Last month, my tax preparer and I exchanged confessions.
“Your newspaper stories always make me cry,” she said.
“That’s understandable,” I said. Then looking at her estimations of my owed taxes, I confessed, “It looks like it’ll be my turn to cry today.”
Tax time often makes us cry, much like it did for me 20 years ago when a young deacon named Phil asked me to help him with his taxes.
I agreed to help, but by guiding him with the right questions, he would have to record the actual figures. He agreed to my terms.
Later that same evening, we settled at his kitchen table. We started with income questions and I quickly discovered that Phil made good money. Unfortunately, he’d withheld very little taxes during the previous year.
“No worries,” I said. “You’ve got a lot of deductions. After all, you’ve recently bought a home and you have child-care expenses this year. Those comforting words were quickly proved premature.
“Write your child care costs on this line,” I said.
Without looking at his records, he wrote what appeared to be a round estimate of a couple thousand dollars.
“Write the name of the childcare facility here,” I said.
He wrote only the name of his mother-in-law.
“Wow, you paid your children’s grandmother $2,000?”
“No, he admitted. “She watches them for free, but that’s what her services are worth.”
“It doesn’t work that way,” I explained. “You can only claim what you actually spent.
Nevertheless, he kept to his numbers.
“How about contributions?”
He shrugged and volunteered a figure of about $100 a week. Again, it sounded like a rough estimate. “You’ll need receipts from the church,” I warned.
He shrugged, claiming that he’d always thrown cash into the collection plate, never bothering to keep track of the amount. He proclaimed that he didn’t make his contributions for tax purposes, only for God.
The story of this taxing deacon reminds me of the motto I’ve heard from my hospital supervisors: “If you didn’t chart it, you didn’t do it.”
It’s an axiom that also applies when we claim to have integrity in our life. We can claim it, but at the end of the day, don’t be surprised if people challenge you for a definition and a measurement of your integrity.
Phil claimed integrity in the strongest of voices, but he did so with the declaration of entitlement. He was certain that everyone, including the IRS, should trust him just because he said so. By refusing to allow his integrity to be measured, he was risking being labeled the thing he most detested: a cheat.
Each year, thousands of us, even people of faith, give way to the temptation of naming our own figures. Then, we turn around and claim to be honest people.
These claims remind me of an old story about a woman who is offered $1,000 for illicit relations with a rich playboy. When the woman agrees too quickly, he stammers trying to adjust his price.
“Er, uh, I meant $100,” he countered.
“Absolutely not! What kind of woman do you think I am?”
“Madam,” he said, “We’ve already established what kind of woman you are. Now, we’re just haggling over the price.”
When I left Phil at his kitchen table, he was still haggling with his integrity. I’m not sure what he decided to put on his return. But I do wonder if he ever discovered that there are no deductions for your integrity, only additions.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of “Hero’s Highway.” Recorded comments are welcome at (843) 608-9715. You may also send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Visit thechaplain.net.