Hello everyone! I’m so glad you’ve joined us today for episode 122, “The Questions We Ask …. and Fail to Ask.”
We’ve talked about asking questions before in this podcast and the role they play in deepening our relationships. Episodes 96 and 97, for example, come to mind. I’ll have links to them at the end of the show notes.
I was recently reminded of the power of questions at a family camp that Janet and I and part of our family attended this past summer. Let me tell you what happened because you may be able to use what I picked up to deepen your relationships.
Feedback from listeners
We’ve been going to Forest Springs, located in the north woods of the State of Wisconsin in the US for close to 20 years. It’s a Christian youth and family camp in a pretty rural area, near several small classic American small towns. We love going there to get away from the pace of city life.
- Several of the people on the camp staff listen to this podcast. One walked past us on Wednesday at lunch and told me she liked listening to that morning’s episode, making it clear “I was doing something else” while listening. I think she said she was washing dishes. It must have been one of those episodes where I mentioned podcasts are great to listen to when you’re doing some mindless work. “Good job,” I think I remarked.
- Several others on staff also told me they like listening to the podcast.
- But of course, what would you expect? No one there is going to tell me the podcast stinks. They’re kind people at Forest Springs. If we had been in New Jersey, though, I may have gotten a different response.
Early morning conversation with a stranger
When I’m at this camp, Forest Springs, I like getting up early before most other people and sitting in the lodge of the camp looking out the window at the perfectly still lake on the property. When the windows are open you can hear loons off in the distance. The whole scene just calms my soul and brings me peace. Being near a body of water tends to do that for me.
- It was near the end of the week and I was walking past the large windows looking out onto the lake I passed a man sitting in front of the window. He sat in the same spot every morning.
- This particular morning he stopped me as I walked past him and started to engage me in a conversation. So I sat down and we talked. I’ll call him Keith, not his real name, He was quite an interesting man.
- One thing led to another and Keith started talking about his son who is in his late 30s. Keith told me how his son grew up in the family as a very committed Christian. He attended church every week, was a leader in the youth group at church, and studied the Bible on his own diligently. “He knows more about the Bible than I do,” said Keith with his bible open in front of him next to a notebook he was filling up.
- “But he’s now walked away from his faith and the church. He doesn’t want anything to do with God at all. Why do you think people do that, walk away from their faith like that? Totally disregard the religious faith they were raised in. “
A question my friend didn’t want to ask
Keith’s question was an interesting one. It’s a question about his shared past with his son. Something happened before with his son to cause the change. Just like his dad, I wonder what it was.
- But instead of answering Keith’s question, I asked him, “Have you ever asked your son, why?”
“No,” I haven’t, he responded.
“Why not?” I asked.
“I guess I’m afraid of what he would say. And I think I feel a little shame over how this.”
- Hmmm. Wow.
- Shame. Keith felt shame. A painful reaction, certainly.
- I could understand disappointment if that were my son, but shame?
- Shame is a really strong word. It’s often about disconnection in a relationship
- I suspect Keith viewed his son’s decision as a reflection on him, and that felt shameful and he didn’t want to explore it further with his son. It’s like feeling safer staying in the shallow end of a swimming pool, all the while the more life-giving fun is taking place in the deep end of the pool. But it was too risky for Keith to move into the deeper water.
- In thinking about our conversation later it struck me that Keith had no problem at all asking me questions. Thoughtful, insightful questions. But he froze when it came to asking his own son this question about why he departed from his faith.
- There was more at risk with his son. It could be more painful knowing what was going on in the heart of his son than anything I, as a complete stranger, could say.
- It’s one reason we don’t ask more meaningful questions of each other. It keeps us in the shallow end of the pool where it’s safe.
Two energizing questions
During the course of the rest of our week at Camp, I ran into another one of the staff members who, together with her husband, have become dear family friends to Janet and me. We hadn’t seen each other in a year, and so we spent a little time catching up with each other’s lives. At the end of the conversation our friend, I’ll call her “Karen” because that’s her real name, said to me, “I have two questions for you. What are you looking forward to, and what are you dreading coming up?”
- I had to stop and think. These were great questions.
- These were different questions from the one I talked with Keith about regarding his son. That was a question about the past.
- Karen’s questions were about the future.
- They waded me into the deeper end of our relational swimming pool. They made me think.
These were questions that drew me to both ends of the emotional spectrum: joy and dread.
Asking the questioner a question
After answering her questions, I turned the tables and said, “What about you? What is something you’re looking forward to, and what is something you’re dreading?”
- She looked so startled and said, “I’ve been asking other people that question, but no one has ever asked me the same thing.” Hmmm.
- That’s how it goes with people who are good at asking questions. They are rarely asked them in return.
Unlike my conversation with Keith, this one ended with both of us smiling.
So what does all this mean for YOU?
How can you use what you’ve heard today to improve the relationships in YOUR life? Here are a few ideas:
- Are there questions you’re afraid to ask people close to you? If so, what are you afraid of?
- Might God be asking you to ask that question anyway, in spite of your fear? Or could it be that he wants you to wait, or be silent about the matter?
- Ask someone what our friend Karen asked me, What are you looking forward to? What are you dreading?
Or ask a different question, but make it something about the future. A lot of the questions we ask each other are about the past or present. So this time, ask one about the future.
- And when you do, now listen carefully, as this is important, be sure to ask a follow-up question to whatever the other person says.
- Finally, the next time someone asks you a really good question, ask the same one of them.
Here’s the main point I hope you remember from today’s episode
The questions we ask others can keep us in the shallow end of our relational swimming pool, or they can move us to the deep end where the diving board and more joy are found.
I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. Just send them to me in an email to john [at] caringforothers [dot] org. Or you can share your thoughts in the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the show notes.
In closing, if you found this podcast helpful, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts if you haven’t already done so.
I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to both reflect and to act. And to consider asking questions that will move your relationships out of the shallow end of the pool into deeper waters. All so you will find the joy God intends for you through your relationships. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
Well, that’s all for today. I look forward to connecting with you again next week. Goodbye for now.
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