My women's small group (there are five of us) met yesterday at church. We've been together for several years and know each other very well. As one of us related a story involving a particularly frustrating and disappointing event, another one piped up, "Here it comes. The Christian f-word."
I cocked an eyebrow at her. (Lifting one eyebrow is a useful skill; that one action conveys so much meaning.)
She grinned back at me. "You know," she said. "Fine."
Sure enough, the story-relater ended with: "Everything will work out. It'll all be fine."
And we all laughed. Because she said it. The f-word.
Don't we all say it?
How are you? You seemed sad yesterday.
Oh, I'm fine.
How's your brother? (The one who's divorcing.)
Pretty good. He'll be fine.
And one of my favorite examples comes from a woman I know who called a friend's husband to check on the friend after one of her many ultimately useless chemotherapy treatments:
"So how's she doing?"
Husband replied, "She's good. She's fine."
The woman I know thought to herself, "She's dying, but she's totally fine."
No matter what's falling apart, we're all just fine.
I suppose one reason we automatically reach for the f-word when people ask about our lives is the whole "keep a stiff upper lip" philosophy. After all, everyone has problems, right? And whining is so unattractive.
Also, fine functions supremely well as a self-imposed gag. It's one thing to keep our bad stuff inside our own minds; but to give voice to them is to make them more real, to acknowledge that something is not okay. And once we've spoken, can we ever take it back?
And the f-word has another seductive quality: it keeps other people at arm's length and ourselves under control. Perhaps it was easier for the husband in the story above to tell people his wife was fine than it was to admit that his world was turning to ashes and there was nothing he could do about it.
Of course, sometimes fine means just that: everything is wonderful. For me, however, that word has taken on new significance. It's now a red flag, albeit a small one, alerting me to the possibility of a knee-jerk response, that there might be more to the story. I pray for wisdom to discern when that might be the case.
And I pray for grace enough to take the time, when someone answers me breezily "Oh, I'm fine," to respond gently, "Honestly? Because if not, I want to do what I can to help."