adult life in Indonesia. He was in his native Holland when the Second World War broke out. The Gestapo dominated the nation of Holland, forcing Dutch Jews to places like Buchenwald and Dachau.
Late one night a group of Dutch laypersons came to see Hendrik Kraemer. They said to him, “Dr. Kraemer, what shall we do? Our neighbors are dying. We don’t know what is going to become of us as a nation. Please, please, if you can, tell us what to do. We have got to do something, and we have got to do it now.”
And Hendrik Kraemer said to them, “I am not going to tell you what to do, but I will tell you who you are. And if you know who you are, then you will know what to do.” He opened his Bible to 1 Peter and began to read:
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God as his own, to proclaim the triumphs of Him who has called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.”
Dr. Kraemer closed his Bible. “Do you know who you are?” he asked, “Then you’ll know what to do.” Thanking him, the group left his house. That night, they formed the Dutch Resistance.
I heard this account decades ago, and through all these years Hendrik Kraemer’s statement to that group remains a powerful anchor in my life.
“If you know who you are, you will know what to do.”
When faced with a difficult decision, when presented with an awkward dilemma, I have remembered.
In moments I seek to be grounded as the person I am, I remember.
When I seek to be anchored as the person God created me to be, I remember.
I remember it as I seek to live with integrity. I remember it when confusions, shallowness, expediency, and self-centeredness are pulling me away from what has character, what has authenticity, and what is right for me.
As a pastoral counselor, most of the people I see bring specific problems or issues with which they want to deal. We spend the time required to address them. And then, they may say, there is something more they need—something less specific, less welldefined, but equally important.
Life is good, but . . . Something isn’t quite in place. Something isn’t connecting. Something seems to be missing. In countless ways they may have it all. All, that is, except fulfillment, meaning, and joy. How empty it is to awaken without a purpose to the day. These people have lost touch with something precious.
They have lost touch with their depths, their wholeness, their congruence, their souls—with the person God created when God created each of them in their own uniqueness. They have lost their integrity, the very thing that keeps them together as a whole human being. They haven’t lost their way so much as they have lost touch with the person they are. Over the years I have come to see integrity for what it is—essential. It is required for anyone seeking to live, as Jesus put it, abundantly.
It is reported that Pablo Casals once had a young cellist play for him to get feedback from the master. When the young cellist had finished, Casals’s critique was spoken in a single sentence: “You hit all the right notes, but you didn’t play the music.”
This lack of integrity can be found in some of the finest people. They hit all the right notes. They live moral lives with charity and compassion. Yet they are empty and are seeking purpose. It isn’t quite depression they feel. It’s more like something is missing, something important isn’t aligned. They lack focus and direction. They don’t feel complete or whole. Integrity is missing.
So, what is integrity? The major dictionaries are similar in their understandings. The American Heritage Dictionary describes integrity as
The state of being unimpaired; soundness.
The quality or condition of being whole or undivided;
Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code.2
Two important understandings of the word emerge. First, integrity means wholeness. It involves living in harmony with myself—where my thinking and my feeling and my acting are in sync. This is when what I believe, and how I feel and the way I live are congruent.
Integrity comes from the Latin integer, meaning whole, integrated, complete. It is where my beliefs, convictions, thoughts, and behaviors are integrated together into my life. This first meaning of the term was in use before A.D. 1400.3
Then by the mid-sixteenth century a second understanding of integrity merged with this idea of wholeness, involving values such as honesty. The person of integrity intentionally follows a moral or ethical code. A major element in my completeness as a person is following the set of values in which I believe and by which I strive to live.
As Yale professor Stephen Carter put it, “Integrity, applied to a person, carries more than a sense of wholeness, because a person must have something to be whole about.”4 Moral integrity includes those convictions and commitments that define who I am, that shape the person I intentionally strive to be.
After Hendrik Kraemer made his profound statement, “If you know who you are, then you will know what to do,” he reached for his Bible. Integrity involves both the uniqueness of who I am as a person and the integration of the values and wisdom that guide me.
This first understanding of integrity involves being the person I am. The second involves being the person of faith I am. The former is my personal integrity. The latter is my moral integrity.
These two meanings of integrity comprise the two main parts of this book. The first, “Personal Integrity: A Life of Wholeness,” focuses on the discernment, the acknowledgment, and the living out of who I am as a person. In this first part, the chapter “Markers of Integrity” establishes the foundation of what integrity means and why it is of such importance. The dangers and pitfalls of disconnecting from our authenticity are addressed in the following two chapters, “Wandering Off Your Path” and “Three Detours.” The final chapter in this section, “Who Am I Now?” reminds us that lives of integrity are lives in process: though my core identity may remain largely unchanged, it will need to respond to new calls and be applied to new situations.
The second part of this book, “Moral Integrity: A Person of Values,” is about the virtues, values, and directions to which I commit myself as a person of faith. We will focus on the values we hold in common and those you personally hold as uniquely important in defining who you are.
This article is excerpted from If You Know Who You Are, You'll Know What to Do, by Ron Greer.
1. Eric Partridge, Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (New York: Macmillan, 1966), p. 468
2.The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000), p. 910.
3. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, Robert K. Barnhart, ed. (Edinburgh: Chambers Harrap Publishers, 1988), p. 535.
4. Stephen L. Carter, Integrity (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), p. 18.