Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.
-H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Today, my son told me he was going to put me in jail, he ate a brownie behind my back, disobeyed me twice before breakfast, and my daughter likes to yell at him for being in her general vicinity. I believe twice in the last week I’ve gripped my son’s arms a little too hard, raised my voice too many times, used the the phrases “spoiled brat” and “deal with it,” and drank wine in their presence followed by the phrase “FINE. Don’t take a nap. Run around like a crazy maniac and see if I care.”
None of us are perfect. If that was the standard, we’d quit wasting time trying. But we all want our boys to someday be men of great worth, growing up tall and strong, kind to strangers and old women, perhaps playing a fiddle under the stars. And we desire our girls to be leaders in the world, not useless bleating goats, always truthful and fiercely passionate about the talents they have been entrusted. I lie in my son’s bed and cup my hand to his little cheek, the grime scoured off in a hot bath, and wonder how to help shape him into the man he is destined to be. And I catch myself staring at my daughter while she is curled up reading a book wondering how in the world I’ll help her understand that mean girls are just insecure little souls, starving for attention.
And a single word popped up over and over again in my mind. Like a smooth stone I turned it over in my mouth, rolling it around on my tongue. Integrity.
It comes from the Latin adjective “integar,” which means whole or complete. It’s a combination of honesty and consistency of character. To act in a way that is in accordance with the values and principles a person claims to hold. It’s the opposite of a hypocrite, who says one thing and does another. So what does it mean to really have it? To act it out? To model it to our children?
I don’t think you can teach it from afar. You can’t pray your kids open it up for Christmas. They are smart little devils. They figure it out if you’ve got a forked tongue. You have to live it. You don’t have an option to compromise if you want to raise children of integrity. It is you that they look to for an example of how to live in this fallen world. There are times I want to slack off and think my kids are too young to notice. But they are more valuable to me than diamonds, and I don’t have the luxury of time. And trust me – they always notice.
Here are 5 ways I’m trying strengthen my own integrity:
(1) Maintaining a tight inner circle. I’ve learned that while having a large group of friends is great for dinner parties, it’s the very small group of honest friends who make all the difference. The love they have for you is established and they want you to grow as a person. Is there anything I need to work on that I don’t see? Can I open up to this circle about my fears and insecurities? These people love me enough to be honest, whether it’s telling me I need to forgive or affirming me that I actually did something right for a change. And in return I do the same for them. Every single time, without fail.
(2) Honoring God, not People. You can’t possibly still be friends with him or hang out with her or do this or eat that after what’s happened, can you? How can you deal with the gossip? What about your own pride? What would people say? That’s crap, all that pride and shame talking. Tune it out. Ask yourself if you are honoring God, and whether you are respecting yourself, and how whatever “it” is furthers your own journey. Open up to your inner circle and pray often. Then follow your heart and let people say what they will
(3) Admitting when I’m wrong, and making amends. Whether this is apologizing to my three-year-old when I lose it completely or returning that errant pack of gum I didn’t notice slipped into my grocery cart until I’m at my car– these moments matter. My kids are watching how I handle the small stuff. If I’ve developed a pattern of bad choices, I can always clear the deck and begin again. As scary as it is to walk into someone’s office and say “Hey – I was wrong. I snapped at you and it was uncalled for,” it’s worth it.
(4) Refueling my Soul. It’s not selfish to need time alone to recharge, or to go off alone to pray. It’s not self-seeking to get away from your family in order to study the Bible, go for a walk, write, see a therapist, or cultivate friendships. You can give only as much as you have to give, and the more whole you are, the better you can serve and give to others. The only question is whether these activities are really supporting your family or whether they are a way for you to run from your problems. If they are the latter, it’s not refueling but depleting.
(5) Not Hardening My Heart: This one’s been the toughest. When tragedy strikes, people disappoint me so vastly, and when life’s so amazingly unfair, it’s easy to try and build a shell around myself and not let the pain in. One can lose faith, and stop trusting, and begin to be hardened to joy. Let your prayer be that your heart remains soft and open at all times: open to forgive, open to love, open to hear, and open to change. This openness is where real beauty happens.
Living a life of integrity is hard work. And yet we are responsible for raising up lives. Are we not the soil and sun and water in which these little people see what a moral fiber looks like? Do they see us on our knees, in humility and obedience to God? You can’t change the world – only the way your children live within it.
Let’s be the medium for which our children can flourish. Worry less about plucking the weeds from their midst and let them bloom in all their radiance right where they are planted, rising above and choking out hate with their consistent approach to love.