“Put on a happy face.” How many times did you hear that growing up? How often do you tell yourself that today? Sometimes, it’s OK to grin through what you’re really feeling, but then there are times when you need to stop faking it, to yourself and those around you. Esther Fleece, author of “No More Faking Fine,” talks with us about taking off our emotional masks and coming to terms with what is really going on.
4word: Tell us about the childhood trauma that inspired you to write your latest book.
Esther: Like many of us, I faced painful circumstances in my past. But it wasn’t so much what happened to me, as it was what I believed about myself as a result. I was abandoned by my biological parents, so I saw myself as unlovable. I experienced abuse, and so I defined love as unsafe. I went through public humiliation as my father battled a mental illness, and in turn expected I would one day go crazy, too. I was embarrassed when my mother did not want to be my caregiver anymore, and didn’t believe I would ever act in a manner worthy of love. I hope sharing my past and places I got stuck helps people uncover their painful pasts and move towards health and healing, too.
4word: You became a successful business woman early in your career. Do you feel like you threw yourself into your career to mask the pain of what you’d gone through as a child?
Esther: Absolutely. I explain in the book how I never set out to be fake, or to pretend, it’s just that I saw any type of lament or expression of grief as weakness. We don’t often share our hurts in board room meetings, and most year-end reviews talk about strengths, not areas of brokenness that benefit the company. Most of us know how to do the right thing, and say the right thing to get affirmation, praise, and a raise. God allowed dire circumstances in my life, again and again, where I could not longer fake fine or pretend that I had control of things. I could have kept moving forward in my own strength but this would have been a temporary benefit to my own name, not God’s.
4word: Why do you believe people are so afraid to feel pain and sorrow?
Esther: Every single one of us will feel pain, sorrow, rejection, and disappointment. And most of us do not like these feelings! They make us uncomfortable, cause us to wrestle with our identity and belongingness. And because we don’t like brokenness in us, it makes us uncomfortable to sit with brokenness inside of other people, too. I want those who read this book to begin to believe that God is actually attracted to them in their brokenness. And if that is the case (which it is), we are robbing ourselves of a great intimacy with God and joy if we keep our brokenness hidden from Him.
4word: What are some healthy ways we can lament?
Esther: There are two contexts for lament that we see in Scripture. One is an individual lament – when someone takes their hurt, disappointment, and emotions directly to God. This is also called prayer, even though lament prayers don’t always feel like prayers when you are praying them. I would say an individual lamenting prayer language is very important for each and every one of us. And at some point, if you want to experience healing and freedom and avoid being a self-centered lamenter, you are going to have to learn to lament in the context of community as well. The Jewish people were great lamenters. People in the Bible would grieve with their friends – including Jesus! And so if you are not in an individual season of lament right now, it might be a great time for you to listen to somebody else’s laments and grieve with them.
4word: How can we turn deep wounds into lasting joy in our lives? How can we help others deal with their own wounds?
Esther: Ignoring our wounds and pretending them away won’t do anything for us. I tried for years, and it kept my relationship with God and those around me superficial. Saying “fine” to God, and even ourselves, shuts down the healing process. So the first step towards joy is to lament. To sit in lament. To not try to fix yourself overnight. To not wish the pain away. But to take the pain directly to God, through prayer, and ask God to meet you wherever the pain took place. Your joy will begin to be restored as God meets you. The joy is not always a deliverance from our circumstances, rather knowing God is with us where the pain took place.
Helping others is a lot easier than we make it out to be. There was a man in the Bible named Job whose friends sat with him when his grief first hit. It wasn’t until they began offering false theology lessons as comfort that they were rebuked by God. Sometimes we need to be a safe person and sit in silence when someone is in pain. We help others by listening and meeting their needs, without seeing them as projects to be fixed or someone in need of a four-point sermon.
4word: Do you have any special stories from women who have read “No More Faking Fine?”
Esther: One of my favorite stories is a trusted workplace leader telling me this opened up a new side of Christianity for them. Previously they didn’t interpret brokenness as being in a place of strength. This leader has a lot of influence, and is genuinely a happy person. They told me they are going to start seeking out the sad. If we believe God meets with the broken-hearted, we should want to spend time with these people! I can only imagine how this leader might see people differently after learning lamenting is a healthy part of life here on this earth. Joy is not always the point… intimacy with God, is.
What wounds are you hiding from others? How have you been shutting down your healing process? It’s time to be real, stop saying, “Fine,” and begin your path toward recovery. If you’d like to purchase Esther’s new book, click here!
Esther Fleece is the author of the new book No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending (Zondervan), an international speaker and writer on millennials and faith, leadership and family. Fleece was recognized as one of Christianity Today’s “Top 50 Women Shaping the Church and Culture” and CNN’s “Five Women in Religion to Watch.” As founder and CEO of L&L Consulting, she works to connect influential individuals and organizations to their mutual benefit. Keep up with Esther’s global adventures on twitter and at EstherFleece.com.