When Rachel asked to me to write about the value most important to me, it was ‘integrity’ that first came to mind. I was a little hesitant to choose it initially because it’s just not terribly exciting or sparkly.
Integrity is a word that gets trotted out unthinkingly a lot of the time, treated as a sort of vague synonym for honesty or general niceness. But I think there’s rather more to it than that.
Derived from the same root word as ‘integer’ in maths, integrity carries a beautiful connotation of wholeness. To me, it speaks of a life that isn’t compartmentalised or divided into multiple areas where you’re free to behave differently or choose which version of yourself to represent. Instead, it refers to a consistency of right behaviour, deeply rooted in a knowledge of who you are and what you believe in. It’s almost the opposite of charm.
I’m particularly thinking about integrity during advent, because it’s one of the values I see in the midst of the Christmas story. Not in the shining glory of the angels, or singing joy of Mary, or exotic mystery of the Magi. Rather, in the quiet figure of Joseph.
Mark Greene describes him like this:
‘And then there’s Joe. Honest, solid Joe.
The carpenter. The man in the background… there’s Joe ushering the donkey along the road; there’s Joe being turned away by the innkeepers; there’s Joe watching the Wise Men offer their gifts. No prophetic songs soar from his heart. In fact, the Bible records not a single word of his, and he slips out of the story without even a sentence to mark his passing.
He’s a craftsman, a working man. God did not entrust his son to be fathered by a rabbi or a scribe or a Pharisee or a rich merchant but by Joe. A man who did not need an angel to appear him to change the direction of his life but only a dream. A man who put God’s agenda for his betrothed before his own hopes. A man who left his home and his business for the sake of the girl he loved and the God he loved.,. A man who risked Herod’s murderous intent and was ready to lay down his life for his bride, just as his son would be ready to lay down his life for his bride – the church… in an era where we like our heroes articulate, powerful and sparkling, Joe offers a different model.’
Joseph displays a consistent commitment to what is right, irrespective of public opinion or convenience. In choosing to marry Mary when she was already pregnant he risked his reputation amongst a small community in Nazareth, his standing in the local synagogue and the business which comprised his livelihood. In leading the way on a 95 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, then Bethlehem to Egypt, he demonstrated a quiet, plodding loyalty to his God and to his family. All of Joseph’s actions, both public and private, align with the principles he holds to. Here is true integrity.
Under a Christmas tree, integrity may not be the largest present, or wrapped in the most glamorous paper. But it’s the value which I most cherish in the people that I love, and the one I most long to cultivate in my own life. I have admired the quality for years in my 88-year-old grandfather, who starts every day with his Bible in hand, who writes countless letters of encouragement, who has spent his life’s earnings in quietly – and often anonymously – supporting charities, and who still walks into town every week to help work out the finances for our local church. His heart and hands are wonderfully aligned.
So this Christmas, I pray that my own heart and hands might align more closely – that I might better understand what it is to live with a proper integration between the things I most value and the way that I live. I believe there is value beyond measure in the quiet, beautiful wholeness of integrity.