Monday, April 28, 2008

So, how are you?

"How are you?" is a question I've never been too fond of.

Yet, I'm guilty of asking it, and of asking it often. For some reason it seems to be part of a a typical greeting for most of us. "Hi Meredith, how are you?"

You know how I usually respond when the question is asked of me?

"Oh, hi Lisa, I'm fine, how are you?"

The reason I'm not particularly fond of the question is because I think it's rare that we answer that question authentically?? It's just too easy to say "fine, wonderful, great" and move on.

Saturday night we were at a birthday party for one of our dearest friends. There were lots of people there, some were stangers and others were good friends that I haven't seen in awhile. As we were driving home and I was reflecting on the evening, I was struck by the number of people who asked me, "Meredith, how ARE you?" For some, their question wasn't flippant or unintentional. They were my friends and they really, really wanted to know how I was.

I think it's because a few years ago, I took a risk and assumed that if someone asked, they really wanted an authentic answer. I remember one afternoon at church when B, a brand-new friend, asked me how I was doing, and the weight of all that was going on in my life came crashing down. I told her that I wasn't fine...that I was a wreck...and shared my story of ministry-related pain. It felt risky for me, but I sensed that B wasn't just asking in the formality realm. B has become such a good friend to me. She asks me when she sees me how I'm doing, and I feel the freedom to tell her, "I'm doing really well", or "B, it's been a hard week". Bottom line for me is that I trust her with my heart and with my feelings. I know I can answer authentically because B loves me and will pray for me, and she'll remind me of truth when I need her too. She won't try to "fix" me or offer solutions, she'll just listen, and understand, and pray. And I have the awesome privilege of doing the same for her

I also remember another time that I took a risk when that question was asked of me. "Hi, Meredith, how are you?" The person asking that question was the source of my ministry-related pain. Things were extremely tense between us, and she already knew that I was anything BUT fine. In an attempt to be as honest with her as I could in response to a question that didn't feel genuine, I said, "You know, W, I don't know how to answer that right now--do you really want the truth?" Yeah, um, that went over like a lead balloon, and led her to promptly uninvite my family for dinner and hang up the phone. What??!??

I don't tell you that story to be mean. That's not who I am. I tell it only for the contrast. There is such a difference when a true friend asks how you're doing. You just sense it don't you? They really care about you and they care about your answer. But sometimes we sense that the person asking really doesn't care. Asking is just a formality.

I had three dear friends ask about me on Saturday. Three friends who really care about me and where I am, where my heart is, and what God is doing in my life. It felt good, it felt safe, and it made me realize that too much of the time, I ask that question without really wanting to know the answer or being willing to take the time to listen to what might be said.

It made me realize that I want to be intentional with a question like that. I want to ask out of genuine interest or concern. And I'm even trying to come up with a different question and response for casual situations.


leigh said...

It makes sense and it made me think! I'm trying to figure out just how I answer that question. Hmmmm. thought provoking, actually.

His Girl said...

I've noticed that people even say in the hallways of church "how are you" as a greeting... and keep walking- not even expecting a response. That makes me sad.

I resolved years ago to only ask if I cared to hear the answer. This was after a good friend pointed out to me that 99 percent of people who poise the question don't even WANT to know at all. They want to hear you're fine and go about their day.

Now, if I don't have time to listen, or can't honestly care, I say, "Glad to see you" (providing it's true) it is more- i don't know- intimate?- than "hi!" but doesn't have that heavy, insincere aftertaste, you know?

That way, if I ask "Hey, how are you, and look them in the eye, people can be sure that I really want to know, that I'll take the time to listen, and they can trust me.

That reminds me of another pet peeve... "I'll pray for you" - which I often suspect is code for "I'm done with this conversation..."

Deidre said...

Stop reading because it makes perfect sense. I completely agree. There are certain people in my life that I know would be asking me that question to receive a genuine response. I, also am guilty of asking it to someone not really expecting an answer.

It's truly a gift when you can answer that honestly and know the person listening is genuine and wants to know the answer.

Kelly @ Love Well said...

I'm smiling, because I was ruminating on this (again) just yesterday.

When I was a youth group leader, my teens would use this problem (saying "How are you?" with no real interest in hearing the answer) as proof of Christian hypocrisy. That's true to an extent, but I think the phrase "How are you?" has become, in our culture, just another way to say "Hi!" It's a watering-down of the English language for sure, but it is what it is.

However, I completely agree that when close friends say, "How are you?" it's a different question entirely. Thank God for those close ones in our lives.

Kim Heinecke said...

I don't particulary mind the "how are you" question as long as I take it for what it is. I do have a few friends that, when they say it, I KNOW they are genuinely concerned. That means the world to me. It's an open invitation to open up and just be real. LUV my sweet friends who do that!!

Gina said...

Yes, it's not a question I ask unless I a) care to know how that person is and b) have time to listen to the answer. Most of the time I answer the question truthfully. I figure that if people don't want to know when I am premenstual, have a nasty viral infection, or need to see a shrink that they will get the picture and stop asking!

Kecia said...

I was thinking about this recently, too. On the guilty end. As "his girl" said, I caught myself saying "how are you" as a greeting and not even stopping to hear the answer. Always good to be reminded to be sincere. :)

*carrie* said...

So true, Mer. It seems like we often ask and answer this question on autopilot. Thanks for this insight.

Julie said...

Yep, I've seen that too. You can usually tell when someone REALLY want to know how you are doing..

It's such a breath of fresh air when you can be you with someone.

I am glad you had such a great time.


Lindsay said...

Hi Mer... Love this post. My pastor preached re: honesty some time ago and this identical question was discussed. Praying for you and yours...

Susan said...

Great post. I have to admit I ask that question pretty flippantly. will be thinking more about this.

Mrs.Naz@BecomingMe said...

This was a wonderful post. I know that when we just moved here last year I was really struggling, but I was so afraid to tell that to any new friends. But one day I was feeling particularly low and my new friend Jaime shot me a three word e-mail. Are you OK? My reply? "No. I'm a wreck." Her sincerity and my vulnerability led the way for an amazing friendship and so much healing in my life.

Jenn said...

Thank you for sharing this post and really showing your heart. This part really made me think-

" it made me realize that too much of the time, I ask that question without really wanting to know the answer or being willing to take the time to listen to what might be said."

I am going to try to ask only when I have the time to really listen. I like HG idea of saying "good to see you". Let us know if you come up with any other better greetings.

Thanks Meredith. :o)

Unknown said...

I agree 100% with what you have said.

I have switched to "It's so good to see you!" because that is usually always true!

Casey said...

Hmmm, very thought provoking. I long for they type of friend who can ask me that question and want to hear my real answer.

Thanks for your honesty, Meredith.