Oh no. Here comes the smiling person with the dreaded question: “How are you?”
I ask it too, all the time. It’s reflex, but it’s probably the one question I most often hate to answer. Because, well, I lie. “I’m fine. How are you?” To be sure, there are days when I am fine, doing well, free as a bird, feeling groovy. Unfortunately, there have been other extended periods of time that are just not fine, and I lie.
When I went to my 10-year high school reunion, other than the fact that I was still breathing, there wasn’t much good happening in my life. I had been on hemodialysis for over a year and was feeling every bit of it. Unlike seemingly everyone else I talked with, in addition to not being in good health, I wasn’t married or dating anyone, had no kids, didn’t have my own place, and had a so-so job at which I was paid a not-so-great salary. That particular night I also had a bruise that covered my entire forearm, because the day before, the dialysis nurse had infiltrated my arm (the dialysis needle went through the fistula and blood/fluid briefly flowed into my arm). I had to keep my jacket on all night (in July!) so nobody would see my arm.
But the dreaded question was all over the place that night. Apparently, if you haven’t seen people in a few years, they actually want to know something about you. Expertly trained in deflection, I answered, “I’m fine, how are you?” and then turned the conversation back to them. Thankfully, most were happy to oblige whatever questions I threw their way and asked no more about me. Thankfully too, a good friend, who knew I wasn’t well, grabbed my hand and led me to the dance floor and we began the dance party. It was a good night.
Church can be a particularly vexing place for this question. We talk Christianese and lie outright. “Oh praise God. He’s just blessed me so much.” Whatever. One Sunday a lady I knew asked me the question, but that day I wasn’t able to fake my way through an answer—I couldn’t even speak. A week before, I had found out that our much longed-for baby had died in my womb. By the time I saw this woman, the baby was gone but I was still going through the aftermath of the miscarriage. Not only did she ask the question, she added, “Come on, cheer up,” in a voice like she was talking to a pre-schooler. “You need to smile. It can’t be that bad.” Yes, it certainly can be that bad. And then some.
I had no way of knowing the night of my high school reunion that just a few days later I would be in the hospital receiving new kidneys, or that after the miscarriage God would give us two beautiful girls. It’s nearly 16 years after the transplant and the kidneys are still going strong. The girls are running me ragged, but I can no longer acutely remember how empty life felt without them. How quickly life can change.
Just a few weeks ago, I was in a store to buy something to wear for my mother’s funeral. Nobody there would have ever suspected the amount of grief I was walking with through that store. I looked around and began to wonder what hardships others there might be carrying with them as they bravely faced the world, trying at that moment, in the public light, not to give in to the pain.
I do wonder how He’s going to turn around this time of grieving. He has used this fresh tender spot in me to make me ever more mindful of the pain people carry and to see once again that others are not “fine”. We live in a world of great hurt and pain which can be overwhelming. I don’t understand why we have to suffer through so much, but we can know the One who will lead us through the pain to beautiful places.
I am reminded of a song I learned long ago, that goes something like:
He said, “Come to the water. Stand by My side.
I know you are thirsty, you won’t be denied.
I felt every teardrop, when in darkness you cried.
And I strove to remind you for those tears I died.”
Jesus knows pain and He is in the thick of ours with us. He has His purposes and maybe one day we’ll be able to see how very skillfully and graciously He worked through all the messes. In the meantime, while I argue and fuss and plead with Him over the details I can see, I’m hoping I eventually learn that He alone knows what I cannot possibly see.
This life can be tough, but hang in there with Him, when Jesus reaches in and straightens things out, we’ll be more than just fine — no lie.