How do people answer you when you ask, “How are you?”
My guess is that no matter how they’re feeling or what difficulty they’re facing, they’ll respond with the obligatory: “Just fine. How are you?”
That’s because the question doesn’t seek an honest answer. In fact, it often means, “I don’t have time for an honest answer, so please just say ‘Fine,’ and let’s get on with our day.”
While the salutation is perhaps a cultural nicety, I’d like to suggest some alternatives that I call “spiritual pick-up lines.” No, not the Happy Hour kind of pick-up line. These are intended to “pick up” the spirit of the fellow strugglers we meet in our daily journey.
Why this kind of advice in a spiritual column? Because, as Jesus suggested in Matthew 5:47, people of faith should dig deeper into our relationships than a typical hello. “If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.”
I propose we adopt these five questions to supplant the traditional “How are you?”
What’s new in your world?”
This is my daily favorite because it usually prompts people to share a short story about fun, faith or family. If they deflect the question by saying, “Oh, not much,” I usually prompt them with, “Come on, there’s got to be something new.” Stressing the word “new” allows people to share how the sacred has recently intersected their ongoing story.
“Tell me about your …”
My wife, who spends most of her day greeting schoolchildren, has taught me to start with observations, not conclusions. For instance, instead of asking a child “What are you drawing?” she’ll say, “Tell me about your drawing.”
I sometimes use this greeting on people who appear different than me. I ask them to tell me about their distinctive T-shirt, religious jewelry or their tattoos. I think it says, “I’ve noticed you are different, but I want to understand and respect your difference.”
If you really want to take this greeting to another level, say “Tell me about your smile today.” Or “Tell me about your tears.”
“What’s your plan today?” or “What’s your day looking like?”
This is a deeper alternative to the insincere grip-and-grin that often accompanies “What’s up, dude?” This greeting hints that you’d like to help make their day better. It’s also a question that sets up the last two on my list.
“How can I help make this a good day for you?” If you honestly seek to know about a person’s well-being, then you must be willing to help. This is the philosophy Jesus employed when he asked the blind roadside beggars in Matthew 20:32, “What do you want me to do for you?”
When they told Jesus, “We want our sight,” he miraculously restored their sight. Spiritual people must also ask, “How can we can help others to see?”
That leads to my most sincere greeting:
“What are you praying for?” or “What are you hoping for?”
If you ask this question, you demonstrate two things. First, you get the person to examine his greatest needs. Second, and more importantly, you declare your willingness to enter a spiritual covenant that will help the person attain his or her greatest need.
If you’ll ask these five questions of five people today, I can almost promise you that by the end of your day when someone asks, “How are you?” you’ll be able to say much more than, “Just fine.”