Awhile back, my pastor, who is also my boss, asked me a question that I think is one of the best questions a person can ask. We passed each other in the hallway and he asked "how are you doing?" It was while I was still a student and I said something about it being close to graduation so pretty good. He then asked "how are you really doing?" I think that is a great question for someone to take the time to ask.
There is another person, actually a pastor also, who asked that question. It was about 13 years ago and one of the ministers from her church saw my mom at the hospital. She was visiting her mother who was dying of cancer. He asked that common question we always ask "how are you doing?" to which she replied with an something like "okay" or "fine." He had the kindness to say "are you sure you're okay?" knowing full well that a person whose mother is dying is usually not "fine." That pastor ended up being a great comfort to my family through that time and his kindness at that moment meant enough to my mother for her to recall that event to me.
In our counseling program at school, we are reminded of the verse in James 1:18- "Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger." In fact, a professor using that verse was how my practicum program started. It is a verse that I have committed to memory as a counselor but also for my personal life. I'm not very good at it. But, its a goal worth working towards!
How different would our relationships be if when we say "hi, how are you doing" we were intentionally wanting to know how that person is and what they might be struggling with and are willing to listen to that. Even in our families and close relationships, conversations are often more superficial, rather than getting to the real issues that might be happening. I think it is because our culture has lost the ability to really listen. It is the common notion that to help someone is to give advice, instead of just being a listening ear and offering a shoulder.
My pastor had been a student and had a good sense of what I was going through. I wore that stress on my face. He could have left it with me saying an easy answer of "pretty good" but instead he took a few minutes to hear how I really was. I already respected and liked him a great deal, but that day he became a friend.