When Did “I’m Okay” Become Such a Bad Thing?
By Ken K. Gourdin
A former ecclesiastical leader of mine once delivered this whimsical verse from the pulpit about our tendency to believe that if we’re doing the right things, our lives will be full of nothing but sunshine and rainbows and roses, and that if bad things happen to us (or if our perspective on those bad things doesn’t involve pasting on a perky smile) it must be a sign of God’s disfavor:
If you see the silver lining
In every cloud of gray;
If you’re always smiling
‘Cause your face just froze that way.
If you’re always happy
Amidst the crowds so blue,
Then have your head examined, Bud,
There’s something wrong with you!
Another ecclesiastical leader and philosopher, Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, once decried the unrealistic expectations arising from the belief that if God loves us, He will ensure that life will be nothing but a smooth ride, with empty parking spaces just in front of our destinations. And Jewish philosopher Rabbi Harold Kushner once wrote that expecting to have a trouble-free life because you are a good person is like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.
Some of the bad things that happen to us are a result of our own choices. Some of the bad things that happen to us are the results of others’ choices. And some (indeed, many, I believe) of the bad things that happen to us are a result simply of living in a fallen world. And the God I believe in, though I do think He is all-powerful, nonetheless chooses to not exercise that power to intervene in many circumstances in which He might protect His children from harm because to do so would short circuit His perhaps-unfathomable larger purposes. Though I don’t understand the interplay between what God may cause, what He may simply allow, and what He may choose to prevent in order to accomplish His purposes, I simply must have faith in those purposes, even if I do not understand them (See Isaiah 55:8-9 in the Holy Bible).
And I belong to a faith tradition that holds that, while our life here on Earth may begin at conception, such a beginning is simply the construction of our fleshly tabernacle in which our spirit is housed. With the poet, William Wordsworth, I believe that “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting; The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star, Hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar; Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God, who is our home.” (For the entire poem, see the site from which this excerpt was taken (this and all subsequent links herein last accessed May 23, 2015): http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/ode-intimations-immortality-recollections-early-childhood).
While our memory of that life has been withheld because this life is a test to see if we will be obedient to God (see Abraham 3:22-25 in The Pearl of Great Price of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here: https://www.lds.org/scriptures/pgp/abr/3.22-25) we lived as spirits before being born into this mortal world. While, since our memory of the life before this one has been withheld, I am exceedingly reluctant to say that specific individual (perhaps adverse) circumstances in which we find ourselves on Earth are a result of choices we made before our mortal birth (see, e.g., John Chapter 9 in the Holy Bible, which recounts Christ’s conversation with his apostles about whether the man being born blind resulted from choices made by him or by his parents, available here:https://www.lds.org/scriptures/nt/john/9?lang=eng), I do believe that we had free will as spirit beings even before coming to Earth.
And another potential reason why life might be less than ideal (to put it mildly!) is because someone – someone who “seeketh that all men might be miserable, like unto himself,” as 2 Nephi 2:27 in the Book of Mormon put it – wants it that way. He has many weapons in his arsenal for achieving that objective. It’s foolish to expect that life always will be easy, or happy, or [insert-positive-adjective-here] when such a being is working so hard to ensure that it won’t be.
And even if our lives are going swimmingly and we have no major problems or issues (how would that be?!) we’re apt to feel a certain amount of discontent even in the best of circumstances because we are out of our element: we are not essentially mortal or physical beings sent here to have occasional spiritual experiences; we are essentially spiritual beings sent here to have a mortal experience.
My discussion of all of these potential reasons why life might be less than ideal is simply a long-winded, perhaps-irrelevant prelude to the question, When did saying we’re doing “Okay” become such a bad thing? Honestly, it grates on me when well-meaning people, after hearing that response when they ask me how I’m doing, ask, “Just okay?” But, while “Okay” might seem disappointingly neutral, isn’t it better than many alternatives that are even worse?
And while, again, this could involve much more perception than it does reality, another potential interpretation is, “You know what? If you’re not doing great, I don’t want to hear it: Don’t rain on my parade! Despite what you may have thought about our relationship, I’m really not a good enough friend to want to listen to you if you have anything bad to tell me. Heck, forget ‘bad’ stuff! I’m not even a good enough friend to want to listen to your ‘neutral’ stuff!”
And, while I know they probably don’t mean to imply this in asking the question, from a certain perspective, “Just OK?” could be interpreted to mean, “What’s the matter with you? My life – including my marriage, my children, my work and all of its various other aspects – is great! Isn’t everybody’s? Shouldn’t it be?” Well . . . no. If God means to test us by sending us here, where would the test be in that?
As I’ve written elsewhere on the blog, God isn’t Santa Claus: He doesn’t give us “presents” when we’re “good” and “lumps of coal” when we’re not. As Sheri L. Dew, a former leader in the general women’s organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put it, “If life were easy, it wouldn’t be hard.” And as Christ Himself put it, God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45 in the Holy Bible).
So, yeah: I’m okay. I’m not “just” okay: I’m okay.
And that’s not a bad thing.