It is often we ask the people we see how they are doing. But how often do we actually expect them to tell us the whole truth? Imagine sometime if after asking the perfunctory “How are you?” question of someone and you get the perfunctory “I am fine” answer, you decide to press the question further. And you look into their eyes and say, “Please tell me how you are really doing.” And then tears well up in their eyes as they begin to share of deep emotional wounds suffered from a traumatic experience. And as they lament the pain suffered they further express to you how they blame God for not intervening as they thought He should have. And then suddenly, what began as a 10-second exchange turns into a 2-hour conversation that leaves you wondering if you will ever ask someone that question again!
In the gospel of John 4:1-25 were read this familiar account of Jesus with the woman at the well. What is striking to me are the questions He asks her. And really, you might argue they were more statements than questions, but they were said to draw out information: “Give me a drink.” This was to expose the painful wounds between Jew and Samaritan (John 4:7-9). “Go call your husband.” This was to draw out the uncomfortable matter of her immorality (John 4:16-18). But there was a goal with each question: to bring her life, in all of its complexity, to Jesus.
Learning to ask good questions of people is a spiritual discipline. Because we are not just interested in what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside. We are not just concerned about how they look, where they work, and what kind of car the drive. We care deeply about what they think, how they feel, and where they are at in their relationship with Jesus.
But to get at these concerns we need to learn to make space in our schedules and our hearts to be able to ask good questions of people.
We need to make space in our schedules because we have a tendency to clutter people out of our lives. We always have places to go and things to do. Gone are the days we would spend our evenings on the front porch eager to show hospitality to our neighbors who passed by. We need to learn create margins in our schedules for others—time—for when we are surprised by the need to listen, and opportunities for meaningful connection.
We need to make space in our hearts to be prepared for what others might say to us. And by “prepared” I do not mean prepared to know how to answer to their questions or how to fix their problems. But to listen and seek to understand without letting our own agenda get in the way. We should always be cautious of giving counsel if we are not asked for it. Even then we should be at peace with saying, “we don’t know,” when the truth is we don’t. And to be able to listen without the distractions of responding to what they say in our heads with our disagreements or distancing ourselves from them with emotional discomfort.
Prayer: Lord, grant that I would care enough to be thoughtful of those around me and delight in understanding.