I’ve been thinking a lot recently about integrity. While many definitions exist, for me it means simply that your private self is somehow integrated with your public self. Sure, there are things you keep private, but it’s not an entirely other self that comes out in public.
And yet, we all struggle with some semblance of conflict between our inner and outer selves. That statistics are clear that pastors specifically deal with a higher level of emotional, physical, and mental health issues than the general population. There are a myriad reasons why this may be for any individual, but at least part of it must be the difficulty of dealing with the inner contradictions of what we want to be, what we are expected to be and who we actually are.
There are so many avenues of grace that God gives us to grow in this, cope with the discrepancies that will inevitably endure, and mitigate the damage that can happen to the people under our care. But today, I want to talk about one particular one I was reminded of recently: writing.
Author Hana Schank, writing in The New York Times, talks about her own self growth through writing. After years of experiencing such a difference between her inner, writing self and her shy, reserved, outer self, the advent of email allowed her to make human connections by way of the medium in which she best expressed herself.
Whereas I had always focused on essay writing as a way of shielding myself from the world, now I found that I could broaden those essays into reported pieces that went wherever my curiosity took me. Eventually the emails led to phone calls, of course, but somehow the initial exchange helped me get over my fear of picking up the phone…. And once I got going, a funny thing happened. I became enthusiastic, friendly and witty…. It was as though my writing self and my public self had begun to merge into one whole person.
I think the same problems (and possible growth) could be said of pastors. We are men and women of words–writing, studying, teaching, and preaching. One function of pastors, in a sense, is to make words into a bridge between the human and divine.
How many of us, in the course of this word-work, feel the tension between our “word” selves and our public selves? How many of us struggle to take the words in our head and heart and put them out into the world? How many of us feel the lack of integrity in the words we study and say?
May I propose that we change our mindset a bit? What if we took on the perspective of Schank, and use our time with words as an opportunity for prophetic action: casting a future vision with an eye towards its present manifestation?
Take the chance, whenever you’re writing, to have an eye towards your own self-growth. For most, this will probably be in sermon writing, but this can be true even for our own journal writing. Let your truest inner self come out on the page (or word processor) while at the same time inhabiting the words coming out of you. Let the words from within clothe your outer self and guide your steps. Tune your attention to these areas of your life and see if you don’t start inhabiting, a little more, the words your write.