A few days ago, I used the F-word in front of our senior pastor.
Wait, maybe I should back up a little. Set the scene a bit so you don't think I'm totally a monster. You see, I have a real problem with the F-word. As in, it flies a little too easily out of my mouth. Casual conversations, quick email responses, phone calls, you name it. It's just all too easy to use it.
And the thing is that I know that I shouldn't be throwing the F-word out there all the time like that. Clearly, it is a blatant misuse of language. When I use that word, I am sending a clear message, giving the hearer an impression of me that could be severely misleading.
So, there I was standing at the counter, waiting for my burger with no tomato and extra avocado, and the senior pastor of our church (and my BOSS, I might add) walked up next to me and smiled.
"How are you, Sarah?" he asked.
Without even giving it a moment of thought, the word jumped out of my mouth.
Have you been there? Where that word has been your automatic response when, truth be told, you are NOT fine. In fact, you are far from fine. But when you're standing in the lunch line, checking your kids in for their appointment at the dentist, or when you randomly run into a classmate you haven't seen in fifteen years, it's not like you're just going to go for it and unleash all the not-fine things going on right now, right? And maybe you actually ARE fine. Maybe you are healthy, your kids are healthy, your job is amazing, and there is nothing keeping you up at night right now, nothing causing you to chew your cuticles or hide Oreos in the pantry.
But as I waited for my burger that day, that was not my story. Things were not fine. I used the word anyway because it is safe. It's the response people expect, the polite reply that moves the conversation along without making it awkward. Nobody gets hurt, nobody's schedule is interrupted, and we can all walk away unharmed.
For someone who is always talking about the value of authenticity, vulnerability and honesty, I fully admit to the irony that I chose the safe way out….at least at first. As soon as I had uttered the F-word, I knew I had just lied and I decided to take the risk and be honest.
"Actually, I'm not really all that fine," I stated, "Things are kind of difficult right now. My schedule is a mess, I'm stressed about work, and our marriage is in a really tough place." I went on to elaborate about these things and my pastor was gracious enough to listen.
Now, I'm not saying that every time the cashier at Target asks how we are today we should be blurting out "Ohmygosh I have the WORST cramps today and I'm bleeding like a stuck pig!" There is a fine line between being authentic and TMI.
What I am saying is that when someone who cares about us (who we trust and respect) asks about our well-being, choosing to lie to them and just say "Fine" when it is very much NOT, is harmful to everyone. Wounds go un-healed, frustrations get bottled up, and often we begin to feel very much alone, wondering if anyone would even care about what we are going through anyway. The walls go up and we become determined to defend those boundaries, not allowing anyone to get too close out of fear that they might see the mess we like to keep hidden behind closed doors.
In my experience, the F-word does far more harm than good.
Now, it's not like I expected my pastor to abandon his burger, sit down with me right then and there and invest in a deep conversation about my marital issues, but I can tell you that in the few moments it took to tell him the truth and have him listen without judging, it made me feel a heck of a lot better. Because he had fixed all my troubles and made everything hunky-dory? Of course not! (Do people even use the term hunky-dory anymore?)
What makes all the difference is when we can listen and empathize with someone without judging them or trying to take control. When we take the F-word out of the equation, we are giving others permission to reach toward us and lovingly help us carry the weight that is too heavy for one set of shoulders alone.
In Galatians 6:2, Paul writes about "bearing one another's burdens." I love how The Message translates this passage:
Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out. Stoop down and reach out to those who are oppressed. Share their burdens, and so complete Christ’s law. If you think you are too good for that, you are badly deceived. (Galatians 6:1-3)
May we do just that. May we live creatively, moving beyond canned responses and apathy to a place where we can keep our mouths shut when necessary and our hearts open as we stoop down, stopping what we are doing to share the burden of someone else. We aren't called to fix it, but by meeting someone in their pain we are doing precisely what Christ called us to do - love our neighbor as ourselves.
By choosing to honest with my language and allowing myself to be authentic about my burdens, I am giving others the opportunity to be more Christ-like.
Can we challenge one another in this? Spouses, friends, family members, brothers & sisters of the Church? Let us not be deceived, we are not too good to admit when we are NOT fine.
How's that for a reason to quit using the F-Word?