"How are you doing?" you ask. There's a pause before the reply. "You don't really want to know." The eyes look down. The body language says, "If you turn and walk away, I won't blame you."
Often we're unprepared for this golden moment, thrown off balance by the answer. We must pre-think our response to that situation.
Response #1: "Want to talk about it?" Listen to understand, not to advise. We usually need acceptance and understanding more than advice.
#2: A loving hug or pat on the shoulder. "Love is . . . capable of healing broken minds, bodies and spirits. The touch is the vehicle by which love can be conveyed" (John Hornbrook, The Miracle of Touching [Lafayette, LA: Huntington House, 1985]: 27-28).
#3: "Could we pray about it right now?" This shows you care and points to the ultimate Strength. "In everything . . . present your requests to God, and the peace of God . . . will keep you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).
#4: "Maybe you can't talk now. Can I call you later?" Some problems can be shared only in private -- the hurt is too deep or the problem too personal. Respect for privacy might provide a chance to serve otherwise unavailable.
None of these responses takes very long, but they say loud and clear, "I care about you and what you're going through." They are ways we can "bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).