I've had access to millions of dollars of other people's money. I've known secrets that could destroy corporate empires. I've faced opportunities that could pivot lives between success and disaster. Many of us have, really. Most of the time, it occurs without us even realizing how much of a risk someone has taken; because we're good for it, and because of our character, there was really no risk at all.
But it really came to a defining moment for me when a man came up to me in the lobby of a professional building. I was behind the counter at the front desk. He held out to me, a nickel.
He explained, he'd just bought something from the vending machine out in the hall and when it spit out his change, there was an extra nickel. He knew that I had a place behind the counter for change, when people had been shorted by the machine. He wanted to add this extra nickel to that purse.
I said, "You don't have to do that."
He smiled at me as he responded, "My integrity is worth more than a nickel."
It immediately reminded me of the place in the Bible, where we are told by the Messiah, that, "the person who is faithful in the smallest things is also faithful in the greatest things, and he who is untrustworthy in the littlest things will also be untrustworthy with greater things."
That's the secret.
And that's why we find ourselves longing for things that we should never have.
If you want to have greater things than you have today, greater responsibilities, stronger relationships, more influence and authority? Be faithful with what you've got.
The problem with this principle is that we're not stupid. We think things through. We know that if we had the opportunity to steal something valuable, and took it, we would be burdened with guilt and fear for the rest of our lives (presuming we weren't caught). But our barrier of anxiety is not based upon the offense; but on the threat of consequence. The truth is, if we knew that we could get away with it, we would certainly take advantage of such an opportunity, if we're the sort of people who are willing to pocket a nickel that isn't really ours.
The price of integrity is never found at the greatest potential, but at the smallest opportunity: a pen, a nickel, a moment, a glance. Every time we take advantage of what is not ours, at the expense of someone else who wouldn't notice, we betray ourselves against the potential of our integrity.
It's easy to quantify in the dollars and cents: the nickel from the vending machine and the pen on the counter. But, what about the relationships we are willing to share with some and not with others. When we choose what person we will say hello to on the street, and who we will ignore, when we betray our social, racial, economic or philosophic prejudices by allowing only certain kinds of people into our lives while willfully and consciously forbidding others, we find ourselves demonstrating our lack of integrity in terms of human equality. When we engage in romantic gestures toward others that we will later only extend to our spouse, we are creating pockets of hollowness in our integrity, pockets that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. When we speak ill of those with whom we disagree, while justifying the conduct of our compatriots, our integrity is cast to the wind. When we keep our promises to preserve our reputation, and not simply for the sake of what is right, we are defeated.
The price of integrity is small. It is the tiniest moment, the slip of selfish happenstance. We lose it without even realizing, with barely a second thought. We wonder why it is that God doesn't trust us with greater things, why we can't be given more opportunities, why we are passed over in that quest for a better life. The answer lies in the standard of integrity that you have held on to today. If you're not trustworthy with the smallest things, you won't be trustworthy with greater things.
But the day you establish you personal integrity, focusing on the smallest details, is the day that opportunities will begin flooding in. There are plenty of amazing opportunities to be taken. God's waiting for someone with integrity that He can offer them to.