Gut punches hurt. Especially when you don’t see them coming. Expectation insulates. But when life happens and things occur that weren’t on the radar – at all – that’s life at a whole other level. And not a pleasant one. The Richter scale isn’t just for earthquakes. It can describe days, too.
In the midst of invisible rubble, we’re often asked, “Are you OK?” What do we say to those who ask? And more importantly, what do we say to ourselves?
Most of humanity should win an Academy Award. Covering up pain is just what we do. Maybe it’s because we don’t want to appear weak, maybe it’s because we’re too rushed to have a meaningful conversation, or maybe it’s because we have few friends with whom we can have a meaningful conversation.
I know how it is. We don’t like (or expect) people to unload their emotional dump truck on us, so we carry our own cards very close. “How are you doing?” “Fine.” “How’s it going?” “Good.” The routine contains well-worn ruts of social interaction. But when public banter hides private agony, that disparity, ignored, will slowly eat away at a deep place.
I’m not suggesting that amidst struggle and disappointment every conversation contain a cathartic dirty bomb, but real life demands authentic response. We don’t win style points for sucking it up. Get around a trusted soul, and answer honestly. “No, I’m not OK.” “No, I don’t understand why this is happening.” “No, I’m struggling with how to process this.” If we don’t have friends to whom we can say “No”, we need more friends.
But I Will Be
I’m convinced I’m going to think my casket is comfortable. It’s just the way I’m wired. I’m a glass-half-full kind of person. But with a positive bent, comes the risk of naive thinking. Or worse, the tendency to respond to struggle with insufficient means.
With apologies to Norman Vincent Peale, personal positive thinking certainly makes life more enjoyable, but by itself, falls short in animating a life struggling to answer “why?”.
Perspective is what we need.
Perspective – the ability to see past the shaky present, to a more stable future, is possible. Perspective – the ability to distinguish between a chapter and a book, is achievable.
I’m utterly convinced the ability to say “No, I’m not OK, but I will be,” and believe it, is real, and is achieved in communion with others. “But I will be” isn’t a reward for convincing yourself, but is the result of relationship with those closest to you and a loving God.
So how do we get to “but I will be”?
Get around people you trust and people who genuinely care about you. Isolated people fight armies with a single sword. We weren’t meant to live, and battle, this way. Shared strength is exactly that, strength.
A life that’s difficult demands community. There’s just no other way. Talk to those you trust. Drop the public persona and be real with them. Describe what the neighborhood you’re living in looks like.
And pray. If you’re a Christian like I am, this sounds predictable, I know. If you’re not a person of faith, even if it’s for a day, choose to believe God exists, and talk to him. Even if it feels weird, and you don’t know what to say, pray.
When it comes to praying, it’s been my experience that knowledge isn’t the issue. It’s the doing it. When we pray, we unload. The burden gets lighter. And that’s a good thing. So pray like you feel. Don’t worry. God’s not offended by questions, strong language, frustrations, or emotion. You talk. He’ll listen.
And finally, lest the image be given that the author of this blog sits on an ivory tower dispensing advice, commenting on life, happily living on an existential plane far above the reader, let’s discuss how things are today. You ask a question, I’ll respond.
(Reader) “Are you OK?”
(Todd) “No. But I will be.”
Come on. It’s real life. Let’s live it.