A new answer to an old question

“Are you better?”

After two months of being in pain, thinking I had a tear in my left biceps, it was a relief for the doctor to say that I had not torn anything and would not need surgery. My doctor also said that I had probably been doing all of the things I needed to do to heal, but not all together for a prolonged time. 

He prescribed an anti-inflammatory, regular icing, and told me not to use my arm for five days. (This was by far the hardest part! And clearly the reason my “I hope this heals on its own” approach hadn’t worked.) He also gave me a list of exercises to start gingerly doing to rehab my muscle after my five days of radical rest.

In the ensuing days and weeks as people asked me, “Are you better?” I’d stumble over my words. I was better than I had been, but I was not better . . .  as in all better

As I stumbled over a much-too-long explanation to my sister, she said she had run into the same problem after shoulder surgery last summer and her PT suggested she was “bettering.”

I love it! 

“I am bettering” honors the progress I have experienced without denying or downplaying that there is still work, in my case, healing to occur.

As I thought about cross-cultural work, just think of how the concept of “I am bettering” could serve us.

Whether it is culture, racism, your call, or trusting God, when the subtle message is to be all better, we miss the reality of process. So, we hid our process, either waiting until we can share a more completed picture or we present a fantasy version of ourselves. Instead, what if in answer to the following questions you could say, “I’m bettering.”

How’s your culture knowledge? I am bettering.

What have you learned about power, gender dynamics, or racism? I am bettering.

How are you managing the need to lament and rejoice in the work that you’re called to? I am bettering.

In what ways are you trusting God with your children, singleness, marriage, health, support raising, or any number of areas of being human? I am bettering.

As I mulled over the idea and application of bettering, the truth is, in some areas I’m not bettering, I’m worsening. And while I don’t like that I’m worsening, I do like the idea. Instead of flat our failing or broken or sinful, the idea of worsening is like a rumble strip along the highway. The sound is obnoxious when my car starts driving on one, which is kind of the point! I hate the noise and almost immediately self-correct before driving into traffic or off the road.

How’s your tolerance with the culture? I notice that’s I’ve been worsening.

As you relate to those around you—maybe your neighbors, your teammates, or your family members—how are power dynamics factoring in? I’m worsening.

Or misogyny? Are you kidding me? Do not go there. I am fine. Oh wait, I want to be fine, but in truth I think with this one person I may be worsening.

Or racism? The “right” answer is I’m bettering; but honestly? I might be worsening.

How’s trust with God going? Sigh, I want it to be okay, I believe in Him, I love Him, but recent events have thrown me and I’m worsening.

Now more than two months after being diagnosed with biceps tendonitis, I am definitely better than I was, but I am not all better. While I look forward to the day that my arm is better, I am thankful to have the new language and understanding I have of my own state that I have acquired through this process.

If we were sitting togethering sharing a cup of tea and scone, I’d ask, “Where are you bettering?” And after talking about bettering for a while, I’d also be curious to know where you notice worsening in your responses, habits, and heart.

Grace and peace and bettering to you, my brothers and sisters. 

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Amy Young

Life enthusiast. Author. Sports lover. Jesus follower. Equipper of cross-cultural worker. Amy is the founder of Global Trellis, co-founder of Velvet Ashes, hosts reading challenges at The Messy Middle, and is the author of five books (Looming TransitionsLove, AmyEnjoying NewslettersGetting Started, and Connected.)

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