A Life of Integrity...It's Harder Than it Seems
I went to a Christian school.
I grew up not drinking or gambling or going to movies.
I wasn’t perfect in my dating choices in high school—but I got married as a virgin.
I’ve never cheated on my wife.
I haven’t done anything to publicly embarrass my kids or stain my families reputation.
But lately, I’ve been thinking about how difficult it is to keep that up, year after year, decade after decade.
Last summer one of my high school buddies called me. “Have you heard the news?” he asked. I didn’t know what he was talking about. This friend got married within a couple years after high school, and I thought he had the perfect marriage. They raised four kids, helped launch a non-profit, and modeled a strong marriage in their company and in their community. He was calling me to tell me he left his wife. He had met a woman, and they hit it off, and she reminded him of what he was missing. So now he was traveling all over the world with his new wife. He knew people looked down on him, but, “I’m doing what I know is right” he told me.
About a month ago we talked again. His new wife had left him. He had hit the bottom. He wasn’t sure what was next. I wasn’t sure what to tell him.
But at a deep level, I get it. Staying on the straight and narrow path is really hard work. And it gets old. “The grass is greener on the other side” is a saying for a reason. It’s easy to look at someone else’s loose lifestyle and think it is grander than it really is. Social media gives us a glimpse into the highlights of other peoples lives, making it look like we are missing out, when we can’t see the consequences of the poor choices they have made.
It’s oh so easy to throw it all away. In a nanosecond. In one poor choice. One wrong decision. The decades that it took to build a reputation of trust and integrity and right living…poof. It can be gone in a second. We’ve seen this happen all around us, over and over and over again. Families that looked perfect. Spiritual leaders who we put on a pedestal so high they seemed closer to God than earth. Women who looked like everything was intact. The man who drew jealous stares from all men everywhere who wondered how he was able to have it all—the perfect beautiful wife, the storybook kids, the house and the cars. And then he throws it all away. For something else. Why? It’s just too hard.
Maybe that’s you. Maybe you are on the edge of throwing it all away. Maybe you’ve been curiously exploring. Maybe you’ve been plotting. Maybe the tension at home has you flirting with what’s not yours. Wondering the what ifs. Contemplating the life you could have.
Let me suggest that it’s not real. Look around you. Look into the eyes of your children. Look into the eyes of those who hold you dear. Pour yourself into what is close. Do not jeopardize the love of your kids, your grandkids, your friends, your spouse—for the possibility of an encounter that will be amazing in the moment but will leave you more empty than ever.
I find myself sometimes in awe at an 80 or 85-year old at their funeral—to discover that they made it. They didn’t mess up. They didn’t screw up their family. They didn’t embarrass their kids. They didn’t violate their marriage vows or turn their back on promises to their friends. They weren’t perfect—but they loved well. They remembered, above all, their responsibility to their family and those closest to them. They put the love they had for their family above personal fulfillment or pleasure. To do that for a couple years is hard. To do it for decades is imminently more difficult. To do it for a lifetime, well that’s just impressive.
I want to be that person. Dying of old age with my integrity intact. No one may know my name. No newspapers may cover my death. But my family is there with heads held high.
Anyone else middle age like me? How about it — let’s do this for another 30 or 40 years.