We hear a lot about character and there are variations
of quotes that abound. Primarily, quotes about character involve being who we are when no one is looking. It also seems like there are twice as many authors as there are quotes. Now, I'm going to add my two cent worth and take it a step further by expanding the
quote to say that integrity of character is who we are when no one we know is watching. It is easy to let this aspect of upright living slide in our surface relationships. We tend to focus on appearances, often overlooking the
importance of the unseen and the perceived unseen.
I cannot think of any humorous stories to accompany my thoughts for this column.
Well, I can think of some, but they all would involve too much transparency on my part and I would like to have some modicum of respect from my readers. For example, there is the time I rode my friend's bumper all the way to
church because I was running late. Or the time I sat in the drive-thru growing increasingly impatient with the unmotivated youngster on the intercom
only to discover that she was my daughter's friend. I
suddenly found some patience and she suddenly found
some incentive. Those could be examples, but they are relatively mild; I have blocked
all the really bad stuff out of my memory.
I could talk about things I have seen other people do, but that might sound condescending and possibly lack authenticity. I could make something up, yeah? No. I guess my own personal examples will have to suffice.
So back to my "tail-gating" incident: when I got to the church and realized that the snail I was trying to run over was my friend's husband on his über-leisurely way to the same service in which I was going to help lead worship, I was chagrined. Likewise, when I got to the drive-thru window and found an acquaintance there, I changed my mind about the riot act I'd drawn up for her. (Note: it didn't necessarily change what I thought of her attitude, just how I acted about it.)
How I reacted in those fleeting relationships reflected who I really was inside. I glimpsed the raging beast. The beast that is locked away in its cage of propriety, yet still manages to cast a shadow over my carefully managed character.
Have you ever been irritated with another driver in traffic and then
realized that it was someone you knew? Interesting how that irritation
diminishes with the revelation, eh? It is times like that, though, that
are tell-tale; wee indicator lights on our spirit dashboard, flickering
to say 'you got a problem here, babe'. It's those times that we should
recognize the opportunity to reinforce integrity in our character.
many times do we drive impatiently or act otherwise unseemly and not
even realize it? It's those times when we are brought up short that give us a
glimpse into our character, allowing us a chance to increase our integrity and always behave
in ways that are becoming to a Christian, even when no one is looking.
Integrity of character shows up in how we relate to people we don't even know. I love the quote by Sam Johnson, "The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good." Integrity of character is when we treat the cashier at the mall with the same deference we'd treat the special speaker at the convention; it's realizing that all of our relationships matter. If we live that way consistently then it's not something we can pick and choose. Not that I'm saying we should all run out to the perfume counter and spill our guts to the first sales person who swoops in for the kill, but that we definitely should not shoot them out of the sky for doing what is instinctive to them in their habitat.
Integrity of character is applying what Paul said to the saints at Philippi, "...live in such a way that you are a credit to the message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance" (Philippians 1:27 The Message). The King James Version of that verse refers to our 'conversation' being becoming to the gospel Christ.
Of course Paul was speaking in a physical sense, but I think we can broaden the application of his instruction to include our lives as Christians, and specifically to our relational conduct. Our conversation is not just the words we speak, it is how we think and therefore how we act and live; when no one is looking, and when we think no one that matters is looking. Integrity of character is acting like you would if Jesus was looking.
Having strength of character is important for our relationships, but it is not enough. Our character must have integrity.