At dinner recently, there were all sorts of different people. Some older and some younger, believers and unbelievers, some people who have known each other for decades, others for just a few hours. A group discussion emerged about what we feel our best and worst personality traits are. It was encouraging to hear different people discuss some of their personality flaws, to hear from others that they didn’t have it all together. You see, I know that no one has it ALL together ALL the time, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one that’s not fine.
But I have to be fine.
Because it doesn’t always feel like there’s the support to be not fine.
Or the spaces that are safe enough to admit being not fine. And the people safe enough to be not fine with. Or the time to be not fine. Being “not fine” doesn’t always feel like an option. And it doesn’t come in the most convenient of situations. And that, my friends, is really hard.
The last few weeks, albeit the whole fall and winter, I was not fine. To be clear, I had some really fun moments this fall and winter. I laughed. I visited friends and saw new things and went on some adventures. I worked hard at trying to temper fun, stress free moments into my weeks. But the weightiness of life is still heavy.
In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -MLK Jr.
We live in a culture that mostly values, esteems, and honors independence. Independence financially, emotionally, and physically. And we judge one another (including ourselves) based on our level of independence. What do we think of the 30 year old who makes enough money, but still lives at home? Or the 21 year old working a part time job at the grocery store and can’t save enough for car insurance? Or the 60 year old parents who are mailing their 35 year old child money every month to pay for rent? It is likely that we know someone in a like situation. It could also be true that we were one, or are, or have been. And it’s likely brought us shame to not be able to assert as much independence as is societally acceptable.
Most of us experience needing a certain level of financial, emotional, or physical support for a short season. We get new jobs. We find cheaper housing. We work through emotional challenges that previously made living on our own hard. We find support webs that provide us opportunities to become more independent, more free, and in more control of our own lives. We all crave control in small and large ways.
But what happens when what you thought would be a short season of dependence turns into a long, arduous, and hard season? That’s where I stand: taken by surprise by how long getting to such a place of independence would take. I want to contribute in society, and I believe I do, but not in traditional ways. Not in the ways I could before physical ilness and PTSD were a part of my life. And when you become disabled from things you could formerly do (or had hope you could eventually do), there’s all sorts of societal pressures and there’s even more personal loss. Change brings loss, and loss brings grief. Societally, I’ve felt like a defect, an anomaly, a second-class citizen.
My heart still cries for lost things.
And sometimes my whole insecure-hypervigiliant-want-to-belong-but-not-fine self has the courage to admit to someone that I am not fine, that this was nothing close to the life I dreamed and hoped for. And I wish I could say that in those moments I always find some solidarity and support. After all, the church is a place to support each other as we become Christ-like. It’s a place to carry each others burdens, to treat one another as not just a friend, but family. This Family of God entity should be the place where we learn to celebrate one another, grieve with one another, and intimately love another. We’re not meant for a life alone. The Church is the best place to be not fine.
But not many people know what to do when you’re not fine. And too often, there’s silence.
Most of us have probably heard one (or many) “I’ll pray for you“s or “You’re in my prayers.” We’ve been injured by others’ innocent attempts to give comfort with a “pat” and “quick” solution to a struggle that warrants support, not answers. It needs community, enouragement. It needs you. We were made to love God. We were made to love each other. We were made for community. But discerning how to gage circumstances and people takes time and investment.
So when someone asks how I am, I sometimes say fine. It’s usually an accidental response. I don’t mean to send mixed-messages. I don’t mean to be a hypocrite. I don’t have a hard time admitting I need help. But sometimes I need support to get back to truly being okay. Often even the risk of saying that you’re “not fine” necessitates support in the moment. The moment I give in to sadness an emotional intensity surfaces.
Thinking you are not fine to yourself and saying it out loud to another person are two very different feats. But we need eachother. We need to confess these things to each other. Sometimes those of us on the other end of the “fine” don’t know what to do or say. We are tempted to ignore the urge to press further, or drive over, or dig deeper. After all, she did just say she’s fine. She must not want support enough to be honest…
It doesn’t always take a grand and complicated gesture to step in where an act of friendship is needed. Sometimes, all it takes is a few minutes to follow through on that little nagging feeling you have in your gut. Sure, your friend may be telling you she’s fine, and maybe she really is, but what could it hurt to Vox her with a prayer of encouragement, or to show up at her workplace with a single orange balloon, or whatever else your heart may be telling you to consider? The goal, of course, is not to pry and get all up in her business if she’d rather not have you there. The goal is to simply be a friend who loves at all times.
Sometimes you feel like you’ve been drowning in sadness for so long, so much grief, that people won’t want to hear it again. Sometimes you forget what it’s like to have your hand held in solidarity, to be loved through the communication of a hug, and to just have someone show up at your house with a cupcake.
Sometimes I just want to quietly shout to anyone who will listen, “I’m not fine. Does anyone hear me?” Sometimes it’s enough to admit to someone, “Hey, I’m really lonely.”
“the link between human contact and stress relief is so primal, it’s not surprising that supportive friends and family have so many health benefits. As we grow up, we learn to connect other social contact with stress relief, generalizing from our early experience and learning to take pleasure in being in touch.”
I am tainted by the human belief that others will only love me if I act loveable. If I’m agreeable and fine and happy. And usually I am. But life can be really hard, and sometimes dark seasons don’t just last a couple weeks. So I’ve been asking God to give me grace to trust imperfect people with the same grace I need for my own imperfection.