My eight year old believes he knows the answers to everything. He assumes that his gut reaction is right, and he is the constant naysayer in our family. Often my husband and I are left frustrated, wondering how we can instill in him humble, thoughtful reflections. We want him to grow into a mature, levelheaded man who doesn’t spout off whatever enters his head first and who can understand his own limitations.
Adults can often be similar to young children. In small group settings, there are usually one or two people who think they have the answer for everything and want to impart their knowledge no matter what. We are so quick to give an answer or to tell our own part of a story. We may want to pour out what we know and the information we have gathered for others’ benefit, but maybe it is not the best way to engage the listener. What is the goal of our communication? Is it to be proven right? Is it to show how much we know? Is it meant to fill silence?
According to Martin B. Copenhaver, “The goal is not to communicate knowledge but to elicit new understanding in the listener. Information is not the goal. Transformation is.”
If that’s true—if transformation is the goal—then that should shape the way we communicate to friends, family, and in small groups. Just think, Jesus asked 307 questions. He only answered three directly. Jesus is not the giver of advice. He doesn’t give us a list of ten easy ways to be closer to God—just look on any online comment thread and you will see that people love to give advice and opinions! No, Jesus used questions to further reflection.
Copenhaver goes on to say that “Easy answers can give us a sense of finality. By entertaining questions God has a chance to change us. Answers can be offered as a conclusion. Questions are an invitation to further reflection. For the most part, answers close and questions open.”
I love closure and often questions lead me to that uncomfortable space of having to look inward. Do I truly want a transformed heart? Do I want my children to have transformed hearts or do I just want to give them an answer and move on with my own agenda? Ouch. When we give our kids all the answers and don’t teach them how to think through questions on their own, they won’t truly learn. They might give the answer that mom and dad want to hear, but it hasn’t transformed their heart. As a parent, I need to ask my kids questions.
My husband is great at asking the right questions. The other week we talked with our three kids about being a neighbor and how loving our neighbor is actually the way to love God. He explained to our kids that to love our neighbor means that we seek to help them to flourish. We talked through how they can help classmates at school flourish and also how to be a neighbor to our own siblings, for they are often the hardest neighbors to love well. A few days later on the way to church, my 4-year-old was not listening to me at all. My husband turned to him and asked, “Son, how can you make Mom flourish right now?” My 4-year-old paused and said quietly, “By listening to her.” Notice that my husband did not say, “Listen to your mom!” Instead, he engaged my son’s heart, drawing out a lesson that we had been talking about.
I have much to learn. I have been encouraged to not qive quick answers to my kids nor to my friends, but to instead seek to use questions that open up further reflection.
How can we use questions this week to engage the hearts of those we talk to? What can we do to help our neighbors flourish?