Stop saying, “I’m Fine” when it isn’t true

4 min. to read.

I asked, “How are you?” They responded, “I’m Fine.” Only I knew that wasn’t true. It’s happened more times than I can remember.

  • The woman whose husband is leaving her.
  • The family whose new baby is in intensive care.
  • The twelve-stepper who is in the middle of a really painful fourth step.
  • The man who just lost his job and doesn’t know how he’s going to support his family.
  • The leader who had a terrible week and is fighting self-doubt.

It’s an easy response to give and I don’t hold it against them. A perfectionist knows how hard it is to be anything less than shiny. But this tendency is a bigger problem than you might think.

The pancake griddle that didn’t tell the truth.

"Photo

I was picking up supplies for a church event this week when I came across a box. It’s for an electric griddle. It drew my attention because I have this very model in my own kitchen, but something about the picture didn’t seem quite right.

A little later I came across that box again, and when I looked at the picture, I suddenly figured out why it seemed strange.  Take a look at the picture below and see if you can figure out the problem. I’ll wait…

In the picture on the box, the griddle’s in action. There’s pancakes and sausages right there, freshly cooked up. You can practically smell the breakfast goodness.

Except that there is no way those pancakes and sausages were cooked on that griddle. How do I know?

Because I’ve used one exactly like it and it never looks like that. The surface of the griddle is completely clean. No sheen of oil. No crispy-cracklins’ from the last round of sausages that are now over-cooked. No random drips of batter on the handles hardening into cement-grade batter barnacles.

Someone cooked up these pancakes and sausages on a different griddle and then transferred them to the “photo model,” arranging them neatly for the picture.

Look at its flawless beauty.  Not one errant drop of batter anywhere! Photo Credit: Me and my iPhone.
Look at its flawless beauty. Not one errant drop of batter anywhere!
Photo Credit: Me and my iPhone.

I chuckled at this thought. The moment I realized what they’d done, I knew I’d done it in my life as well. I love for people to see the outcome of my life and choices, but I don’t necessarily want everyone to see the messy process that it took to get there.

I’m not the only one.

  • Couples don’t talk about the struggles they have making their marriage work.
  • Parents don’t talk about how insane their children make them, how they get close to crossing the line.
  • Pastors don’t talk about struggling with doubt or fear or sin.
  • Corporations, counseled by their attorneys, won’t apologize for messes they’ve made, or acknowledge that they could have done better.

We’re all trying to show off the beautifully clean photo-model griddle with picture-perfect round pancakes and perfectly browned sausages.  “Hey, everybody!  I’m fine!” *grins*

The truth is our pancakes are weird shapes, our sausages are burned at one end, and the griddle probably wasn’t cleaned that well the last time we used it.  But we don’t want anyone to know.

You can either be real or shiny. Not both.

Do you see this tendency in your life? Bending the truth just a little so that things seem cleaner than they really are? Relating to others through “press releases” that summarize the best of what’s going on for you, rather than the truth?

This is keeping you from the kind of growth you really want to have!

Here’s what you need to know: Telling the truth is the gateway to your growth. Trying to portray your life as better than it is is a form of denial. All the energy you put into making things look perfect is energy and time that could be invested in growing, or even in enjoying your life.

Instead of pretending, you could be growing!

Whether you want to grow personally, find emotional healing or have a more engaged relationship with God, telling the truth is the gateway. Confession opens the door to relational reconciliation with others and with God. It even precedes healing! Repentance allows you to rebuild trust and credibility after you’ve blown it.

The more we live in alignment with what’s true, the more space we give God to work in us. There’s just no other way. God is truth and just doesn’t spend much time in places where the truth is covered up.

7 thoughts on “Stop saying, “I’m Fine” when it isn’t true

  1. Great Stuff! I have thought for a long time that I needed to be clean and shiny to look good, feel fine and even share my faith! I now realize how disingenuous it really is to be that Teflon squeaky clean. People can not relate to that! Life is messy. Relationships are messy! I need to be honest with myself when things are not fine and speak truth to others so that they too
    may also take themselves off the hook!

    1. Hey Sonya, Isn’t it true! We collude with each other, and make everyone feel like they need to pretend. It’s so bad for us and for our communities. My view of church changed so dramatically when I realized that if we were really following our mission given by Jesus, that lots of messy broken people would be living their messy broken lives out in the open. Even if people were growing, there would always be new broken people joining in!

  2. “Just tell the truth.” Interesting thought. The problem I have with that is …the past is a lie and the future is a fantasy. Pick any event from your past…good, bad, it doesn’t matter. Now tell that event to someone. Did you notice the context you conveyed with the story. Typically, if the story was a “happy” event, we dress it up with bright verbage and we want to identify with it. If the story is “bad”, we tell it as a victim and use verbage to support our case as victims. Nobody tells a story “truthfully.” I’m not even sure it is possible…that would imply we can convey the truth exactly as it is/was. I think the healthy position is to know that we do this type of thing. Stand back from “yourself” and you will realize we all create our own version of the truth…the one we want the world to see. The real problem is that we always want to protect the “I” that is telling the story. The ultimate truth, the one few want to be faced with, is that even the “I” is not true…How can something, the “I” which is not true, know what is true?

  3. Hi Marc, thanks for this article. I’m experiencing this — the difficulty of having to answer a cheery “How are you?” a lot lately, when in reality there’s been a level of emotional pain that has made my knees buckle under its enormous weight. I know the Scriptures pretty well (this is not because I’m particularly intelligent but because I’m well past “middle age” and have been blessed to have been exposed to them nearly my entire life), so in my mind and heart I hear “Rejoice in the Lord always”, “In everything give thanks”, “all things work together for good”, etc, and while those are all essential truths/ exhortations, they’re a lot more readily quoted than lived out. There’s a balance there somewhere, but it’s challenging to distinctly see that balance through tear-clouded eyes, huh? Nonetheless, we know that God is good all the time” is indeed more than a pithy bumper-sticker-slogan, and Romans 8:18 and 28 and 35-39 (ok, the whole chapter! :-)) and all the other sweet promises of God are wholly true and faithful.
    “We may trust him fully,
    All for us to do;
    They who trust him wholly
    Find Him wholly true.” <3

    Appreciate you.

    1. Scripture also tells us to mourn with those who mourn, and that there is a time for everything! I think the best way for us to get to the “good times” is to be honest about the hard ones.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

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