Family Works [June 23, 2019]
Family Works [June 23, 2019]
Speaking on Feeling Fine
When greeting a friend with the question: “How are you today?” you do not expect your friend to respond: “Oh, I don't feel very good. You see, I have a sore back, and I'm not sleeping well these days. I think my blood pressure is getting too high. My bum knee keeps going out. Did you know, I have a vitamin deficiency? If you have a few minutes, I would like to tell you the funniest thing about my latest operation . . .” At that point, you would probably remember an appointment to make, and try to get away as quickly as possible. Although superficial and virtually meaningless, we don’t expect to hear a treatise on health, but rather a simple “Fine. I’m doing okay.”
John Quincy Adams’ answer to this question reflected a better retort than either a detailed explanation or a superficial avoidance. After turning the ripe old age of 80, he would respond: “How is John Quincy Adams this morning? John Quincy Adams is very well. I thank you. The house he is living in is getting old and ram-shackled, and one of these days he is going to have to move out; but as far as John Quincy Adams himself is concerned, he is very well, I thank you.”
John Quincy Adams’ response reflects a man who has taken charge of himself, even to the point of not allowing his deteriorating physical body to dictate how he would feel on any given day. Unlike John Quincy Adams, some people never seem to feel okay. It is as if they do not know how to feel good. They are like the guy who believes that when his ship should come in, he would probably be at the airport. Nothing is ever quite right. So feeling okay isn’t an option. This was true of Mark Twain who was a master at making millions feel good, but seldom felt good himself. This was also true of Chris Farley. Even when he was in high school, everyone knew where he was at lunch. His table would be the one where everyone was laughing. There is a well-known fact that some of the most successful comedians are men and women who struggle to feel just okay on any given day.
Feeling good is not born out of a naive, superficial, trite, oblivious, approach to living in this world. Rather, being able to answer truthfully, “I feel good.” to the question “How are you?” is much more a reflection of how you view the world than anything else. This is what Norman Vincent Peale, the author of the bestseller The Power of Positive Thinking, taught again and again throughout his life. He believed that every morning when you wake up you have one of two choices to make. One you can feel lousy or two, you can feel good. He tells of the story of meeting one of his friends on the street. When he saw his friend George approaching, it was evident from his downtrodden look that he wasn't overflowing with the ecstasy and exuberance of human existence, which is a high-class way of saying George was dragging bottom. Naturally, Dr. Peale asked him, “How are you, George?” While that was meant to be a routine inquiry, George took him very seriously and for 15 minutes he enlightened Dr. Peale on how bad he felt. (Don’t you hate being caught in this situation?!) And the more he talked, the worse Dr. Peale felt. Finally Dr. Peale said to him, “Well, George, I'm sorry to see you in such a depressed state. How did you get this way?” That really set him off. “It's my problems,” he said. “Problems–nothing but problems. I'm fed up with problems. If you could get rid of all my problems, I would contribute $5,000 to your favorite charity.” Dr. Peale was never one to turn a deaf ear to such an offer, and so quickly took this man’s challenge. Dr. Peale said, “Yesterday I went to a place where thousands of people reside. As far as I could determine, not one of them has any problems. Would you like to go there?” “When can we leave? That sounds like my kind of place,” answered George. “If that is the case, George,” Dr. Peale said, “I'll be happy to take you tomorrow to Woodlawn Cemetery because the only people I know who don't have any problems are dead.”
We all have problems. The choice of how we face those problems and life in general is ours.
How are you?
Rob Coombs is a professor with a doctor of ministry degree and a doctor of philosophy with an emphasis in Family Systems.
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