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How are you? [repost]

How do you answer that question?  It's been a very tough week and there you are sipping a cuppa after the service, and someone asks cheerily 'How are you?'  What do you say?

Emma and I have had experience of chronic illness of one kind or another 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 "comforter" 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 steady 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 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!



10 thoughts on “How are you? [repost]

  1. blogblunders

    Very helpful and always challenging post!

    This is the challenge for me- Can we enter into the struggles of others and not make ‘the fix’ into the goal? So often I do!

    But, learning from/with a couple of close situations to us at the moment, especially with one family where there can never be a 'fix'.

    Thanks again, more to think and ponder!

    Be blessed,


  2. Mary Johnson

    Same issues here. Tired of the incurable illness but spared the fatal diagnosis of earlier cancer. People always say they'll pray for you. What do I say? Been doing that for the past 15 years and so far it's still here.

    God is in control and will be for the forseeable future. Me, I just take my meds and give my blood offerings to the lab. Praise God He saved me from hell - That's all that counts in the end.

  3. The Simple Guy

    How often we ask "How are you?" when we really don't care, and don't want to know. .
    I have found that rather than have the answer all the time, the challenge is to really listen. Really care. And ask if there is a way for me to help. And mean it.
    Absolutely love the answer. We do look for the resurrection!! Praise Him!

    Thanks Glen,

  4. neilrobbie

    Sunil, you're friend's saying comes from C.J. Mahaney's "The Cross Centered Life". I use it myself.

    I'm preaching on "do not worry...about your bodies" (Matt 6:24ff) in the morning. Perhaps we should reply "I am seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness."

  5. Glen

    Thanks guys - some really thoughtful and helpful responses there. Welcome to Mary too, glad to hear from you.

  6. Alissa James

    Really love the post..Sometimes there are so many hidden meanings in the question"how are you?".We really cant enter in to the struggles of others.We just can ask them about their problems and in fact we hurt them more by asking this.So this is very very challenging and thinkable post for all of us.

  7. Rob

    Thank you SO much for this Glen! And for the comments after.
    I'm struggling with answering this question too currently so Big thank you!
    Possible shortish answer I was thinking through just now:
    Which I think is more a response than an answer...
    Thank you for asking. Appreciate your prayers to keep my eyes on Jesus....l or I've also just replied God is good all the time.
    I find it even harder to know what to say to friends/work colleagues who are not Christians ...l don't want to whinge but don't want to lie
    I like your resurrection reply
    Also... Possible optional question to ask Christian friends to get to a maybe more helpful discussion.....
    'How are you going with the Lord'?
    Welcome thoughts.....

  8. Glen

    Great thoughts Rob, thanks. Maybe part of it is venturing into conversations without "the right words" but with a prayerful desire to engage and bless. It'll be messy, but that's where God shows up.

  9. Jo B-W

    Could we also try and ask better questions? You know how our English teachers told us not to use the word nice... "How are you" is such a bland/bizarre question. It longs for the answer I'm fine - but I'm not! I am so much better than fine AND so much worse! I suffer from chronic clinical depression and my husband and I are in a hard situation in terms of ministry, how are you is just not a good question. Even in a more normal week parenting three children and doing relationships in the mess of this broken world means life is a struggle.

    Q: How are you?

    A: It is well with my soul, I'm blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, AND every forward motion this week has been agonisingly difficult...

    I am reminded of the conversation Gandalf has with Bilbo about all the uses and meanings of the phrase Good Morning in the Hobbit.

    I love the resurrection reply, as it covers both the hope and the struggle!

    Maybe at times with certain people we could reply - thank you for asking, but can I be cheeky and answer a slightly different question? I'm thankful for... I'm enjoying... this made me laugh this week....Maybe if we asked each other more creative / specific questions it would all be a bit more thoughtful and more truthful.

    Also, while we don't want to ignore on-going struggles, I don't think those suffering want it to be the only thing they get asked about??

    Please do correct me if I am wrong on that though.

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