Updated on December 6, 2018
The question of “How are you?” has become a familiar one, hasn’t it? Maybe too familiar. How many times a day does somebody pass by you at work and say, “Hi, how are you?” continuing to walk without even waiting for a reply…as if the two statements were meant to be lumped together to create a cultured American greeting, rather than an actual question that awaits a response? How many times have you been guilty of doing the same? If you’re anything like me, the number is probably more than you’d like to count. Could it be that we don’t really want to know the answer? Could it be that to actually await a response might inconvenience our lives for more than the mere five seconds it takes us to ask it?
But what if “How are you?” was more than a greeting? What if when we asked the question, we actually made eye contact long enough to receive a reply? What if? Could it be that we might earn the opportunity to peer into the lives of those we pass by? That we might actually get to be Jesus to a person who’s dying for someone to stick around long enough to listen to the answer?
But that’s our fear, isn’t it? We’re not sure we want to know the answer. Doing that might require work, time, sacrifice. We’d rather live our cookie-cutter lives where everything flows smoothly and we don’t encounter any detours. But a fabricated life created from construction paper and glue is rarely as exciting as the real photograph containing vibrant color. The journey may be smoother, but the picture is quite dull.
Several years ago I found myself on the asking side of this scenario in the teacher’s lounge on a Professional Development Day in the elementary school in which I worked. As I sat down with two other co-workers, one of them began to describe the fear she was wrestling with as her daughter approached ever closer to the day in which she would undergo brain surgery to remove a tumor that was discovered during her recent pregnancy. The count was now down to less than 72 hours and I could tell each hour wore a little harder on the co-worker beside me, her daughter miles away in a hospital rather than by her side. I listened intently as she poured her heart out to the two of us and it suddenly occurred to me that before me lie a great opportunity. The question was, did I have the courage to take it? Wrestling with idea for a brief moment, the Spirit of the Lord prompted me and I found myself saying “Why don’t we just pray for your daughter right now,” spoken as more of a statement than a question. My friend seemed to appreciate the offer. So the three of us joined hands in a circle and I lead out in intercession for her daughter’s life. The power of God was evident among us as we prayed and a boldness was infused inside of me that melted away my fears of what other people were thinking as they walked in and out of the room. This was the common area for teachers after all, and this was a public school. I found myself not caring though and the situation almost comical as I heard people walk in, suddenly realize what was happening and, in embarrassment, turn around and walk back out, as if they had just walked in on someone in the bathroom stall.
When we were finished, the tears streaming down her face and the long embrace she gave told me I had done the right thing. And I was so glad that I listened to the Spirit’s urge within me rather than letting my fears of what other people would think override that still small Voice. Had I not offered, I would have been the one that missed a great opportunity. Yet how many other times have I done exactly that? How many other situations have I flippantly passed by hoping someone else would take care of it, letting my fear of people’s opinions win over the what I knew God was asking me to do? Or perhaps it was because my delayed response closed the door for me before I was able to act. My prayer is that my number of obedient actions will increase and tip the scale so that delayed or fearful responses won’t even be a considered option any more and serving will win every time.
And what about you? Are you willing to risk, even just a little, to invest in someone’s life? To see and experience the vibrant color rather than the cardboard cop-out? If so, what would you see? Reality? Yes. Pain? Probably. The brightness of the sun is often mixed with some stormy clouds. Yes…storms will come, I guarantee it. But I also know that the shadow proves the sunshine. And don’t we want it to? Isn’t that the way life was meant to be lived? God created our lives to be intricately woven together with the lives of those around us. Is it never easy and rarely convenient, but it’s the only way His perfect will can be complete. He chose us, simple human beings, to be His vessel. Let’s together resolve to ask more people “How are you?” more often, and echo the prayer of Thomas A. Kempis who asked, “Lord do what You will, as You will, when You will.” And as we look more to the needs of others and less to ourselves, maybe “How are you?” will become more than just a greeting.