“How are you?”
A standard greeting among Americans, and one that we often say without expecting much. We hope to hear a “Good, and you?” and leave it at that. I’ve even heard people say “How’s it going?” as a greeting, not actually expecting a response!
While there is certainly nothing wrong with pleasantries, we are called to step past niceties as Christians. We must walk into the vulnerable and open ourselves up to the opportunities of raw honesty. It certainly doesn’t have to be every time we talk to someone, but why not? And, we probably should do it more than we do now.
So, I have been practicing asking this question and looking into someone’s eyes, and genuinely asking “How are you?” to them. I ask from my heart, and then wait for their response. I leave the door open for them to be weak with me, and give them a safe place to share and vent.
The results have been astounding.
It’s amazing to me how many people are waiting for someone to ask that actually wants to know. I literally had one lady, after spilling her guts to me about the innumerable family and friend deaths she’d had and just getting over breast cancer, apologize for “unloading” on me. I could tell that it had so easily slipped out that she was embarrassed about it. She had shared her heart with a near-stranger, and she didn’t know how to respond to it.
But why are we embarrassed to be honest? And why do we shy away from the intimacy of others’ lives?
For me, I know my hesitations come from knowing that I am not enough. I cannot fix this person. I’m not even in a place to help people right now. The best I can do is pray for them, and so many people are tired of the response “I will pray for you.” If we say it too early, or if we say it flippantly, it becomes just another escape route to leave the exposed area that the other person has stepped into.
But ironically, when I accept that I am not enough, I become a better listener, because that’s all I can give them – an attentive ear. I can empathize, and not at arm’s length, by giving them all of my heart. And when I do finally get to prayer, I can ask them “What would you like me to pray for you?” and give them the opportunity to share a detail that fits in with what they’ve just told me. Even my “I will pray for you” sounds so much more sincere, because I have just listened with all of my being and given them a safe place to share what is troubling them.
“How are you?” has become my favorite challenge to myself, and an eye-opener. I share it with you to challenge you to ask someone, with all of your attention and heart, ready to walk into the vulnerable – “How are you?”