Asking people “what’s on your mind?,” helps others go beyond sharing news of the superficial events in their life. It deepens relationships. Listen in to learn how.

My wife Janet and I have been meeting on and off with a church group of small group leaders. We began meeting just as the Covid pandemic was getting underway in 2020, so our meetings have been more off than on. In a more recent meeting, the group wanted to talk about how can we get people to open up and talk about deeper things going on in their lives?

I suggested one question they could ask that I found works in getting people to talk more openly about what’s going on within them. It’s a question that works equally well in small groups or in a one-on-one conversation. It’s a good listening tool, and is the subject of today’s episode

A good listening tool

The question I suggested is this: What’s on your mind lately? I don’t want to say a lot about this question right now, because I plan to talk in another episode about the back story to this simple question and why it is so effective in getting people to open up.

Instead, for our time together today, I want to show how the what’s been on your mind? question works. Asking this question usually draws people out to share the deeper things going on in their lives, rather than simply talking about the past week’s news as so often happens.

While the question is effective in groups and in individual conversations, it also works when we answer the question alone by ourself. It serves to give clarity to what we’re experiencing, and a measure of peace as we organize our thoughts and feelings. It’s like reorganizing what’s in our kitchen cabinets for easier access.

To demonstrate, I’m going to answer myself the question, what’s on your mind? I encourage you to do the same thing but to write your answers down. That’s what I’ve done. Bullet points or short phrases will do just fine.

A Facebook Memory

To get started, here’s one thing that’s on my mind. A Facebook memory I wrote 9 years ago popped up on my computer screen early this morning. Here’s what I said back then:

“Watching 3 of the grands for a few days. Getting off the bus this afternoon they ran into the house, talking all at once about the fun things they did at school today. Their joy was like the brief moments of sunshine we’ve had in our otherwise cold, drab, and rainy week. We don’t need to turn on the lights. They are enough.”

Then this morning I added a Facebook comment to my memory from 2013:

The weather's the same today and so are they. Only difference is they're old enough to drive the bus.

What’s on my mind is how remarkable it is that they still light up my life after the various stages of development each of them has gone through these past nine years. Janet and I have enjoyed every stage of their still-young lives.

We still don’t need to turn on the lights when they come over. Their light is still enough. We are so blessed that they still want to spend time with us.

Answer no. 2 to What’s on your mind?

Another thing on my mind is these two people, Graham Zale and Ford Schilz. Who are they, you wonder? US Ambassador to Argentina? Pitcher for the New York Yankees? President of IBM? Not yet. Not yet.

Graham Zale and Ford Schilz are both babies born to two of my nieces on the same day this year, April 2, 2022. I’m proud of my nieces and their husbands for giving their children, bold strong names that will serve them well into their 80s after they’ve made their mark in the world. And I’m so happy these boys held off their birth to April 2nd. Imagine the challenge they would have faced had they been born one day earlier. Yikes! They certainly dodged a bullet.

So here’s to you, Graham Damion Zale and Ford Wyatt Schilz. May you live strong, productive lives in keeping with your names. May your lives finish as well as they’ve started.

Third item on my What’s on your mind? list

The next thing that's been on my mind is an email I received the other day from Billy, one of my missionary friends. He writes:

Good Morning, John and Janet!
I wanted to share this picture with you – it’s a picture of Will [their 7-year-old son] intently listening to episode #153 of You Were Made for This.

He and I both learned to have the ‘ORA’ of God’s character recognizing and fulfilling others’ needs. A message we needed to hear this morning. God Bless you both, we miss you.

The “ORA” Billy referred to is Observe-Reflect-Act, that model of relating we’ve been talking about in this podcast.

The photo Billy sent is the one at the top of the show notes for this episode. I talked to Billy about this later and he said his son was glued to the screen of their iPad for the full 10-11 minute length of the episode, listening to my voice speak about what some people in Poland and Romania are doing to care for refugees from Ukraine.

Photos tell a story

The two photos I showed in the show notes for that episode apparently got his attention: the baby strollers at the train station in Poland and the colorful stuffed toy animals on that grey bridge at the Ukraine/Romania border. What a tender heart that little boy has, I thought, when I first saw the photo of him.

Billy’s email and photo of Will are still on my mind, making me think how sometimes we sell our children short. That they are capable of more than we give them credit for. Most 7-year-olds are not as sensitive as Will. But they are capable of being so. They can learn to reflect the character of God in their own unique way, just as their parents can. Parents can teach them by being examples themselves.

An encouraging email from a missionary parent

I can also answer the what’s on your mind question by talking about an email I got from another listener to our podcast that is similar to the one I received from my friend Billy. It comes from a listener in Iowa who happens to be the parent of a missionary serving in eastern Europe. She writes:

Hi John,
I shared your podcast from last Wednesday with the wife of the man who leads our small group at The Mission Church.  She leads a girls Bible study at a ministry in Des Moines called Freedom for Youth.  It is a wonderful ministry (you can google it) to help kids succeed in life.

They have help for kids with school work, teach some trade skills and encourage kids of all ages.  She enjoyed your podcast and is using some of the ideas with her girls tonight.  Thought you might like to know.

I found this email encouraging on two levels. One is that this Iowa listener thought enough of the podcast to refer it to her friend with the kids’ ministry. And secondly, that her friend is using some of the things we talk about on the podcast with the girls she works with.

I so appreciate that some people recognize teaching children about relationship principles is important. Encouraging emails like these last two have been on my mind lately, and I am grateful for them.

Listening is a relational journey

Something else on my mind I’ve been thinking about is a comment another listener shared with me recently. It was the day Episode 154 aired, “How to Listen Like a Hostage Negotiator.” In his email he writes,


Thank you again so very much for these podcasts!  Even though I don't often respond, I want to say that Karen and I listen regularly to these podcasts.  They are such gentle, weekly reminders of one powerful truth that I know I need to be reminded of regularly… to LISTEN!

Our pastor said at Mia's funeral…

I need to stop here for a second. Mia is his granddaughter who was stillborn a few months ago. I talk about it in episode 148, “What Not to Say When Bad Things Happen to Good People,”

Back to my friend’s email. He continues,

Our pastor said at Mia's funeral that grief is not a problem to be solved, but a journey to be traveled.

That's what I think about listening… it is not a one-and-done practice to conquer… it is a journey to be traveled over a lifetime.

Thanks, John, for this weekly reminder of such a critical part of our relational journey with others!

I love that phrase, listening is not a one-and-done practice to conquer. It is a journey to be traveled over a lifetime. That thought has been on my mind lately because it gives hope to those of us who struggle with listening.

You can listen to a podcast while doing something else

There are other things I’ve been thinking about and are on my mind, but I’ll end with just one more. It comes from a listener who emailed me with this thought after listening to a recent episode,

I listened this morning while folding laundry – always encouraging and your soothing voice is a great start to the day!

Well, that just made me smile picturing her folding laundry while listening to the podcast. That’s the wonderful thing about podcasts I’ve talked about before. You can be doing other things while you listen. Walk the dog, wait in line to pick your kids up from school, drive to work, wait in line at the grocery store, and… while you’re folding laundry. All things you can do while listening to a podcast.

If you’re doing brain surgery, however, save the podcast til later. Or watch one of those how-to YouTube videos instead.

So what does all this mean for YOU?

Several things, first, what is on your mind? What have you been thinking about lately? What are the things keeping you up at night? Is there anything you wonder about? The challenges or stresses you are facing. The things you’re grateful for. What are you looking forward to?

Don’t dig into your psyche, instead consider top-of-mind issues. Then write them down. You just need to get your thoughts out of your head and onto a piece of paper.

In looking at my answers, I see a lot of positive things that have been on my mind. That’s often not the case, but when it is I feel blessed. I hope you’ll feel the same way when you give your answers to what’s on your mind?

Secondly, try asking people in your life, this same question and see what happens. Start conversations with it and see where it takes you. My hunch is what’s on your mind? will take you both deeper than just sharing about the events that have happened since you last talked.

Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

Asking people in a group, or individually, “what’s on your mind,” helps others go deeper than sharing news of the superficial events in our life.

I’d love to hear how this goes for you.


In closing, I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, enough to put into practice what you’ve just heard about asking people what’s on their mind.

For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God intends for us. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s it for today. In the meantime, spread a little relational sunshine with the people you meet this week. Create some joy. And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.

Related episodes you may want to listen to

153: Two Stories of How to Reflect the Character of God

148: What Not to Say When Bad Things Happen to Good People

139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?

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You Were Made for This is sponsored by Caring for Others, a missionary care ministry. We are supported by the generosity of people like you to continue this weekly podcast and other services we provide to missionaries around the world.