Integrity. It’s a word that is losing it’s meaning and significance as our so-called culture does what it calls evolving. A brief, informal poll among my nearest and dearest reveals that less than half even know what the word really means.
So, integrity means a state of being honest and moral. It means being whole and undivided. It’s not enough simply to tell the truth when pressed. We need to live lives that exude honesty on every level. That means not only not lying about past events. It means not lying about future commitments.
In other words, integrity means keeping our promises.
Sometimes, keeping promises is just plain HARD
We’re all busy. Our lives race by in a blur of meetings and deadlines and deliverables and social engagements and prior commitments. It’s not unusual to blink and find that two or three months have gone by. We barely have time to register loose teeth before the Tooth Fairy is called up for duty. First locks are trimmed, and before they’ve been safely secreted in a precious locket, the child is old enough to tie her own shoes. In this whirlwind of busyness, it can be hard to remember even those commitments that mean the difference between gainful employment and a life on the streets. It’s no wonder, then, that we make fleeting suggestions to our kids and don’t even realise that, in their innocent minds, we’ve made a firm contract.
I often tell my kids:
“Your word is your bond, and a Christian person’s word is exactly the same as a promise. So if you don’t intend to do something, don’t say that you will do it. If you say you’ll do it, do it. Not doing what you’ve said you’d do is breaking a promise, whether you’ve said, ‘I promise’ or not.”
We also fail utterly to realise the significance of breaking that bond.
What results is pain, disappointment, anger and mistrust. Slowly but surely, these tiny seeds take root, germinate, and grow into a hedge between us and our children. This is a cost too high to pay. We must find ways to cherish the sacred trust invested in us by these young treasures.
10 ways to keep your promises
1. Don’t make promises you can’t keep
This may seem obvious but based on evidence, it’s not. If there is any possibility whatsoever that you won’t be able to do what you’ve said you’d do, do not promise to do it. In fact, it’s almost always better not to say anything at all. Do the thing you’re hoping to do for or with someone else, and share their excitement and pleasure at having a wonderful surprise. This is infinitely better than causing their disappointment at having a hope deferred.
2. Think before you speak
When we speak, our words have power. To a very large extent, we create our realities by what comes out of our mouths. This is not an esoteric or eccentric view. Just think about it for a moment. If you tell yourself something over and over, it becomes true – even if it’s just true in your perception of the situation. I’ll give you an example. If I wake up every day and tell myself my husband is lazy, it seems to become true. When I wake up everyday and tell myself my husband is generous and kind, that, too, becomes true. If I can twist my reality to this extent, how much more can the words I say affect my children’s reality?
Remember that when you say something, whether it’s flippant or in passing or even a joke, the people in your life will believe you. You need to take this very seriously. Remember this:
“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” (Matt. 12:36)
3. Establish boundaries
Keeping commitments is as much about saying no as it is about saying yes. For us to give the very best of ourselves, we need to give ourselves the time and space required to be our best. That means using wisdom and discernment in the commitments we make and accept. No one can do it all. Trying to fit everything in will deplete us and leave nothing for those who need us most. Decide at the outset what matters to you most. Then base all of your choices on these priorities, remembering that sometimes we have to say no to the good in favour of the best. It is worth waiting, recharging and choosing wisely. When in doubt: say no.
4. Move heaven and earth to keep the promises you’ve made
If you have committed to something in any way, do whatever it takes to keep that commitment. If that means not accepting a business meeting because it conflicts with your son’s sports day, or turning down coffee with a friend to play scrabble with your daughter, do that. Your word is your bond and it should mean as much to you as a contract signed in your own blood using a magic quill that hunts you down if you don’t fulfill your part of the bargain.
5. Don’t cancel
We worked with a missionary family once who were exemplary in every way. Absolutely gorgeous from eldest to youngest, they’re also supremely talented in every sphere (particularly music), highly intelligent, kind, generous and wise. However, none of those traits was what set them apart for me. What distinguished this family in my mind (and formed the basis of their success, after their faith), was their family motto. It’s very simple: don’t cancel. That was it. You could always count on them to be wherever they said they’d be. They would simply never let you down. Part of this was knowing when to say no (see point 3). But my point is that we establish ourselves as people of integrity when we make a firm commitment not to let people down – both by not taking on more than we can, and by not reneging on the commitments we have made. Don’t cancel. Ever.
6. Be clear
Make sure that you say what you mean. Don’t leave grey areas in your communication. Take responsibility for the words you say and take ownership of the outcome. For instance, if you have a meeting and you feel a course of action is required, say so. Don’t suggest that “perhaps someone should consider implementing something that could possibly take us closer to what we’re alluding to”. That’s vague, open-ended and a recipe for disappointment and frustration. Spell it out. Say: “Jo, please call IT and have them install a new network framework to connect us with London. We need it done by Wednesday. Please email me if this can’t be done.” No vagueness there, and a clear course of action for dealing with potential problems.
In the same way, if your children ask about going on a picnic during the holidays, don’t say “Hmm, that sounds like an idea …”. Say, “What a great plan! Let’s go to the park on Wednesday for lunch. We’ll invite Aunty Jane and the kids.” And do it! That way, there’s no room for doubt. Moreover, you develop a reputation for clarity, so that people will be less inclined to misconstrue your vague musings as firm commitments.
7. Keep communication flowing
Sometimes, the disappointment we cause in others’ lives is inadvertent, the result of their misunderstanding rather than our miscommunication. Even so, we are responsible to some degree for the way people interpret our words and actions. If you have any sense that the person you’re dealing with hasn’t understood you clearly, or expects more from you than you’re willing to commit to, first clarify exactly what you meant and be sure that they fully understand that. It can be tricky with little people, but patience will be your greatest ally in communicating clearly and kindly what you’re willing to do.
8. Be there
Once you’ve made a commitment, show up. Be there – not just physically but mentally and emotionally, as well. Fully engage with the people you’re with. Share with them. Interact. Give of yourself. As I said in no. 3, don’t commit to something you can’t or don’t want to commit to. But if you have committed to something that’s just what you need to be: committed. You can never build trust or integrity on a half-hearted foundation. So make sure you get your sleep, exercise, me time – whatever it is that you need to enable you to be fully present in the moment, and then wring every possible ounce of joy out of that moment. Make the most of it.
9. Model integrity
In number 4 I said that you should skip coffee with a friend to keep a playdate with your child. However, if you made the commitment to your friend first, keep that. We teach our children integrity as much by what we do as by what we say. More, in fact. Make sure that you always follow through on your commitments, and that your actions always support your statements. Those impressionable young eyes are watching your every move, so give them something worthwhile to feast their eyes on.
10. Start today
If you haven’t been living a life of complete integrity (and I know I usually get it wrong), it’s never too late to start. Start today, now, this instant. Make the world better by being better. From this very second, commit to choose your commitments wisely, be clear about your intentions, be present in your interactions, and always keep your word. And if you still mess up after this (as we’re all sure to do sometimes), learn to say sorry with grace. More on that to come.
How about you? Have you made a personal commitment to integrity? I’d love to hear about how that’s working for you practically? Or have you been hurt or disappointed by someone else’s lack of integrity and broken promises? This is the place to start working on those hurts, and achieving closure. Let me know what you think.