Normalizing “How Are You?”

One of the great challenges of this period of pandemic is the full examination of our general lack of empathy and care toward one another. People have demonstrated on every level their desire to only focus on need to return to their vision of peace, comfort, and ease. The problem is that we have not learn our lesson from dwelling in that preoccupation. We have not made certain that those who we declare to care about most are well in every aspect of living. We have lost the art of raising a basic question. How are you?

What a profound question. It is one that is as open ended as possible. It one that can cause people to be confounded in every way. Imagine what level of mental and emotional energy that one question commands. A person can find his/herself overcome by the idea that anyone cares about the thoughts, attitudes, and experiences that rest within his or her journey. How are you? The question evokes an inquiry into the potential ups and downs that have taken place. One question has the power to illicit safe space or gossiping opportunity.

I want to lend myself toward the optimistic perspective of this question. I would hope that when I encounter people that sharing this three word interrogative does not provide fear or apprehension. I can understand that all individual do not feel comfortable sharing their feelings in a vacuum. Ladies and gentlemen, that sentiment is ok. Nobody owes you an audience. Nobody owes you a spilling out of feelings because you raise a question.

The idea of asking how are you is a gateway to creating greater community and relationship with people. It is the idea of showing that you care. It is the moment that disarms people from believing that all you want from them is something.

We have been dealing with quarantine, separation, death without closure, uprising in social justice, constant PTSD from continued acts of violence, crime everywhere, systems continuing to suppress, and so much more. I believe that is more imperative than ever to begin from a place of care than assumption. Life is hard. Yes, we have many things to do and accomplish. The fact remains that life is hard.

Life will have you staring at walls in your office questioning why you do what you do. Life will challenge your mettle of your existence while facing constant adversity. Life will put you to tears because you don’t feel safe to talk to anyone about your issues, problems, or anything else deep. Life will also make you long for the days of a Jackie Brown and a George Mimms.

I have told the stories before in different contexts, but I feel they apply here. When I was in Illinois pastoring, I reached a certain point when everything was going haywire. I reached the point where functioning in this call was not worth the stress, time, or harm that was affecting my family. At that time, I didn’t have anyone I could just unload these feelings. I was walking by myself. The feeling was lonely. All I wanted to do was what God purposed in my heart. I didn’t want to be seen. I wanted to help people the best I could.

I began to 100% loathe and despise the profession of pastoring. The call was never the issue. The profession was horrible. I felt myself becoming more and more cynical about people caring about me. It was evident that people wanted my talent. It was evident that people loved my gift. However, I realized that people who loved me were a minority. At least, my feeling were telling me that a minority of people cared.

If I remember correctly, Jackie Brown and George Mimms came to my office on back to back days. Deacon Mimms came and told me that he wanted “to bring me a golfer’s drink”. He brought me a gallon of lemonade and a gallon of iced tea. He sat in the office with me for a little bit and just offered wisdom and encouragement that to this day was so invaluable. He could tell that I wasn’t myself at all. He gave me the room to express myself and try to understand what I was feeling. I was so frustrated and angry at that time. George Mimms looked at me square in the eye and said, “I know the Lord is with you and will take care of you. I also know that as long as I’m around, I will never let anyone drag another Black man down for anything.” I hope every time call his name he is in Heaven smiling knowing that I listened.

The next day, Jackie Brown came to my office. She started the conversation by saying, “Pastor, I have been watching. You have seemed like yourself recently. It has bothered me so much. That’s why I decided to come by and check on you to see if you were ok.” I wept for what felt like two whole minutes. I guess I needed that space. I felt like garbage at that time. I felt empty. I felt lifeless. That gesture let me know that I was safe to get it out of my system. At the moment, the space to human saved me from the prison of bombarding my soul with lies about who I was and what I was. One question unloaded a significant level of burden.

That period of my life challenged me not only to find a circle of help and trust in all times, but it challenged me to always assess a situation before me with grace filled eyes also. Raising the question present a couple of things for our consideration.

  1. We become more sensitive to the circumstances of the moment. Some people do demonstrate consistency in their behavior. Significant truth exists behind the idea: When someone shows you who they are, believe them. Most individuals are attempting to do his or her best in navigate the spaces and attitudes of life. It is not always simple. It is not always rosy. It is not easy. People will be caught on an off day. Approach the moment from a place of grace. Galatians 6:1-5 tells us, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.” At our best, we are not attempting to judge and reduce the experience of our neighbor. We must address each moment with grace, because we may never know when we will be in need. Even though the writer addresses transgressions, we must understand that the principle extends beyond that. We must know that somebody might be in need of a grace moment that could lift him or her from that moment. Otherwise, we are not actively fulfilling the law or command of Christ.
  2. Create the safe space for others. When we see most people, we are witnessing them on the other side of judgment, opinions, struggles, and other issues. Who wants to encounter a representative of Christ who has decided to help God by placing judgment on what they see. People need the room to be themselves. They don’t need another voice telling them who and what they are. They don’t need someone else attempting to quantify the struggle. People need to feel ok to not be ok. People want to move on from their challenges, but not at the cost more assumption. A person who struggling or facing abnormal challenges are not obligate to package his or her life to fit our idea of normal. We who claim to love God must fix our gaze and hands to create the space to work though the moment.

Before the snap judgment rises from your soul, stop and consider your surroundings. Consider the people that you hold dear. Do not bring your assessment to the party. Be the hands and feet of God that offer places for healing and deliverance. Be the person that honors the idea of people being their best selves. Be the person that stops and discerns the wellness of a person. Be the person that desires to see and witness collective wholeness rise as byproduct of believing in life more abundantly.

How are you, today?