Integrity in the story of Joseph

At ROM, Marko Stupar shared about Integrity in the context of the story of Joseph. He posed a few questions that we had to sit with. Two are still stuck in my mind.

Who are you when nobody is looking?

Who are you when you have power?

Indeed, the question of integrity applies to all contexts. But as we wrestle with the idea of identity, I believe that when we don’t know who we are, or we are doubtful about our values and our worth, it is then when we start to wobble.

Talking with Melissa and Camilla on the beach in Croatia, I joked that we always interpret the story of Joseph and the woman of house who tries to tempt him, as a metaphor lesson of integrity for our lives today. But how many times should we look at that story literally?

The practice of flirting, the validation and sense of worth is found early on, and it starts during the vulnerable times of self discovery around the teen years. We are too eager to encourage romantic connections for our kids too. Even if in jest. I was never teased (that I can remember) about romantic interests. And I like to respect that for my daughters as well… even though I hear the two of them bantering about romantic interests. Teasing each other. And I had to put my foot down in setting clear boundaries about respecting each other and having each other’s back.

Ivy teased Jackie two years ago about liking a boy in the neighborhood. Fast forward to the present in Croatia. Jackie paid her back at this conference by the sea. Ivy was even crying at bedtime one evening that Jackie embarrassed her by sending a note to a boy on Ivy’s behalf. I didn’t see all the notes but one said ivy+ Isaiah =love ❤️

Ivy and Isaiah were adamant that they like each other as friends even though it was evident that they preferred each other’s company to anyone else’s. And that is ok. I like the fact that both girls enjoy the company of boys because they have the wit and energy to play silly, sporty, rough and goofy. They can hold their own and are wonderful like that.

So we need to put the breaks on our unwise teasing or encouragement of romanticizing relationships at such a young age. This carries over into the older age.

It all starts in our head. The decision to look at someone a certain way, as they draw our attention. Attraction is powerful. And it is of many types. We need to build our social pursuits on something more durable. Respectful. Respectful of them and of their other social contracts.

Here is the conundrum. Society thinks it’s harmless to flirt. Because it is done with ease when people are unattached. Then Some are more experienced than others.

I have met people who are simply brilliant, and they shine a certain type of light through their presence, a light that draws us. For me, engaging in intelligent conversations with humble kind people is thrilling. Surprisingly I even get confused about how I feel. My admiration, gratitude, joy when being around certain people, it is fairly clear that it is not romantic attraction, and yet my mind seeks their company and conversation with avid thirst. It rarely happens to me to feel so.

The solution of the church community I grew up in was to completely separate men and women. Some say that there is nothing men and women need to discuss. Ever. I strongly disagree. We are not two species at war. And we are not driven by hormones only. Men and women can make great teams that bring to the table complementary gifts.

But circling back to the integrity of Joseph. There comes a time when one needs to remove themselves from an emotionally dangerous situation without further notice. Joseph fled and Potifar’s wife grabbed his tunic. Then used it to accuse him of something she herself did or tried to do. Seduce him. It is incredibly harmful to betray your spouse’s trust by engaging in flirtatious activities. Welcoming or initiating flirting.

Why am I addressing such a topic? It is never the right time. And yet, I think all intelligent, kind, creative, socially active people are prone to sticky situations. I personally decided to leave the social contexts that make me uncomfortable. Or when things are unclear, murky, tempting for the imagination. I don’t take the time to justify my departure, nor do I try anymore to help a sister or a brother gain understanding or wisdom. Understanding must be pursued willingly, intentionally, honestly, humbly.

I am still disappointed with the time when a young lady overstepped her boundary. We had just moved to Romania with the intention to adopt. And I was so trusting and naive or innocent that I let it slide. Until it spilled beyond space and time, after the conference when she was overly forward in touching my husband, trying to draw his attention, flirtatiously throwing things at him and getting upset when he would not respond. When she grabbed his arm in front of me, saying she’ll steal him away, that stuck in my mind as big warning sign. I wish someone had called it out. But as such a situation would have it, even addressed directly and kindly, it got dismissed, like it was not true. I thought about it then. And I would never want to put my own spouse in such a situation. We think we can play with fire and not get burned. But integrity is valuable beyond what is perceived from the outside.

May God give us strength to not throw out the window the hard earned trust and memories and the love and commitment that endures in sickness and in health, for better or worse.