by Heather Zempel
“Just tell me everything is going to be okay.”
That’s all my friend wanted me to say. Just a little comfort and assurance. We had just spent about four hours talking about the difficulties she was facing in ministry and leadership and relationships, and we had hashed through the advantages and disadvantages of potential upcoming decisions.
“Just tell me that everything is going to be okay.”
That’s all she wanted. Just one little throwaway line to give her heart some warm fuzzies and to set her mind at ease. Empathy is not one of my strengths, but I empathized deeply with her in that moment. I dug deep down into the most empathetic place in my heart . . . and refused to tell her it was all going to be okay.
We Christians love to say that kind of stuff to each other, and I guess in the eternal sense, it is all going to be okay. We know the end. Jesus wins, He reigns, and He’s prepared a place for us. But regarding the matters of temporal uncertainties and sufferings, we are not assured of anything but God’s grace, goodness, faithfulness, and sovereignty.
“Sorry. I can’t tell you that. Hebrews tells us that some Christ followers were mocked and beaten and stoned and sawed in two and thrown to animals. So, yeah—who knows what could happen to you.”
And yes, I pretty much said it exactly like that. Not because I lacked empathy. But because I was filled with empathy in that particular moment.
We Christians love Hebrews 11:1-35. But we never seem to mention the last five verses of that great chapter on faith.
“It’s all going to be okay.” Why do we lie like that? I think sometimes we lie unintentionally because our theology is screwed up and we really do think it’s all going to be okay. Most of the time, we lie because we truly want to make the other person feel better. But I think there is often a far more sinister reason why we lie like that. Because we want to be off the hook. If it’s all going to be okay, then we are excused from the responsibility to bear the burdens of those we are in community with. We are excused from praying for them, encouraging them, walking through the muck with them. Because hey, Jesus is going to make this all okay, right?
We lie because we are lazy.
Faith is not an assurance that everything is going to be okay. Faith is the assurance that God is in control and we can trust Him. Period.
I don’t think lying in these particular situations is the right response, and it’s certainly not the biblical response. The response is to make a decision to be all in. All in spiritually to pray with them and for them. All in emotionally to laugh or cry with them as is appropriate for the situation. All in physically and mentally to walk through the mess and bear their burden with them. Will it all be okay? Maybe. Maybe not. “Okay” is relative to the person’s perspective and the situation. We can’t promise that. But we can assure them that we will be with them.
A native Alabamian, Heather Zempel currently leads the discipleship efforts at National Community Church in Washington, DC, where she oversees small groups, directs leadership development training, and serves on the weekend teaching team. Heather put her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biological engineering to work as an environmental engineer and policy consultant on energy and environment in the United States Senate before going into full-time ministry. She and her husband, Ryan, live on Capitol Hill, and she is the author of Sacred Roads and Community is Messy.