Sermon: A Community for All Seasons

2018 June 10
by Rev Ana Levy-Lyons


A story from Winnie the Pooh:


“Piglet?” said Pooh.

“Yes Pooh?” said Piglet.

“Do you ever have days when everything feels… Not Very Okay At All? And sometimes you don’t even know why you feel Not Very Okay At All, you just know that you do.”

Piglet nodded his head sagely. “Oh yes,” said Piglet. “I definitely have those days.”

“Really?” said Pooh in surprise. “I would never have thought that. You always seem so happy and like you have got everything in life all sorted out.”

“Ah,” said Piglet. “Well here’s the thing. There are two things that you need to know, Pooh. The first thing is that even those pigs, and bears, and people, who seem to have got everything in life all sorted out… they probably haven’t. Actually, everyone has days when they feel Not Very Okay At All. Some people are just better at hiding it than others.

“And the second thing you need to know… is that it’s okay to feel Not Very Okay At All. It can be quite normal, in fact. And all you need to do, on those days when you feel Not Very Okay At All, is come and find me, and tell me. Don’t ever feel like you have to hide the fact you’re feeling Not Very Okay At All. Always come and tell me. Because I will always be there.”


Does anybody here ever feel “not very okay at all?” And when you feel not very okay at all, do you advertise that? Do you go around school or work with a big sign shouting, “I’m not okay!” Most of us don’t. Because we are told by our society that we’re supposed to be positive all the time. When someone says “How ya doin’?” what are you supposed to say? “Good! Fine! Great! How are you?” And then they’re supposed to say, “Good! Fine! Great!” Or if they’re an English teacher, they might say, “I’m well.”


And when we take a photo, the photographer says, “say …cheese!” Because that supposedly makes you …smile. Which supposedly means you’re …happy!


But we’re not always happy – none of us is. We all have times when we’re sad or we’re frustrated or we’re angry or we’re lonely or we’re sick or we’re in serious pain. Some of us, even in this room right now I know are having really, really bad things happening in their lives. And sometimes they don’t tell people here about these really, really bad things. Sometimes they hardly tell anybody. Maybe someone they love is very sick. Maybe they’re going through a divorce. Maybe they’re having big problems at work. Or maybe they lost their job. Maybe their children won’t speak to them or maybe their families won’t accept them for who they are. They just live quietly with all that pain inside and try to just go on like everything’s normal. But they’re living in a whole other world in their minds and hearts. And sometimes this world starts to not even feel real.


Kate Spade was someone like this. She was a famous designer who designed happy, colorful, bright purses and bags. She was always sunny and cheerful, just like her bags, on the outside, but it turned out that inside, she was very, very sad. And she didn’t want to tell anyone because she was worried that it would affect her brand – in other words, it might change how people thought of her and her bags. Anthony Bourdain was another famous person like this. He travelled the world tasting all kinds of different foods and talking about them on TV and he was all famous and full of energy on the outside. But it turned out that inside he was very sad as well. This can be anyone – someone really popular at your school, someone very rich, someone beautiful, someone who’s a great athlete – just because someone seems like they have everything, just because they say, “I’m fine,” doesn’t mean they feel good on the inside.


Why do people do this? Why do people keep all these feelings locked up inside? Because they’re afraid that their sad story will be too much for people. They don’t want to make someone else feel bad about their problems. They don’t want to make their friends feel uncomfortable. They feel like it’s too much of a burden. Or sometimes they’re embarrassed. They feel like they should be able to take care of themselves. “It seems like everyone else is doing fine – just look at how happy they are on Facebook! – so if I’m not doing fine, there must be something wrong with me.” They’re worried that people will judge them or think less of them.


And I would love to be able to say that they’re wrong. I’d love to be able to say that they are imagining all this and that actually we would be happy to hear all the painful stuff in their lives. But sometimes they’re right. Sometimes in this country, in this city, even in this community, we don’t want to hear about somebody’s pain or their complicated life. We have enough problems of our own. We don’t want to get depressed; we maybe worry that we won’t know what to say or that we’ll be uncomfortable if someone tells us really hard stuff. We worry that it’ll be contagious somehow – that we’ll catch their pain. And so we send out messages with our body language or with our words that we don’t really want to hear it. If someone tells us they have a bad cold, we sometimes say, “Oooh – stay away from me!” And so people learn to keep the bad stuff to themselves.


We have to change this dynamic. We need a world where people can be their real selves with all their happy and sad and I think First U is a great place to create a little pocket of permission for this. We can start with what it says at the top of your order of service: “Friends are those rare people who as you how we are and then wait to hear the answer.” We can do this. Ask how someone is, like you mean it, and then be open – even try to open your chest and your heart – to listen to what they say. You don’t have to worry about what to say back, the point is to listen to what they say and help them to know that you’re listening and that whatever they’re saying, it’s okay with you that they’re saying it. When someone tells you they’re not feeling well, say “I’m really sorry to hear that. Can I help with anything?”


When we’re all back together in the fall, we’ll do our annual water ritual where we bring water from wherever we’ve been over the summer to join together and make our holy water. What if where you’ve been is the hospital? Bring some water from the hospital. That’s your experience, that’s your reality, and you are lifting that up, so that water is holy too.


We can start today. After this service we’re all going to go outside on the front steps and take a First U family photo with our flowers from the Flower Communion. I am here to tell you, that if you don’t feel like it, you do not have to smile for this picture. Even if everywhere else in your life, you feel like you have to smile – your family, your work, with your friends, in your selfies for social media – here at First U, we want you to be yourself, in all your seasons, happy and sad and angry and grateful and sick and excited. Let’s give each other permission to do that. Let’s each turn to our neighbor right now, in fact, turn to your neighbor and say, “Neighbor… you do not have to smile for this picture.” This will be the best photo ever.


I hope that together we can someday make this a place where each one of us says to everyone else what Piglet said to Pooh: “All you need to do, on those days when you feel Not Very Okay At All, is come and find me, and tell me. Don’t ever feel like you have to hide the fact you’re feeling Not Very Okay At All. Always come and tell me. Because I will always be there.”

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