I recently was nominated to sit on our church’s administrative council, and last week, I attended my first meeting. Wisely, the entire administrative council doesn’t turn over in a single year, so much of what was happening during my first meeting was a continuation of business and activity from previous meetings. So, as you can imagine, I felt completely lost during most of the discussion.
Not normally one to sit around lost for very long, I first quietly slipped up my hand and then eventually just voiced my way right in and asked many questions throughout the evening. Once, in the interest of time, I had decided not to ask a question, but apparently my face gave me away.
“Charity, you look like you have another question,” the president of the council said.
“Well, yeah, it’s just … well, I might just be nosy …,” I said, hedging. I had already drawn out the ad council meeting by about half as long as it would have been without all my questions. Everyone was being nice, but I could just imagine what was going through their heads.
“No, no,” other members of the council said.
“That’s why you’re here. To get involved,” someone else said.
So, I asked for more clarification about a community program our church had apparently started years ago, and I questioned a budget line item that I didn’t understand. Once, I revealed my complete ignorance about a simple fundraising effort in our church that absolutely everyone else in the room knew about. But now, so did I.
While constantly asking questions about everything can make me seem like a four-year-old whose favorite word is “why?”, not asking questions can lead to misunderstandings, poor decisions, and even repeated mistakes. One question I ask a lot in our home is, “Could you say more about what you mean by that?” Because the words I am hearing don’t jive without what is typically true about what my husband or stepsons think or feel. So, I clarify: Is this something new? Or am I just misunderstanding?
When I worked as a data analyst, I’d often get requests for reports that seemed simple enough on the surface. But before I could even get started, I had to ask a few questions. Usually, the more questions I asked, the less likely it would be that I’d have to redo the report.
And not taking time to ask questions of myself and my work—questions like: Why didn’t that work? What could I do differently next time? Who could I ask to help me? What factors were out of my control?—can mean falling into Einstein’s insanity trap of doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.
I’ve been wrestling through several questions here on my blog for the past few weeks, and in the process, I’ve remembered how invigorated I am by asking them. In fact, I love it so much that even though I’m finished with the list that first inspired the blog series, I’m not done asking questions. And while my answers may feel like just a lot more questions, I hope you’ll continue on with me as we both widen and deepen our understanding of life, faith, culture, and more through continual inquiry.
In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review called “Relearning the Art of Asking Questions,” authors Tom Pohlmann and Neethi Mary Thomas found that about 70-80 percent of kids’ dialogue with others is comprised of questions, but for adults it’s only about 15-25 percent. Pohlmann and Thomas suggest that one explanation is that in school, work, and other areas of life we are rewarded more for answers than questions. Also, as I’ve mentioned here before, the authors talk about how questions can be risky and threatening, even to the point of suggesting a lack of loyalty or trust in the one asking.
When it comes to asking questions about our faith, some denominations or traditions have less of an appetite for mystery or doubt, too. Instead, they serve up absolutes and certainty as the only options on the menu. Having walked through long seasons in my own life where I felt limited by what I could think or ask, I now see it was as much about my own need for solid answers as it was about anyone else’s ability or desire to deliver them. But not asking questions can stunt our growth, harm our relationships, and even keep us from the answers we need—in our faith as well as every other aspect of our lives.
Maybe this is part of Jesus’ call for us to maintain a childlike faith: he wants us to ask more questions. Even the ones that may not have simple answers.
What about you? Do you like asking questions? Why or why not? What questions are you asking yourself lately? Are there any questions you refuse to ask or to answer?