In Pastoral Care, I hear this word used often when I ask someone, “How are you doing?” At times I find this perplexing, especially when I am with them in the ER, or visiting them in the hospital awaiting surgery, or struggling with a deep personal issue. On the flip side, I also hear this word used a lot in everyday passing. We say, “How are you doing?” to start off conversation. I just finished reading a book on Pastoral Care. One of the chapters is called, “Creating a Safe Place.” This chapter talks about how we spend time creating a safe place when we are hurting, and the high cost it takes. For the one who is hurting or struggling, it takes a lot of energy to hide those feelings and to put on a “happy face.”

It got me to thinking and reflecting: How often do I ask people in passing, “How are you doing?” And how often is the response I get, “Fine?”

I decided to do a survey myself and see how true this was. Over the last month, I have stood in our church hallways, observed in our classes, and listened to people talk to each other. I heard them ask each other, “How are you doing?” and the overall response I heard back was, “Fine.” What is surprising and amazing is that I know these people, and I know what they are going through.

When people respond politely to questions like, “How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?” I can only imagine how many are actually wondering, “Do they really care? Are they really interested in what is going on in my life?” They might say, “Fine” out loud, but they are thinking, “You really don’t care,” “You don’t have the time to really listen,” or “You are not interested.” These are just a few of the real thoughts that go through their heads.

My intent is not to sadden you, or get you to stop asking people in your traffic pattern, “How are you doing?”. You have it within your power to create a safe place for those who are hurting and suffering, whether it is physically, emotionally or spiritually.

As I said earlier, hiding feelings takes a lot of energy, more energy than it takes to be straightforward. Hurting people don’t have a lot of energy, because they are spending their energy coping with the circumstances and pain. In the end, hurting people just tell you what you want to hear.

My encouragement to you is this: Don’t stop asking people, “How are you doing?” especially those you know who are doing great, that is just being friendly. However, to those you know who are struggling and hurting, ask them, “Have you had anything good happen to you this week?”. Ask in a way that shows them by your voice inflection and body language, that you really want to know, and are prepared to spend some time with them talking and praying over them and their circumstances.

Our ability to take the bad news as well as the good is such a gift to a suffering individual. This openness gives the suffering permission to be honest, to share freely and save valuable energy. Sharing openly and honestly about being “not so fine” can actually be energizing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us: “Therefore let us encourage one another and build each of up.” I would also add to pray for each other.