How Are You?

how-are-youIt’s a question that we may speak as often as we hear it, but how often do we ask it with sincerity, sincerely wanting to know what’s going on with the person whom we’re asking? When someone asks it of us, how likely are we to give an honest answer or do legitimately think that, if we gave an honest answer, the person who was asking us really gave a rip?

As I get older and the lens of what’s really important in life seems to become clearer, I continue to see that there are certain themes and principles that seem to apply across the board. No matter who you ask, no matter where you are, these things seem to be true.

One of these things that I have come to appreciate and understand more and more over the past few years is the fact that you can never assume that what’s on the outside of the box matches what’s on the inside. In other words, when it comes to people, just because someone seems to be doing okay on the outside doesn’t mean that they aren’t hiding something….or, more accurately, not divulging what’s really going on for any one of a number of fears.

For me, as a pastor, Sunday mornings can be among the busiest hours of my week. I am trying to make sure that everything is set. Whether I am preaching or leading the music team or whatever I might be doing, it can be an incredibly stressful hour. That’s not to say that I am not focused on the goal of that time or the importance of it, it just means that there are other things that I need to maneuver through to get focused on just why I am there. But it can be easy for me to casually cast off a “How are you?” here and there without really thinking through what I’m really asking or, worse yet, without really wanting to know or hear the answer.

Like I said, though, one thing that I am coming to realize more and more every day is that there can be far more going on beneath the surface than the casual “How are you?” with the obligatory “Good” or “Fine” retort actually shows. And I wonder just how many people answer the question honestly and really feel that they can answer the question honestly. If I answer honestly, will the person asking even care? If they care and I’m honest, will they tell the world about what’s going on in my life? If they find out what’s really going on in my life, will they shun me and make me feel as isolated as I already feel?

I’ve come to realize that just because someone answers that they’re doing good or fine or whatever, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s an honest answer. And so it’s forcing me to pay attention and to listen. How do people carry themselves? Are their words and answers matching their body language? Are they dropping any subtle hints about what’s lying beneath the surface as I speak with them?

Because I can get so caught up in the goal and the endgame, I can easily forget about the people involved in accomplishing and achieving that goal. When I do that, it cheapens the relationships that I have that are far more important than that would indicate. The last thing that I want is for the people around me to think that they are just cogs in a system of simply getting to the end. I wouldn’t want to feel like that, so why should I think that anyone else would want that either?

No, things aren’t always what they seem. There is usually so much more lurking beneath the surface, but it takes intention, patience, love, empathy, care, and time to really get there. People aren’t going to share it right out of the gate. They need to know that they can trust you, they need to know that you won’t betray their confidence, and they need to know that you really, truly, genuinely care about them and what’s really going on in their lives.

I’m learning, I’m growing, and I’m trying to do better here. I’m working to make sure that if I ask someone “How are you?” that I am ready for whatever kind of answer they might return to me. I might not always like the answer, I might not always feel like I’ve got the time for the answer, but to not listen and care about the answer is to allow someone to float off all alone out there in the world.

We can make a difference when we listen and pay attention. We can make a difference when we legitimately ask the question and want to know the answer. I know that when I’ve done it with genuine concern, it’s made a huge difference to the people to know that someone is paying attention and someone cares. I know that there have been times when the question has been asked of me and I probably gave more of an answer than the person was expecting, but in the end, it made all the difference in the world for me to be heard and to know that someone really cared. 

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Papa Bear

When I was a little boy, I was the youngest kid in the neighborhood. Most of the kids were at least a year older than me, if not more. Even my brother is four years older than me. While I wasn’t a small child, I was still the youngest.

There was a kid down the street who might have been labeled the neighborhood bully. He was the one wearing the heavy metal T-shirts. He lived with his mom, and to the best of my knowledge had no siblings. He had a reputation, at least with my family.

One day, I was being a four or five year old kid, riding my little plastic, orange push motorcycle and the next minute, I had gotten clocked in the head with it by this kid. Naturally, I cried and ran home.

As the youngest child, I was always the one to get sympathy. I was the baby and there were plenty of times that my mom would coddle me as the baby. On this day, I don’t know if I ever saw my mom so mad in my life. While all of the details remain blurry, I do remember being dragged down the street to this kid’s house. I remember his mom answering the door and my mom showing her the welt on my head from my plastic motorcycle. It seems to me that my mom’s concern was met with indifference from the mom, but don’t quote me on it.

I learned an incredible lesson that day: most parents love and care deeply for their children. In fact, they will do just about anything for them and when you mess with those kids, the hackles will come out and you’ll find yourself facing a very angry animal.

As a parent myself now, I can understand better my mom’s reaction. If you want to see the bear claws come out, mess with my kids.

I’m not naïve enough to think that my kids are perfect. Heck, I’ve spent fourteen hours in the car with them, if there’s anyone who knows better than me (other than my wife) that they are fallible and imperfect, it’s me.

But I know my kids. I know how they usually act. I know how they usually talk. I know when things just aren’t right. When I see something done to them that was not justified, when I see them being treated unfairly, when I see them hurting, I will respond.

At the end of this past little league baseball season, I wrote an email to the coaches for my older son’s team. I wanted to thank them for taking a kid who isn’t the most athletically gifted kid in the world and doing their best to make sure that he was encouraged, that he was educated and taught the game, and that he had a good time and enjoyed himself. I was grateful for their time and efforts and the investment that they had made in my son.

Recently, something happened with one of my children and I responded. As I reflected on my reaction, I think that I was a little surprised at just how much love that I have for my children. I’m not surprised that I love them, I was just surprised just how much I felt the burning within me at the thought of anything bad happening to them.

Continuing to reflect upon it, I thought about that love that I have for my children multiplied. How much does God love us? If I respond so passionately when someone messes with my kids, how much more will God respond because of his great love for us?

As a friend of mine said the other day, “Parenting is the most rewarding thing in the world.” He followed that statement by admitting how incredibly difficult it is as well. Your kids will challenge you, they will love you, they will test you, they will show you just what’s inside of you.

I’m grateful for my children, but I’m equally grateful for my parents, the ones who stood up for me, who loved me, who went to the mat for me. I’m also grateful for a Father who still does the same day after day!