Thursday, February 7, 2013

I'm okay, you're okay?

Although I really appreciate the insight that many of you have had, here in the comments section and in the emails you’ve sent me privately, I still don’t know exactly what I believe about what trust is and what we’re trusting in or trusting for.

Having said that, though, I was reminded of something I say to clients at least once a week that goes back to some work I did on fear at least 20 years ago.  In helping people deal with fear, I became aware that there are really only two options for minimizing the experience of fear.  One is the conclusion that the thing we fear is unlikely to happen. The other is the conviction that if the thing we fear does happen, we will be okay. 

In the first case, we look at statistics or probability and figure out that our fear is mostly unfounded.   That’s what is happening when I get on airplanes (even though I am pathetically afraid of flying) because I know that there are staggering statistical odds in my favor.

In the second case, though, we have to rely a lot more on some kind of inner  confidence that we will somehow be—on a deep level—okay even if we end up facing our fear in reality. 

I found myself really connecting with this idea as I listened to a sermon by Dallas Willard.  I hesitate to paraphrase what he said but this is what I heard:  as he talked about the gospel story of Jesus calming the storm, he indicated that Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat during the raging storm because he knew on a deep level that he was safe no matter what happened to the boat. 

I was really intrigued by the simplicity of that idea:  that trusting God is not trusting the probability of a particular outcome (the boat reaches shore safely) but trusting the heart of a Person and believing that we are okay no matter what happens to the boat.

I guess then it comes down to what we mean by “okay.”  People sometimes tell me that they are most certainly not okay but as we talk about it, it becomes clear that what they really mean is that they are in terrible pain.  We then begin to talk about whether it is possible to be in real emotional pain and yet still—on some fundamental level—be okay.  For people who have that moment of understanding that for them, it is possible to be in pain and yet still be fundamentally okay, there is an epiphany that is life-changing.  They are able to authentically voice their very real pain and take it very seriously while at the same time experiencing that in this moment, they are still able to breathe and to love and to hold tight to life. 

On the one hand, I still question two things:  Are we actually okay?  And as human beings, can we really know that we are okay?  And I’m encouraged by my conviction that yes, this is the essence of the gospel and I’m encouraged by the stories of people I know and people I don’t know about their own profound sense of okay-ness in the face of much deeper suffering than I have ever known. 

1 comment:

Electric Monk said...

I'll offer another take on the idea of being "okay." We often hear the thankful prayer of someone who was seconds away from a serious car accident and was "protected by God's hand." Of course, people are injured in car accidents all the time - are they not "okay" too? Did God withdraw his protection from them? Or is being okay something different, something more than the safety and security of our immediate circumstances?
And, from another angle, if I maintain that God will always keep me “okay,” does the word continue to have any meaning? If my belief is such that I can never NOT be okay, then what’s the point of even asking the question?