Among Christians particularly, but generally as Nigerians, we have adopted a culture of hushing or suppressing anything that might even presume to be negative. How many of us have seen or even been that person with a 40 degree fever, rheumy eyes and aching joints who when asked “How are you? replies from behind noisily chattering teeth “I’m strong o!” Or when someone asks you for a quick loan, you think regretfully of your empty wallet and go “I’m a little rich right now”
We have substituted denial for faith and optimism, and people around us are suffering as a result. I’ll never forget the young girl that committed suicide last year, or the many comments about how “Nigerians don’t commit suicide”, I find myself wondering if she wanted to tell someone how she felt, but was held back by the feeling that she needed to “keep it together and stop talking like that”
Now please, make no mistake. I’m not advocating pity parties or gloomy melancholy tales of tragedy, but this insistence on “talking right” as opposed to “feeling right” forces many people into pretending that real life situations or problems do not exist. It makes people wonder why they seem to be the only ones that bad things happen to, or the only ones who are not victorious. It stops people from seeking help for fear of being failures.
Life has good moments and bad moments. There must be a mix of both for us to live a balanced and healthy life. When we refuse to acknowledge feelings or situations, we make it impossible to learn and/or recover. For every Christian that insists on “only positive confessions”, I am tempted to refer them to the Psalms. Half of David’s writings are either about overwhelming despair, frustration or the ancient Hebrew equivalent of ‘Thunder fire my enemies!’ but I believe that it was these moments that helped him to appreciate all the good that came to his life, and which were the inspiration for all the words of praise and hope which many of the Psalms are known for. And when Paul writes eloquently of being more than a conqueror, he can speak competently because of all the troubles he experienced, troubles described in many of the other epistles. The bottom line is, victories cannot be won without battles being fought, and when we decide that people can no longer tell us that they are broke, sick, fed up or confused, we rob them of the opportunity to tell us when they have worked for wealth, recovered from sickness or resolved a situation.
A writer on BN wrote poignantly on the confusion and isolation of losing a loved one, and there was a comment from a reader about how, in her bid to comfort her mother, she made her bottle up her grief instead of expressing her hurt and sadness and thus beginning the road to healing. When tragedy comes, we are told it is “God’s will” and that we need to “Stop crying” and ‘What do you want people to say” Women suffer rape and domestic abuse and are shamed into silence, and go on to self-destructive cycles of dysfunctional relationships. People struggle with making decisions over career or life choices but are scared to acknowledge the fact, leading to mistakes and a lack of fulfilment. Youth have no idea that at their age, it is totally ok not to always know what to do. As a result, we struggle for years with grief, anger, frustration and many other feelings, until they become part of our identity and we can no longer explain why we do some of the strange things we do.
Feelings can be mental or emotional alarms that force us to stop and re-evaluate situations in our lives. Sometimes confusion stops us from making hasty decisions, frustration is a sign that we are capable of better, and hurt may be evidence that an old trauma has not yet healed. Sometimes saying that we feel unwell is not a negative confession, but a simple statement of fact and a prelude to a next step. There are certain people who will never hear me say I am unwell, because in that state, I’m not in the mood to hear “You are healed!” as opposed to “I’m sorry to hear that, I’ll pray with you for speedy healing”
Phrases like ‘It is well”, have become rote responses, the equivalent of a mother’s distracted pat on the head to a crying child as she tries to juggle too many tasks. They have become a guilt free way to reply to a cry for help without making any emotional or spiritual investment in assuring the wellbeing of the person speaking. How many of us take the time to follow up our “It is wells” with a quick prayer regarding the issue in question? Or call back after a day or two to see how things are?
People need other people. They need to be heard, comforted and assured that whatever is happening to them is not only real, but will eventually come to an end. People need to be assured that they will be ok and better for the experience. They need to know that life is a process and that all processes, if handled right, will make us better and stronger. Because isn’t that what faith is? Not the claim that everything is perfect, but the knowledge that no matter what is happening, all will be well.
We grow by falling down, crying a little, learning from our mistakes and moving on. And when we have gone through these processes, the best thing we can do for the person next to us is to help them know that “I know how you feel, I went through this once, I know it looks bad right now, but I can tell you from experience that everything will be fine” In my very humble opinion, that is a very positive confession.