Sometimes I wonder how often someone is screaming out for help, and no one hears.
I don’t mean piercing screams that make your ears hurt. I mean silent screams that make your heart hurt.
These screams require intuitive, intentional, conscientious, and empathetic ears. These screams require taking time out of a busy schedule to notice.
These screams require the listener to look up from her phone, to look out from his inner monologue, to look beyond her To Do list, and to look into the eyes of the people he passes by everyday.
Who is screaming for help that you are too busy to notice?
Who am I not noticing?
I teach high schoolers. I work with a group of amazing teachers. I go to church and sit in pews with other church members. I shop at Walmart with fellow human beings.
I pass people all day long. Do I notice them? Do I look in their eyes and actually see them? Do I pay attention to their body language? Do I hear what they aren’t saying? Do I look up, look out, look beyond, and look into?
Who am I not noticing? Who is hiding behind, “I am fine.”
Pretending to Be Fine
I remember in the heart of my eating disorder when I hid behind my false persona. I pretended the, “I am fine.” Maybe I even thought I was fine. Life continued in a routine that I created for my own comfort. It wasn’t healthy, but it made me feel safe.
I made sure that I stayed isolated so that nobody felt close enough to me to ask, “How are you”, and then dig for the real answer. I made sure asking would make someone feel uncomfortable. I’m sure people had suspicions about my habits, but I lived on the tightrope of appearing “I am fine”.
I was fine.
It’s a lot of work to dig into someone else’s “I am fine”. It feels like an invasion of privacy. It’s an intrusion into today’s To Do List. It’s a sideways step out of the routine.
When I worked as a cashier at the local grocery store during high school, I remember when a lady came into my checkout lane behind the man I was already checking out. The man obviously knew the lady and asked her the perfunctory, “How are you?” But instead of the normal, “I am fine,” the woman responded by saying, “Not very good actually.” The man, while gathering his few bags, absentmindedly replied, “That’s good,” and walked out of the store.
He didn’t even hear her answer. He heard an “I am fine” with his ears, and completely missed the “not very good” with his heart.
Who am I not hearing with my heart? Who in my world is not fine today?
But more importantly, how do I find them?
Making Connections Beyond “I am Fine”
It starts long before their “I am fine” turns into their “not fine”. It starts with a relationship. I will be very transparent in saying that I’m not good at relationships. It’s not my natural focus. Instead, I’m very good at crossing off my To Do List. I’m super at taking care of my own life. I’m the best at eyes down, do my own thing. I’m as good at “I am fine” as the next guy.
I’m good at what’s easy. People aren’t easy. Relationships are complicated and dynamic and time consuming. Building a friendship means I need to look up, look out, look beyond, and look into.
But the simple fact is, no To Do List is going to ever be more important than the people in my life. My selfish heart needs practice at shutting down the “Me” and opening up the “You”.
And I know there are many out there like I was who can fake the “I am fine” like a boss. So if I’m going to start at the relationship, that means finding the one who looks sad when they don’t know I’m watching. It means starting with awkward conversations between two people who don’t know each other very well. It means starting with a smile, asking questions that matter, putting down my plans, and simply enjoying the person.
The Layers of Connection
I am fine by myself, but I’m much better with my people. I don’t have many close friends, and that’s okay. I’m not someone who needs 72 best friends. But I do need the hands I feel comfortable holding. Those are my people. And with my eyes open, I can keep looking for others I connect with.
Not everyone will become my best friend. Not everyone will specifically connect with me. God created the intersections of our lives with others in many different forms.
Friendships have many layers. We need all of them. Acquaintances, colleagues, siblings, cousins, gym buddies, church groups, neighbors, online friends, spouses, and yes, best friends.
I won’t know the deeper connections with people until I begin to work at the relationships I already have.
Relationships start with an “I am fine.” Some move on to, “Not very good actually.” And still others become, “Please help me carry this burden.”
If a relationship is going to progress, then we need to work to get there. And we need to look up, out, beyond, and into the eyes and the heart of the people in our lives.
Who is not “I am fine”?
Be the Difference
You could be the difference between the scream of a hurting heart, and the connection of a hand held in hope. Everyone wants to know they matter to another. Everyone needs someone who will ask, “How are you?” and who won’t settle for “I am fine.”
I was fine before with my eating disorder, but now I am infinitely better than fine. Because a few someones loved me beyond the easy. They felt my screaming heart. They wouldn’t let me hide, and because of that, I am connected. And now I know how to connect to others from a very beautiful example of love.
So yeah, because of my To-Do-Listing personality, I need to work at this, but the work of looking up is worth it. The conscious act of looking out is necessary. The intentional shift of looking beyond is powerful. And the intuitive move to look into is beautiful.
If you are the one who says, “I am fine,” when your heart screams, “I am NOT,” then be willing to reach out. It’s scary as heck to become vulnerable, but it’s the first step in connecting with someone who can help carry the load. And we all need that help at some point. Everyone needs help.
If you are the one standing in the path of a hurting soul, be open to their hurt. It might take you out of your ordinary day, but the relationship you build will be extraordinary. Connection does that. Connection with another human creates strength, healing, encouragement, laughter, tears, and love.
God didn’t let us alone. Jesus doesn’t walk away. We have no better example of a love that doesn’t let go. Connect beyond the “I am fine” with someone today. The rewards of that connection vastly outweigh checking off one more thing on your To Do list.