“Hi! How are you?”

I smiled with my usual response.

“Good. How are you?”

She buzzed past me, threw some bananas in her cart, and tossed an answer over her shoulder.

“Doing good!”

That was that.

There was no invitation for a real conversation, but that’s OK, because a deep connection wasn’t what the interaction was about.

Those quick exchanges are not uncommon. We don’t always ask to get a real answer; the question is often used as nothing more than an afternoon greeting from across the room.

Plus, there’s not always time to listen to someone’s life story.

Maybe it’s an hour before bedtime and dinner still isn’t on the table. Maybe you have exactly 15 minutes before the school pick-up line gets out of control. Maybe everything is already out of control, and you need to leave before the toddler commences Operation: Meltdown.

This is part of our culture and isn’t likely to change.

Remember, though, that sometimes the person you ask is aching to tell you the truth.

Watch for that hesitation. The sigh before the response. A furrowed brow.

As a total introvert, let me be the first to say that it’s scary to make yourself available to the world.

There will always be someone who goes into detail about how they are doing even when you didn’t ask. Even when the kid in your cart is aiming boxes of denture cream at fellow shoppers’ heads while she goes on about her sister in Idaho that just had an ingrown toenail removed.

Loving people is hard in the trenches of the grocery aisles. Shoot, loving people is hard in whatever trenches—but it’s no excuse not to try.

Each of us needs to be checked on from time to time and given the freedom to speak without fear of bothering.

Of course, we don’t have to run into each other at Wal-Mart to reach out, but it’s important to know that God often presents opportunities at what seems like the most inopportune moment.

That’s because He asked us to love our neighbors all the time—not just when we think we have the time.

He wants us to desperately seek those who need us.

We live at lightning speed, but there are still so many moments we forget to engage. With our noses stuck in virtual reality, we often forget to look around and see the reality right in front of us.

That mom sitting beside you at dance practice? Her dad was just diagnosed with cancer.

That elderly man in front of you in the checkout line? No one has spoken to him in days.

That friend sitting next to you in church? She is overwhelmed with postpartum depression and just wants someone to hear her.

But no one has asked how they’re doing—or really asked, that is.

It’s so easy to believe that someone else will care for our neighbors until we see the record numbers of depression, anxiety, and suicides in this country.

One person can’t solve the world’s problems, but if the eight billion of us walking the planet would simply turn to the person beside them and check on how they are doing—what a difference it would make.

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Meg Duncan

Meg Duncan is a Christian author and columnist. Her writing takes readers to recognizable places and assures them they aren’t alone. From raising children, navigating marriage, sorting laundry piles, and avoiding carbs (or blissfully embracing them, depending on the day), she combats self-doubt with humor and grace.