In Case It’s the Right Question

In Case It's the Right Question: On Becoming People Who Ask

Maybe it was selfish or presumptuous or naïve…but I wanted them to ask.

In those hard days when my Depression collided with the Church, and I felt so lonely…I wanted someone to notice it. Sometimes I think it only would have taken one person to look me straight in the eye and to say with gentleness, humility, love – Are you doing okay? Really?

I come from the prairie people, from farm wives, from quiet wells of strength reaching deep. My lineage is made up of hard-working hands, of “bear up under it,” of plates left empty until everyone else has had enough to eat.

I was born into sparkly American individualism and an incarnation of Christianity long marinated in it. Somewhere along the way, I embraced an all-you-need-is-Jesus kind of faith, where all is solved by more “quiet time,” more prayer, more study.

I spent years interpreting Proverbs 31 as a checklist instead of a love song.

And in the beginning, Mama Eve covered herself in leaves and hid from God and from herself…and I’ve gotten so adept at pretending. I learned Hide-and-Seek in my earliest years, and since then, I’ve made an art out of disappearing into the fixtures of life.

Don’t be fooled. It may look like hiding, but I’m always waiting to be found.

I’m at a healthier place in my life now. The Depression is regulated now with medicine and with the light box on my kitchen table. We’ve found a church that we love, and it never stops feeling like a kind of grace – to wake up on a Sunday morning and to want to be there.

Yet, even now, I find it almost impossible to volunteer my struggles – to open my hands up and offer them matter-of-factly as an acceptable part of who I am.  I still find myself waiting to be asked, and only then, do I feel the permission and the safety I need to open myself up wide.

And I think this is true for many of us. There are few of us who are secure enough to speak our struggle without being asked. For me, in those hard days especially, it was the first barrier to trust. If you don’t care enough to ask, why should I trust you with the heavy things I’m carrying? If you don’t see me NOW, how can I trust you to see me THEN?

But we come from pull-yourselves-up-by-the-bootstraps and ­mind-your-own-business. When in doubt, we talk about the weather, or about The Walking Dead or about how busy we are. We’ve gotten so used to the masks that we’ve forgotten to look for the cracks…for the person beneath the smile.

Still, we belong to a God who never stops seeking us, and my experience has been that faith is not so much Lost then found as it is being found again and again and again. And to become more like Jesus is to learn the holy work of finding each other.

Photo by misko13 at Flicrk Creative Commons
Photo by misko13 at Flicrk Creative Commons

I am learning to be a person who asks.

Slowly, I’m getting over my fear of seeming intrusive. I’m learning that it’s okay if I say, Are you okay? And the person looks at me strangely and let’s out an irritated “What do you mean? I’m fine.

Sometimes it’ll be the wrong question, and you’ll mumble to yourself in the car on the way home, Nosy church lady. Sometimes it’s awkward and uncomfortable and I feel like I’m That Person…and I’m learning that that’s okay.

Because every now and then, it might be the right question…and you might have been waiting for someone to see through your mask and ask it.

Because at a women’s retreat two weeks ago, the speaker said, If you’re struggling, and you need someone to pray for you, stand up. And the room was filled with strong women, standing – some crying quietly, others with their eyes down, hands folded. And I thought, We’re all holding on to something.

Life is heavy. It’s entirely too much sometimes, and I can’t solve it all. I can’t make anything better, really. But I can look you in the eyes, and say Are you doing okay? Really?

And maybe, just for today, it’ll be enough.

42 thoughts on “In Case It’s the Right Question

  1. This is so beautiful and true.

    I finished your book yesterday. Thank you so much for writing it. It brings back so much of my own story, so vividly – the Christian college experience maybe most dramatically.

    I also have a horrible time asking, and immediately after college I attended a church that had a more charismatic leaning and God would give “visions” and “words” to people and I realize now I must not have been the only one waiting for someone to come and speak to me, feeling like God was giving this direct instruction to all these other people through other people, and why didn’t He care enough about me to have someone come up to me and say, “God told me such-and-such.” I realize now that even when they did it was kind of creepy and not applicable (which was also hurtful at the time. God told you that to tell me? Really?) And it’s awkward, because you don’t want to be the person who begrudges good things for others (assuming they were good…) but it can be an overwhelming feeling of not being noticed.

    But I also project the image of having it all together. And I hesitate to pry, because I don’t want to intrude on other people.

    1. Thanks so much for the kind words about the book, Sarah, and for the insights here. I love how you said “the overwhelming feeling of not being noticed.” That is so true.

  2. Oh Addie,
    You’ve hit a nerve. I left a short comment on twitter, but I have more room here. I grew up in a family that stuffed feelings. Stuffed them so hard they had to ooze out in alcoholism and other abuse. To say, “I’m not ok,” or even “pray for me” or “I need a hug” was completely out of bounds. It’s taken, and is still taking years of therapy to start to learn to reach out, to believe that I’m worth the reaching out, to move beyond wishing and hoping someone will notice my inner pain, and be open about what I need. What a battle.
    Thank you so much for sharing, for putting yourself “out there.” For breaking down the false god of “I’m just fine.”

  3. Just yesterday, my counselor was telling me about Henri Nouwen’s Prodigal Son book, and how he says that we leave home and are welcomed back by the father time and time again. It cannot be coincidence that I read your beautiful words just a few hours later about being found again and again. Thank you, Addie. And by the way, I got your book as a gift, and can’t wait to read it!

  4. Yes. I am often waiting to be seen, waiting for people to ask, and by the same token I am not always a person who asks. But I need to be. Powerful and true, Addie. Thank you.

  5. I can think of several times I wish I’d asked others, but was afraid of putting them on the spot. But always in retrospect, I wish I had asked. Such a simple thing can mean the world to someone. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Thank you for sharing such a personal subject. Like you I learned the hard way to take the hurt and disappointment and turn it into a lesson learned. I believe that today I am more sensitive to the needs of others.
    As a PK I was taught that we need to stand fast and be strong in all things. But we are human and have our own demons to fight. When things go wrong in our lives church members are shocked. All it does is make us better at hiding what is happening.

  7. Yes. Life is made up of all these moments of struggle, and we’re learning to stand in the hard places with each other. This is a good message, Addie.

  8. Gosh. This resonates deeply. I think there are definitely moments when I AM hiding and I DON’T want to be intruded on because I’m trying to sort out all my feelings. But often, far too often, those of us who struggle with depression or social anxiety are overlooked by our churches. Even as a leader, I constantly struggle with pulling away, hiding, silently begging for someone to notice me. It’s too ingrained in our church culture that suffering from depression or anxiety or any other kind of crippling mental illness is shameful and something must be wrong with our faith. It’s frustrating and there aren’t nearly enough conversations about these issues. More often than not, I just need someone to hold me and let me cry. More honest, affirming conversations need to be had because we as the church are neglecting a large part of our community when we don’t have them.

  9. My friend Peggy (who happens to co-pastor our church with her husband) and I often joke that we need a rule for alter calls. If you want someone to come pray with you, kneel on the left, and if you want to be left alone, sit on the right. It seems no one reaches out when you need it, and when you’re closing everyone else out and wanting to be left alone, they come in droves.
    I’ve struggled with the things you discussed. It’s so hard to ask for help. We don’t want to be a bother. Everyone I know has their own burdens to carry — they don’t need mine, too. But I’d rather drop mine to pick up someone else’s. I want to know what they need. And I’ve learned to ask anyway. It’s worth the risk of intruding if it’s what someone needs. Thanks for this message. Such a good one.

    1. I love that. It does seem like that — everyone wants to talk when you need to be alone, and when you need someone? Nothing. I’m with you though — intruding can be done with gentleness. We can ask while still honoring the process. “If you’re not ready to talk, that’s okay. Just know that I’m here, and I see you.”

  10. Love this!! This reminds me of Mark 10:51 where Jesus obviously knows what the blind man needs but asks him what he needs anyways. We can be people of asking what others’ need because sometimes they need to hear themselves say it in order for healing to come. Often times I find myself in the same place where I’m just saying over and over in my head, “Come on, please ask me, ask me that question, I need to say it so badly but I can’t find the strength to do it.” Sometimes no one asks me. But sometimes, someone comes along and asks me that question that I most need to be asked. And that person offers me their strength and their time so I can say it out loud. And there is something so holy in that moment.

  11. Amen. Just Amen. I have a friend who walked away from church after literally pressing painful poems into palms and going unnoticed. I want to be the person that asks twice too… Really, how are things? How are YOU?

    Thanks for this. I’ll join you in this pursuit.

  12. We need more people to ask! Yes for sure – especially for introverts who may find it harder to speak first. Last week I went to a great talk on mental health and the church (think: we are all on a spectrum of mental health – not just mental ‘illness’). The speaker made a suggestion to use “cushioning” statements if you are concerned about someone but hesitant to ask. Even something as simple as “[Can I ask you something]…Are you doing ok?” Or “You looked really sad yesterday – [or was I just seeing things]?” The cushions may help some feel a bit more comfortable or give them an out if they simply don’t feel like talking at that moment.

    1. That’s brilliant. It dovetails with a notion that floated up while I was reading these comments: wouldn’t it be lovely to have a world where it was OK to ask “Are you OK?” and just as OK to say either “No, I need help” or “I’m sorting out a lot right now, and I need to do it myself, but thank you for asking, and keep in touch” or whatever else you’re feeling at that time. Where we could offer and see the question as an invitation and not an intrusion. Jane, I think this kind of cushioning can help us get there. Love it.

    2. Yes. Love the idea of cushioning. I do that too but never realized there was a name for it. “If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay…” Stuff like that. I think it’s important to give people an “out,” while still letting them know that you SEE them.

  13. I think you nailed it when you mentioned Eve. Adam and Eve hid because they were ashamed. We think that if we’re not perfect (at least I do) that we will be rejected. The great news is that God doesn’t require perfection: he wants mercy, justice and humility.

    Thanks for another awesome post, Addie!

  14. Oh, Addie. I love this so much. It’s such a gift to offer listening – no matter whether you’re the listener or the one with words spilling out at the moment. Love this.

  15. Oh Addie. Yes. As you know, this has been one of my songs lately. I still hate to ask, and you nailed it with that line: “f you don’t care enough to ask, why should I trust you with the heavy things I’m carrying? If you don’t see me NOW, how can I trust you to see me THEN?”
    I’ve sometimes wondered why God tells us to ask, and I’m realizing: I need the practice.
    Love you!

      1. I agree, that love reads other people’s signs. In which case, what to do about an acquaintance who doesn’t stop talking about herself long enough for anyone else to get a word in edgeways, let alone her asking (or listening to the answer) how someone else is doing? She is so very self-absorbed, and it irritates me tremendously that she really doesn’t seem to have any interest or empathy for anyone other than herself.

        1. No great advice…just empathy…because we all know people like that don’t we? So sorry you have one in your life right now. I think it’s okay to set healthy boundaries around that relationship.

  16. “I’m always waiting to be found . . . ” Amen, Addie. Aren’t we all? Thanks, as always for speaking your truth, which is, in reality. our truth.

  17. I didn’t read many blogs while I was out of town but I did read this one and flagged it so I could come back to comment. When I read it, I was flooded with memories of times I’ve waited to be asked and times when I sensed deep down someone else needed to be asked. I’m learning to speak up in both instances- to tell trusted loved ones when I need help and to ask whomever I encounter how they’re doing. We never know what will happen when we give people an opportunity to speak or listen.

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