By Anne Peterson, Crosswalk.com
I remember it like it was yesterday. My husband Mike had told me time and again that people really weren’t listening when they asked the words, “How are you?” And he was about to prove it to me. “How are you doing?” someone asked him.
Without skipping a beat Mike responded, “Rotten.” But the conversation continued as if my husband has said, “I’m good, thanks.” A few minutes later, Mike gave me a small grin.
Why is it people ask how we are, but really don’t listen to what we say? Doesn’t it make that question null and void? And for those who simply give the expected response, can we stop saying ‘We’re good, thanks,’ when we’re not?
We Are to Bear One Another’s Burdens
Granted, sometimes we give pat answers because of a lack of time. But when we are asked how we are, and someone genuinely wants to know, we do a disservice when we give rote answers. Why not say something like, “Thanks for asking, I’d like to get together and share what’s going on with me.”
When we are honest with one another, we can then bear one another’s burdens as God tells us to do (Galatians 6:2). And I have found when we are transparent with others it gives them the freedom to also share what’s going on with them.
My friend Lisa once told me, I like Jill, but I could never share my struggles with her. I asked my friend, “Why not?”
Her response has stayed with me for years. “Jill has never shared one struggle she has. I don’t think she’d understand me.” Two people didn’t get to really know each other and they both missed out. God said we are more than individuals.
We Are All Parts of One Body
Christ followers are not merely a group of people who believe the same thing. God said we are actually one body (1 Corinthians 12:12). With a body, all parts are important, even the little parts. I remember breaking my little finger one time years ago. My whole body hurt till that finger got better.
Some people may not feel as if they are as important as other members of the body, but Paul took a lot of time explaining this (1 Corinthians 12:15-27). And the last two verses really sum up how important each member is. Verse 26 tells us, “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares its joy.” I have experienced this when a friend will share that the diagnosis was good, or another one will say that he received the job we had all prayed for.
Answered Prayers Grow Our Faith in God
I remember reading the story of the man who had been possessed with many demons (Luke 8:30-38). I wondered why Jesus let the demons enter the pigs who then jumped off the cliff. And it hit me. Because the pigs ran off the cliff, this story reached a lot more people. People who otherwise might now have heard about it. And when the man begged to go with Jesus, he was told to return home. Why? So he could share what God had done for him with even more people (Luke 8:39).
When we choose to not share our struggles, we are preventing others from hearing how God worked things out for us. News that could help their faith to grow. We owe it to others to share how God works in our lives. So sharing the struggles is part of that as well.
God Wants Us to Be Honest with One Another
Saying we are good when we’re struggling is not being honest. God tells us we should not lie to one another (Colossians 3:9-10). When Jesus was facing the biggest challenge of his life, the cross, he spent time in prayer with his Father. Jesus was fully God, but he was also fully human. He shared with the disciples things he was facing; he didn’t keep it from them. Then when he went to the garden to pray, he invited them along.
When Jesus found them sleeping, he was disappointed, as we would have been. Yet, he asked them to wait with him again. And they disappointed him again, not once but two more times. Jesus let them know how he felt when they let him down. Intimacy cannot coexist without honesty.
We Need to Take Risks
Will it always work when we take risks? No. Will we be hurt? We could be hurt. Sometimes we will be disappointed like our Savior was disappointed. And sometimes things will not work as we had hoped, but God can even take those times and work things together for good (Romans 8:28).
God never promised us we would not have any difficult times. In fact, he told us that in the world we would have trials, but that he has overcome the world (John 16:33). Even in the hard parts of my life with many hurts and disappointments, God has shown me that he will never let me down. I remember one favorite hymn titled “Jesus Never Fails” by A.A. Luther that reminds me of this.
Have you ever gone to a store and noticed that the cashier hardly looks you in the eye? When I noticed this I wondered if it’s because customers rarely acknowledge her. One day I decided I would still engage in conversation, even if it was just a short exchange while my groceries were being scanned.
I smiled and said to the cashier, “It looks like a busy day, you must be tired.”
She looked a little surprised. I’m sure she was glad for my little attempt. From that day on, every time I see her, she smiles, and we chat a little. She even asks about me and my family. And when I ask her how her day is going, she knows I really want to know. All it took was looking her in the eye and letting her know I cared.
In this time of our lives when our smiles are covered with masks, I’m glad that our eyes can still convey warmth.
People Are Hurting
There are people all around us who are hurting right now. Those who don’t know Jesus personally are scared. How refreshing it would be to have someone ask them how they are doing? Do you realize that you may be the only high point of someone’s day? And if someone does ask you how you are, you can respond by also asking them. And then give them the gift of really listening.
At a very difficult time in his life, my son wrote this song called Marathon. His words are so applicable to this article. I hope you take time to hear them. They give you freedom to be where you are today. If you like the song, share it with someone else. Because people are hurting all around. And they need to know they are not alone.
All I Did Was Listen
I remember meeting her. She was a cashier who looked tired and I asked her about it. She shared she was exhausted and scared. I had to know more.
“My house has been broken into a couple of times. I don’t feel safe.”
“Why don’t you move?” I asked. She told me she could not afford to move. I felt I needed to connect further, so I gave her my email address. Maybe I could connect her with a mission I knew about who might be able to help. So she wrote me, to thank me for offering to pray for her. She told me she could tell I knew God.
A year later I watched the news and tears ran down my face. Her body had been found in a dumpster. Friends of mine tried assuring me I had at least brightened her day and given her some joy. And all I did was listen. I know she is now with Jesus, and she’s not afraid any longer. But her story confirmed to me just how important our words can be to others. Ask God who you are to speak with today. God will show you. He already knows.
A Prayer for Us
Father, I lift up every person reading this article. Lord, you made us and created us to be in community with others. You know the hearts of every man and woman you’ve created. You know those who are hurting. And those who need to know about you. Lord, give us wisdom as we interact with others. Help us to be authentic and transparent as you lead us each day. Help us show others that they have value because you created them. Lord, in our flesh we sometimes are afraid to take risks. Help us, Lord. And remind us we don’t take any steps without you by our side. We pray this in your Son’s precious and Holy name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Anne Peterson is a regular contributor to Crosswalk. Anne is a poet, speaker, published author of 16 books, including her latest book, Always There: Finding God's Comfort Through Loss. Anne has also written and published another memoir, Broken: A story of abuse, survival, and hope. Sign up for Anne’s newsletter at www.annepeterson.com and receive a free eBook by clicking the tab. Or connect with her on Facebook.