“How are you?” It is the question that comes out of our mouths without even engaging a brain cell. Somewhere along the way, we have been conditioned to ask this overused question as a matter of habit. Over the years, I have developed a love-hate relationship with the question… more hate than love.
First of all, we frequently ask the question, but rarely want an honest answer. I am guilty myself of asking someone how they are doing as we are passing by in a crowded hallway. Did I really expect them to answer with any specificity? I have also walked with enough people through painful circumstances to know that this question can be obnoxious to the one who is grieving. If you have lost a job, or lost a spouse, are in the middle of a divorce, or just had your heart ripped out by your prodigal child, this is the kind of thoughtless question that makes you want to avoid people. So many times we are just going through the cultural motions that we don’t stop and think how that question sounds to someone who is just fighting to make it through a dire situation. I have made that mistake once. I hope to never make it again.
It is awful to ask the question in the wrong circumstances, but answering the question presents its own issues. How are you to answer the question correctly? We can be superficial and answer with a forced smile. Or we could use the standard grade “fine.” I personally despise being artificial, so neither seems to work for me. I recall an individual I worked with who would answer the question with a question: “On what level?” Now that had to throw a curve ball to the recipient. I understand the premise. The returned question forces the asker to define how much information they truly want. I have not tried this response often, but I imagine it could be awkward.
As much as the social stutter step is something to contemplate, it recently occurred to me that the bigger issue for me is why my honest answer is always somewhat half empty. Everything could be going relatively well on a given day, but I dwell on the one thing that is negative. I was convicted that I was living a half-full life. The reality is that I have an amazing life. When am I going to start acting like it? I live in a place where my basic needs are never in question. I have people who love me, yet I allow myself to get focused on a less than desirable circumstance. Let Paul remind us from Phil 4:8 where we must focus,
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
The only reason I don’t respond to the “How are you?” with abundant joy is because I allow the enemy to steal it. I will not be the victim of another robbery. What about you? The next time I am asked, “How are you?” I will be ready to reply… with the gratitude I should have had all along. Let us not give up our joy so easily.