Tonight one of my friends asked me how I was doing. I replied "good" in an optimistic voice and continued on with what I was doing. Another friend walking behind me replied, "you know, it's okay if you aren't good". I paused and had to acknowledge that she was right. I had given a programmed response, an answer that I knew would prevent more conversation. No, I wasn't doing good - I just didn't want to talk about how I was doing. I have a headache, I'm sore, I'm tired, and I don't really want to be around people. That's how I'm doing. However, that's not generally the answer people want to hear (particularly if it makes them one of the people you don't be around). Nor is that answer considered socially appropriate. Obviously lying is the most loving and socially appropriate thing we can do. Hmmm... really? I don't think so.
This whole scenario got me to thinking about how we speak and how we listen. As deacons our role naturally includes conversation. I would hope those conversations are meaningful ones! In a world of quick answers and shallow relationships, we need to teach ourselves to listen to the unspoken. With discernment, prayer and wisdom we should be intentional in the questions we ask and not be satisfied with trite answers when something else is really going on. We can't be afraid to "open up a can of worms" by engaging people in dialogue about what is happening in their life - what they are working on - what they find important - what they are struggling through.
This does require effort and patience. But it's what our role calls us to do. We are to be compassionate caregivers! Diaconal Ministries of Canada has great resources available on their website to help deacons shape their caring ministry. In particular you may find helpful their list of relationship building questions or Bible verses that offer encouragement for people going through a particular struggle. Another great resource would be getting a mentor. This doesn't need to be a formal activity, rather, look in your congregations for a natural caregiver, and visit with them!
A final thought - as deacons we need to model Christ in word and deed. Let's take this call seriously, and rid ourselves of even the little white lies we tell. Give people the opportunity to exercise their gifts of care and compassion. Respond honestly to the questions you are asked, and trust that most people can handle more than we give them credit for. God works in a myriad of ways and through all people!