When “How are You?” “FINE.” Hit Home Hard


A story’s been sitting in my heart. Deep. Within. Crying to be let out for nearly two months now.

A story of FINE.

“How are you?”


“How are you?”


This story of FINE. It’s so old. I’m so over it. So done with the mask of FINE. FINE. FINE.

Let me tell you the real story of FINE. The pervasiveness of FINE that hit home hard when I was in Africa two months ago.




One morning, our group decided we’d walk to the local village. On our way, we passed women doing and drying laundry on stones. We visited the orphans’ school. We prayed for a store owner, and a woman who’d just come from the doctor with significant chest pain. We stopped at the medical clinic, and discovered they were completely out of supplies. A medical clinic without supplies? I was floored. Unthinkable. Not okay.

It began raining.

We didn’t have umbrellas.

We didn’t have cover.

I had my camera along and was rightly concerned it could get destroyed with one swift downpour. I sent Eric, a college-educated teacher and full-time volunteer at the orphanage, with pocket change. He bought me two thin, plastic green bags with Mickey Mouse on front for protection. They worked great.

Before we knew it, we were nearing the church. The children’s church. The church the orphans attend every Sunday. Randy, our trip leader, wanted to show us. Randy wanted us to see this place where earthly FINE becomes gloriously, heavenly FINE.

To our sweet surprise, out called a group of children from the distance.

“How are you?”

“How are you?”

“How are you?” 

“How are you?”

“How are you?”

Their “How are you’s” sang in harmony.

Their “How are you’s?” rang true.

Their “How are you’s?” were familiar.



“How are you?”

They were asking us. Truly asking us, “How are you?”

Out came the children from the distance.

Out, out they ran.

Out they came to greet us.

“How are you?”


We thought it was cute. It was. It really was.

They were the most adorable children.

But here’s the thing…it wasn’t so cute as it was a little bit cutting when they started answering their own question, when they started answering OUR questions…

“How are YOU?”


These precious. Adorable. JOYFUL. EXUBERANT. DELIGHTFUL children were “FINE?”

I’m so sorry, sweethearts. I know this is the English you’ve been taught, the English you know to speak to us today, but this is not okay.

You are so much more than FINE. You are AWESOME! You are truly AWESOME. Excellent. Fantastic. SO good.

And so began the downpour I was afraid of.

In we went to the church, along with the whole group of children who’d just greeted us with “FINE.”

We sang.

They sang.

It was chill, relaxed.



We waited the rain out.

We gave some hugs.

Laughed. Smiled. Reveled in the moment.

It was more than FINE. It was good. Awesome.


Eric explained the phenomenon of “How are you?” “FINE.” to us later. In most Kenyan schools, children are taught English as standard practice. They are taught to inquire with “How are you?” And they are taught to respond to that question with “FINE.”


I couldn’t believe my ears.

Eric, my dear African brother, was telling me that children in Kenya are taught to say “FINE” in response to the English question “How are you?”

How can this be?

Could it really be that our culture of “FINE” has become so pervasive that it’s crept it’s way ALL the way to a group of JOYFUL children in Africa?


I’m sorry. Maybe I’m off base. Maybe I’m too sensitive. But that’s totally NOT okay.

These children are NOT fine.



Later that week, as a group of us were walking down the long road to the orphanage, I took the opportunity to chat with Eric about this “How are you?” “FINE.” business.

I approached the conversation tenderly and sincerely, but with as much passion as possible. I wanted him to know that “FINE” is not an accurate word choice to describe the HEART CONDITION of most of the children I met in Kenya. I hoped he’d be a change agent for this incredibly incorrect word choice. “FINE” wasn’t Eric’s fault. “FINE” wasn’t any of their faults. It’s what they’ve been taught. Innocently. Completely innocently. How would they ever know?

I explained to Eric that in our American culture, if we say “FINE” in response to the question “How are you?,” it might mean that in reality, we’re doing okay, that we’re surviving, that we’re getting by, that maybe we’re not that great and maybe we’re too busy and too masked to say how we’re really feeling. I explained that in America, “FINE” is a vague way to answer “How are you?” “FINE” is a way to mask the true condition of our hearts. I explained the words they could use to more accurately describe the condition of their lives, the condition of their hearts. If they’re feeling good, “FINE” would be at the absolute bottom of the barrel. GOOD, GREAT, EXCELLENT, and AWESOME would be much better alternatives. Eric smiled and soaked it in. I’m pretty sure he’s acting as a change agent for “FINE” in Kenya, Africa.


Friends, I know I’m edging on preaching here. But we really need to stop it with the “How are you?” “FINE.”

I’m just as guilty as anyone else. “FINE” is my default if I want to tell you my vaguest truth. “FINE.” I’m “FINE.” Yep. “FINE.” Does that work as we pass in the hall? Does that work as we have one minute picking up the kids from volleyball practice? Does that work when we greet each other in the Target checkout lane? Does that work as you’re texting me quick to check in on this or that? Yep. It does.

But truth is, inside I know the truth.

Inside, you know the truth.

Inside, we all know the truth.

Sometimes, we’re NOT FINE.

Okay. Let’s admit it. Sometimes we’re NOT. FINE.

As a solution to this problem, I’d like to propose that we completely eliminate the word “FINE” in response to the question “How are you?”

Can we do that?

Let’s be honest.

Let’s be real.

I’ve been through enough.

I’ve masked enough.

I’ve hid long enough.

I don’t want to be “FINE.”

I don’t like to be “FINE.”

I don’t find any value or reward in telling you I’m “FINE.”

What is “FINE” anyway?


Life as is?

Status quo?




Getting by?


Let’s stop the “FINE.”

It doesn’t mean much of anything to anyone.

Let’s be real, even if we don’t have time to explain the details.


Here are the words we can use instead of FINE…

“How are you?”

“I’m actually doing pretty horrible.”

“I’m feeling like crap today.”

“Sorry, I don’t have words for how I’m feeling today.”

“We’re running low on money and it’s stressing me out.”

“I don’t know.”

“I was feeling like junk this morning, but the fact that you’re asking makes me feel like someone cares.”

“I’m really feeling depressed today. The weather’s getting me down.”

“I need to get out. Wanna grab dinner tonight, or maybe coffee sometime next week?”

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

“I’m overwhelmed by all that’s going on.”

“I’ve been better. I’d appreciate your prayers.”

“My kid’s giving me trouble, and I don’t know what to do about it.”

“My kid’s giving me trouble, and I feel like a horrible mom.”

“My husband’s requiring a lot of care, and it’s really draining me.”

“Honestly, I can’t do it all anymore.”

“I don’t have a clue.”

OR how about these alternatives…

“How are you?”

“Hey thanks for asking! I’m doing great today. Loving the sunshine and just had a big win at my son’s game.”

“I’m doing pretty well. I was feeling like junk last week, but this week I’m feeling way better.”

“Feeling much better now that I get to see you!”

“Feeling much better now that I’ve been able to workout more.”

“Feeling much better now that I’m skipping those daily doughnuts.”

“Better than I’ve ever been.”

“I’m great. So glad to be here!”

“Feeling super chill right now.”

“Excellent. This is incredibly relaxing.”

“Thanks for asking! It’s been way too long since I’ve seen you. When can we catch up?”

“Good question. It’s been a rough couple of weeks, but I’ve worked my way through it and I’m through to the other side now.”

“It’s been an awesome day! Can’t wait for tonight!”

“I haven’t felt this good in a long time.”

“I’m great! Every day’s a good day!”

“I’m good.”

“I’m great!”

“I’m excellent!”


Let’s be authentic. Let’s be real. Let’s stop saying we’re “FINE” when in reality, there’s so much more to the story. Let’s be change agents HERE, so when they learn English THERE, “How are you?” “FINE” will be no more.



  1. Tom Baunsgard says:

    Interesting post Amy. So How are you? I’m good, I’m blessed and i’m “fine” with that 🙂

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