Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The F-Word for Christians

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."


  1. You're so right!
    However ...
    I have to remind myself that most people actually want you to say fine!
    I have a bad habit of telling the dull unpalatable truth.
    'Hi, how are you'
    'Oh, I have a rotten headache, which I've had since Tuesday, and we need rain, but otherwise ....' oh, see, they've gone.
    So I think rule of thumb - caring sharing christians - talk, tell, share. Passing acquaintances 'fine' :)

    love jx

  2. Jackie, you beat me to it! I am planning to write a "part two" about that very thing.

  3. I really didn't know what to expect when I opened this...coming from you I didn't think it was going to be the ahem 'f-word' most think of.

    What a thought provoking post you've put out here. I often wonder why people ask in the first place how we are because generally speaking, they do not want to know that we are not fine.

    "God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the WISDOM to know the difference."

    Praying for that wisdom for you (and for myself) during those times when Fine is the response.

  4. Left a comment last week, but Blogger decided to take a couple of days off. Loved the way you captured this, and living it again right now.

  5. Spot on, Ellen. How often I find myself responding this way or receiving this response! We have to be willing to answer more honestly and to prod others appropriately to live as Christ indended in Christian fellowship. I think another point is that we need to be willing to slow down and actually have a conversation rather than a quick exchange of pleasantries.
    Love you and the rest of your small group!

  6. What a perceptive post. Sometimes we need to take shelter behind "fine" because the other option is to have a long involved conversation. But I agree that as listeners, we should be on the lookout.
    By the way, "fine" is used as a superlative regarding food in Aberdeen. For example a child revelling in the first few licks of an ice-cream cone might say, "That's fine!" When we first came here I loved having the really positive meaning of "fine" shined up for me this way.


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