"What advice would you give to a new international student?" I asked this question to the international students who were under my care as a coordinator for American Home Life International. We had met once a month throughout the year, and it was my job to look out for them, to make sure they had what they needed to succeed, and to give them some space to process and share what they were learning.
We had made it to the last meeting of the year, and the students I was talking with were seniors - one of whom had been at our school for several years. His response is the one I remember the most. After considering his answer for a few quiet moments, he shared that the advice he would give is this: "It's okay to not be okay."
It's okay to not be okay.
I don't remember now where the conversation went from there, but these words have always stayed with me. I have never been a new international student, but I have definitely felt pressure to be okay. I have felt afraid I will be letting people down if I'm not okay. I have felt like I will be less accepted if I'm not okay. I have felt like if others around me are not okay, then I can't not be okay. Someone has to be okay.
I suppose sometimes I can relate to Mirabel's words in the movie Encanto, when she is singing about her struggle over the rest of her family getting miraculous gifts while she keeps waiting for hers. She sings -
"Don't be upset or mad at all Don't feel regret or sad at all Hey, I'm still a part of the family Madrigal And I'm fine, I am totally fine I will stand on the side as you shine I'm not fine, I'm not fine"
Have you ever not been okay? Maybe you feel like right now you're not really okay. What does it mean to be okay anyway?
It seems like most of us carry around this idea of a base level of happiness that normal people are supposed to have. And when we don't feel we're achieving that happiness, we have a tendency to freak out a little. Maybe just internally, and maybe not even enough for us to notice what's happening, let alone for anyone else to notice. But under the surface, we question why we're feeling so far from "okay".
Of course maybe sometimes we know exactly why we're not okay. Maybe we're facing things that are legitimately hard or sad or troubling. Still, wouldn't it be nice if we didn't have to add to our sorrows a sense of guilt or pressure to make sure we haven't dipped below the "normal" level of "okay-ness"?
Well, if we take my international friend's advice, we can be free from this pressure. It's okay to not be okay. This doesn't mean we are stuck being ruled by our sorrows. It doesn't mean it's necessarily a great idea to focus solely on whatever may be causing these sorrows. But what it does mean is that we can be honest with ourselves about how we're actually doing - and this is especially true when it comes to prayer.
God already knows exactly how we're feeling. The book of Lamentations is a beautiful example of someone expressing deep sadness.
"This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.” (Lamentations 1:16)
Clearly the writer of Lamentations was not okay. But maybe on some level, he was okay with this. Maybe he found a way to hope even in the middle of his sadness. The writer goes on to say...
"I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24)
If you are in a season where you are not okay, take heart. Consider these two words and see if you find them to be helpful: 1) Remember. 2) Rest.
Throughout God's Word, we are called to remember. Jesus describes one of the main roles of the Holy Spirit as our Counselor, who teaches us and reminds us of everything He has told us (John 14:26). In prayer, we can remember both the hardships we have faced as well as the everlasting love and faithfulness of God. Remembering is not a quick-fix; we might still feel like things are not okay, like we are not okay. But there is power in remembering.
There is also power in resting. When we rest, we release control. Resting is a way of surrendering. Resting can be restorative. It can also be hard. Sometimes our first instinct when we're not okay is to work hard to change things. To change ourselves.
But perhaps what we really need is to take a deep breath and remember who our God is. As we rest in Him - whether for a moment, a minute, or through a night of sleep - we will find new strength. We may not be okay, but He is.
Pray with me...
... Father, help us to be honest with You about how we are doing
Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Psalm 62:8
... Jesus, please teach all in the ACSD community to come to You and find rest
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
... Holy Spirit, remind each of us of whatever we need to remember each day
But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. John 14:26
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog and pray for Alliance Christian School District! Lord willing, I plan to publish a new blog post weekly throughout the school year. Feel free to subscribe (at the bottom of this page) if you'd like to be notified each time a new blog post has been published. We also have a prayer team that is always open for new pray-ers to join. If you'd like to learn more, email me at email@example.com.
~ Carrie Warner, ACSD Prayer Team Coordinator
Soli Deo Gloria To God alone be the glory