Have you ever been caught off guard at the way someone has answered a question that you've asked them? Maybe you asked a simple question and got a complicated answer. Maybe you asked a question already thinking you knew what the answer was going to be and then got told the complete opposite. Maybe you asked your parents for money and somehow ended up giving them money instead. Maybe you asked for permission from your significant other to go somewhere with the lads or the girls this weekend and managed to actually get your permission slip signed! (If that's you well done - although why'd you need permission in the first place? Another blog for another day I guess)
Maybe you asked something and didn't expect an answer back that would actually make you think hard about life itself.
I had this experience recently after a Sunday morning service at my local church. Every Sunday, after the service is finished, a team of volunteers and myself begin to pack down our sound and AV equipment. As we pack the gear down, many people in our congregation will walk past on their way through to the hall for morning tea - as its faster than waiting in line at the front door for the obligatory shaking of the Ministers hand. As they walk by, they will often say hello on their way past. They will never stop, and even though many will often ask 'How are you?', they never actually stop moving to hear the response. The question is merely a formality and part of letting that person know that you acknowledge they have crossed your path, even if you don't have time to hear what they have to say.
I put my hand up in saying I'm guilty of doing this all the time to people myself! If I think back to the last 5 people I asked 'how are you?' before this encounter, I couldn't for the life of me tell you what one person said! It's very likely though, that most of them said something along the lines of "I'm good", "fine thanks", or "can't complain".
So as we're packing up, an elderly lady slowly makes her way up the stairs in her commute to the hall. She always waits till the rest of the congregation has cleared, as she's mindful of holding up the people with her walking stick. She's a lovely elderly lady who has often affirmed me in my faith journey over the years growing up in my church. In spite of this I still will, more often than not, give her the "how are you" treatment in this situation. This time was no different.
Her: "Hello dear, how are you?"
Me: "I'm good thank you, how are you?"
*resumes packing up, not paying attention*
Her: "Well, put it this way; every morning that I wake up still alive, I'm disappointed."
It's not very often that I find myself being lost for words but this was definitely one of those times. What was supposed to be superficial encounter that was to have no bearing on my life or thinking suddenly became very real. And in that moment, I froze. All I could muster out was an equally depressing "awwwwww." It wasn't that I didn't care about her and her feelings, it was that I genuinely was caught off guard that a person I regularly interact with was in genuine need of support. I feel that I let her down in that moment and have reflected on that encounter every day since.
We are blessed and fortunate that in our Christian journey, God is attentive and genuinely invested in us and what we have to say. In faith, there is no room for superficial questions with superficial answers. When we find ourselves in the midst of a struggle and dark place, God invites us to speak, to seek and stay focused on Him. In turn, He hears, finds and reveals to us life in all its fullness.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. -1 John 5.14 (NIV)
The challenge for us is to do same, as best we can, in how live with and listen to one another. Next time you ask someone "How are you?" I challenge you to genuinely listen to what answer you get back. You might not get the level of response that I got - heck you'll likely get a "fine thanks" in response. But take the time to genuinely ask and genuinely listen. So many people, like the lady I spoke to that Sunday morning, are in need of people to listen and hence let them know that they are not alone. This is a valuable part of our call to loving thy neighbor that Jesus calls us to in faith.
The next time you ask your partner, mates, parents, boss or complete stranger "How are you?" be prepared for whatever answer you get in response!
Some Questions to Consider:
How are you? think beyond the superficial in answering this
What are some ways I can better listen to those around me?
What are some ways in which the bible teaches us to better hear and listen to one another?
Who are some people know to me that may need prayer over this same topic?