Last week I was in several conversations on the topic of integrity. It came up in the context of relationships and how we converse with each other. Especially with close family and friends, sometimes we are challenged in our ability to say how we really feel about something. “You look good in that dress.” “It’s really no trouble.” “I feel fine.” We sometimes are in positions where stretching the truth may motivate us to tell “ a little white lie”.
The question we were struggling with was whether it’s okay to ever lie, even if motivated by good intent – not wanting to hurt the feelings of another, not to make another feel like he or she is imposing, not wanting another to worry about one’s health. Despite the motivation, the underlying issue we were discussing was integrity, the ability to be honest with oneself and others when under pressure to compromise, even if the pressure derives from a good place in ourselves, and the challenge of being honest about something if we think no one but ourself will know.
Even more challenging are the situations where remaining true to ourself is difficult given our human susceptibility to temptations like wanting more money, more travel, a better job, the tendency to want to “get ahead” – What to do about the cashier who gave the wrong change? We can afford that trip. This job is not right for me but it’ll get me a better job if I take this one – Being true to ourself, to who God created each of us to be in His image, requires integrity. How often do we miss the mark and is it ever okay?
So it was with amazement when I listened to Rabbi Nathan’s sermon this past Shabbat on exactly that topic! He used the story of Joseph to teach us about integrity. Rabbi Nathan gave numerous examples to illustrate Joseph’s integrity – his staying true to his moral beliefs despite temptations of power, wealth, and the internally motivated difficulty to forgive.
These are my recollections of statements in Rabbi Nathan’s sermon (with probably some added by my spiritual imagination):
Joseph had the integrity to not succumb to temptation for wealth and power which went against his moral beliefs. Joseph had the integrity to remember God’s purpose for him even when imprisoned for more than ten years. Joseph had the integrity to look past his current circumstances and see the bigger picture. Joseph had the integrity to forgive his brothers. Despite our immeasurable shortcomings HaShem has the integrity to still believe in us.
As I listened to the sermon, every time I heard the word “integrity” I realized I could substitute the word “faith” for it. Try it. Reread the last paragraph with that substitution. . .
The sermon took on a whole new level as I heard each word “integrity” changed to “faith”!
The story of Joseph has so many messages. The fact that the one word “faith” could be interchanged with the one word “integrity” felt like a hidden message. For those of us wanting to be drenched in Him, hearing the interchangeability of those two words brought the realization to me that what powers our integrity is faith. That is what gives us the ability to overcome negative distractions and detractors when trying to live lives grounded in truth. HaShem’s faith in us fuels our faith in Him and is the basis for our living lives of integrity.
The story of Joseph can be deeply understood on many levels with multiple meanings and lessons. People of faith and secular, alike, can learn from this well known story. God meets us where we are, as a people, individually, and in each moment, teaching us in the ways we can hear Him. This interplay of words in my mind reminded me that even we, people of faith, sometimes struggle with honesty in certain circumstances. The challenge of staying true to Yeshua’s teachings is a minute-by-minute and lifelong journey despite our faith which is why it was so meaningful to be reminded of the importance of faith to maintain integrity.
God sets the example of unwavering faith in us despite our immeasurable shortcomings. If He does not give up on us and is steadfastly with us given our failings, how much moreso should we be motivated to stay strong in our faith in Him despite the times when challenged to do so? And when we do so what amazing lives of integrity will result.
So, where do we fall on those little white lies, let alone the big ones? When do the considerations of kindness and unselfishness override truth? Do we remember our faith in Yeshua and His teachings when telling the truth is difficult or not what we want to do? How often do we lie to ourselves? Is there really such a thing as a white lie? Or is it a slippery slope?