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Living With Integrity

By Jessie Christensen

I first became familiar with the word integrity when I turned twelve and entered the Young Women’s program at church. However, even after a number of years spent reciting the theme each week in opening exercises, I didn’t really understand what integrity meant. The way it was talked about in lessons was simply as a synonym for honesty. To live with integrity meant to tell the truth and to not pretend to be something you were not. Since that time I’ve begun to ponder a more expanded, subtler definition of the word. In psychology, integration is the process by which a person comes to individuate themselves and to fully recognize and accept all parts of their personality. In the field of engineering, structural integrity is the area that covers the safe construction of buildings to ensure that all their parts have been made soundly. When I was in Spain, whole-wheat bread was known as pan integral, and in English integral means something that is vital or necessary.

 During the last few weeks I have been pondering the idea of integrity because a good friend of mine wrote a blog post, together with his wife, about aspects of his life that many people in his situation have chosen to keep private. His post went viral and ended up all over the internet. In writing about the experience, he has talked about how he felt strongly prompted to integrate the parts of his life into one whole. It had become impossible to talk about many issues without fully acknowledging everything that he is. Our current level of technology has, in some ways, made this kind of integrity much easier. I can share some of my deepest secrets to mass numbers of people on Facebook, this blog, or my personal blog. And after I’ve shared them, my friends can all share them with their friends until the entire world knows. There are some drawbacks to this new technology; these days you’re much more likely to hear people complain about oversharing and “TMI” than about not having enough information about a situation. And yet, for me I’ve mostly found only good comes from sharing my true self more fully with those around me.

Four years ago, my former husband and I moved to Northern California. Neither of us had any idea that that year’s election would focus so heavily on Proposition 8, which sought to amend the state constitution to restrict marriage to only opposite-sex couples. My first Sunday at church I was asked if I would be interested in doing some phone contacts in support of the proposition. I found some way to politely demur and change the subject; there wasn’t really a good way to bring up the fact that I was married to a gay man who was an inactive Mormon. I never did tell anyone in my ward about that facet of my life; I wonder if I should have and what might have happened (for the record, my ward actually did a good job keeping politics out of Sunday meetings and the topic rarely came up during that fall). On campus, I also never told my literature professor, who wore a “No on H8” shirt most days, that all my knowledge of literary theory came from classes at BYU. I don’t know what his reaction might have been either. Sometimes living with integrity and being true to all the parts of our lives just feels impossible.

However, impossible though it may be, I’ve found that I am happiest when I can recognize, accept, and share all facets of my life. Some ways of doing this are better than others; describing the impact of living in a mixed-orientation marriage with a gay spouse is probably best done in a thoughtful blog post rather than a comment in Relief Society. I find it interesting that we often suppress parts of ourselves in an effort to outwardly appear ‘perfect’, when another way to look at the idea of perfection is completeness or wholeness, not freedom from blemish. How can we become perfected if we don’t first look at and acknowledge our whole selves? When I can offer the good, the bad, the messy, the ugly, and the beautiful to God and to other people, I feel I am truly honoring myself and others. The energy I once put into hiding things I didn’t like about my life can be put into changing or accepting or forgiving those things. Even more importantly, the energy I put into worrying about how I appear to others can be spent on concern for them and their well-being. I don’t believe we can become perfect, or whole, or integrated as a Zion people until we are more perfected, or whole, ourselves.

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About Jessie Christensen

Jessie served a mission in Spain and graduated from BYU with bachelor's degrees in Spanish Translation and English, as well as a master's in Spanish Literature. She currently works full-time at a university library and nurtures her three children, one cat, and a fluctuating number of fish. She relaxes by reading, baking, canning fruit, and putting together jigsaw puzzles.

10 thoughts on “Living With Integrity”

  1. I am a big fan of candor, even when it makes us feel uncomfortable. Thank you for your post Jessie–I love your perspective on integrity. Being open about ourselves can be a tricky proposition, because often the messy parts of our lives involve relationships with others–sometimes a child, a spouse, a parent, even God. Even if we're not so much worried about appearances, it can be difficult to know what to share about ourselves without crossing a line and sharing too much about someone else. But I love this:

    "I find it interesting that we often suppress parts of ourselves in an effort to outwardly appear ‘perfect’, when another way to look at the idea of perfection is completeness or wholeness, not freedom from blemish. How can we become perfected if we don’t first look at and acknowledge our whole selves?" And I so agree with this"

    "The energy I once put into hiding things I didn’t like about my life can be put into changing or accepting or forgiving those things."

    Yes, it's possible to share TMI. But I believe being open about our trials and our struggles draws us together. It better allows us to connect (for all we not all beggars?) and lift and strengthen one another.

    I love you Jessie. I appreciate your experience and perspective. And I wish you well.

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  2. I agree with dalene that being open about our struggles breaks down barriers and it does help to connect with one another. The blog that you refer to has been such a great eye opener to how I see my relationships within my family, especially with those who do not follow my beliefs. If I could just love everyone the way I love my children, the type of love that is unconditional. Just gotta keep trying! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  3. Thank you for sharing something so personal, to help us as a community discover the parts of our whole that need to be integrated.

    While I think your idea of perfect integration of all parts of yourself is a good eternal goal, maybe even THE eternal goal, living in this very flawed, disjointed, and sometimes flat out evil world, we will not reach perfect integration here.

    I've come to accept that I will not be able to integrate parts of the world that I love (like the tasteful, awe inspiring, nude marble statue in my bathroom) with parts of the church (the little girl who helped me move and asked why I had a yucky statue of a naked lady). While that could be seen as lacking integrity, I see no internal schism, with myself or God over that issue.

    There are other issues, much larger public issues, which I am conflicted about. In those areas I am content to wait. To see how God will turn the disjointed parts of the world and my mind to eventually, a very long time from now, make all the parts fit. I don't have to smash and maneuver parts of myself to force it into place now. I can be humble and patient, believing that God wants my integration and knows how to achieve it as I take very small steps every day.

    I think the great quest for integrity is more about making ourselves one with God than one with ourselves. Because I am flawed and sinful, aligning myself with myself is never going to result in a good outcome. It is having integrity relative to God that will result in a complete being worth eternity.

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  4. Thanks for the comments everyone. Jendoop, I appreciate yours. I think when I think of 'aligning myself with myself', I'm thinking about trying to fit the person I am now in with the person I know I can be. My 'now' self with my potential, eternal, godly self. In thinking about this, I think this is why confession is such an essential part of the repentance process. Most confession we do is not in public or to other people; most of it is to God, acknowledging that we are not yet fully aligned with Him. This is also how I see the temple reccomend process; I'm not necessarily answering those questions for the benefit of the person asking them, I'm answering them for myself before God. Am I worthy? Am I trying? Do I need to acknowledge some things and fix them?

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  5. Jessie, thanks for writing about this. I loved and appreciated that blog post you refer to — the integrity and courage of it. Interestingly, I was planning to write a post last week about "gay marriage" (a misnomer, in my view — thus the quotation marks)but ended up at the last minute crafting a post about bravery, which was probably poorly written since it seemed to attract "sides" to the issue, which wasn't my intent at all. I was aiming for integrity, so I appreciate your well written post. I know you as a woman of high personal integrity, and that is a gift to the world. Thank you. And I love Jendoop's last two paragraphs — so true.

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  6. Jessie,
    Your final paragraph was a lovely summary of the thoughts of my own heart, too. Sharing ourselves — vulnerability in context — We learn how to trust; our listeners learn how to listen (because that really is an art!) and soothe, and truly be caretakers of each others' burdens.

    We were not meant to have our experiences for our sake alone, but for the building up of Zion: we are a people enriched by shared experiences, and are thus only as enlightened as we are unified. Your generosity in sharing a view at "the insides of Jessie" truly is the most powerful gift for change and growth you could ever offer.

    I concur with Jendoop integration being a pie-in-the-sky dream for now. But, like her, it bothers me not a whit, as I cannot conceive of my Father letting discontinuity reign in his kingdom. All I have seen of God gives me ample trust in him for things I cannot yet explain to my own satisfaction.

    A bit of an OT thought:

    I struggle with infertility but have found that when I'm more open about it, others at least learn that it's an issue; see me as a multi-dimensional person, and perhaps see the blessings God has given them custom suiting their trials for their own personalities. (You know, the cliche-but-somewhat-accurate, "If you could look at everyone else's trials, you'd choose the ones you've already got.") So I easily mention it in passing when others ask why we don't eat junk food, or when we'll have our next baby, etc. I'm not scared to talk about it in a casual way with anyone. Which, frankly, is a significant step.

    That said, infertility is a painful thing. And really, few there be who listen in a way that really gives of themselves and their love. It's not often that someone asks, "How are you — really — doing?" And frankly, I myself ask that question all too seldom.

    I've occasionally experienced how sharing my most internal self creates a vacuum of loneliness if those parts of my soul that are the most tender aren't handled gently and by one who knows what it means to hear the whispers of a heart.

    So, lately I've been pondering how it is that we show real and whole love for others — the kind JW&LW demonstrate so wholly — that really fosters the unity I crave with my fellow sisters.

    This has gotten long and rambling-ish, and now my children need me, so I've no time to edit. Hopefully there's something meaningful somewhere in here, as I'm usually a lurker and don't need my first impression to be a horrid one.

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  7. jessie really great post. i have been thinking about this a lot the past few years but in dealing with a different aspect of life – recurrent pregnancy loss. it is something that isn't rarely discussed. i found myself feeling like i couldn't discuss it in group settings mostly because i felt like i didn't want to make others feel uncomfortable. after a few months of doing this, i finally started to speak up. i'm sure some of the things i mentioned shocked people – but i experienced something greater than the apprehension i had feared. i experienced that idea you touched on of oneness with others. i found other women began to open up to me with their struggles and i found that that helped me immensely!

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  8. A few months back I read The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. One of those gifts is connection. One of the qualities I appreciate most in others is their ability to be real–not surprisingly, I feel safe with those people.

    A recent study showed that, generally, people are inclined not to trust people who take great pains to look younger than they really are–just an interesting tidbit.

    Thank you for a great post–integrity is a subject I consider regularly.

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