What is an integrated life? Having an integrated life means bringing the segregated areas of life together into one harmonized whole. A life which isn’t integrated will end up a distracted, ineffective mess. The same goes for having a faith roped off from the rest of our lives.
In April 1979, eight RH-53D helicopters and six C-130 aircraft flew north just above the moonlit sands of the Persian plateau. These U.S. military special operators were on a covert mission to rescue 53 Americans trapped in the embassy in Tehran following the Iranian revolution. In the now-infamously monikered Operation Eagle Claw, a combination of mechanical issues, terrible weather, and inter-service coordination limitations plagued the Army, Air Force, Marines, and Navy personnel. The results were a cancelled mission and a deadly aircraft collision which took the lives of 5 airmen and 3 marines.
Investigations in the aftermath revealed the need for compatibility and interoperability across the service branches, leading to the creation of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and such elite groups as Seal Team Six and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) “Night Stalkers.”
The U.S. military learned an important lesson that April night: things are better when integrated.
Integrated Life: “The U.S. military learned an important lesson: things are better when integrated.”
There is an easily observable natural progression in maturity from segregation to integration. This shows up in a variety of independent aspects of our society.
In the late 1990s, you had to intentionally open up a computer and enter the URL of each individual website you wanted to access. Then in the early 2000s smartphones made the internet portable to mass audiences. Very quickly apps made it more accessible, and voice-activated devices soon made it hands-free. The concept spread beyond the home computer and into all sorts of home, office, and life electronics. Now the next step is the so-called “internet of things” (IoT) which integrates physical objects with sensor technology and interconnected networks to provide seamless information sharing across our daily lives.
The post-industrial age elevated a quest for “work-life balance,” attempting to capture that sweet spot of time-in vs. time-away from the office. Questions buzzed such as “How do I get more time where I want it?” and “How do I feel better about that balance?” Now, especially with the growth in digital connectivity and the post-COVID acceleration of remote work, the question has shifted to one of “work-life integration.” Email, text, and chat applications on our devices follow us everywhere. Want to leave for a kindergarten recital at 2:00pm? Sure. Then join a video call from your phone afterward? Perfect! Jump on a 6:00 a.m. virtual meeting with team members on three different continents? No problem. “Work” and “life” have overlapped with often barely discernible boundaries.
Flying has always been the great “system of systems” experiment, requiring a myriad of independent disciplines working in harmony to make it safe and effective. Now the rise in data analytics and information sharing is driving a “connected ecosystem” approach to aviation as well. Groups including my own company are helping to pioneer the integration of flight mechanics, passenger experience, aircraft maintenance, ground service management, and route optimization, providing a seamless flow of planning and performance data to each step in the process of aircraft transportation.
Integrating Faith with the Rest of Life
The list could go on. However, one bulwark stands in stark contrast to this general push toward integration: American Christianity. We often allow—or even advocate for—our faith to be segregated from the rest of our lives. We carve off an hour per week for church, but then shift focus immediately in time for the afternoon football game. We take 15 minutes to read the Bible in the morning, but then we ignore the call to live it out through the rest of our day. We pray when we really get stuck, but the rest of the time God doesn’t need to bother getting himself involved in our lives. Where is the integration of our faith and our lives?
Integrated Life: “Where is the integration of our faith and our lives?”
Is this simply a sign of the lack of maturity of our faith, a general shallowness in our religious devotion? Is it an indication that we fail to perceive the requisite value of faith-life integration? Perhaps it is even an implicit or subconscious extrapolation of the concept of “separation of church and state” to “separation of God and the rest of my life”? In the end, maybe it simply boils down to the feeling that a segregated faith is easier.
Regardless of the rationale, we can’t help avoiding the reality that we are bucking this natural maturation process. Just as we’ve seen with the internet, work-life, and aviation, true mature faith integrates with every part of our lives. It affects the way we talk to our neighbors, how we drive through the school pickup line, and how we care for our yards. Real spiritual growth cannot be contained to only certain parts of our lives.
Integrated Life: “True mature faith integrates with every part of our lives.”
God exposed this concept to the nascent nation of Israel as he laid out the law through Moses. He didn’t simply tell them how to worship himself properly. Instead, instructions such as the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 27-28 spotlight the law’s impacts on every relationship and activity the Israelites had, including bathing & farming, politics & justice, finances & family. Later, Jesus would clarify this mindset in his conversation with the Samaritan woman.
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (John 4:21-24, NIV)
For Jesus, worship was not a part of life. Worship was life. True worship is in spirit and through the Spirit; it is not tied to a location nor an activity. Jesus’ faith and worship affected who he chose to have dinner with. It informed his prayers in front of others and his quiet time alone. It directed his ministry, his vocation, his friendships, and his free time. Jesus’ integrated life exemplified this inescapable truth: Our faith is most true when its boundaries in our lives are least defined.
Integrated Life: “Our faith is most true when its boundaries in our lives are least defined.”
If we are brave enough, let us be willing to fully submit to Jesus by asking the following questions: Where am I segregating my faith and my worship from the rest of my life? Where am I resisting the pull of spiritual maturity by creating categorical boundaries in my relationships and activities? What aspect of my life needs to be integrated into my faith in Jesus and worship of the one true God?
In resisting this call, we will most likely also crash and fail in the desert of life’s challenges. But if we submit to the path of maturity into a fully integrated life of faith, we will truly know what it means to worship God in Spirit and in truth.