Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. – Romans 12:9 (NLT)
Many years ago, as a young Christian prone to self-pity and living by my emotions, I would get bouts of what I called “depression,” although I’m sure I had no clue what real depression feels like. I wrote a number of poems back then, some better than others. My shortest poem was written at a time I felt not only lost but utterly alone:
* ********* HONESTY**********
If I ran into you just by chance, at church, the store, the zoo,
And you asked me “How’re ya doin’?” I’d say, “Fine thanks, how’re you?”
But if I ever got the feeling you really gave a damn,
Then I just might surprise you and tell you how I am.
I’m not that cynical today, but I do realize there are different degrees of friendship, and we can’t all be best buddies. I can detect pretty easily who says “Hi, how are ya?” and isn’t expecting an in-depth answer. (Something about the way they don’t slow their pace as they’re walking past me.) I’ll say, “Fine thanks, how are you?” knowing they won’t have time to say more than “fine!” And that’s OK. We’ve made a momentary connection. Someone has acknowledged my existence, however briefly, and in some small way kept the lines of communication open.
There are other friends that I know a little better who ask in such a way that I know they’re genuinely interested. I find more of these friends at church. I belong to a church whose members are always praying for one another, and there’s a general feeling of camaraderie that brings comfort even if nothing else is said.
Sunday after service I saw a young lady who greeted me by name (one degree higher than “Hi there!”) and asked me how I was. I smiled and said “great, how about you?” She answered positively, but then added, “How is ___?” naming a loved one I have been praying for. At that moment I opened up and gave her an update. After a couple of minutes I added sheepishly, “That’s a long answer to a short question.” She assured me that she really wanted to know and said she and her husband would be praying. We parted with hugs, and my load was lightened.
Since I am not in school and don’t work outside the home, Sunday is my time to connect with people, so I usually visit with friends after Sunday school and linger after service to talk with others. Sunday I saw a woman I knew sitting by herself. (I’m guessing her husband was still socializing.) I came and sat with her, asking how things were going with her in a way that I hope meant I really wanted to know. She didn’t have any earth-shaking news, but when she asked me how things were with my family in a way that seemed to mean she really wanted to know, I told her about the one who was most on my heart. This was a praying lady, and I was confident that she would put in a good word for my family next time she was talking with the Lord. But she took it a step further.
“Let’s pray now,” she said, taking my hands. And as I let the tears come, she prayed a beautiful prayer, putting my loved one in Jesus’ hands. Of course, hugs followed.
When someone tells me their troubles, I also ask, “May I pray for you now?” It’s not that I’m a superior friend, it’s just that I know me, and more often than not, if I just say “I’ll be praying for you,” chances are I’ll forget. And I don’t want to be one that doesn’t pray for others or care about what they’re going through.
I don’t want to be just a “fine-thanks” friend.
So, when you ask someone “How are you?” how do you convey to that person that you really want to know? If the response is “Fine, thanks,” do you ask the follow-up question, “Are you really?” I’ve heard that suggested, but I’m hesitant to ask that, lest the person think I don’t believe what they just told me, or that I’m prying or looking for gossip. But maybe that’s just me.
A question I appreciate from my Christian brothers and sisters is, “How can I pray for you?” When I ask that question, sometimes the other person has to think a bit. Then I see a light in the eyes, and I’m given a specific thing to pray about. (I love to pray for specific things, because the more specific the request, the more obvious the answer, and I love answered prayers!) Depending on the situation, a follow-up question might be, “May I pray for you now?”
There are still those moments I see someone as I’m racing somewhere, running late, and I just have time to say “Hi, ___! How are you?” and I get a “fine thanks, and you?” And I trust we both understand. We’ve connected, and later the Lord may bring us up to the “Let’s pray” level.
Prayer: Lord, You know our needs better than we do, and You hear our prayers, even if we’re praying alone. But we also know that You love to see Your children pray for one another, and as we “bear one another’s burdens,” we also get to share in the joy when prayers are answered and the burden is lifted. Make us mindful of the needs around us, and let us not be “fine-thanks” friends, too busy to reach out, but rather the kind of friends willing to invest our time into being like Jesus. In His name, Amen