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How are you?

How do you answer that question?  You're going through the mill all week, sipping a cuppa after the service, and someone asks cheerily 'How are you?'  What do you say?

We've had experience of chronic illness for many years now.  I confess that when people ask about it we don't really know what to say.  I know other friends who have degenerative illnesses.  And every week the questions come at church 'How are you?  Any progress?'  And they answer 'Yes indeed - the illness has progressed... and barring divine intervention it will continue to progress.'  The person frowns and asks 'So the doctors haven't helped?'  And of course the doctors have helped... as much as they can.  But...

- ...'Oh, because I read in 'Chintz!' magazine about a woman who recovered after eating a diet of Goji berries and Quinoa - perhaps you could try that.'

- 'Maybe!'

- 'Give that a go and let me know next week.'

- 'Look forward to it!'

Don't get me wrong, I know the trouble from the other end.  In our home group we have a woman who's struggled with insomnia for 50 years. Fifty years!  But when she reveals this, what is our response? 

"Have you tried a hot bath with a drop of lavender?"

"Long walks in the sea air."

"Listen to the shipping forecast"

"A drop of badger blood on the pillow..."

She shows extraordinary patience, listening to our home spun wisdom for a good quarter of an hour.  Eventually she says, "I have struggled with this for 50 years you know". 


Our trouble is we don't know what we can offer unless it's a quick fix.  So when we run out of fixes all we can think to do is offer prayer.  Which is good I suppose.  But even then - what's our goal?  The fix!  And how are we treating the other person?  What are our interactions all about?  Solving problems? 

Here are some questions for us: 

Can we handle sickness that doesn't yield to the quick fix? 

Can we face the struggles that aren't solved by the tried and trusted common sense we take pride in? 

Can we enter into the struggles of others and not make 'the fix' into the goal?

Can we simply journey with others in their mess and allow the Spirit to encourage us both in the Christ who is known best in the storm?

And, on the other end of things, when people ask us about our long-term stuggles, what can we say?

I've recently taken to one particular line that I picked up in a Tim Keller sermon, I'd love to hear any you have.  His was this:

- How are you?

- Nothing a resurrection won't fix!



0 thoughts on “How are you?

  1. Missy

    After almost ten years of a chronic issue, I've yet to come up with a response. I often avoid people because of anticipating the "How ARE you?'s"

    Also, I've only just recently learned not to try to offer the fix to others despite my own experience.

    I would appreciate a "How" to each of those "Can" questions. :)

  2. Dave K

    Thanks Glen. We should all probably think a lot more about what questions we ask, and how we answer them. Often the things that happen every day are the things we don't really reflect on.

    This is a good start though.

    I think we even make faith a quick fix sometimes... A friend's father (who has Motor Neurone Disease, a book and a blog!) commented something along the lines that people often try to offer the Christian faith as a consolation that makes things less bad now. But it never really works. But the Christian faith gives hope in the New Creation which doesn't numb the pain now but promises that it won't be forever. Your one-liner captures that.

    I don't have any great one-liners myself in response to the 'how are you?' question. On Sunday when asked by someone I deconstructed it and asked whether it was a question of how I was subjectively feeling. In which case did the questioner mean (a) at that particular moment in time [quite happy] (b) that week [up and down] (c) over a longer period? Alternatively did they mean how was I objectively, e.g. financially, physically etc. Probably wasn't the right response but they caught me in a playful mood and I think they weren't too put-out!

    On a practical note, any thoughts whether we should ask people 'how are you?' particularly if you already know the answer is going to be an unhappy one? And how do you avoid offering quick fixes and yet at the same time not just accept that things are tough and say 'oh well, life goes on I suppose' in a totally uncaring way. I suppose you can always ask people what you can do... I don't know. Musing aloud, sorry.

    I need to think more on this.

  3. Dave K

    I've just realised that effectively I ended my comment by asking the same sort of questions to those you asked towards the end of your post, so there is no point asking you!

    There is clearly no quick answer I'm going to get as an alternative to the quick-fixes.

    How frustrating.

  4. Matthew

    One answer to the question "how are you doing?" is "Better than I deserve!" I think I got that from C. J. Mahaney. Potentially works better with non-Christians, however.

  5. Glen

    That's a great line Matthew - must add that to the arsenal.

    Dave - I think deconstructing people's 'how are you's every now and again is a very good tactic.

    To you and Missy I don't have a lot of answers and I guess we all have to admit that there's a time and a place for 'Fine thanks, how are you?' But when we've got more time with people, questions like:

    * How are you finding the 'how are you' question?

    * Do you feel under pressure to feel or act a certain way? Who? What? How's it make you feel?

    * How do you wish people would talk to you about this?

    * How do you find yourself praying about this stuff?

    * Do thoughts of Jesus increase or decrease pressure on you?

    * What kind of thoughts of Jesus?

    * What's your hope in the midst of this?

    * What's most encouraging?

    But yeah... dunno...

    But then that's a good thing. The worst thing for genuine relating would be if there really were textbook approaches to suffering and we played things by the book. I guess we're called to come alongside and trust the Spirit's help.

  6. Dave K

    Very wise thoughts...

    I think I'll stick to the one-line holy sounding answers and that should do me though. This genuine relating thing sounds like hard work to me.

  7. Missy

    "What’s your hope in the midst of this?"

    Great! I'd like this question every once in a while. With "How are you?" I feel compelled to talk about my new updates on my condition and rarely get to the point of explaining how encouraged and hopeful I am. This let's me go right to it!

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