It’s All Good (text & audio)

It usually comes at the end of a list. A list of bad things. Like this: Well, at least one of the kids has been sick since mid-December, I got in a fender bender yesterday, and I just found out that my company is outsourcing my whole department. But it’s all good. Usually followed by a half smile and a rapid change of subject.

It’s all good. It makes me think of the famous scene from the Princess Bride – that word? I do not think it means what you think it means!

It’s all good. I can’t say I don’t appreciate what the phrase is trying to accomplish. I think it comes out of a wish to appear strong and capable – to be “looking on the bright side.” When things are really going badly, we don’t want to be a downer. We don’t want people to think we’re not competent, or that we are falling apart at the seams. We think we want or need privacy.

This glossing over our lived reality may help us hold it together in the short term, but in the long run, we are losing an important opportunity. We lose the opportunity to pull off the mask of attempted perfection and show our true face.

What would it look like, do you think, if we told each other the truth? So often, we know, through conversations with other friends, or through social media that something is “up” with a friend. But we aren’t sure how to broach the subject, and so we say nothing. Perhaps we ask something general, like, “are you ok?” And then our friend says, “I’m fine,” because how do you begin to answer the question when it feels like everything is falling apart around you.

When I worked as a chaplain, a colleague and I developed a shorthand that was very helpful – we’d say “good morning,” or “hey, how has your day been?” and if one of us answered, “oh, I’m fine,” without thinking it through, the other would pause, and say, “Hmm… are you? Or is this, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine?’” Because we had learned that when either of us said quickly, “I’m fine, I’m fine,” we usually weren’t.

Why are we so set on convincing each other that it’s all good? That we’re just fine, really. Is it some kind of competitiveness or one-upmanship? Or is it something else? Perhaps we have an honest wish to not be a “downer,” a need to go unnoticed. But if you are truly self-differentiated, you can say, “things are difficult, but I’m in a strong place.” “All of those things – about my sick kids, my job and the rest of my life – are true, but we are coping.” Or, “you know, this has been a really hard time for me, and I’m having a hard time getting back on my feet.”

This is NOT glossing over the truth, but diving deep and allowing the truth to stand on its own.  And when we are not trying to avoid our lived reality, we can more easily move through it.

We might also say ‘it’s all good’ because we aren’t sure the listener has the courage to hear what we have to say. Did my friend ask me how I am as a perfunctory conversational trope? Or did she really want to know the answer? Will he listen as I tell him the truth?

Telling the truth requires us to risk vulnerability.

Hearing the truth requires us to acknowledge that we can’t fix or change another person’s pain.

And neither of these is easy to do.

When we risk vulnerability, we are exposing a soft underbelly that is actually full of possibility, full of depth and potential relationship. I am not suggesting that we bare our souls to every person we meet. The first step is being a good listener – when we allow ourselves to practice, we can model the response we wish to receive.

Try it. Ask a friend how they are, and really mean it. Make eye contact. Pause. And listen.

Remember the Velveteen Rabbit of children’s nursery fame? What is it that made him “real?” Living. Fulfilling his life’s purpose, which for the rabbit, was to inhabit the dreams and imagination of a little boy. In the story, it is called becoming “real.” Brené Brown calls it authenticity. She says, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” [1]

My life’s purpose is to risk being present with people, to hold up a mirror, to be available to truly see you when you need to be seen, to hear your story and listen deeply.  With that in mind, being real, for me, is accomplished by showing up as fully engaged and fully committed to my ministry as I can be in a given moment—risking the experience of vulnerability with you at the same time I am listening deeply to your lived reality.

In my first sermon here at UUCA, I used a reading that includes my favorite quote, “What you risk reveals what you value.” Some moments the commitment is clear and simple. But sometimes it isn’t easy. It has been especially difficult to stay present these past few months since the second minister call process began. It’s an odd process, to be sure. It is kind of like having a performance evaluation done by 600 people. Well, no, it’s not kind of like that. It is that.

As the process unfolds, there is a fair amount of anxiety in the system – which is related to many different things. Some of you are not sure what the process exactly means. Others of you are so close in the middle of it that you can’t imagine thinking of anything else. There are questions on the table about whether I am a good fit for this congregation and questions about what it means to commit to a second called minister.

And through it all, I am getting an extended object lesson in vulnerability. I have no action to take at this point but to continue to show up and do what I do. To continue my ministry of presence. To continue to risk. To lean into the uncomfortable moments and let the discomfort remind me who I am and why I am here. I am here to witness and honor your moments of discomfort and struggle, to celebrate your joys and to help you dive deeper. And as you dive deeper, I am reminded of my own experience of depth, my own ability to stand firm in the midst of chaos.

I am made real by my engagement in this process.

We each have an opportunity to reflect upon our own life’s purpose. How do you become real? How do you find a way to express your own authentic experience in a fast-moving life? The vulnerability required to do this can feel impossibly daunting, and so you can start small. Start by looking at your own experience and being honest about where you are in it. Do you feel grounded? What are you dodging or avoiding?

This month’s theme is “Capital T Truth.” If we risk sharing our “lower case t truth,” which is whatever happens to be true for us in a given moment, we open the door to finding the capital T Truth. We live in a consumer culture that teaches us that the capital T Truth is an idea or a concept we can learn how to do and once we master it, we are fixed.  But this is not accurate. You are true when you allow yourself to be all of who you are. The capital T truth is YOU. Do you have a face you show to the world, and a face you are afraid for anyone to see? The more you are able to peel away the mask and show your true face, the more the two faces begin to be the same face.

It’s NOT all good – is it really OK to say it? The line between being a downer and being honest is, again, about authenticity and self-differentiation. It’s NOT all good, so try something like this, instead, ‘You know, I’ve got to be honest, this is a hard time, but I am doing my best to stay grounded. To remember the things that are good. And to let myself feel how I feel.’

Perhaps the line between honesty and obfuscation can be our engagement in trying to shift what can be shifted. What are your coping mechanisms? How are you getting yourself through? It’s ok to say that you are struggling without being stuck. And sometimes you are stuck.

The Real You is worthy of honor. The real you is capable of being stuck and OK at the same time. The real you is strong and bold and can push forward with the same force and commitment you used to use to avoid the feelings of vulnerability. The real you can handle the capital T Truth. And only you can decide who in your life can hold this truth with you.

What are the consequences of true honesty? “you know, things are pretty difficult these days, but we are coping.”

What would you lose?

The illusion of perfection?

A self-protected place that feels safe but is really quite lonely?

Authenticity requires vulnerability, and “it’s all good” shuts down all possibility of either vulnerability or connection.

Part of the problem is our fixit culture. If you are talking to someone who is going to try to fix your problem and won’t be able to hear your full experience, then of course you won’t want to share what’s true. But what if we interacted in a different way. There is a different paradigm. A paradigm based on connection and honesty instead of fear of exposure

According to Brown, “One of the greatest barriers to connection is the cultural importance we place on “going it alone.” Somehow we’ve come to equate success with not needing anyone. Many of us are willing to extend a helping hand, but we’re very reluctant to reach out for help when we need it ourselves. It’s as if we’ve divided the world into “those who offer help” and “those who need help.” The truth is that we are both.”[2]

And if we are both offerers of help and needers of help, then the truth is that we can learn from one another. We can sit together in the midst of the capital T Truth

The true cost of honesty is connection. It is the risk of deeper relationship.

Brown “…defines connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” [3]

I feel this same kind of connective energy in our weekly candle lighting ritual. It is such a beautiful dance. There is a profound power in the silence – in the honoring of our joys and sorrows without speaking them aloud. These profound moments, shared in silence, sometimes with a tear or a smile, the touch of a hand, a pause as the candle is placed in the chalice. These moments are pure and authentic and have a depth to them – it seems as if I can feel the currents of your lives as you come forward and share the light that represents your heart.

And yet, even in those moments of deep connection, we do not know the substance of one another’s lived experience.

Joyce Sidman tells us

“It is time to look into

each other’s faces,

we who glide along the surface,

time to dive down

and feel the currents

of each other’s lives.

Time to speak until the air

holds all of our voices.

Time to weave for each other

a garment of brightness.

To dive down and feel the currents of each other’s lives.

This requires presence and attention.

To speak until the air holds all of our voices.

This requires strength and trust.

And so I trust you with my voice today.