“I’m Fine”: Seeing Beyond the Words
“I wanted to give voice to how victims of abuse may feel because it is how I felt and still feel at times. They deserve to be heard. If that means I bare my soul before the world, I will do so. They are worth it.” — excerpt from The City of Snow & Stars.
It is probably one of the most used phrases we say throughout our lives, but have we stopped to think about what we’re saying?
What is “fine”? What does it look like in our lives?
Typically, it means things are not, in fact, fine. Speaking as a Christian, the place I hear this used the most is in church. You know the drill: your life is a wreck and you show up to church barely hanging on to the hope things are going to be okay when everything is imploding around you. And who should greet you that morning but Bob Smiley.
It’s not that you dislike Bob, it’s just that he’s always SO happy. He’s the last person you want to talk to, but there’s no avoiding him as he passes out the bulletin you’ll neglect reading anyway, so you plaster your best “Sunday Smile” on your face and approach him.
“Hey! Look who it is! How are you doing?” Bob asks cheerfully.
You just want to get to your seat, so you reply with a simple, “I’m fine, Bob. How about you?”
“Oh man, the Lord is good and things are great. Enjoy the service!”
“You too,” you reply and head in to take your seat. What you don’t know is that Bob lost his job on Friday and he hasn’t told his wife yet. His grown son has a drinking problem, and his daughter got caught having sex with a boy from school.
Sound a little extreme?
You may think I’m off base but bear with me.
I’ve been the person rushing to church, plastering on a smile and “playing church” AND the person who is smiling and acting like everything is “great”.
I’ve spoken to more and more people over the past five years who are also in similar circumstances. I’ve stood and welcomed people to a Christmas Eve service after confessing to my wife I was back watching porn.
The Art of “Fine”
It takes a lot of work to keep your house of cards from crumbling down around you, and doubly so to keep anyone else from noticing. “Fine” is almost an art form and one we all share in, whether or not we would like to admit to it.
It starts when we get the news, whatever that news might be, and we start to comprehend it.
“What do you mean they died? I just saw them!” or “We’re having to let you go, we’re going a different direction” or “I’ve just fallen out of love with you.”
After the news come the volatile emotions. They surge through us, rending us to pieces, and we break. We don’t know what to do, where to go, or who to turn to for help.
If we do end up reaching out to someone we might hear, “Cheer up, it’ll get better,” or “Pick yourself up and keep going,” or “Just trust God more.” What do these say to us? Sure, they are well-intentioned most of the time, but is it what we need in the moment, or do we need something more?
Do we need to be heard?
People love to give advice, wanted or not. We generally mean well and have a genuine desire to help others, but what if our best intentions are not what they need?
What if we need to shut up and listen?
Let’s go back to my earlier example and pick up where we left off.
You just sit down and you see Betty, the sweet old lady who radiates joy and happiness coming toward you. She’s been a source of strength to you for years and is like a grandmother to you, so you plan on telling her everything and hope she has some advice and wisdom to share.
Betty listens to you spill everything patiently, nodding along and patting your hand in that special way of hers. After you finish up, you ask if she has any advice, to which she says, “You just need to have more faith, dear. Maybe that’s why everything is going wrong right now. You just need stronger faith.”
All your emotions have, at that moment, been invalidated.
Poof! Just like that.
You nod. She smiles. Church is about to start.
I’ve watched this kind of thing play out in not only my life, but the lives of others. How they feel doesn’t really matter. We do not hear them. Not only that, but now they have been hurt by someone close to them. Now no one can be trusted. So they withdraw.
They put on the mask of “fine” to keep others from hurting them.
While I am using church as an example because I see it so much there, that doesn’t mean it’s exclusive to Christians. This is something everyone deals with to different degrees and at different times. No one escapes it.
Now I want to get to what we should be doing more of, and to show you what I mean, we’re going to finish up with the example we’ve been running with. We’re going back to church.
You made it through service, but you don’t really remember what the pastor said as you were too busy trying to figure out how to keep word from getting out about your situation. Betty would never say anything, but a couple of members are neighbors, and they will start suspecting something’s off if you’re not careful.
You grab your coat and shrug it on as Jeff comes over. You don’t talk to him much, but he seems a decent guy. Not wanting to be impolite, you plaster another smile on your face and say, “Good word this morning. How are you?”
“Do you really want to know?” he asks.
Something in his tone strikes you. Likely he was feeling some sort of conviction from the Holy Spirit and just wants to share it with you. “Sure.”
Jeff sits down and starts telling you how he came home from work to find a note from his wife stating she was leaving him. He’d been working overtime for almost a year and their relationship had suffered because of it, but he hadn’t thought they were at that point.
You sit down next to him, floored that he’s being so honest about what is going on, and you can relate. Maybe not in the same way, but your life is not exactly great at the moment. Rather than saying “I’ll pray for you” or “It’ll get better” or any of the other things that have been said to you lately, you simply listen.
Jeff shakes his head. “I’m sorry to dump all this on you.”
“No, I get it,” you reply. “Life isn’t so great for me either.”
There is something beautiful about when we share our brokenness with others.
Sure, you need to do it safely, but I have found myself sharing my story with complete strangers many times and they stare at me like a deer in the headlights. “How are you able to talk about that?” they ask.
Truth is, I never thought I would. But that is for another post.
I hope you are challenged by reading this post to be more authentic in your life.
To stop hiding behind fake smiles and empty words. To stop yourself from saying, “I’m fine,” when you’re really not.
It’s not an easy thing to do. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to live so openly.
Be courageous. Because everyone is a little broken.
S. D. Howard