“Posting two days in a row?!” you might be saying, “what kind of crazy-relaxing life do you suddenly have??” More like I finally don’t have research papers due every day but I can’t stop writing. And yes, I still have more assignments due both this week and next, and I might soon regret spending so much time writing for myself rather than working on those, but, this time is spent and I don’t particularly think it was spent incorrectly. I still have not had a chance to read anything interesting recently, so again you’re just getting my random thoughts for the day. I hope you can get something from this, or at least enjoy reading my opinions once in a while.
“How are you?”
What kind of a question even is that? How do you answer that correctly? Where are you is easy to answer; I am in one single place in reference to everything else. But, how are you? Well, I am currently sitting still except my hands are typing this, and I am warm but not hot…but none of those are what is expected. Everyone knows the right answer to “how are you?” is “I’m fine!” or something equally nauseating. Let’s face it: if you’re asking this in a crowded church during the meet-n-greet, in a classroom before or between classes, or as you walk by me while we both are headed someplace else, then you probably don’t want or have time to hear more than a brief answer. Those are not the places for deep, soul-revealing conversations, and you probably can tell whether I am “good!” or not just by looking at my attitude and posture.
Our society has taken something which ought to be a meaningful gesture and unintentionally turned it into a predominantly token gesture.
A friend of a friend of mine recently posted about this as being a symptom of the struggling church, and I agree wholeheartedly. From my experience, when I struggle with anything, there is often nothing I want more than to be able to tell someone what I am feeling and all the confusing thoughts that swarm through my mind. Yet, until recently almost every time someone at church or school asked me “how are you?” I would put on a smile and say “Good!” hoping that I could make a speedy escape from what I saw as fake conversation. Hearing this question irked me because of the lack of legitimacy behind it. It might be exactly the words that I longed to hear, but if the attitude behind it was not right, then it is useless. Far too often this has been the case in churches I have attended.
I know that I am guilty of this at times. Starting conversations is often difficult for me, so there are times when I simply revert to saying what other people expect to hear. Generally though, I try to only say this when I really want to know the behind-the-scenes of a person’s life. It’s a two-way street, however. If I’m taking this seriously and want people to be honest with me, then I have to be honest with anyone who asks me how I am, regardless of whether or not I think they really want to know. This is difficult. Some people, in my opinion, don’t deserve to know my real life when they aren’t willing to be more involved in it than a generic conversation every once in a while. I don’t get to make that distinction though. The only way to change the apathy which this stems from is by controlling my own actions and being honest. That does not mean that I am going to tell my deepest personal secrets to anyone who asks how I’m doing, but that I will be honest in all of my responses. So what if somebody learns that I am stressed, barely keeping up with a class, and generally not perfect? Did I really expect them to think that I was perfect before I told them I got up early to write a paper (or that I actually went to sleep knowing it was due and not finished)? Do I really have such a high perception of my own image that I think my words are the sole determining factor of how people see me? If so, then I am wrong.
When I ask someone how they are or how their day is going, I do not want a quick “fine” or “good”. When I ask, I honestly want to know what is going on in your life. If there is anything you need help with, I want you to be able to tell me. I want the opportunity to help. I consider it a privilege for you to trust me enough to be open about how things are. I know what I am saying, and I mean it. I don’t say it near as often as I should, partially because there are days when I cannot in good conscience ask because at that moment I can’t handle anyone else’s baggage on top of my own. So whether I ask how you are or not, please don’t get offended. Respect that I have an open-hearted interest in your life, or that I don’t have the time or energy for an honest answer. If more people took this simple phrase seriously, perhaps our community would be a little closer. A little more honest, with more time spent in meaningful conversation rather than gossip or pointless small talk.
Maybe then we could begin to achieve the goal of Christ-centered conversations.