A few weeks ago, I visited an abbey nestled in nature along a river. It was other-worldly place. Peaceful. Calming. The place called for introspection and prayer. I photographed some of the landscape, but, feeling the presence of God, I also paused, prayed, and reflected.
There was this one strong oak along the riverbank that must have been ancient. It’s heavy arms stretched across the bank, out over the water. Spanish moss draped from the branches, and swayed with the breeze.
I thought of Psalms 1:
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
I imagined this tree like the tree of life. A tree with leaves of all colors and shapes. A tree firmly rooted, withstanding the storms of centuries. A tree nourished by an endless stream of God’s love. Boldly standing with heavy, giving branches. Bowed low, but not ashamed. Resilient. Immoveable.
God did not call us to be wispy chaff, blowing about, cowering in even light breezes. He called us to be like the oak, firmly planted close to the water. Rooted, knowing we were all created by God in His image. We have WORTH simply because we ARE. We have dignity, a word derived from the Latin term for “worth.” We must know our worth as part of God’s creation, and we must root ourselves in that dignity.
Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.
Once we recognize and root our worthiness, we can grow into great, strong trees. The kind of trees Maya Angelou spoke about in her poem, “When Great Trees Fall.” The kind of trees that live for centuries along a river bank.
Rooted in dignity, we can act with integrity. Integrity is more than doing the “right” thing when no one is watching. Integrity is transparency, authenticity. It is owning our flaws. It is inspecting ourselves, our behaviors, our motives. Integrity is acting from a place of personal dignity, acting with respect to the dignity of others. Integrity is seeing others have worth simply because they ARE.
Integrity is self-improvement. It is not forgoing accountability. It is holding ourselves and others accountable with dignity. It is treating ourselves with dignity. It is treating others with dignity when we speak to and about them, when we are with and without them.
It is being honest with ourselves and transparent with ourselves that we might grow. It is being honest and transparent with others that they might grow. Opaqueness is void of authenticity. Transparency is real. When we are real, we cast off fear and shame. We claim dignity and become able to act with integrity.
The principles of dignity and integrity apply to all, but especially to professing Christians. I’ve heard it said across many pulpits that being morally or ethically “good” isn’t enough to make one a Christian. According to the Bible, this is true. Dignity and integrity may not make one a Christian. But, according to the Bible, it is impossible to live a Christian life absent integrity by dignity. (Matthew 7:12; Matthew 10:24; Mark 2:17; Mark 12:31; 1 John 3:17)
Think about the great trees who lived before you. I bet you found them acting with integrity and rooted in dignity. Be a tree so great, so rooted in dignity, with such integrity that when you do fall (at life’s end) the whole world reverberates.