“When introducing your friend to someone older, always mention the adult’s name first and then your friend’s name. ‘Mrs. Smith, I would like you to meet my friend James. James, this is Mrs. Smith.’ And then you shake hands and say, ‘How do you do?’”
When I was in third grade, we were taught the polite way to interact with people in a social setting. Of course, we would never use the formal phrase ‘How do you do?’ among our friends. Nevertheless, we were drilled on proper etiquette when it came to introductions.
We taught our own children how to make a polite and respectful greeting with adults. We didn’t insist on the formal “How do you do?” But I catch myself falling back on those well-rehearsed words whenever I meet a someone for the first time.
When I look at that phrase, it sounds strange. How do I do? But the more informal “How are you?” isn’t much better. What are you asking really? My health? My mental state? My financial wellbeing?
Greetings in other languages, such as French and German, translate into “How are you going?” or “How goes it?” Chinese asks ,“Have you eaten?” Q’eqchi’, an obscure Central American dialect, asks, “Are you in your heart?” or “Is your heart happy?” I love that! It has concern for my emotional wellbeing.
Listening to opening exchanges in English one hears “How have you been?” “How’s it going?” “What’s new?” “What’s up?” For most interactions these phrases are just social politeness. They don’t translate into something deeper. We really don’t want to know more.
But some greetings are more involved, as if opening a door: “What have you been doing?” “What’s going on in your life?” “What have you been busy with lately?” The other person can translate that into an invitation to engage or just give an offhand response.
My daughter has a unique way with strangers, especially checkout clerks and restaurant servers: “How has your day been so far?” When I’ve used that same question, I usually don’t get a lengthy response. However, the smile and acknowledgment from that person lets me know they appreciated my interaction.
Some people in the Bible didn’t wait for Jesus to interpret their greeting. They didn’t want Him to think they were just being polite. They got right to the point: “Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean” (Matthew 8:2). “Have mercy on us!” (Matthew 9:27) “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25) “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21).
Jesus also got right to the point in His social interactions. He already knew how the person’s day was going. How they were “doing” and the condition of their heart. Who would be receptive. “Do you wish to get well?” (John 5:6) “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5). “Take courage, my son, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). “Rise and come forward!” (Mark 3:3). “Follow me!” (Matthew 9:9).
I always appreciate when someone takes that direct approach, especially when we’re traveling. Even in a foreign country we don’t need a translation when we hear from the person in charge, “Is there anything I can do to make the rest of your trip even more enjoyable?”
I think of that question when I’m the one leading, when I’m the one serving. Do I ask if there is anything I can do to make the day better for them? Or do I stick to the non-inviting “How’s it going?” and quickly move on when the response is “Not much.”
Can we as leaders translate what we’re hearing and seeing in our group, our church, our company, our family? Do we understand what is beneath what is asked or said? Are we hearing the intent behind the words? Do we care enough to go deeper into our exchanges with those we lead?
“You seem distracted.”
“You look tired.”
“You don’t seem to be yourself.”
“Is there anything I can do to help, relieve your stress, make your job easier?”
“Is there something you want to talk about?”
Some people want their privacy and that should be respected. But if there is a real need, the opportunity to share has to be available. Not in a nosy way and certainly without condemnation. But in a caring and concerned way. Sometimes it’s something we have no control over. Then a supportive listening ear is all that’s necessary. But if we are able to help, we’d better step up and do something about it.
I often hear my Lord Jesus, His voice calling to me: “You look tired. You seem distracted. You aren’t acting like yourself. What can I do to make your day go better, lift your load of guilt, show you a better path?”
When I hear those questions from my Lord Jesus, there is no need to keep it to myself. He already knows anyway. I’m free to share my most private concerns. I don’t have to worry about what He’ll say to condemn me. He will be there to listen, to suggest, and to provide answers, comfort, and relief.
And when my Savior “steps up” and stands by my side, I can face with joy whatever the day brings.