by Connie Armerding
I usually sat on the right side of the auditorium about midway to the back. Students gathered in clusters filling half of the seats in the auditorium.
My Psychology 101 course at Wheaton College was held during peak lunchtime hours. That particular day, I had slept in and missed breakfast, and as I walked into class, my stomach spoke loudly to get my attention.
My "hangry" pains convinced me to change my routine. My friend and I chose seats in the back row, hoping to slip out unnoticed after the quiz and make it to lunch before closing. With quizzes complete, we exited the building during our mid-class break.
It didn't go well.
Pushing through the double doors moving in the opposite direction of our classmates, our professor saw us. He followed us. Our pace quickened. So did his. We began to run. So did he. But his bow-tie and dress shoes were no match for our nikes. We kept running. Our professor relented, making his way back to the building. Despite getting caught, I did not turn around.
A lapse in judgment can lead to poor decisions. I got a zero on that quiz, paid for with my integrity.
That experience brought with it a painful moment of self-awareness. I was content with making a poor choice when no one knew about it. Guilt and regret rose to the surface after my lack of integrity was exposed, not due to my unwise decision.
Integrity is about being a person of character when everyone is watching, and being the same person when no one is watching. Living a life of integrity reconciles any difference between our inner and external lives. Doing so requires owning our mistakes, identifying what motivates our behavior, and entering into constructive communication with trusted friends who can help keep us on course.
My day as a runaway student was not my most severe incident in lacking integrity, but it was deeply formative. In recalling it, I remember how it felt not to reconcile my mistakes and face the discrepancy between the life I was projecting and the one I was living.
With the help and guidance of the Spirit, I learned vital lessons that have served me in reconciling my inner and outer self in pursuing a life of integrity.
Accepting that mistakes are instrumental in our maturing process is the first step towards owning our failures. We'll never achieve perfection but can grow with progress. Owning our mistakes reveals we believe we don't have to be perfect to be loved. Acknowledging our shortcomings strengthens our inner person, aligning with the belief we can grow, change and turn around.
Identifying the motivations underneath our behavior is the starting place of change. It's easy to go with the flow of culture, but where is it leading, and who are we following? It is crucial to identify who we are trying to impress. When that audience requires more attention and resources than the people who share in our daily lives, it's time for a motivation assessment. It was only when I was faced with the disapproval of my professor that my real motivations (of wanting to be *seen* as a good student even when I wasn’t one) were uncovered.
Our individualistic society celebrates phrases like "find your truth" and "you do you" pushing us away from living interdependently with others. Scripture challenges us to turn towards each other, instead. For example, at the end of his life, the prophet Samuel requested input from those he had led and served, inviting them to “testify against him” and give an honest account of how they had experienced his leadership (1 Samuel 12:4) The people of Israel responded, "You have not defrauded us or oppressed us or taken anything from the hand of anyone."
This exchange between Samuel and his community is a poignant example of integrity. Samuel was brave in inviting feedback. What would it take for us to ask those we are in relationships with about their experience of us? More importantly, are we ready for the answer?
Stories come full circle. It's been two decades since I ran out of that auditorium. I'm a student again at the same institution pursuing a graduate degree. My last course was in that auditorium. I returned to sitting on the right side, midway to the back. I walk up those steps and through the double doors I once ran out of.
I turned around.
I'm committed to the holy work of integrity:
• Aligning my beliefs and behavior
• Embodying my values
• Living interdependently with my community
Connie Armerding is an Executive Coach & Leadership Consultant at the Organizational Development Firm Living Wholehearted. She is passionate about equipping ministry and marketplace leaders through creating emotionally and spiritually healthy cultures among leaders and their communities. Connie is a member of the Propel Women Cohort at Wheaton College. She lives outside Portland, Oregon with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter!