It's okay to not be okay
“How are you doing?”
“Good! How are you?”
This is the classic exchange we all find ourselves in among acquaintances, family members, old friends, and co-workers. We ask each other a basic question and we give each other a basic answer. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes a quick “Good” can communicate a lot. Sometimes it means “Great, but I can’t talk too much right now.” or “Not great, but I don’t really want to talk about it right now.” However, this overused example reveals something deeper about our culture: It’s not okay to not be okay.
The issue I am talking about is vulnerability. I recently had a friend share with me that he felt I wasn’t being vulnerable enough with him. He told me that when he asked me how I was doing, I would give him brief and shallow answers. He felt that this put a barrier between us - and he was right. I was giving him the polished version of myself, not the real deal. Paul often modeled vulnerability in his letters, as did the other apostles:
Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Cor. 11:28-29)
The apostles were very good at allowing people to peer into their hearts. When they were grieving, they let their brothers and sisters in Christ know. They didn’t do so in a whining manner. They didn’t drag on endlessly about themselves and dominate the conversation with their problems. But they also didn’t lie about how they were truly feeling. And they learned how do this from Christ himself. Jesus modeled vulnerability when he hung on a cross. He did not hide his pain or sorrow.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46)
Jesus was able to express the full range of emotions. Joy, anger, sadness, grief, surprise, etc. Jesus felt things deeply, and when you read the gospels you truly get a sense of how deep his heart ran with emotion (both positive and negative). When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus had died, he wept. When Jesus was distressed by the cross, he prayed. And he hid none of this from people.
So why do we hide all our negative emotions? Why do we refuse to share what we are feeling with others? Well, there are many reasons. However, the main reason I would suggest is pride. We don’t want other people to see us bleed. We don’t want other people to see beyond the polished life we have built for ourselves. We go to great lengths to show others how well we are doing. We post all our highlights on social media and tell the amazing stories about victories in our lives. However what often connects us is grief, loss, and sorrow.
My fellow Christian, it is okay to not be okay. Read these words from David when he is alone in the wilderness
“My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” (Psalm 42:3-5)
David’s ability to process his own emotions and articulate them before God strengthened his character. The same will happen with us. Process your emotions before God. Understand your feelings. And, when you are ready, freely share them with those you love. Let people know when you aren’t doing okay. If you live behind the polished image of a perfect Christian, people will not be able to help you when you stumble. They won’t know when you are falling. And soon, if you are not careful, you will find yourself alone.
So here are three closing thoughts for you as you battle to be vulnerable:
1 - You are not the hero, Jesus is.
I know some of you feel a deep pressure to be the hero for everybody. You are surrounded by people who need you and rely on you. So, you put on a brave face. You endure hardship and ignore sorrow for the sake of others. Let me encourage you with this: people will be blessed when you point to Jesus in the midst of suffering. The last thing you want is for people to look to YOU instead of JESUS when times are hard.
2 - Share joys as well as sorrows.
Some people are really good about sharing their struggles. As a pastor, I am continually surrounded by people that have no problem sharing what is wrong with them. Some people need to practice vulnerability, others need to practice joy. If we do not share the good things happening in our lives and only share the bad, we make people feel like we always need something from them. Friendship is about sharing the highs as well as the lows.
3 - Jesus hears you.
Some of you may feel like your problems fall on deaf ears. You may feel like nobody truly is listening to you or understands your issues. Rest assured that Jesus does. He hears you, he loves you, and he is for you. Lean on him. Speak to him. Rely on him.