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The Art of Asking

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When is the last time someone asked you a good question? And I’m not talking about the kind of question that made you get a little anxious, or a question that made you think there was a right or wrong answer. I’m talking about a question that—just because of the way it was asked—made you feel seen. A question that opened the floor for you to feel heard or listened to. A question that maybe punched you in the gut a little bit.

There are different kinds of questions, each with a different purpose.

Interview questions, for instance, are stressful, like, “what value you would you bring to our team?” or the classic, “what are your strengths” and “what’s one area you need to grow in that you feel like this job would help with?”

A parent might have asked you on a weekday afternoon, “how was school today?” when you were in high school.

On a date, questions might arise, such as “what do you do for a living?” or “do you have any hobbies?”

In each case, the question-asker had a purpose in mind. The potential employer wanted to discern if you were the right fit for the company and its goals. The parent longed to build connection and conversation, but maybe did not quite knowing how to begin. The date was looking to get to know you in order to find commonalities and compatibility.

It’s part of human nature to ask questions. Because of sheer curiosity, pursuit of knowledge, seeking to understand, or just plain wondering, our brains crave to solve puzzles and put pieces together. Questions provide answers, and people love answers more than questions. Questions bring insight into our neighbors, whether we are intentionally seeking that understanding, or not.

Jesus is a great example of a Master Question-Asker. His way of asking cut to the essence of the subject at hand. His pattern of questions throughout the gospels show us that he knew how to make people feel seen and free to express their needs, wants, and questions. Not only this, but Jesus’ questions developed people. By simply asking a question, Jesus moved people from existing to living.

Let’s look at John 1:35-39:

35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.

38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”

They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”

39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.

What is the question Jesus asks them in verse 38? That’s right: “What are you looking for?” Other translations interpret the phrase as, “What are you seeking?” Pause for a moment and put yourselves in the shoes of these two individuals. You’ve just heard your teacher, John the Baptist, say “Look! The Lamb of God!” and so you decide to follow this guy and see what’s up. But he turns around and asks you, “What are you looking for?” Instead of justifying themselves or interpreting the question a different way, they answer with their own question that reveals their answer: “Where are you staying?” Or, “We were looking for you, we were curious about your identity.”

Jesus did not need to ask questions. As the divine Son of God, I’m pretty sure he already knew what they were thinking and wanting. Yet, he chose to slow down and ask the question, “What are you looking for?” Not only this, he took the time to listen and hear their answer.

During this time of quarantine and social distancing, it can be hard to feel seen as we aren’t able to be with people like we used to. We no longer pass other humans in the halls of work or school. We don’t encounter old friends at the grocery store or connect with our faith families on Sunday morning at church.

Even if we could encounter people as normal, what is the question you normally ask someone when you see them? The question is probably out of our mouth before you are aware…

How are you?

I’ve noticed something about myself in quarantine: I still ask this question, and I don’t really mean it. It seems like words I say to fill air. I kind of use it as a formality when I start a Zoom call or when I text my friend, and I don’t truly mean it when I ask, “How are you.”

Our culture has taken that question and made it into more of a statement and greeting. We don’t truly ask “how are you?” anymore. What if we switched the question? What if we had the courage to ask people different questions? Questions like, what are you looking for?

Chances are, during this time of social distancing, you are looking for human interaction, along with everyone else around the globe. So, what if we took the jump, and made a bid for human connection, starting with asking more intentional questions, beyond the how are you formalities. If we can learn to ask deeper questions (questions that we genuinely want to hear the answer to) we have the capacity to become more connected human beings. Questions can create space for vulnerability and humanization. Making room to let ourselves and the people around us be treated with dignity by asking a question that will let them be seen for who God has created them to be. As human beings, we were created for community, and now our separation from our traditional ways of building community means we need to be purposeful in finding and creating shared spaces.

Take the opportunity to sit, brainstorm a few questions, and have the courage to ask them to the people you are quarantining with, or the next time you FaceTime or Zoom someone. Questions don’t have to be intimidating, it can be as simple as what are you feeling today? Or even, what’s the best food you’ve eaten since entering quarantine? Just like any form of art, it will take a few tries and even some mistakes to become comfortable with it.

As the Church, even in this time of separation, seeing people wherever they are is crucial. Jesus saw people where they were and invited them to leave behind existing and start living. Who knows? Maybe we are all one question away from a renewed sense of living.

 

Some questions to help get you started:

What have you been learning about life recently?

What are you missing the most today from “normal life”?

If you had to describe your day so far in one word, what word would you choose?

What is one thing you are worried about?

What is the most challenging during this time?

Have you experienced any comfort recently?

How has life become more meaningful because of quarantine?

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Christine Fravel

Christine Fravel

Christine Fravel is a graduate student at Indiana Wesleyan University pursuing a Master's degree in Practical Theology. She is fond of tea, dogs, and helping others to see the work of God in their lives.

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