“Integrity” is one of those words that has two completely different meanings.   The first definition is “honesty and  moral uprightness”.    The second definition carries no value judgement; it is simply the condition of being whole, of being in one piece with no parts missing.  It could apply as easily to a flowerpot as to a human being.

The odd thing about this word is that it manages to convey both meanings at the same time.  When we say a person has integrity, we mean that he or she is honest, but we mean more than that.  A merely honest person can be trusted not to steal or tell outright lies, but a person of integrity is trustworthy through and through.  We can depend on him or her to play straight in all circumstances.  The outward honesty is an expression of the inner nature.  Jesus recognized such a person when he greeted Nathaniel by saying, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”  (John 1:47)  Nathaniel was totally straightforward and Jesus valued that characteristic.  A person of integrity is all of one piece, with no division between the inner person and the outward behavior.

The “your Father” sayings of Jesus address the connection between inward motivation and outward behavior.  Consider this passage in the gospel of Matthew:

“Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  Thus, when you give alms, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by men.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men.  Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.   But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  (Matthew 6:1-6)

These sayings expose the emptiness of a life that is focused on outward appearances.  A person who sounds a trumpet to announce his generosity is not lying.  He really intends to give the amount of money he claims.  But he lacks integrity, because he is pasting a false front over an empty life.  By portraying himself as a man overflowing with good will, he is denying the truth of his inner bankruptcy.

On the other hand,  a person who gives alms secretly is not likely to have such a gap between his inner life and his outer one. He focuses on the inside first.  He tries to do good first, before He worries about looking good.

The sayings of Jesus thus advocate the one-piecedness of a life that is built from the inside out, starting with the foundation of the Father’s secret rewards.  These warnings against hypocrisy contain one additional piece of valuable information.  They tell us how to make contact with the Father.  They show that communication—one way communication at least—is much easier than we may have imagined.  The Father sees our secret thoughts and actions.  Literally, all we have to do is think, and we are communicating with him.  Jesus confirms this fact as he continues his sermon: “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”  (Matthew 6:7 & 8)

Taken seriously, this idea is downright terrifying.  If the Father sees me when I’m praying in my room with the door shut, then he also sees me all those other times when I’d rather he didn’t.

Our Father is in secret and he sees in secret.  We cannot develop a close relationship with him until we understand that, in addition to being present in the stars and the tides and all of nature’s splendor he is also here with us inside our heads, all the time.  A good way to begin to acknowledge his presence is to try to be accurate in our secret thoughts.

Human beings are skilled at self-deception.  We entertain thoughts in private that we would be ashamed to tell to even one other human being.  Therefore we learn to wear masks, to censor our ideas and speak only those that won’t embarrass us.  Most of us wear our masks so successfully that we fool even ourselves.  We come to believe that the mask is the person.  We discount all the unworthy thoughts that pass through our heads as if they were background noise over which we have no control.  That’s why it is possible for a person to believe herself to be a gentle,  kindly soul at the same time she’s compiling a mental list of grievances against a co-worker or neighbor that she quite truly despises.  She doesn’t see the hatred as part of herself.  She sees it as a product of the other person’s actions.

This disowning of our inner selves becomes more difficult once we discover the Father’s presence.  (I wonder how long our “gentle, kindly soul” could continue to believe in her own goodness if she were hooked up to a mind-reading machine that broadcast out loud her every thought?)

Inward honesty is not a virtue.  It is a practical response to the realization that there is no hope of hiding anything.  Since all of our thoughts and feelings are laid out before the Father like an open book, the least we can do is be candid in our prayers.   There’s no point in spouting pious words.  He knows we are not pretty inside.

The knowledge that Someone is listening to our every private moment can be frightening.  We don’t want to be held accountable for our thoughts!  We can’t control our thoughts, can we?  Yet Jesus’ words seem intended to inspire not fear, but hope.  The “Father who sees in secret” is portrayed as watching to reward us.  The actions that he is waiting to reward seem to be of two kinds.  First, he rewards good actions that are done secretly, and second he rewards people who talk to him privately.

The great value of secrecy is that it ensures that our motives will not be contaminated by the desire to impress other people.  When the Father is our only audience, our behavior honestly reflects our attitude towards him.  If we didn’t believe in him, or didn’t care what he wanted, we wouldn’t waste our private time trying to please him.  We’d be spending that time indulging in whatever secret pleasures we prefer to keep hidden from public view.  Therefore, any effort, however inadequate, to honor the Father in secret is pleasing to him by virtue of its sincerity.

Acknowledging the Father’s presence has the effect of washing away all pretense in our inner life.  A secondary effect is that it begins to do away with pretense in our outward actions.  Jesus indicated that nothing we do for the purpose of gaining praise from others can be pleasing to the Father.  If we are serious about doing the Father’s will we have no choice but to stop feeding our addiction to human approval.  The key question is no longer “what do people want from me?”  We must instead ask, “what does the Father want from me?” and then carry on that work with as little fanfare as possible.

Of course, once we stop focusing on the expectations of others, our public persona will be less polished. Our masks will slip, because we are not so closely monitoring the public impression we are making.  Our attention will be aimed primarily at pleasing the One who sees our secrets, not at impressing the ones who evaluate our masks.

This sloughing off of masks is not directed towards achieving any particular effect on our human relationships.  Jesus did not denounce hypocrisy because it is harmful to our earthly relationships, but because it is a fruitless dead-end street.  He said that people who work to impress their fellows are missing out on the chance to receive the Father’s rewards.  He sought to turn people’s efforts towards the only audience that matters.

As we pursue truthfulness in dealing with the Father, the face that we present to the world will gradually reshape itself into an accurate representation of who we are  on the inside.  This brings us back to the two-part definition of integrity.  There is, in fact, a logical connection between the idea of “one-piecedness” and the idea of “honesty.”  Lies separate the inner person from its public persona.  Truth destroys that division.  Honesty tends to spread until it takes over the whole person.  One who starts by being truthful  in secret conversations with the Father will end up telling the truth to his or her brothers and sisters.  This transformation can be summarized by defining “integrity” as “the honesty that unites the whole.”

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