How's your spirit?

“How are you?” It is a question that I hear over and over again. And it is a question that I ask of others on a regular basis. Sometimes it is simply a polite greeting, repeated at the start of a conversation as a way to make a connection. Most of the time, however, it is a genuine inquiry. People really do want to know about others. A few years ago, I started responding to that question, “I’m well, thank you.” The idea was to comment on my physical health without having go go into detail about all of my life until the conversation had progressed to another stage. I also wanted to thank the other person for their interest without making the conversation only about me. A short report tat gives an honest answer to the question and allows the conversation to pass to other topics is a good response. Of course, there are times when I am not well and the answer is not appropriate. I’ve been known to say “I’ve been better, and I’m hoping to be better soon,” or “Other than a cough that is bothering me, I’m not bad,” or even “It depends if you are asking about my behavior, my performance, or my feelings.”

I’ve been deeply aware of that question recently because I’ve been meeting regularly with folks who are in the midst of serious illnesses that are likely to result in premature death. In some cases, I’ve even stopped asking the question in that way. My new favorite question for those situations is, “How is your spirit?” The question is not unexpected. The folks of whom I would ask that question know that I am a pastor and that I am concerned about their spiritual health. It makes sense to me in part because I am not a doctor and don’t have answers to or treatments for many physical ailments. It also seems to be a gentle acknowledgement that even when on has a serious medical condition their spiritual health is worthy of concern.

Sometimes, it allows a deeper conversation to begin.

Although I began asking the question in the midst of a particular relationship with a man who was dying, it seems to me that it is a good question for many other relationships.

It is a good question for all of us to ponder from time to time. “How is your spirit?”

I have a number of friends who are considerably younger than I. Several are younger than my children. Some of those people are in excellent physical shape. They work out regularly, are attentive to exercise and are proud of their abilities. I enjoy hearing about the things they are doing and I hear lots of stories about particular workouts or cross fit regimens. When I ask them “How are you?” I get a quick response and the general tone of that response reflects their glowing health in most cases. I also happen to have two friends who were paralyzed by accidents early in their lives. The response to that same question is slightly different when I ask them, but both of them tend to give me very positive reports in each conversation. Responses to “How is your spirit?” however usually elicit a pause from young people. Often the first response will be, “I don’t know,” or “I haven’t thought about that.” Then, after another pause, I frequently hear about significant challenges or problems that are faced by people making their way in a very challenging time in the world’s history.

It certainly seems that unlike the folks with whom I visit who are facing end of live situations, the spiritual health of otherwise healthy young people isn’t always great. From my anecdotal evidence, it appears that young folks in the prime of their lives are more spiritually challenged than those who have experienced major life-changing situations and more spiritually troubled than those who are facing the end of their lives.

Spiritual health is no easier to diagnose and treat than mental or physical health. We humans are prone to encountering problems and challenges that baffle us. And even though I am a pastor with many years of experience behind me, I know that the question, “How is your spirit?” can quickly touch off a conversation about problems and situations for which I don’t have ready solutions.

Many folks are not equipped with spiritual disciplines. They don’t know how to find moments for quiet and reflection in their lives. They don’t have practice with silence and contemplation. They aren’t used to devotional reading. They don’t have communities that are attentive to their spirits. They haven’t learned about intercessory prayer. The fact that there are an increasing number of people who profess no religious affiliation has been well documented. That also means a general decrease in the skills for spiritual self care.

And that brings me to another of my new responses. When someone tells me that they are “spiritual, but not religious,” I ask them, “So what do you do to nurture your spirit?” Many don’t have a coherent answer to that question.

As I drive around our city, I notice that there are more and more gyms devoted to providing services to those who want to improve their physical health. I drive by the Athletic Club and Planet Fitness and Ultimate Goals Fitness and Koko FitClub and Snap Fitness and Hurricane Fitness and the Weight Room and Cardio Fitness and Rapid Results, Nucleo Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Core Connections and Black Hills CrossFit. And there are a lot of others. Most days the parking lots at the fitness centers sport more cars than I see in the parking lots of the churches I pass. And I know from experience as a pastor that there are plenty of families in our churches for whom youth soccer or volleyball is a higher priority than church activities. When sports tryouts or practices or games are scheduled for Sunday mornings, I know where those families will be and it usually isn’t at church.

We’ve become fairly accomplished at caring for our bodies. And yet none of us possess bodies that will go on forever. We will all one day die. We’re less accomplished at caring for our spirits, which endure forever. Caring for them seems like a worthy practice.

At least, I intend to keep inquiring about the spirits of the folks I meet.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!