If you ask me at church over coffee how I am doing, I will probably tell you that I am “fine.”
If there is acute suffering, then I will tell you. If I have a toothache, I will tell you. If you had asked when my friend had just died, I would have told you I was not fine, and I would have told you why.
But otherwise… “I’m fine thanks”.
Except, what if I’m not? Nothing is “majorly wrong” but I’m just a bit, well… disappointed? How do I tell you that I am disappointed in my work, my family life, my church; in myself, and maybe even in God? You know the feeling. That creeping sense of dissatisfaction. A joyless weariness that colors each day. There are no words for it, no quick ones anyway. So, yeah, I’m fine.
I’m fine in the same way as a ship is fine. I am like a wooden hulled ship, where one barnacle of regret or a couple of weeds of being let down do nothing to slow my course. Over the years, though, the barnacles cluster and the weeds grow thick and long. Above the waterline it all looks shipshape. Underneath the waves, it is another story. My way becomes sluggish, my handling slow, and in a storm it might send me to the bottom of the ocean.
January is a time when we often come face to face with our disappointments. It might be that as you look back at 2016 you find yourself dwelling over what didn’t happen, when you wish that it had — or what did happen, when you wish that it hadn’t. And as you look ahead your hopes for the next year are smaller and tamer than they used to be.
How do we deal with the problem of “I’m fine, thanks”?
It’s time to stop the pretence and start being honest. We need to trust Jesus by trusting the church he has put us in. When we refuse to open up, we preach that “The Son of Man came to seek and save the fine, the sorted and the smiling”. We need to trust our brothers and sisters with the truth about how we are doing—how we’re really doing.
That doesn’t that mean we need to tell everyone we see on Sunday everything that is going on in our lives. But it does mean enjoying being served by more brothers and sisters than we let in at the moment. Here is the way I approach openness in the church: being known fully by some and truly by all. Let me unpack that.
Being Fully Known by Some
There should be people in the church who know me. People who know the disappointments under the waterline. I know this is hard. For instance, I am a pastor in a small church, so what if I am disappointed with someone in the church? Isn’t it gossip to talk about that with others? I don’t think this has to lead to gossip (although it can!). If I talk about disappointment as it relates to my heart, I do not moan or blame others. The issue is that I need help to put my disappointments in the perspective of Christ’s coming judgment and his glorious resurrection.
I might be right to be disappointed. This is a world that our Lord has given over to frustration (Romans 8 v 20). But I need my brothers and sisters to help me see beyond that—to the world Christ has saved me for, the New Creation that will be stunningly more wonderful than I can imagine. The world which will center on Christ himself, whose glorious joy will render disappointment impossible. I need to see that my life is not determined by my disappointments, but by his final judgment. I need the hope of the resurrection and the perspective of not being my own judge. I need these truths spoken into my life by my church family. And for them to do that, I need to be known.
This is hard for a proud pastor like me, but my kind King has made it easy in the elders he has set alongside me. They know me, and I find it simple to share myself with them. The community group I lead know me too.
Being known truly by all
There are people at church I know less well, new members who I am building relationships with. There are some on the fringes I do not trust, sometimes with good reason. I will not reveal all of who I am, my disappointments and sufferings, with everyone. That would not be appropriate.
But I will try not to hide myself, though. That means if there is a pressing hurt, I will be very open, even if I can only share my reaction – “I am struggling with anger that I think is largely unrighteous. I can’t tell you who I am angry with, but can you pray with me?”. If there is not a pressing issue, I will try to be thoughtful in answering inquiries. I will resist the temptation to brush the question off with a quick, “Fine thanks”. As people get to know me better I hope they will not be surprised. The new things they learn should fit with what they already see of me, not come as a complete surprise.
So that’s the challenge—this Sunday, when someone asks you how you are, don’t say you’re “Fine, thanks”. I think you’ll be grateful you didn’t. Being known fully by some and truly by all is a way of beginning to scrape off the barnacles and feel the wind fill our sails again.
John Hindley's new book, Dealing with Disappointment: How to know joy when life doesn’t feel great (The Good Book Company, 2017), is available now.
This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permission.
John Hindley is the pastor of BroadGrace church in Norfolk, UK and the author of the bestselling Serving without Sinking. He studied for ministry at Oak Hill College, and then co-founded The Plant church in Manchester before moving to Norfolk. John is married to Flick and they have three children.
Image courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 12, 2017