Last month my brother, Bubba, came back to Minnesota for a buddy’s wedding, and we got together with my dad for lunch and a walk. After lunch and about 10 minutes into our walk, Bub looks over at my dad and asks, “So, Pop, how are you doing?”
My dad paused ever so slightly before answering, as if to say, “why are you asking?” And I did find it a bit odd myself. We had all been conversing over lunch for over an hour, seemingly plenty of time for my brother to observe for himself how my dad was “doing.” And I don’t think he was trying to imply that my dad wasn’t doing just fine. But Bubba found a reason to ask anyway.
Why did he ask such a seemingly redundant and even mundane question? Yes, Bub wanted to gather information, but more so I think he wanted to convey his love and care for my dad.
This made me think: do the people I care about know that I care about them? If not, why not? And what do I plan to do about it?
Taking the time to listen
I really don’t like small talk. I find it mundane and banal, and I typically would rather replace it with either real talk or simple silence.
There’s just something about being greeted with “How are you?” that seems trite at best and presumptuous at worse. I sometimes want to respond, “Fine…until you started asking me probing personal questions.”
Fortunately, my brother doesn’t lead with such a question. But to his credit, he actually means it when he does say it and actually wants to hear a truthful, substantial reply.
And while I’d typically rather talk about…pretty much anything else (namely sports and food), I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to reflect a little more deeply on my life and how I’m “doing.”
It’s good for me to take time and intentionally take stock in how I’m feeling and how things are going in my life and whether I’m happy about it or not. And it’s especially helpful to talk about those things, particularly with the people closest to you. Even if the truth isn’t always pretty.
Providing emotional support
I’ll never forget sitting at the dinner table with my brother late one night about five years ago or so. I had been let go from a job a few months before and was struggling with a number of different things, not the least of which was trying to figure out what to do next with my career, looking for a new job, and trying to make ends meet in the meantime. I was also struggling with sin more than usual and found myself feeling increasingly powerless in my desire to improve my life in small ways and big.
All at once, my emotions kind of bubbled over and all I could really say, through tears, was that “It’s…really hard…” Super profound, I know.
My brother was pretty freaked out. He even said, through tears of his own, “You’re freaking me out!” And that freaked me out.
I had always been the big brother, both in size and stature but also in every other way, too. I had long before intentionally taken him under my wing and done, well, all the things a good big brother does, and I had always been in control.
But now I was very obviously not in control. And I could tell my brother felt pretty powerless himself to help me. After all, big brothers aren’t supposed to need help from little brothers.
He didn’t have anything profound to say. We hugged it out, but I still felt pretty unsettled, and the bad feelings that led to that emotional breakdown of sorts persisted for quite a while after that.
But what my brother did do for me in that moment was showed that he cared. He didn’t shy away from a messy, emotional situation. He didn’t pretend he had the answers. But he did provide what I needed at the time: a brother.
Being a reliable friend
Between that messy, emotional interaction with my brother and his more innocuous “how are you” to my dad, it’s clear that my brother makes a point to care about others and be there for them.
And it’s made me think about how often I provide the same courtesy to others. I consider many people my friends, for instance, but how often do I go out of my way to check in with them and find out how they’re really doing? How many of my friends (or family members) could actually rely on me when they really needed help?
Taking responsibility for someone’s well-being is no small thing, and there’s always a chance he’s got some real shit he’s working through, not unlike myself once upon a time. And the safer route would be to just stay out of it, obviously.
But as my brother showed, I don’t have to have all the answers. In fact, I probably won’t. Fortunately, most times my friends and family members don’t need me to be a licensed psychologist. (And if that’s what they need, well, that’s what licensed psychologists are for.)
Much more important is that people know that I’m in their corner, that I’m there for them if they need me, that I have their backs. I’ve experienced firsthand the power of knowing that other people are rooting for me, that they want me to succeed and are willing to help however they’re able, even if I don’t explicitly call upon them for help.
I want to be able to provide that to others.
So how can you be a better brother, sister, or friend? Here are a few ideas that I’ve come up with:
- Identify those people in your life with whom you have a meaningful relationship and who trust you. That may just be 1–2 people, and that’s just fine.
- Go out of your way to spend time with them, know what’s going on in their lives, and how they’re feeling about it. If you can’t tell from conversation, make a point to ask.
- If they really need help with something and you can help, help them! And if you can’t, help them find someone who can.
- Have normal, fun interactions with these people. Have normal, boring interactions with them. Not everything needs to be dead serious. But the everyday interactions are necessary and help build the familiarity and trust for you to be able to help out in the bigger situations.
- Pray for them. Pray for their well-being, and pray for the wisdom to be able to help them, if possible.