word for the week
how are you?
I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well, 3 John:2.
‘How are you?’ we ask. And ‘Fine’ comes the reply. But what are we really asking? And do we actually want to know, anyway? Some years ago, I said ‘How are you?’ to a mentally disturbed man at church. With rare honestly, he responded, ‘You don’t want to know’. ‘But I do,’ I protested (perhaps less honestly). ‘Well, look at your feet’, he replied; and I realised that I was walking past him even as I mouthed my automatic question. Many languages have formulae for greeting, with questions about one’s neighbour’s family, animals, work, travel, sleep, eliciting standard responses. But at least people spend time acknowledging each other, face to face.
What kind of interest in others might we convey in those short exchanges in the bus, on arrival at work, at the school gate, in the check-out queue or at the back of church after the service? The apostle John, writing to his ‘dear friend Gaius’, expressed three heart-felt wishes. First, that his friend should have good health; second, that everything in his life should go well; and third, that his spiritual life should continue to thrive – wishes on the physical, circumstantial and spiritual planes. We appear to think almost entirely about people’s health when we ask ‘how are you?’ And we scarcely wait for the expected answer.
But that little answer ‘fine’ may veil a newly diagnosed cancer or a marriage on the rocks. ‘Fine’ may veil a lost faith or a broken heart. If we genuinely care for others, we must be interested in their lives, in the issues they are facing in their families and in their work. And do we have courage, with our close Christian friends, to ask ‘And how is your relationship with God?’
We need to pray for people on all these three planes; and, like John, when we write to people, to ask after all these aspects of their lives. But in our everyday greetings, too, may we try to find ways of encouraging others by expressing a genuine concern for things that are going on in the deeper recesses of their hearts and minds.