"Are you okay?"
Is that not the most loaded question in the English language? I can't speak for you, but for me - the internal dialogue I have when posed with that particular question is blisteringly fast and peppered with moments of honesty and shame disguised as humor. What answer do I normally give? Depends on who's asking and my current mental state.
The mental gymnastics one has to perform to even determine if oneself is even "okay" is exhausting.
Am I okay?
Why am I not okay?
I should be okay, right?
THEY certainly think I should be okay.
I know they think I should be okay.
But I'm not okay and I can't let them see that.
If people see I'm not okay they'll think something's wrong.
If I was stronger I would be okay.
If I had more faith I KNOW I would be okay.
There must be a problem with my faith.
There must be a problem with me.
Is there a problem with me?
No, ha, I'm fine...
By the end of the routine you're worn out and the other party is awkwardly trying to determine if they've opened up Pandora's Box of Unresolved Emotions and Mental Fragility and whether or not it's socially acceptable to slowly back away smiling and nodding.
Alright, that's a tad dramatic (which my adoring wife says I tend to be) but you get the picture. That question - Are you okay? - is such a stressful question to try to answer and answer honestly. It begins to open doors we desperately want to keep shut and cast reflections of things we thought long since buried and dealt with.
I want to take a moment and I want tell you something I wish someone would have told me sooner and more often...
Are you ready? Because I was not when I first heard and wrestled with this - not truly...
My dear friend, it's okay to not be okay.
Now, take a moment and read that sentence again. Because your emotional, spiritual, and physical health could very well hinge on you fully understanding what that sentence means. I'm really not attempting to be dramatic here (thanks babe), but this is a lesson I wish I learned years ago and it's one, unfortunately, that I'm constantly having to relearn as I get older.
It's perfectly acceptable for you and me to be:
Here's another thought I want to highlight for you - let go of what other people think and their expectations.
If you're going through something that feels like all 13,170,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 pounds of the Earth is camping out on your shoulders, do not - and I can't state this strongly enough - DO NOT add the burden of what others think or expect onto your already overwhelmed emotional and spiritual state.
We do that, though. Especially us Bible-believing, Christ-confessing, church-going, prayer-offering, worship-giving, trying-to-live-our-best-lives-now-but-struggling-sometimes Christians. We make other's emotional well-being our responsibility or we become consumed with what others are thinking about us and our current situation. So we fake it 'til we make it, right? And then we suffer silently when we're alone.
My wife and I were discussing this the other night with a friend of ours from church - this idea that, as Christians, people tend to believe that we should have all of our lives completely put together. Our lives should be a perfect reflection of Christ 24/7 and no amount of turmoil or stress should ever diminish our abundant joy and overflowing cups of hope and peace.
But that's not real life, is it? In real life, things happen that we wish we could change.
We lose our job.
The kids struggle in school.
Our loved one passes away.
A friend betrays us.
The parents get a divorce.
The tests come back positive.
The truck runs the red light.
The events that upend our idyllic environment are limitless and often approach without warning. They're merciless in their destruction and they don't care whether you were raised "cuttin' your teeth on the church pews" or you've never even stepped in the doors of a church.
When these dark valleys come, we tend to struggle with being honest with ourselves, others, and even God.
Oh you don't? Well, Saint of God, just humor me while I have a therapy session...
Honesty with Ourselves
I struggle(d) to be honest with myself. Note the past and present tense there.
Even before the traumatic events of the last couple of years, I never intentionally sought out to understand why I reacted the way I did to certain circumstances in my life. It wasn't until the past few years I realized that my attempts to use humor to mask real wounds wasn't actually making those wounds any less painful. Honestly, I would chase anything and everything to just not have to acknowledge there were problems. Anything was fair game that would distract from me the underlying issues. They were there all along and I was just fooling myself into thinking that I was really fine.
That's such a human reaction isn't it? Our natural tendency is to experience those painful and often, life-altering moments but then mask them behind a myriad of illusions. We pretend we're fine. We masquerade as well-rounded individuals with fully put together lives. We bury ourselves with hobbies or work. We search for objects or people that can help dull the constant reminder that we're not okay. But what are we really doing?
We're lying to ourselves. And how do we change course and get off that terrible self-delusional merry-go-round? You recognize and accept you're not okay.
Honesty with Others
During our conversation, our friend made an incredibly accurate point: historically in the church, if you were struggling and not okay, there was a certain condemnation that was placed upon you. Hence, we would walk around acting like everything was okay when, in truth, the opposite couldn't be more true. We still do.
Being honest with others can at times be even more difficult than being honest with yourself. We want to put our best foot forward. We don't want to burden others with worry so we act much stronger than we truly are or feel. But what we often fail to realize is, when we are open and honest with our struggles, hurts, and pains, we are in fact ministering to people carrying their own heartaches and woes.
When we share how we feel about the valleys we may walk through, we are signaling to others that they're not alone in their struggles. We essentially live out the command given to the church in Galatia by the Apostle Paul - to bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Honesty with God
How foolish we are to think that we can hide from God how we truly feel. But we try don't we? Often, we are not honest with God because we feel like He dropped the ball somewhere along the line and that's why we're in the mess we're in.
If God had just done what He was supposed to I wouldn't be facing this...
We don't typically voice these feelings but we feel them all the same. I felt them. When we walked through the miscarriages and then Dad's sickness, I often felt that God had made some kind of mistake. But did I tell Him? Not for a long time. I would sometimes struggle with that familiar lie that, if I had more faith, I wouldn't be wrestling with these feelings. I wrongly assumed it was all a spiritual issue and that strictly faith and belief in God's goodness would "right the ship." The truth of God's goodness aside (and He is infinitely good), there were and are times when I definitely didn't feel like He was good. At least not when it came to me and mine.
So then what?
Even when you don't feel like it, tell Him.
Here's the key: God is big enough to handle our doubt and discouragement. He's big enough to take on our anger and frustrations. He can handle it. But it's not an easy thing to be vulnerable enough to tell someone you're hurt and they've let you down - let alone the Creator of the Universe. However, that's exactly what He's called us to do.
You remember Peter? You know, the one disciple who struggled with his temper and rash comments? Peter instructs us in 1 Peter 5:7 to "cast all our cares upon the Lord, for He cares for you." Yahweh cares for you and thus invites us to pour our hearts out to Him. Every frustration, every struggle, every pain - He desires that we lay those down at His feet.
Yes, those feelings are very real and we are very much not okay - but He wants to carry those things for us and, ultimately, carry us. He longs to comfort and soothe the broken and wounded areas of our lives if only we'll be honest with Him about them.
Are you Okay?
Are you? It's okay if you're not. There have been times I've not been okay. There were times our family has not been okay. You know what that means? You and me, and all of us - we're human. And if you're not okay, do you know what the best course of action is?
Lean into the love of God. Understand that even in the most tumultuous storm, Christ loves you, eternally. Recognize that Christ gave Himself up for you and has invited you to be a part of His Kingdom.
His grace is sufficient for you, especially when you're not okay.