How Are You?

Recently my daughter experienced a loss in her family and as a concerned mother I kept asking her “How are you?”.  After a couple of days of this she looked at me and said “How do you think I am?  I am sad.”  This caused me to begin noticing how I use this question.

How are you?  This is one of the first questions that come out of the mouth with someone we haven’t seen in a while and with someone who is hurting.  This question is also something that can easily be said unconsciously to create distance from pain.  When I know how someone feels I know how to respond and possibly do something to help.  As with anything in life the question isn’t a bad question.  It is a caring question.  When it comes to the spiritual life the question becomes -  is it being used consciously (it is appropriate) or unconsciously (automatic or to feel safe and in control)?

I am also experiencing a loss in my family.  My brother is dying.  I notice when I greet him how often “How are you?” slips across my lips before I even know it.  Many times I am aware it makes me feel better.  I have had something to say.  I am showing concern.  I feel a bit in control of a situation that has no control.  If he says fine (even though he is not) something in me relaxes.  Ok he’s fine, so I’m fine.  If he says something is wrong then I have something to do.  I can fix a pillow or get a pill.  What I am avoiding in using “How are you?” unconsciously is truly seeing and being with him at a deeply difficult time.  

I have been sitting with how to be with him without unconsciously asking that question.  What I really want to do is say I care and I’m here.  I want to say it sucks you are hurting and I don’t know how to be in it.  I want to say you are not alone in this.  I don’t have a pat phrase to replace “how are you?”.  Maybe that’s how it needs to be.  What I have gained is a deeper dependence on God in tough situations, a humble clinging to the mystery of pain and clearer sight of the one who is in pain.  And through it all a deep dependence on what God can do.

Practice: Notice how often you say “How are you?” is it conscious or unconscious?  What are you truly trying to say?  What would you say instead of “How are you?”.  Feel free to leave your thoughts below.