SERENDIPITY FOR SATURDAY

INTEGRITY AND SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS

Despite his concern about people not being who they truly are, still bothered, French Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725). So, he took the time and effort to urge them to manifest themselves to others as God sees them. “It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates them.”[1] Remember what Jesus said, “What you say flows from what is in your heart.”[2] But there was another side to it. When asked to describe themselves, do not become arrogant or conceited. So, here is his message to them:

Most of us are so far from genuine integrity of heart. Still, the farther we are, the more urgently we should seek it. Far from being simple, the greater number of Christians are not even sincere. They are not merely artificial but often two-faced toward their neighbors, God, and themselves. What endless little maneuvers and unrealities and inventions people employ to distort the truth! The pity is that “all men are liars!”’ [3] Even those who are naturally upright and sincere, whose disposition is what we call frank and simple, are often jealously self-conscious and foster a pride that destroys all real integrity. Real truthfulness consists in genuine forgetfulness of self.

How can you help from being constantly self-engrossed when a crowd of anxious thoughts disturbs you and sets you ill at case? Do only what is in your power to do! Never voluntarily surrender to these disturbing anxieties. If we are steadfast in resisting them whenever we become conscious of their existence, we will get free by degrees. But do not hunt them out with the notion of conquering them! Do not seek a collision – you will only feed the evil. A continual attempt to repress thoughts of self and self-interest is practically continual self-consciousness, which will only distract us from the duties incumbent on us and deprive us of the sense of God’s presence.

The great thing is to resign all our interests, pleasures, comfort, and fame to God. Those who unreservedly accept whatever God may give them in this world – humiliation, trouble, and trial from within or without – have made great strides toward self-victory. They will not dread praise or censure. They will not be sensitive. Or, if they find themselves wincing, they will deal so roughly with their sensitiveness that it will soon die away. Such complete resignation and sincere compliance are true freedom, and perfect integrity arises. The soul that knows no self-seeking, no hidden motives, is thoroughly candid. It goes straightforward without any hindrance. Its path opens daily more and more to “perfect day.” And its peace, amid whatever troubles beset it, will be as boundless as the depths of the sea. But the soul that still seeks self is constrained, hesitating, smothered by the risings of self-love. Blessed indeed are those who are no longer their own, but have given themselves entirely to God!

The world takes the same view as God concerning a noble, self-forgetting integrity. The world knows how to appreciate the easy, simple manners of unselfishness among its worldly people because nothing is more beautiful than a complete absence of self-consciousness. But this is out of keeping for worldly people; They rarely forget themselves unless still more worthless external interests altogether absorb them. Yet, even such integrity of heart as the world can produce gives us some faint idea of the beauty of the real thing. Those who cannot find the substance sometimes run after the shadows, and shadow though it may be, it attracts them for lack of better things.

Look at people full of faults but not seeking to hide their shortcomings. They claim neither talent, goodness, nor grace, not seeming to think more highly of themselves than others, not continually remembering that self of which most of us are so aware – such people will generally be liked despite many failures. Their fake integrity passes as genuine. But, on the contrary, very clever people full of manufactured virtues and external gifts will always be annoying, disagreeable, and repulsive if they seem to be living in perpetual self-consciousness and pretension. So, we may say even from a humble point of view, nothing is more attractive or desirable than a simple character free from self-consciousness.

But some will say, I never think of myself or what affects me. Am I never to speak of myself? Yes, you may. I would not have you so confined: such an attempt at being simple would destroy all integrity. What is to be done, then? Make no rules at all, but try to avoid all pretension. When you are disposed to talk about yourself from self-consciousness, prevent the itching desire by quietly turning your attention to God or some ministry, He’s called you to.

Remember, integrity is free from false shame and mock modesty, as well as from pretension and self-conceit. So, when you feel inclined to talk about yourself out of vanity, the only thing to do is stop as soon as possible. But if, on the other hand, there is some reason for doing so, then do not confuse yourself with a lot of talking; get straight to the point.

You may say, “But what will people think of me? I will seem to be boasting foolishly to be making myself look great!” Such anxious thoughts are not worthy of a moment’s attention; learn to speak frankly and simply of yourself as of others when it is necessary, just as the Apostle Paul often speaks of himself in his Epistles. He alludes to his birth and Roman citizenship.[4] He says that he is not “in the least inferior to those super-apostles’[5] Paul “opposed [Peter] to his face because he was dearly in the wrong.”[6] He says that he was “caught up to paradise, and heard inexpressible things.”[7] He says that he endeavored “always to keep [his] conscience clear before God and men[8] and that he “worked harder than all of them.”[9] He bids the faithful, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”[10] See with what dignity and integrity he always speaks of himself and can say even the loftiest things without displaying any emotion of self-consciousness. He describes what concerns himself just as he would describe something that had happened a thousand years ago.

It does not mean that we can or ought to do the same, but humbly, whenever it is right to speak concerning oneself. But, of course, not everyone can attain Paul’s level of inspiring integrity, and it would be dangerous indeed to attempt it. But when there is any real call to speak about yourself in ordinary life, try to do so with straightforwardness, neither yielding to mock modesty nor contempt that belongs to false pride, for indeed false pride often lurks behind a seemingly modest, reserved manner. We want to avoid showing off our good points in fine detail, but be glad to let others notice them and receive compliments on how we kept our virtues and our modesty to ourselves.

If you want to know just how to respond when called upon to speak of yourself, consult someone who knows you thoroughly. Doing so will avoid self-opinionated decisions, which is always a great thing to do. A wise spiritual guide will be much more impartial than we can ever be toward ourselves in judging how far we are justified in bringing forward our good deeds. As for unforeseen occasions rising suddenly, all you can do is look to God for immediate guidance and do what He seems to suggest without hesitation. You must act promptly, and even if you’re mistaken, He will accept your good intentions if you have sought with a single heart to do what you believe to be right in His eyes.

As to being critical of oneself, the results have been marvelous among saints through a sense of humility and discipline inspired by God when done with integrity. But ordinarily, for us, who are not saints, the safest course is never to speak needlessly of oneself, either good or bad. Self-love would rather find fault with itself than remain silent and ignored. As to your weaknesses, you should be watchful to correct them. There are many ways of doing this, but as a rule, nothing is more helpful in the attempt than a spirit of recollection, a habit of checking eager longings and impulses, and entire resignation of yourself into God’s hand without a constant fretting self-inspection. It goes swiftly when God undertakes the work, and we do not frustrate Him.

Such integrity influences all things, including outward manners, and makes people natural and undisturbed. First, you get accustomed to acting in a straightforward way, something that is incomprehensible to those who are always self-occupied and artificial. Then even your faults will turn into good, humbling you without depressing you. When God intends to make use of you for His glory, either He will take away your failings or manage them for His purpose, He will so order things that they should not be an obstacle to those among whom He sends you. And practically, those who attain such real inward integrity generally acquire a candid, natural manner with it. To some, this may appear somewhat too easy and careless, but that will be characterized by truthful, gentle, innocent, cheerful, and calm integrity, which is exceedingly attractive.

Truly, such integrity is a great treasure! Yet, how will we attain it? I would give all I possess for it; it is the costly pearl of Holy Scripture.” [11] [12]


[1] Matthew 15:11

[2] Luke 6:45

[3] Psalm 116:11

[4] Philippians 3:4-5

[5] 2 Corinthians 11:5

[6] Galatians 2:11-14

[7] 2 Corinthians 12:2

[8] Acts of the Apostles 24:16

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:10

[10] Ibid. 11:1

[11] Matthew 13:45-46

[12] Fénelon, François: Paraclete Giants, The Complete Fénelon, Translated and Edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008, pp. 44-48; Vocabulary and grammar redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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