When you ask that question, do you listen to the answer?
As someone who struggles with some sometimes-discouraging health issues, I have learned a hard lesson: Not everyone really wants to know how I’m doing, even if they ask how I’m doing.
With recent discussions on what constitutes honesty, I have reflected on the sort of predicament I’m in when this question is asked. It’s pretty clear that a lot of times when someone asks, “How are you?” it’s more because it’s habit, a mindless greeting. Many times, the question is asked in haste, when time or circumstances won’t allow for anything more than an “okay” or a “fine.” Usually, if I say I’m okay, that means I’m not doing great, but I’m hanging in there. “Fine” is often really a lazy response as well. Neither is a completely dishonest answer, but I hesitate to be forthright about specifics or opening my heart unless I know the person asking genuinely wants to know. Of course, I don’t want to be going around complaining every time the question is asked (because I rarely feel great); sometimes, however, I could use a bit of emotional support. When it comes to chronic illness, the emotional challenges are often as difficult as the physical challenges.
I think of others who have other potentially draining challenges: those who are divorced or who have lost a spouse; those who grieve the loss of a child; those who aren’t able to have children; those who are single and yearn for marriage and family; those with wayward family members. The list could go on. These kinds of challenges can’t be alleviated by a casserole or a phone call, as appreciated as such service is. People with challenges that don’t go away have needs that don’t go away, and while each must learn how to turn to the Lord for their ultimate source of help, it helps to have loving support of people who are sensitive and aware and willing to lend a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on.
How grateful I am for the people who will ask “How are you?” with genuine concern, creating a conversational environment where I know that I can say, “Do you really want to know?” — and who really do want to know. Others might ask follow-up questions to delve beyond my pat answers. On the other hand, how hard it is when I feel that any answer besides a “fine” or “OK” will be an imposition or inconvenience on the person asking. Other times, I get the sense that people are afraid to ask a heartfelt question for fear of prying. Perhaps I’m unique, but I’d rather have someone care and ask than avoid asking to somehow protect my personal space.
“In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.” (Hymn 220) Loving listening is a simple yet profound form of service that I think we as Relief Society sisters could offer more often. So next time you ask, “How are you?” be sure to take the time to listen. Seek for the Spirit and, as guided, ask questions that show you really want to know how things are. You might be the answer to someone’s silent plea for support and solace.
God does notice us, and he watches over us. But it is usually through another person that he meets our needs. Therefore, it is vital that we serve each other (Spencer W. Kimball, The Abundant Life, ? Ensign, Oct 1985, 3).