Integrity, I have heard it said, is the quality of a person whose actions correspond to his or her beliefs. So, I, who believe in Christian love and charity, ask myself as night comes on: “Was Christ integral to what I said and did today?” How do I know I’m not just preaching for other people to see, just another Pharisee, a hypocrite…?
I’m going to look over the last couple of days to see what I have done, starting from the day I wrote my most recent Bible Burst (For As the Body) which motivated me to think on my works. Presenting in list fashion will be most efficient. But, I warn you, the list of works is pathetic. If my sister is sick, I can’t go to her house and make her supper. If a child falls to the ground in front of me, I can’t pick him up and carry him to his mother. If I see anyone in physical need or peril, I can’t lift a finger to help. Literally. The muscles of my legs, torso, arms – and, yes, most of my fingers – are too weak for me to even move them. I’m the one who needs supper to be made for her – and fed to her. I’m the one who needs to be carried. But, that is absolutely, positively, utterly and completely no excuse for me not to be charitable. This little list could be so much longer if I had integrity… but, here it is:
I woke up Wednesday morning and would have liked to have gotten out of bed, but waited 20 minutes before waking my parents for assistance – they needed the sleep.
I stayed on the bedpan an extra five minutes without saying that I was ready so as not to interrupt my parents who had become involved in doing something else.
On Thursday, I wrote a short email to a disabled woman, whom I’ve befriended online and who is mostly homebound, sending her a couple of pictures. (That felt like an act of charity.) And, through Facebook, I sent one sentence to my former home health aide who moved away in order to let her know that I’m thinking about her and to tell her that she’s awesome, because I know she needs to hear it. (That felt like an act of friendship.)
Also on Thursday, I gave one of my current home health aides a Snickers bar for her birthday, along with a pretty birthday card that quoted Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” She is not a religious young woman (kind of a fallen away Catholic) and her very secular life is full of difficulties and hardships. I did not intend the card for evangelization but, rather, as actual comfort, inspiration and hope. All I said when I gave it to her was, “Well, with all you’ve been through this year and with your plans for this coming one….” That was it. And I was even uncomfortable with that.
Lastly, I’ve been trying, for several days, to figure out how to forgive someone that I have called my friend and who has always boldly called herself my friend – but who has lately been unreliable, disappointing, and just…. Argh. I don’t know. Her life is a mess, it’s no wonder she screwed up and let me down. But, it still hurt… and I still have to forgive her, not just say that I do.
This is a sad little list. It’s not even pathetic in a good way, just paltry. It seems like most of the so-called acts of charity that I can think of are merely attempts at being less of a charity case myself. I’m always the needy one. I don’t think that delaying my needs for a few minutes really counts toward “works”. I also prayed for others, praying the rosary (something that I try to do every day, so it often feels like a chore) but I can’t say that my heart was in it. The Divine Mercy chaplet that I prayed for the people of embattled Africa was a little more heartfelt. And I can’t even think of anything I’ve done today, except offer my day to God – whatever that means, for I’m often very unsure. Heavy sigh. But… as I think about it more… I did what I did as a Christian – I only did most of the things on this list because my faith prompted me, like an inner stirring of the Holy Spirit. Before I was a Christian, I was much more selfish than I am now.
I know there is nothing that I need to do to prove my love to God, for God knows what’s really in my heart – but, perhaps that’s why I’m so concerned…? I say that there is nothing that I must, or really can, do to prove my love, and, yet, Jesus asked Peter, after the Resurrection, whether or not he loved him. Peter had to declare three times (corresponding with the three times that he denied even knowing Jesus) that he did love Jesus, saying, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you.” And after each declaration of love, Jesus told Peter to do something. Kind of like, “You love me? Then do this.” So, our love for Christ requires action. We have to do something about it – it’s that kind of love. It’s not the warm and fuzzy, content-to-sit-on-your-couch-and-bask-in-the-glow kind of love. I think this particular passage of Scripture is stating that to love Christ is to serve Christ. The two are inseparable. For God’s love is action. And we are meant to love one another as God loves us – with action.
I think it’s important to remember, though, that doing good works, performing acts of charity, is not anything that we do for God. These are not gifts that we give to God. These are simply necessary actions inherent in being loving people. That’s who we are created to be. When I fall short of who I truly am by not being an actively loving person, I am not in error because I broke a rule and made God angry with me. I’m in error because I’m not really me. Maybe it’s more like God is sadly disappointed with me when I don’t live up to my full potential, when I don’t love as I was created to love – kind of like the way I feel about my friend. The difference is that, I think, for God, forgiveness is not an act of forgiveness, like it will be for me, mere human that I am. Forgiveness, for God, is being. – – Oh, I am so not God…
… as it should be.
Although crippled by disease, I am fully alive in love. I write about the profound wonder and terrible beauty of life while living with physical disability and severe dependency. Unafraid to ask life's big questions, I was briefly an atheist and considered other religions before finding, in God's choice to intimately share our humanity, what it truly means to be fully human. A revert to the Catholic Faith, I blog weekly and have written a book called It's Good to Be Here.