Our family got to travel to Europe this summer, and apart from a horrendous, miraculous day when we lost our six year old in Paris, it was memory-making magic. We ate gelato and rode gondolas and listened to a dozen audio books and hugged cousins and gasped at the Alps. Glorious. We drove more than 60 hours through cities we’d never been to in countries where the travel conventions varied wildly, all the while with our hopes pinned squarely on the reliability of GPS directions. God bless Google Maps. And Waze. My husband’s better with maps and I’m better with… let’s call them surprises in driving conventions… so I did most of the driving. I have to say that it can’t have been less than every twenty minutes that I would mutter under my breath: “how did people navigate before GPS?”, just immensely grateful that he was manning the maps, and not me. Just imagining ourselves under twenty half folded AAA maps of Europe trying to figure out the impossible logic of Basel’s bicycle and tram signals gave me the heebie jeebies.
Of course, this question gave us plenty of opportunity to talk to to our kids about the “olden days”, of compasses and maps, about the stars and seasons, and how early mountain passes followed the tracks animals had made on those same climes. And then, on the day we nearly lost our kiddo, there was a similar question: how did people find each other before cellphones? I’ve wondered the same thing often of late as I walk into a crowded auditorium madly texting in the hope of finding the friend I know is there. The answer? We made better, more specific plans. We briefed our kids on what to do if they got lost: who to talk to, where their landmarks were etc.
This may seem an unrelated segue but I promise it’s connected in my head: I recently stopped using shampoo and conditioner. Sorry, didn’t mean to make you squirm. My hair is really clean (that’s a story for another day), but my curiosity was sparked by my sister who—with her glorious hair swinging down her back—asked “how do you think people washed their hair before there was shampoo?” Hmmm. Good question, now that she mentions it. It would be nuts to think that for centuries past, humans were all the great unwashed hairy masses, finally rescued from their personal cranial oil-factories when Proctor and Gamble came along. There had to be a way to wash hair before foamy shampoo came along (although manufacturers would have us believe that’s a lye.)
So many unexpected conversations and decisions have come this summer from the asking of one good question. I am often quick to rush through conversations, a habit made worse in a digital age. But sometimes a timely question can do the world of good, or unlock a whole new way of thinking of things, if we will just let the question sit with us a while.
Why are you so angry about this? What’s really going on there?
Why do you keep repeating that pattern that isn’t working for you?
That seems like a good idea.. but is it what you really want?
These are all questions that have given me pause. Good questions work as conversation starters, lifestyle tune-up opportunities, relational probes, and—in Jesus’ hands—deeply soul-searching invitations. “Do you want to get well?” Jesus asked the paralyzed man in John 5:6. The man had been lame for 38 years, surely the answer was obvious? But Jesus’ question probed deeper, inviting the man to think about where he was at in faith and hope, and maybe the excuses and blaming he’d leveled at others (“I have no-one to help me… and others get there before me…” verse 7). “Who do you say I am,” he asked Peter—he asks us—an unsettling and centering question if ever there was on.
So I’m thinking today about good questions: grateful for those who’ve wondered aloud why things are the way they are, who have probed deeper, who have give us opportunities to stop, think, and choose a better conversation, if we will let those questions do their good work.
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