IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK

IT’S OK TO NOT BE OK

Why is it that in church, the one place we should be comfortable being honest, we feel the need to pretend our lives are wonderful when they are falling apart or when we are hurting?

Why is it that in church, the one place we should be comfortable being honest, we feel the need to pretend our lives are wonderful when they are falling apart or when we are hurting?

Have you ever asked someone how they are doing, expecting him or her to say they were doing just fine, and then when they were honest and started telling you how they really were you kind of freaked out because you were not prepared for that and didn’t know what to say? If we are honest, the vast majority of the time, we don’t actually care how the other person’s day was or how they are doing, we are just asking to be polite and expect them to respond with the typical response that everything is going great so that we can go on with our day. Not only are we not prepared for an honest answer, when we get one we don’t care enough to truly listen to their story, much less do anything about it. Before you say you have never done this, remember, it is a sin to lie.

A few days ago at work I asked a man how his day was and he basically told me his entire life story and how horribly wrong his life was going, and while I wish I could say that I was interested and empathized with his plight, I can’t because it would not be true. I tried to act interested while at the same time trying to come up with an exit strategy as quickly as possible so that I could get back to the other tasks I had to do because, after all, I was getting paid to work, not to listen to people’s life stories and fix their problems. I think, considering the nature of my job in the automotive industry, most people would be surprised at how many times people feel compelled to tell me their life story or about whatever is going on in their lives. I think the reason so many people tell me their life stories and their problems is because they are just eager to find someone, anyone, who will listen to them and provide some comfort. I am ashamed to admit that, while I am never rude, I am often not all that comforting and would rather not be having that conversation.

For a while when I was a teenager I worked as a bell hop at a hotel, and I hated every minute of my job. My boss did not treat me or any of the other employees right, and the guests usually treated me like I was something they had just stepped in and was eagerly trying to scrape off their shoes. Most of the guests I carried luggage for could not care less about me, they thought they were superior to me in every way, and treated me like I was a slave, and at the same time expected me to treat them like they were royalty. After a while it didn’t much phase me and when I was treated that way I just thought it was par for the course. It was always a welcomed surprise when someone would treat me with respect.

One day though, a nice older man asked me how my day was going and when I told him it was going great and his response surprised me. He said, “I know you are expected to say you are doing great, but you don’t have to lie to kick it. You can be honest with me son. You say you are having a great day but your face says otherwise.”

To be honest, I was having an absolutely horrendous day. I was not sure if the man was serious and actually wanted the truth, but I gave it to him anyway, and we wound up having a great conversation and the man turned out to be the doctor who delivered me. The man told me he was a doctor in Topeka, Kansas so when I told him that is where I was born he asked the date and the hospital, and since he was the only doctor on duty at that hospital early that morning on the Fourth of July the day I was born he could say without a doubt that he had delivered me. It was an odd coincidence meeting the doctor who delivered me considering I was born in Topeka, Kansas and the hotel where I met him was in Williams, Arizona. Sometimes it really is a small world.

If that man had not taken the time to be a descent human being and cared about what I was going through than neither of us would have known our connection.

Most people are not like that doctor and don’t really care about what kind of day you are having and don’t want to be inconvenienced by your hardships, and as we already established, I am that way some times as well. It is somewhat acceptable to have that attitude with random people you meet throughout the day at work or on the streets, but the sad truth is it also happens at church where people should be expected to find someone who cares, and that, is not acceptable.

I think that as Christians we are somehow conditioned to think that we have to put on a facade and can relate to the Miranda Lambert song “Momma’s Broken Heart” where she sings about going through a breakup that she is not handling well and her mother says to her, “It doesn’t matter how you feel, it only matters how you look.” For some reason we feel the need to have everyone think we are doing well and have it all together, even when we are hanging by a thread and the thread is about to break. We think how we look to the rest of the congregation is more important than how we feel, and we often impose the same rule on others that we put on ourselves.

It is kind of ridiculous to have that mindset when you think about it because Jesus said that the church is to be a hospital, a place where we go to be healed, and we can’t be healed if we lie about what is wrong or pretend that nothing is wrong. When Jesus was eating with Levi the tax collector people criticized him for eating with sinners so he responded by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” (Mark 2:13-17). Of course the truth is that all of us are sick and need Jesus, even those of us who refuse to admit it.

As anyone who knows me even marginally well knows, I am pretty much obsessed with the Terminator movies, and in the television show The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Sarah Connor has a few sessions with a therapist because she thinks he has a link to SKYNET, and after a few visits he says to her, “I don’t know why you are here, you just lie and lie. I can’t help you unless you are honest with me.” Of course she is never honest with him, nor does she admit, even to herself, that she needs help and never gets the help she needs.

Imagine the insanity of going to a hospital where all of the patients say that there is nothing wrong with them and tries to hide their injuries and sickness and the doctors and nurses expects them to say that they are doing fine when they are asked. A hospital where people were afraid to admit what was wrong with them would be of no value to anyone. Of course, people are typically honest about what the problem is when they go to see a doctor, but not at church. If you walked into a hospital emergency room and asked a random person how he or she was doing they would probably look at you like you were crazy and tell you that you should be able to tell how they are doing by just looking.

In the church that I am in now I have been blessed and have been in awesome home groups, but in previous churches I have also been in horrible home groups, and in the past I am sure that I was part of the reason they were horrible, I am not above admitting that. The good news is that we can change and we will be forgiven for our past failures.

Sometimes honesty is painful, but it is always better than a lie. In the home group I am in now, for the most part, people feel no need to lie about what they are going through and, so far as I can tell, ask for prayer and support for the problems in their life that they are actually going through and not the socially acceptable problems they think everyone expects them to mention.

In some home groups everyone sits around and talks about how blessed they are, despite the fact that their lives are in shambles, they are dying inside and barely able to make it through the day. Some of the people are a little more honest and say, “Things are a little rough right now, but I am blessed and know that this season is God preparing me for something better.” However, a lot of the time they don’t feel blessed and they are not certain that better times are coming.

After everyone talks about how blessed they are the friend who was convinced to tag along and is not a regular church goer says, “If you are all as blessed as you say than I am happy for you, but I am hurting, my life is horrible and I don’t feel blessed in the slightest, and in fact, I am even starting to wonder if God loves me at all. I have severe health problems, my wife just left me and I lost my job. Man, my life is hard!”

Even if what the one person said is what everyone is thinking everyone else immediately thinks to themselves, “Who brought the new guy? Everyone knows you are supposed to suck it up and tell everyone how blessed you are.”

I am not saying that church, or even home group for that matter, should be a support group or that you should share everything going on in your life in a group setting, but you should at least be honest with those you are closest with and let them know that they can be honest with you. Some things may not be appropriate to share in a group, but you can and should share with a trusted friend or a member of the church staff.

If you always pretend to be OK and do your best to make everyone think you are OK than most people will think you are doing fine and when you snap one day or when the stress and the pain gets too much to bear and you decide to end it all everyone will say, “I am not sure what happened, he was always such a nice, happy guy,” and, “I always thought she was just so happy. She was always laughing and smiling and telling us what a great life she had.”

Church, which can and should be viewed as a spiritual hospital, should be the one place where we feel comfortable being real and talking about what is actually going on in our lives and should be a safe place to heal. It says, I think, a lot about us when so many people show up to church thinking they have to look like they have a perfect life and do all they can to appear to have it all together because they are afraid of what the other people in the congregation will think of them if they are honest and open about their lives.

Most of the time when I hear about someone who ended his or her own life those who they left behind, family and friends, say they had no idea that they were depressed and struggling with life, and that is sad, especially when the person in question was involved in a church, which is supposed to be a place where we lift up and edify each other and help to bear each other’s burdens.

Robin Williams the legendary comedian always made people laugh and most people thought he was happy, but he was far from happy as his suicide proved. Williams was not happy but did not want to be a burden on other people and wanted them to be happy so he pretended that he was happy. It is sad that most people who commit suicide do so without their friends and family knowing before hand that they were struggling, but if they had reached out it likely would have saved their life. This is not an episode on suicide or depression, but seriously, if you suspect that someone you know is struggling than reach out to them. A true friend is more worried about the well being of his or her friends than they are about bothering them by making a call or stopping by.

I know that not all of you are country music fans, but I wish church going Christians could be as honest as country music. When I think of honesty of how we are doing and feeling, especially when we feel like hiding it, I think of a song called “Doin’ Fine” by Lauren Alaina.

Daddy got sober, Mama got his best friend
I've cut down crying to every other weekend
Thanks for asking how I've been
I've gotten too good at hiding it within
I'm okay, things aren't great but the truth is
Yeah, the truth is

I'm doing fine enough to know that everyone's a little broken
Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they're wide open
I still got fear inside of me
I'm not okay but I'm gonna be alright
For the first time in a long time I'm doing fine
I'm doing fine

Daddy signed the papers the day I turned ninteen
Mama drove north to find a new beginning
I blamed God, I blamed myself
Then I fell on my knees and prayed like hell
It's funny how a touch of grace gives you healing
Yeah, I'm healing

I'm doing fine enough to know that everyone's a little broken
Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they're wide open
I still got fear inside of me
I'm not okay, but I'm gonna be alright
For the first time in a long time I'm doing fine
Oh, I'm doing fine, oh, oh

Oh, these growing pains, well I wish they'd go away
But I guess you can't be free without a fight

I'm doing fine enough to know that everyone's a little broken
Fine enough to learn that hearts are best when they're wide open
I still got fear inside of me
I'm not okay but I'm gonna be alright
For the first time in a long, long time I'm doing fine
I'm doing fine

Daddy got sober, Mama got his best friend
But I'm doing fine, yeah, yeah

In all of my years in church I have only once heard a preacher talk about how wrong his life was going, and you should have seen the faces of the congregation. For some reason people think pastors and church staff should have perfect lives, and if they don’t it is assumed that it is because they are living in sin. I blame this partly on the rise of the false gospel of prosperity that teaches that the more righteous we are the more blessed our lives will be materially and that our lives will be smooth sailing. Jesus did not promise that everything would be smooth sailing, he promised that in this life we will have troubles.

I am not sure when or how we got to this point where we think we have to appear to have it all together when we go to church and where we expect the leaders to have perfect lives, especially when even Jesus admitted when he was not doing well. Jesus felt no need to pretend that he was feeling well when he was not, so why do we feel the need to do so?

Paul admitted that he did not view himself as a good person, and he admitted that he had something that was continually troubling him, which he referred to as a thorn in his flesh, and he asked for it to be removed but God chose to allow it, whatever it was, to remain to keep him humble.

As Christians we give Thomas a lot of flack, but when he didn’t understand something or when he had doubts he didn’t pretend that he understood or that he had no doubts. For Thomas it was more important to get clarification so he could understand or to ask the hard questions so that he could believe than it was to appear to know what was going on and was full of faith. It is far more important to be well than to appear to be well, and if we are always pretending to be well when we are not than we won’t get well. It is OK to not be OK, and when other people tell us what is going on in their lives we should respond in the manner in which we wish people would respond to us. May we all be honest and kind.

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