Not what my hands have done can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears can bear my awful load.
Your voice alone, O Lord, can speak to me of grace;
Your power alone, O Son of God, can all my sin erase.
No other work but Yours, no other blood will do;
No strength but that which is divine can bear me safely through.
— Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889
I attended last weekend a birthday celebration for a 90-year-old man, my stepfather. Surrounded by his family and basking in their love, he was eventually reduced to tears of joy. Clear in his own remarks was the comfort of his awareness that he had generally lived life well and upright, as much as a man can in this fallen world. Not perfect, but comfortable in his knowledge of forgiveness and in his gratitude for grace. He felt the love and knew it was real.
The word “integrity” was spoken in reference to him and I found myself envying that, amazed that he had traversed nine decades and maintained his integrity in the minds of those who had seen him travel through.
On the drive back home, through a gentle rain and a descending darkness, I pondered my fewer decades and the truth of integrity-lost. In my life, I had not taken the road less-traveled. I had not even taken the more familiar path of the many. Wielding my self-made machete, I thrashed my way right through the middle of the overgrown thorny wilderness, and in the weariness of wandering through the tangled vines and thistles, I had tossed aside the good things that can weigh us down when we seek our own way. Including integrity. I made my own way, fashioning a route that reflected some unfortunate influences that came upon me, yet . . . I made my own choices.
Those of us who stray can certainly point to the occasional forced detour, but, ultimately we bear the responsibility for where we have been and where we are and where we will yet go. A light was always available on the darkened path; I often turned away from it as if it were a glare and not a guide.
Man seems so often to want the garden on his own terms. A little tending here and there to be rewarded by pleasures not planted for our benefit, but which entice us to lay aside the tools a bit and seek desperate respite. In creep the weeds, choking away what once nourished, until there is a barrenness that becomes a depleted and depressing landscape on poisoned soil. Integrity traded for skewed gratification or to fill a gnawing and misunderstood emptiness.
It is not for man to direct his steps. — Jeremiah 10:23
That would be “any man.” It was not right for me to direct my steps . . . or to choose steps in reflection of others’ direction. I did both. I made choices to please myself on occasion and I made choices — good and bad — to please others. When I tried to emerge from the darkness, it was often because I was yearning for the good light of others, for approval. I would follow the direction of perhaps well-intentioned men — ministers — rather than pursuing only God. The two could certainly align, but often do not. I would find myself so wanting to be seen as repentant and restored that I would agree to any plan set forth . . . just to have everything look right again . . . in the eyes of men.
“I promise,” I would say. “I’ll do whatever you say.”
But I tell you, Do not swear at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. — Matthew 5:34-37
I must be honest and say that I did not respect the men who established the plan, but I pledged to fulfill it anyway. I went from one long search for approval from men — grappling with my broken sexual identity — to another search — thirsting for spiritual approval. From men. The evil one worked in both situations. The result? A doubling-down in my slipping search for integrity.
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. — Galatians 9:10
I wish I were more of a sponge when it comes to the Word of God. I would have done more than just heard that you cannot please God and man. I would have lived it.
I know many men and women are precariously picking their way through life among the sharp shards of a shredded and tattered integrity. This is not where we wanted to be. We find ourselves here because there were a lot of places we should never have been. The question is: can integrity be reclaimed?
Indeed, it can. The pieces can be re-fitted and re-arranged and sewn together to create a tapestry of integrity that reflects past struggles in the brilliance of blinding restoration. The broken can shine. God does bless the broken road. Pull to the side and wave the white flag.
We re-establish our integrity by re-tracing the steps of its loss.
1. Depend on God. — A man or woman of integrity is someone who depends on God. I lost my integrity when I saw God as only a rescuer and not a rest. I did not rest in Him and wait on Him. I ran in front and called on Him when I fell in exhaustion. He was, of course, always there and I stood again because of His love, but I often left my integrity behind and ran on again.
2. Practice humility. — This does not mean to perfect a persona of humility. It means “be humble.” And, practice means just that: do it over and over until it becomes who you are. A man who seeks to satisfy himself without clarifying that satisfaction to be the will of God is not a humble man. I thought of myself as downtrodden at times because of a hunger; I sought to satisfy that hunger by whatever means pleased me. That is pride, not integrity.
3. Take responsibility for your actions. — As I said earlier, many of us who have struggled with sexual issues were exposed to harmful circumstances or were not exposed to good teaching and direction. We need to deal with those realities through the process of forgiveness of whoever harmed us or neglected us . . . and then allow the grace of God to heal us. Thus healed, we are responsible for our own actions. The blaming of others only creates a greater circle of blame; it doesn’t water down our own culpability. I’ve also discovered through time that most people don’t really care that much what caused me to stumble. They just want me to walk upright. In integrity.
4. Be diligent in good things. — Even the slightest amount of personal objectivity can lead us to a fairly accurate list of good and bad . . . if we are Christians. It’s not hard to know when we are doing bad things. We feel convicted. We suffocate in guilt. We fall beneath the weight of shame. We retreat to blame. We shy away from God because we are embarrassed to be called a son of God. Each breath is labored; we deny ourselves access to the Breath of Heaven. A person of integrity breathes freely.
5. Be obedient to God. — Often we confuse obedience to men — even church leaders — with obedience to God. If we are obedient to God, we won’t have to worry about being obedient to church leaders. God will provide the grace we need to do so and the place we need to be in to make their yoke as light a burden as is His. I think when we refuse to be obedient to God, He allows us to be broken down through the heavy burdens of enforced obedience, inflicted by men confused by our brokenness. Please God. The rest will take care of itself.
6. Be honest . . . good-hearted . . . faithful . . . kind . . . gracious . . . gentle in spirit. — Hiding in the swamp of sin is not honest. Being consumed with terror that others will see into the blackness of our heart is not being good-hearted. A double-life is not a reflection of being faithful; it is a sign of distrust in God. Being self-consumed makes us unkind. Pleasing ourselves above God and others is not gracious. Protecting ourselves and defending our impure ways detours a gentleness of spirit.
Does this seem like a difficult list? It’s not. It is relief and rest. Can you imagine what it would be like to live a life dependent on an all-powerful God . . . to be humble and not worry about impressing others . . . to willingly accept responsibility for our actions and stand corrected and strong . . . to welcome accountability . . . to be diligent in doing good . . . to be obedient to God and guilt-free . . . to be honest and transparent . . . to love others and be called upon by them for help because of our open graciousness and gentle spirit?
Does it sound hard? Are you worn out by all the flailing about that is a part of our instinct for survival in this world? Do you feel alone in your struggle?
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. — Matthew 11:28
We can walk in integrity. We are not bound by our past sins; we are not forced to move into a forced labor camp of legalism. We are invited to be partakers of grace. If someone is telling you that you can’t reclaim your integrity, then pray for their faith, for it is lacking. They’re telling you that God is not capable of restoring you. My fate rests in the hands of an almighty God, not an arbitrary one; a God who is more than capable of restoring me. A God who loves me and wants me back. There is no “worst sinner.” No matter what the weight is when we step out of the boat, the Hand extended bears us up.
At the end of the party, the 90-year-old man expressed his one wish. That everyone present live to be 90. I want to.