“Adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” James Lane Allen
It was a crucial point in the match. We were in the men’s volleyball championship game for the International School Sports Tournament. I lived in Holland for most of my middle school and high school years, attending the American School of the Hague, and volleyball was a varsity sport. We were the favorites to win the tournament, but found ourselves tied with our rivals 2-2, and in the final set, 23-23. The winner of the next point would have match point, a pivotal advantage. I went up to block a spike, and the ball landed out of bounds by a mere inch. The referee signaled that it was out of bounds, but as our team celebrated, the opposition asked the referee if the ball had touched my hand as I was blocking it. He shook his head no, and then the player that had spiked the ball looked at me, raised his eyebrows and asked me directly if it had touched my hand. I was not required to answer the question, and referees do not ask players those kinds of questions, so I just turned to my teammates and celebrated.
I was thrilled, as was my team, but something was bothering me. It had touched my hand. I distinctly felt it glance off my pinky finger as I went up for the block. Our coach had taught us to never make calls ourselves, but allow the referees to call it as they saw it. The referee called it out, and I was good with that. Or was I? I wanted to avoid the question, and yet I wanted to acknowledge the truth. I wanted to celebrate with my teammates, and yet something inside was holding me back.
The Latin word that we get “integrity” from literally means intact. If something has integrity, let’s say an airplane, it stays intact while flying. If the plane does not have integrity (maybe a stress fracture occurs), there is a chance the plane will break apart the next time it goes through a moment of duress while flying. I’ve flown quite a few times in my life and I’m thinking to myself right now, that I don’t want to find out in a time of crisis that a plane does not have integrity. The airline better be checking regularly for signs that a plane does not have integrity and fixing the issue before I’m 30,000 feet in the air and hit some turbulence!
Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them.” As Christ-followers, we cannot wait until we are in the midst of trials and struggles to see if we will stay intact. We must constantly be evaluating ourselves to make sure we are people of integrity who can weather the storms. How do we do that? Here are some questions we can regularly ask ourselves.
- Am I living for me or for God? Selfishness is a clear sign that our integrity is faulty. We all need to make sure that we are living to please God and not men (or ourselves).
- Am I keeping secrets? Secrets are also a warning sign. If the Holy Spirit is prompting you to talk about something and you’re unwilling to divulge it, chances are your integrity is at a breaking point. We must have a clear conscience before our God and secrets usually mean we are guilty.
- Am I reliable? Do the people around you trust you with major projects and high priority conversations? If not, it may be because they see something you don’t, mainly that you are lacking in the integrity to follow through or to be trustworthy.
As I tried to celebrate with my team, my conscience kept gnawing at me to say something. It was only a second or two after the opposing player asked if I had touched the ball and the referee was still looking at me. I turned to the ref, and I could not believe that I was about to do this. I thought my teammates would be mad, I thought my coach would pull me off the floor and yell at me, and I thought our fans would never forgive me. But I had touched the ball, and I had to say something. I acknowledged to the ref that it had touched my finger, and I could see the surprise in his eyes. He looked at me twice to make sure that he saw what he thought he saw – me putting my left hand in the air and saying, “The ball glanced off my hand.” My team stopped celebrating, my coach stared me down, and the opposing team’s fans went crazy. The ref awarded the point to the other team, and even though we tied it up a couple of more times, we ended up losing that final set.
Our captain came over to me and to my surprise said, “Good call. It was the truth.” My coach did the same thing, and many of our fans did as well. I hated losing the game that day. It was a sick feeling, but that feeling faded away over time. What mattered was that my integrity was intact. And that is a feeling that continues to inspire me to health 31 years later.