Coffelt’s Corner: Why Do You Ask?

A couple of weeks or so ago, as we were getting ready for church, I was brushing my teeth and Linda was dressing. She came out of the closet, stood beside me facing the mirror and asked, “How does this look on me?”

Now, which of the following thoughts do you think ran instantly through my mind?:  a) I’m glad I’m busily brushing my teeth and cannot immediately answer; b) I could just say it looks great; c) You’re beautiful no matter what you wear is always the right answer; or d) all of the above.

If you guessed d)—you are correct! However, before I could rinse off my toothbrush, she had already returned to the closet to change. One more opportunity to say the wrong thing averted!

She returned a few minutes later in the replacement outfit, looking as beautiful as I had expected. Naturally, I wasn’t content to let it stop there. Oh no, I had to ask—“Why did you even bother asking me what I thought if you were going to change anyway?”  One would think that after 40 years or so, a man would instinctively know when not to speak. Not this man. I really was not going to help my cause any by speaking further.

I’ve been giving the whole concept of asking questions for which no reply is really expected a great deal of thought. How many times do we hear the query, “How are you?” or “How are you doing?” or “How’s it going?” Have you ever asked someone something like that only to receive a very long, detailed narrative on the entire family’s various health conditions?

Have you ever dreaded asking someone how it’s going because you fear that you might just find out? Just exactly what makes us ask these questions for which we really don’t expect an answer?

My favorite answer to the how are you question belongs to Dave Ramsey. He always replies, “Better than I deserve.” I like that answer and when I do use it, a lot of people remark that it’s the one that Mr. Ramsey uses.

I also like to say, “Just as obnoxious as ever!” There’s a lot of truth in that one, as I can be very overbearing and obnoxious. And if the party asking doesn’t think I am, then it comes across as somewhat humorous and a little humor always helps. But my favorite response is, “It is well with my soul.”

But what about the asking part? I honestly try to avoid the generalized questions. I will only ask as to someone’s well being if and only if I am sincerely interested in hearing the response. Therefore, I do not use those questions casually, but only for those people about whom I really care.

I like to think of it this way—if a stranger was to ask about your health, none of us are inclined to share that very confidential information. Likewise we don’t normally ask inquisitive questions of people we do not know. So, if I ask about someone’s well being, I should be prepared to receive an answer with the appropriate amount of detail.

The trick in all this is trying to determine if someone is trying to start a conversation or if they are only using the question as a casual greeting, expecting a short one or two word reply. Frankly, I think that most of the time, it’s the latter. All they expect is an “Okay” or “It’s good” or something along that line.

But if I ask you how you’re doing, I sincerely wish that it is well with your soul, and I really do expect an answer!