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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 9 comments

I almost ran into a friend a while back - literally! She was walking out of a building as I was driving up to the door. It was obvious she didn't see me since she was looking in the opposite direction, so I stopped rather than run her over (I'm nice like that...) I rolled down my window to say, "Hi" but before I could utter a word she asked me the question I dreaded hearing that day...

"How are you?"

And I started crying.

Because, you see, I was having one of those days. 

One of those days when nothing seemed to be going right.

One of those days when I had more things to do than I had time to do them.

One of those days when I felt over-worked and under-appreciated.

One of those days when I what I had to do was not the thing I wanted to do.

One of those days when I realized I could devote every waking moment to one particular task for the rest of my life, and it would still never be enough.

One of those days when I was fighting to keep my equilibrium.

Have you been there? 

I was spent; it took every morsel of energy I could scrape up just to hold it together and carry on.

It was just at that precarious moment that I was asked, "How are you?"

My tears made it obvious that, even if I could have uttered the perfunctory reply, the truth was I wasn't fine.

Even on good days, one of my pet peeves is when "How are you?" is used as a greeting. Have you ever stopped to think that, as is implied by the question mark, it is a question? Shouldn't asking a question require us to stop to hear the answer? 

I don't think anyone means any harm when they use, "How are you?" as a greeting, have you ever considered that not everyone you greet is fine? That you may be speaking to someone who could desperately use a listening ear? Someone whose spirit is lifted by the hope that there is indeed someone who cares about how they're doing, only to have those hopes dashed as you keep on walking?

Maybe you've been in there.

Where your emotions are so close to the surface that being asked "How are you?" leads you to tears.

Where you were heartbroken to have someone walk away when you thought they were genuinely interested in your well-being.

Have you ever said you were fine when in reality you were anything but?

Though I try to avoid it, I've fallen on both sides of this issue, being the asker as well as the asked. 

There were times when I asked, "How are you?" without even considering the other person's state of mind.

There were times when I asked, "How are you?" while I was walking and never missed a step.

Are those actions loving? Do they honor the other person?

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. ~ Romans 12:10

Unfortunately, this dilemma is not unique to America. Thanks to our mission trips to Kenya, I can say the dreaded exchange in three languages:

     Habari?            Mzuri.
     Idhi nadi?         Adhi maber.
     How are you?   I'm fine.


I've declared war on the phrase, "How are you?"

Not only do I do my best to avoid saying it, I also avoid answering if the speaker is still moving. And do you know what? Most of the time, they don't even notice I didn't reply.

So, you may be thinking, what should you say when you want to greet someone?  May I suggest "Hello," or "Hi"? Or if that's seems too brief for you, how about saying, "It's good to see you"? No response required and no expectation that you're interested in any more of a conversation than that. 

Fortunately for me, that day my friend really did want to know how I was. 

Don't we all need friends like that? 

Will you be that friend to someone?


9 Responses so far.

  1. I'm so sorry things have been rough. I'm glad your friend could lend a caring ear and probably prayer. Thanks for linking on Amanda's Books and More! I'll send a prayer your way right now. God bless!

  2. Faith says:

    i've been known to answer " do you what the generic "im fine" or the REAL answer?" LOL.....seriously, this post resonates with me.....I have learned, especially with people in our mega church whom I dont know that well yet i see them every Sunday, to really put on a listening ear and a gentle spirit because you just never know. My husband had a heart attack suddenly on Tuesday this week and when I saw my pastor and his wife walk in to the waiting area to be with me, i just burst into tears because I had been holding so much in. They just SAT and listened....it was amazing. NO "how are you" because DUH it is obvious how someone is when the spouse is being worked on in a cardiac unit!! But I think most of us just don't pause to think before asking (or answering) this question. I love being real with people. So much more authentic faith happens that way :)

  3. Heather says:

    This was a good find today for me too... last night I spent some time venting to my husband that i'm so tired of those who are afraid of being real, afraid of having relationships, as women, because someone might find out they are not as "perfect" as they like to appear. So tired of the lack of realness in our culture...I tried to strike up a conversation yesterday with a mom whose child is in the same PT play group as my son. We have adopted kids in common, and perhaps other things, but any attempt at a conversation fell hopelessly to the ground... I know that being an adoptive, interracial family is not easy--i've been there for ten; years, so I know there is a real commonality...but no... I miss the authenticity of childhood!


  4. Unknown says:

    How fortunate you ran into a friend who really wanted to know how you were that day! So often, when I'm having one of 'those' days, when I really need someone who'll listen, I find everyone is so busy and so distracted. And then I realize just how often I do the same to them... I'm with you on banning 'how are you'!

  5. Unknown says:

    Yes, I'm with you, sister. You've encouraged me to wage war on this meaningless greeting as well. I'm going to do my best to stop saying it and stop answering it, too. Most people who ask it don't want an honest answer, anyway.

  6. jviola79 says:

    Wonderful post! I learned this lesson the hard way several years ago when I asked a dear woman, "How are you?" not intending to stop at all as I passed her by in church. I did not miss a step & from behind me I heard her small voice say, "Lousy." Stopped me dead in my tracks as I turned to her. We sat in the back pew of church for a lengthy heart to heart talk & prayer. And I have never forgotten the lesson since. When I say "how are you?" now, I stop as I mean to hear the response. Much food for thought in this post!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Hi Lisa, I've had a day or three like that lately. It just seems as though when one catastrophe ends, another starts and I just don't get to inhale and exhale fast enough. I know the last experience should help me in the next one, but I want a holiday from "circumstances" Lol, but life isn't like that is it?! I suppose that is why God places those friends why DO care enough to really want to know how you are. Great post.
    God bless

  8. Beth says:

    I'm so sorry that you've had one of "those days" Lisa! I do hope it was just one day, but I totally get your "pet peeve." I have the same opinion and can remember a distant friend seeing me at a store and asking, "How are you?" as she rushed past me! So instead of feeling grateful for a quick greeting, I felt pushed aside and insulted! It doesn't hurt that this woman and I have had a few difficulties in the past. I guess, that should have been my cue to pray for her and pray for my own heart to let this go! Thanks for the vulnerability, conviction and wise challenge, my friend!

  9. Maybe because I've struggled enough with being sick I ask "How are you?" quite a bit. I try to get a real answer and when people say "fine" I'll ask if they are really or what is going on with them depending on the body language. I am bad about telling people how I am really doing and have been making a concerted effort to be deeper in my relationships and not hide behind "fine". My friends are used to it now and I've been so thankful for the conversations that have followed (though it usually means that I am one of the last to leave at church, but fortunately my family doesn't seem to mind!). You are so right that it isn't just a greeting- it is an important question and authenticity in relationships is so important. Thanks for sharing!
    -S.L. Payne, uncommongrace.net

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