Yesterday at church, most of the people I talked with had some measure of sadness going on in their lives. I’d walk up to a friend and ask, “Hey there! How are you doing?” And they’d say something like, “Oh, I’m okay.” Which prompted me to ask, “Just okay? What’s going on?”
Each time, the other person invited me into their sadness or worry or disappointment or fear. It was a privilege and an honor. I know we often think if we give the real answer to the question when people ask how we are, we’ll turn them off, or reveal to them just how un-together we really are. Which, I presume, presupposes the notion that the person asking the question has his or her life all figured out and tied up in a nice bow.
I don’t know any perfect people. Do you?
Trying to live a perfect life is quite a burden. I don’t know anyone—except, of course, for Jesus—who was able to pull it off. Holding our sadness or worry or disappointment close to the vest in the local congregation is actually a disservice to everyone involved. Inviting a fellow traveler to help carry the burden is an act of trust and faith and friendship. And, receiving such an invitation is a gift.
It’s something we’re learning together. Being real with others takes practice for a lot of people, and I thought I’d let you in on some of the insights I’ve gained along the way.
When you’re on the receiving end of that “How are you?” question, remember these guidelines:
- Love hopes the best. No matter what, love always wins. If someone is asking you that question in your local congregation, you can trust they really want to know. Their concern for you is genuine.
- Welcome a fellow traveler. Sharing your current struggle doesn’t necessarily guarantee a solution. Our friends at church are human, just like us. While they may not have a ready answer for your struggle, they can join you in prayer, or simply sit beside you in the silence. Welcome them, and experience the gift of having someone join you on your journey.
- Practice respect. We share our journey, and ours alone. Be careful not to share parts of someone else’s story. Respect the other people who may be involved in your sadness or worry or disappointment. We don’t share to rally a team of people who are “on our side.” We share because we do life together and sharing invites the Holy Spirit to minister to us through another person.
When you’re the one asking, “How are you?”, remember these guidelines:
- Be sincere. Don’t ask if you don’t really want to know. We’ve gotten used to casually throwing out that question, without considering its true implications. If what you really mean is, “Hello, it’s good to see you!” then say that. But, if you ask how someone is doing, ask it sincerely.
- Walk side-by-side. Sometimes, you’ll have a way to help a person who is struggling. Other times you won’t. Either way, it’s fine. Be okay with not having all the answers. Be comfortable sitting in silence. Be fine with resting a hand on the shoulder of your friend and offering up a prayer—out loud, or silently. The gift is acknowledging the struggle and standing in it with your friend, even if just for a few minutes.
- Practice respect. Be trustworthy. Don’t take sides. Follow up when you can. Unless someone is in immediate and/or grave danger, don’t betray a confidence.
The bottom-line in community-building is trust, and the thing about trust is that you have to test it to prove it. Risky, right? And, well, all I can say about that is someone has to go first. If you’re sharing your struggle, those first few times can feel terrifying. If you’re the one hearing the struggle, be mindful of what a huge gift you’ve been given.
And, one more thing. Even in this, you won’t always get it right. But, don’t give up. Press in and press on. Believe God is able to intervene, even when we fumble the ball. Apologize when you need to, and try again when you can. We may not be perfect, but the Holy Spirit can work with that.