Friday, September 7, 2012

How are you?

I've written on Brandi's Caring Bridge site about how as Christians we are to run to the Body when in need and how the Body must be ready to help. On that note, I've noticed an area where we can all probably use a little improvement. This is certainly not an indictment on any particular church or person, but just to build up the body as a whole. Unless of course it convicts you, then I am totally thinking of you. ;)

Growing up in church I have heard several times about how we need to be more open with each other. Specifically those that respond with "fine" when asked how they are doing. We are told that those people need to stop hiding behind a false front and take off their mask. While this is true, the general sentiment nowhere near conveys all of the factors that go into opening up to others about what can be very personal information.

Some people have those walls up around themselves because others have feinted interest with well intentioned but ultimately insincere inquiries. Imagine a man walking into church from the lobby with the service starting in about 45 seconds. He hears people greeting each other. "How ARE you? I'm great. How are YOU? We're all just fine." The man gets a sense of dread that this person talking beside him is going to turn to him next. By the time he hears those dreaded words he is already processing what to say. He thinks about his life and how cat choked to death on his his goldfish, he had to ride the bus to church because his wife took the car to run off with another man, he would have brought his Bible but he lost it in the house fire on Friday, and a horrible disease is causing his body to destroy itself. The man looks right at this somewhat random person and says, "I'm fine".
Don't you worry about me.  No sir.  Ol' Gil always lands on his feet.

What is he supposed to say? More often than not, if he says he is doing terrible, he will either get looks of either pity that say "Bless your heart" or confusion that anyone would disturb the delicate balance of proper greeting protocol. If he tells anything close to reality many people will backpedal faster than Ned Ryerson.

Am I right? or Am I right? or Am I right? Right? Right?

So, here is what I am proposing. When we go to church or anywhere really, lets have some reasonable criteria for asking about how people are in case the answer is not just "fine" or "good".
1) Are we asking because you truly want to know or out of habit? This seems like an obvious one, but it's easier than we might think to use this as our greeting out of habit.
2) Is the timing right for them to tell us? If we're are headed into the service or chasing kids out the door, it probably not the best time to ask.
3) Do we have the relationship with the person to warrant a real and high trust answer? Should our friend from before with all of the problems really be expected to open up to someone who only speaks to him for 20 seconds each week? Also, some people are just very private by nature. It's very important to have that trust built up or were just going to annoy them.
4) Are we willing to do something tangible to help them? If they let us in on details there will probably be some way for us to lend a hand. They may not accept the help, but they will know if we're are sincere or not.

If the answer to any of those is no, here is what to do
1) Don't want to know? Then tell them, "Hey, It's great to see you today!" as your greeting instead.
2) No time? Offer to take them to lunch to visit.
3) Not very close? Go to their Life/Community Group. If they're not in one, invite them to yours. If you're not in a community group, get in one and then invite them. If they decline, try the lunch thing. If they still decline, check your hygiene.
4) Don't want to help or just can't for some reason? That's ok. Not everyone is called to do everything. If they open up about problems ask for special prayer request.

Hi, Gil.  I would really like to take you to lunch and spend extended time talking to your face.

Overall, it just come down to the importance of being genuine with people. Disingenuous questions are dishonoring, and if we ask them inside the Body of Christ, we dishonor the whole. Let's learn how to properly love and serve each other inside our churches and have abundant grace when we fail. That way, we will properly know how to love those outside the church, so that we all advance the Gospel instead of hypocrisy.