To Live Freely: Part Twelve

Integrity)

There is a common saying: “do as I say, not as I do.” One typically gives it when exposed as not living what they preach. I must admit I feel a twinge of guilt every time I tell my children not to eat sweets before their dinner…but then I violate that rule myself all the time. It’s not that I don’t believe what I’m telling my kids, it’s just that I’m not as disciplined as I ought to be.

Of course, there is a great honesty in being able to admit that we aren’t living how we know we should. Being aware of this gap between our convictions and our behaviors is, in the conscientious person, the first step to closing that distance. One who is sincerely trying to rectify this inconsistency is acknowledging that they are not currently built upon the truth, but they are in the process of moving towards it.

If, on the other hand, we recognize the gap between our behavior and what is right, but we aren’t troubled enough by that difference to try and change, then we are living without integrity. We are pointing at the flaw in our foundation and saying, “I’m okay to live with that.” We are establishing for ourselves a hierarchy where the conscience is made inferior to our current level of comfort.

Which is, of course, is another character flaw. In fact, it is a more fundamental flaw than the one that we started with. As bad as any other shortcoming might be, even more damning than it is unwillingness to change. This is the one crack in our foundation that prevents all other cracks from being patched. One might notice a logical conundrum here: if one has the flaw of being unwilling to change, how can one change themself to stop being that way? Is their situation totally hopeless? Thankfully not! We have to remember that we are divine souls, not machines. Our flaws are not irreversibly programmed into us. We have the ability to choose the very things we have never been willing to choose before. Not only that, but we also have the capacity to be redeemed by divine intervention, having changes made in us by God that we did not have the power to make ourselves.

Progress, not Perfection)

Compare the mantra of “do as I say, not as I do,” to the oft-told story of Gandhi and sugar. It is said that a woman came to Gandhi, asking him to tell her son that he should cut sugar out of his diet. Gandhi agreed, but first asked the woman to leave with her son and come back a number of weeks later. The woman did so, and in the second meeting Gandhi gave the desired counsel to the son. The woman was grateful, but asked Gandhi why he couldn’t have just had the talk with her son when she came the first time. His response was that he could not tell the son to stop eating sugar, because at that time he was still eating sugar, too!

This story, whether true or not, illustrates the principle of choosing to change oneself rather than be a hypocrite. This isn’t to say that we must all be perfect before we can advocate for what is true, but at the very least it should be expected that we are actually, genuinely trying to do the things we counsel to others.

This is what we aspire to: genuine trying. As it says in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book: “No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles… We claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.” Those that sincerely try to live in accordance with their conscience will all fall short, but because their intentions are sincerely aligned with the truth, they are still in harmony with it. If we try to play our notes at our sincere best, even if we occasionally get some of them wrong we are still part of the music.

To Live Freely: Part Eleven

The Fearful Secret)

Yesterday I shared the story of the rich, young ruler and Jesus. It is an example of how our Maker is able to reveal to us exactly who we really are, all of the happy truths about ourselves, and all of the difficult truths as well. I suggested that sometimes we need that outside help to know what’s really going on inside of us, because there seems to be a subconscious part inside that frustrates our efforts to figure that out. I suggested that one reason why that inner part hides the truth might be because it believes we won’t take those issues on even if we know what they are. It would rather leave us dissatisfied, but blissfully ignorant, than to have us live in full exposure to our most basic flaws.

But this isn’t the only sort of deception that happens within ourselves. When I was living my pornography addiction, I knew full well what I was doing and why it was wrong. I was not deceived about myself, but I did deceive the world. I did everything in my power to conceal this secret shame. I hated to even be around when the topic of pornography was discussed, yet I would behave as though I was fervently committed in renouncing its evil. Why did I play this charade? Why did I feel like it would absolutely kill me to say “I do this behavior that I am ashamed of?” Why am I now able to discuss it openly and not feel such a terrible terror at being exposed?

I’ve given this some thought, and I’ve settled on what I think is a key difference between where I am now and where I was then. The reason I couldn’t talk about the hard realities of my life earlier was because I hadn’t yet been forgiven.

Coming Clean)

For someone who was terrified of ever talking about my addiction, I suddenly found myself doing it a very good deal all at once. As soon as I decided to come clean to my wife I realized that I also needed to speak with an ecclesiastical leader. Once I spoke with my ecclesiastical leader he told me that I needed to meet with a recommended therapist. After the first meeting with my therapist he convinced me to enroll in an addiction recovery program and have weekly meetings with a group of other men in recovery.

Over and over and over I was relating to people all that I had been secretly doing for years. Even in these safe places I felt very distressed about this. After I made my confessions I would wake up each day in absolute shock for what I had done. I felt like I was still asleep, stuck in a bad dream, hoping that I would yet wake up and realize I hadn’t done this terrible thing!

Again, I’d like to draw your attention to the story I shared yesterday of Jesus and the rich, young ruler. After Jesus exposed the man’s love for wealth we are told that the man went away “grieving” (Mark 10:22). He was emotionally distressed to have his weakness revealed, and that was exactly how I felt. Clearly I was a long way from my situation today, where I can speak candidly about my personal demons with complete strangers online in a blog post!

When I consider what experiences helped me to shift my feelings, I have two memories come to mind. One was the moment where I was accepted back into full fellowship with my church and was able to partake of its communion. The other was during a spiritual retreat in the mountains where I felt God express His love and approval of me on an extremely fundamental level. Together those two experiences represented my transition from being condemned by my sins to being forgiven of them.

After those experiences I could speak more freely and openly about my wrongs because…well…they just didn’t matter any more. Certainly I don’t make light of them, or minimize the harm that they caused, but frankly they just aren’t my burden to carry any longer. Christ took them from me, and now they are his to deal with.

Losing the Burden)

When we feel like we would rather die than reveal our worst secrets, that is an indication that we are still unforgiven. We feel the full weight of guilt, of unworthiness, of despair. We live a lie because we know that the truth will damn us. The rich, young ruler wasn’t ready to have his flaw resolved, so he remained damned by it, unforgiven, and he left Jesus in a state of grief. I don’t believe his story had to end that way, though. When we take the step of telling the truth and admitting that it damns us, we open the door to being saved from that destruction by the Savior. Instead of being consumed, we find ourselves forgiven. The rich, young ruler could have confessed that Jesus saw him rightly, and that this flaw would damn him, and then he could have asked for to be healed, just as the blind and the lame had done. I believe that Christ would have done it, and the man would have been made free. Then he wouldn’t have to sorrow, he would be able to tell of his experience and his transformation freely and with joy.