“Hi Erika. We missed you last week. How are you?” I greeted my friend as she arrived at the Toastmasters meeting.
“I’m fine.” Erika’s words tried to communicate health and happiness, but the locked mouth and downcast eyes spoke louder than the sounds that came out of her lips. Erika definitely was not fine.
Through a few more questions, I discovered that Erika had just experienced a deep disappointment. So why did she she say otherwise?
How often have you pasted a smile on your face and responded, “I’m fine” even when your heart was aching? How many times have you hidden your pain?
Of course, the question, “How are you?” has become a standard greeting and I’m not going to share my heartaches with the checkout clerk at Walmart or the waitress at Olive Garden. But how many times have I avoided authenticity and vulnerability with friends?
If you approached me with the “How are you?” question, I might be tempted to respond with the default “Fine” because I’m afraid to expose my vulnerability, my imperfections. I want to talk about how busy I am and project an appearance of importance. I might mention the concerts I’ve attended in order to impress you with my social life. I’ll bring up the topic of my son’s job promotion to highlight my awesome family.
At the same time, I might avoid talking about the numerous professional rejections I’ve received lately, because that might make me seem ineffective. I probably wouldn’t bring up the mistake I made at work because that would show you my imperfections. I’d sidestep the issue of my loneliness because that would make me vulnerable to your pity.
Authenticity frightens us. So we cover our disappointments like we dab on makeup to conceal our blemishes. We hide our anxiety, our doubts, our imperfections behind a mask of “Fine.”
But God wants us to practice honesty with one another. Colossians 3:9-10 says:
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Certainly, lying refers to all deceit, but I think God is also expressing his wish that we open up to one another. Our Father invites you to not hide behind a mask—to be the person he created you to be.
In Colossians, Paul tells us we can do this because we have put off the old self that is so concerned about image, so reliant on the opinion of others. In Christ, we have put on the new self. When God looks at us, he sees the perfection of his Son. We don’t have to put on airs to impress God. And because of this, we can admit our weaknesses and open up about our insecurities—to God and to his people.
Assess Your Authenticity
How about you? Do you embrace authenticity? Or are you tempted to hide behind the mask of “Fine”? Ask yourself these questions:
- Do I constantly try to appear in control?
- Am I reluctant to admit mistakes because I don’t want to expose my flaws?
- Do I find it difficult to ask for help because I want to appear strong?
- Do I exaggerate a story to make my life sound more fascinating than it is?
- Do I avoid asking a Christian friend to pray for my struggle because I don’t want to admit a weakness?
Embracing vulnerability may start with being truthful with ourselves. As we notice the times when we’ve spoken the standard, “I’m fine” even when we’re not, we can ask ourselves why. We can remember the truth that God’s love does not demand perfection and look for brothers and sisters in Christ who will love us despite our flaws.
The beauty of authenticity is that it usually is contagious. I find that when I talk about my failures and fears, others also let their own masks of “fine” fall. We all long to have someone understand our pain and share our anxieties. Sometimes I need to take the first brave step of exposing my vulnerability before the other person feels safe to do so too.
God wants us to help each other bear the grief of discouragement. Paul told the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). How can a friend help me carry the load of pain if she doesn’t know one exists? How can a sister in Christ lend her strength to my aching heart if she doesn’t know I need it?
The next time someone asks you, “How are you?” think before you say, “I’m fine.” Of course, you still won’t tell all your agonies to the Olive Garden server, but look for opportunities for authenticity. Pray for the courage to be vulnerable and open. Ask the Father for brothers and sisters in Christ who will hear your hurts and help bear your burdens. You will probably find someone else praying for the same thing.
This article is adapted from Sharla’s book Bless These Lips: 40 Days of Spiritual Renewal, published by Concordia Publishing House.