From the Archives: A Reflection from the first-annual Read Between the WINEs Summer Book Club!
Featuring The Grace of Yes: Eight Virtues for Generous Living by Lisa Hendey.
Which would also become our first-annual WINE Winter Book Club!
By Stephanie Landsem
“And a yes to a life lived with integrity is a yes to a life lived wide open.”
This particular idea of living a “wide open” life resounds with me, especially as it is a theme in my latest book The Tomb: A Novel of Martha. In the book, Martha of Bethany struggles with this very idea. Everyone around her believes that she is a perfect, holy, and upright Jewish woman. Martha knows how wrong they are but feels she must maintain this false persona. Jesus, of course, loves her despite her flaws, imperfections, and very real sins. While it’s easy to see where Martha went wrong, it’s not always easy to see these same tendencies in ourselves.
The word integrity comes from the Latin adjective meaning “whole” or “complete.” When we use the phrase “structural integrity,” we refer to something that is strong, whole, and unable to be broken when put under stress. We can’t have integrity if we are divided—if the face we present to the outside world is not the same as our “real” selves, the self that God knows. Even on a good day, it is difficult to maintain this outward lie, and an impossible task when we are put under stress. Without integrity, we are bound to break down and not fulfill the ultimate plan that God has for our lives.
Lisa speaks about her “avatar,” the woman she wants the world to see, the perfect women who have it all together. In this age of Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to present a false front to the world—to compromise our integrity. We post our children’s faces when they are happy and smiling, our houses when they are clean, or our perfectly plated meals. No one sees the tantrums, the dirty dishes, the piles of laundry. We can do the same in our real-life encounters. When a friend asks how we are, we answer “fine,” when we really aren’t, or we list only our accomplishments and triumphs instead of our worries and failures.
But what’s the harm in hiding our weaknesses?
The harm is two-fold. First, when we present this false front, we’re denying others the chance to use their God-given gifts of compassion, encouragement, and counsel. When we don’t share our pain with them, they can’t help us and neither person can grow. Secondly, we might be compounding our friend’s own feelings of inadequacy and failure. After encountering my “perfection” or seeing my touched-up Facebook posts, she might say to herself, “Stephanie has it so together, what’s wrong with me?” when that’s not at all the truth, not even close.
Integrity means honesty in who we are, even when that doesn’t look good to the outside world. It may be those very weaknesses that let us into another’s life and brings them closer to Jesus in a way that a perfect persona can’t do. Jesus knew all this. Perhaps this is why he chose the most imperfect of followers: doubters and betrayers, cowards and men with more pride than sense. He knew that it wasn’t going to be the perfect man or woman who would bring others to Him, it would be the imperfect ones … the ones just like us.
Does this mean we need to air our dirty laundry to everyone we meet? Of course not, but it does mean that we need to ask ourselves if our public face—the “avatar” that Lisa speaks of—is truly an authentic representation of ourselves. God knows us better than we know ourselves and loves us despite our weaknesses. He has a perfect plan for us, as flawed as we are, and it doesn’t include pretending to be someone different.
So let’s be real. Let’s be our authentic selves with all the messiness, struggle, and humility it will require. Let us be the one who reaches out to connect to others with compassion and grace and perhaps be the inspiration others need to seek God’s mercy.
To Ponder, Reflect and Discuss:
- Think about at your last conversation with an acquaintance or peruse your Facebook posts. Are you authentically representing yourself?
- How can you reach out to those who think they are the only ones struggling with their faults and failures, letting them know that they aren’t alone?
- Our structural integrity can only be maintained if we strengthen ourselves with prayer. What can you do today to increase your prayer life?
About the Author:
Stephanie Landsem is a wife, mother, lifelong Catholic, and author of authentic biblical fiction. The Living Water series (The Well, The Thief, and The Tomb: A Novel of Martha) is published by Simon & Schuster and based on encounters with Jesus in the Gospel of John. Stephanie has also contributed her unsurpassed fictional writing skills to WINE’s book club offerings — Walk in Her Sandals and Gaze Upon Jesus.
Visit Stephanie’s Web site for more information about her writing.
I absolutely love this! Fabulous follow-up to chapter 4. I think this is something we all struggle with, especially when it comes to social media.
Right NOW is the perfect example. All the pictures we post on Facebook show us when are doing all the things we like to do and when we look good doing them… and here I sit, doing something I love to do, reading a great book on a Saturday morning—yet you won’t see a picture of me doing it, because I just woke up! My hair looks like Phyllis DIller was my stylist, my left-over make-up resembles Tammy Faye’s and I have yet to get my first cup of coffee down…. so I just look crabby…. and a little crazy.
Thank you Lisa for showing us the importance of living the virtue of integrity, for it truly is in that “wholeness” where we find peace, true peace, the peace of Christ. The peace that Martha learned to find when she put her focus on Jesus.
Thank you Stephanie for the example of Martha and for giving us the challenges. Though I won’t be posting a picture right now of my “just rolled out-of-bed pre-coffee book-reading” look, I think I just painted a pretty (or not so pretty) true picture for all reading. Also, I really like your challenge to increase my prayer life, and thus I wrote Lisa’s prayer from page 68 on a post-it note and stuck it on my laptop. This will be my prayer each time I open my computer this week.
“Entrust your works to the Lord and your plans will succeed.” (Proverbs 16:3)
Kelly, I loved your reaction to this chapter since I’ve always admired you for how “real” you are in your online presence. The first time I met you in person, I noticed how I felt as though I already knew you. This authenticity is a sign of integrity. Thank you for reading and praying with us!
Thanks, Kelly! I loved this chapter and was honored to write a reflection on it. I’m looking forward to a great discussion among our book club members this week.
Stephanie, I was very moved by your sharing on this chapter. I can’t wait to check out your books! I’m praying about your reflection questions and am reminded again that in my life, “prioritizing prayer” means it has to come (literally) first thing in the day and also must be the way that I end my days… with liberal doses sprinkled throughout!
Prayer first thing in the morning is hard for me, too. But it makes such a difference in my day! Thanks, Lisa. Looking forward to the rest of the book.
Lisa: your discussion of integrity was so very full and considered elements I would never have thought of in relation to integrity. I was especially drawn to “But giving ourselves generously and with integrity means being ready to bloom where we are planted and to not be choked out by thorns, withered by drought, or trampled underfoot as we reach for the light. We are called to live our yes in the world as we find it and to speak our yes to that waiting world.”
When combined with the Holy Scripture you chose, Luke 16:10 and Proverbs 16:3, it is such a powerful message.
I thought immediately of some of the women around me that I watch living out their faith with such integrity – day after day – simply being, as Stephanie Landsem might say, their authentic selves. They carry the faith firmly, truthfully, unashamedly wherever they go. They are their very open selves. I love watching them being who they are on the path God has chosen for them, giving what I’ve learned now from this book, their ‘best yes’. If it be God’s will, I would like to grow to be more like them.
Laurie – I’m so touched by your comment. Honestly, when it comes to this book I see again how God’s hand was firmly in control of its writing. God is good, and any wisdom contained within these pages is as a result of God’s inspiration. I’m so glad to be on this journey with you!!
I agree, Laurie. Just looking around when I’m at Mass and seeing faithful and authentic women, men, and families is such an inspiration. Thanks for joining the book club discussion.
What a great chapter, Lisa, and what a wonderful reflection to complement it, Stephanie! There is so much to think about in this chapter, and it challenges me to strive for authenticity in everything I do … no matter what. I recently ran across this quote from St. Leo the Great that reminded me of the message of integrity.
“The faith of those who live their faith is a serene faith. What you long for will be given you; what you love will be yours for ever.”
When we truly live authentically, there will be a serenity about us–I liked that thought.
LOVE this quote Sarah. Thank you for sharing it! Into the journal it goes!
That is a great quote, Sarah. Don’t be surprised if you see it posted on my Facebook one of these days 😉
As I sit here trying to write something that makes me seem intelligent and very faith filled, I’m really struggling! So, I’ll be me.
I enjoyed this chapter because it really hit home. As for Stephanie’s comments?…..I have read the first two of your books and have been saving the third one for later. Why? Because, when I finish it, there isn’t a next one. I LOVE your books; I have shared them with friends; other friends have ordered their own.
Thanks to both of you for keeping me supplied with reading that really means something!
Janet, I’d say “being me” is perfect, especially in response to this particular chapter. Let’s all do that! So glad you’re reading with us!!
I love your first sentence! Made me smile… and relate. As my kids say, “I hear ya clucking big chicken.” How funny is it that we feel the need to “sound intelligent and very faith-filled”… when truth be told, if you are taking the time to grow in holiness by joining these women who are struggling to do the same thing, you ARE intelligent. And if you make it a priority to work on becoming a better disciple for Christ, you are very faith-filled. God bless you on your journey and thanks for your beautiful and relatable honesty! Very inspiring!
So right, Janet! It’s tempting to try to sound like who we want to be, isn’t it? When Jesus just wants us to be our best selves. Thanks for the kind words about my books. Don’t worry, I’m working on more!