We must patiently set aside the need to know every detail of how our loved one is feeling, or what they are thinking, and simply display the compassion of one who is willing to step into the pain with our loved one. Compassion doesn’t demand answers, but watches for opportunities to serve the hurting.
How are you? Those words, usually from a well meaning friend, or a truly concerned loved one, can strike terror in the heart of the suffering. For the tormented who endure chronic pain, or those silent souls who hide their wounds, the question threatens to expose the sufferer to the inspection of their pain.
Those three words enter their isolated world and threaten to undo them.
How can one answer truthfully, honestly, and completely—when the answer would be filled with details, and a depth of agony, that the listener is unable to comprehend? And, as the sufferer is searching for an adequate response, he’s left feeling ashamed for attempting to provide an answer, knowing that the compassionate questioner cannot possibly enter their world to empathize. They cannot answer for fear of being misunderstood, or their sincerity questioned (or perhaps their sanity).
The question itself is a reminder of the sufferer’s isolation.
And so, the easiest route to take, is to mumble a reply that provides a half-hearted sufficiency in an attempt to remove the danger of exposure.
The afflicted typically reply with the ready response: “I’m okay” and that may be all they can muster, or it may be their default answer to protect themselves from bringing something into the light they so desperately want to keep hidden.
We may need to find a more creative path to uncover the needs of the suffering heart other than the invasive “How are you” question.
I’ve watched LeRoy attempt to respond to that question. And it is so hard. I’ve watched as people tell him how well he looks, or how he seems to be improving. And I’ve known that as they are making those comments, a horrific muscle spasm is making its way up his thigh and into his groin—pulling his leg so hard, he feels it might rip from his body—as he attempts to cover the pain, in order to converse with the questioner and not alarm them.