I hate pretending. Really, I hate that I feel like I need to pretend. I sometimes find myself putting on a different face for the group I’m with. Like there’s another version of me. This can happen for a number of reasons and while a few are at least logical (in the workplace, for example) I always walk away feeling just a little gross. I think most of the time it starts off with decent intentions like wanting to make a good first impression. First impressions are incredibly powerful. But speaking and acting like something I’m not, even if it’s not a huge stretch, is exhausting.
Integrity is what is at stake when we’re not allowing ourselves to live with the same attitude all the time. When people think of the word integrity, they often see it as a moral or ethical backbone. Something adhered to even in the toughest of times. This is true but the word has a lot more weight than that. Integrity also refers to the state of being whole or undiminished. All parts of a body working together with their identity in harmony. Physically, when our cells start to work against us they’re called cancerous. Unity of all parts of the whole is essential to health, both physically and emotionally. This applies to families, work, and the church body as well. We all have many roles that require different things at different times. I am a husband, son, brother, friend, coworker, stranger, and church member. These roles are all integral in who I am. But by allowing concern about my perception in these roles to change how I act, I don’t give others the chance for intimacy that allows for a real relationship. I don’t allow myself to be whole and my ability to serve others is severely limited. This also causes stress in my own life that can be incredibly damaging.
When I really take a step back to look at why I feel the need to wear a different mask for each group of people in my life, I really only ever find myself to blame. My family doesn’t need to feel that I’m happy to be around them, they need to know it. My friends lose out when I sweeten my stories as I tell them and place importance in my speech in something I think they’ll be have more interest instead of just speaking from my heart. Having different masks for each group I associate myself with isn’t just a conflict of interest but leads to a conflict within my own heart. Instead of being able to speak with conviction on something, I can find myself searching for the answer that’s appropriate for the person I’m talking to. In turn, this person never truly gets to meet me. I think we can often find ourselves in this position because we feel like we’re not enough on our own. But God sees us as something pretty special. And he’s not interested in how we present ourselves to him. In 1 Samuel 16:7 it says, But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Man. That’s powerful stuff. Jesus sees me for exactly who I am on the inside. And still he cares enough to have paid a price of death for me. He’s seen exactly how spiteful, angry, proud, and vile I can be.. And loves me anyway.
All of these are important words. These are the words you use to discern things you don’t know. They’re the words used to describe situations and outcomes and reasoning. In the courtroom, lawyers use these questions and evidence to prove a case. I am of the mind that far and away the most important of the bunch is why. Everything else can fall into place after knowing the answer to that question.
Imagine standing in front of a burning building. The blaze is ferocious, with the flames quickly devouring the structure. You can feel the heat swell from what is an otherwise safe distance. The cause looks lost for it and all its contents. Imagine now that I’ve asked you to go inside, facing sure danger. How you’ll get in probably doesn’t even cross your mind, you want no part of facing those flames. When is something that probably seems absurd at the moment, with the clear time of danger being now. But imagine if I had told you that a loved one of yours was inside. Now the answers to those other questions become less like objections and more like obstacles. You know you’re ready to enter the burning building as soon as you can, by an means necessary, to retrieve the one you love. All because of why.
Now, I hope that the visual I just described never comes up in your life but I think that it lets us see why as more than a question. My why is my motivation, my driving force, the question that dictates the relevance of any and all other questions in life. I think too many times in life I can get caught up in thinking of terms of who, what, or when. As I’ve gotten older, I especially find myself zeroing in on when. I should be here already, or have accomplished this work or social thing. I look at my age as something to grade the rest of my doings. Sometimes, my eyes drift over to what I don’t have. That nice new car or the body that I don’t have. I can find myself wishing I had relationships with certain people or at least better communication with the ones that I do. All of this looking for these other questions to fulfill me just leaves me wondering why I operate like that.
I believe that affirming your convictions and knowing your reason behind your actions ahead of everything else allows you to live more intentionally. To move with a greater purpose and not be swayed by the thoughts and feelings of others. I don’t think that having this focus is possible all of the time or that it’s always easy to come into an understanding of. It takes a lot of personal reflection. But I believe that knowing the answer to that one question in our life allows us to hold to an identity that others cannot devalue. For me, I know that I am loved by others and called to love those around me. To love them to the point that I would love myself. I’m not always very good at that. In fact, I can be pretty awful at it sometimes. Especially when I allow those other questions to define where I’m headed in life. But I can rest in the fact that Christ loves me, though I don’t know why. So I can find it easier to know why I should take steps to love others.
The chorus of the Newsboys song ‘Shine’ makes me think of what allowing your why to be Christ’s love really should be like.
Make ’em wonder what you’ve got
Make ’em wish that they were not
On the outside looking bored
Let it shine before all men
Let’em see good works, and then
Let ’em glorify the Lord
I feel tired. Not just physically, though between work and today being a training day for my upcoming 5k, that factors in too. Sometimes you run into periods in your life that truly test your resolve. Sometimes you feel like giving up or running from the issue is really the only thing that would bring you any peace. These are the times that our faith is tested. Shortcuts are often easy to find. Real integrity doesn’t always bring any instant satisfaction. Relying and waiting on God to bring us through the situation can be rough. But following our heart can be deadly. In Jeremiah 17:9 the Bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”
I think we live in a time where the heart is both under and overvalued. We make huge life decisions based off of where our heart sits that day. If our heart can so easily be wrong, why is it that we don’t put ourselves into prayer and lead our heart more often towards the right way? If the heart lead to a righteous path, then our need for instruction and faith would be non existent. I’m not very good at placing myself into a position to succeed without God’s help. But when led the right way, our emotions can be a powerful tool. Granting us the ability to love and serve with a greater passion. Allowing us to be empathetic towards those in pain. Going back to help those who’ve wronged us. But living in a society that is so preoccupied with appearances, we often downplay the ways the heart can help. We men are especially bad at caring more about not looking soft than we are letting a good friend know that we care that he’s having a hard time. The care we show those people close in life is love. I love my family. I love my friends. I do my best to show love to those I don’t know. Jesus said that loving God with all of your heart, soul, and mind was the greatest commandment. The second greatest being to love your neighbor like you love yourself. He’s called us to use our love to bless those around us. I don’t believe we can do that while only following our hearts, as it will rarely put us in a place to serve. I think that means that we also should be bold enough to love those around us with purpose.
Thanks for reading and God bless.