January 18, 2017

Want Deeper Friendships? Do This.

The most important moments in my life have all begun with questions.

Some were questions directed toward me. A friend pointedly yet lovingly confronted me with one that pierced my heart. Another initiated a conversation with a vulnerable question, altering my perspective and expanding my empathy in a much-needed way. And of course I cannot forget the life-upending question God paired with His gospel: "Will you follow me wherever I lead you?"

Some questions, however, were those I've asked of others, and they've led not necessarily to important moments but to significant relationships. An invitation to coffee kickstarted what has become a treasured friendship. A request for advice grew into discipleship. A passing invitation to the quiet newcomer has become a life-giving friendship. A curious interest in another has opened up stories and vulnerabilities and, now, a deeper connection between us.
I've taken note of this dynamic--how questions stand at the starting line of friendships--because I've been shy all my life and even speaking to others has not necessarily come naturally. But I've tested this dynamic (and survived!) and found it to be true. Questions begin relationships and then, as nails setting the frame of a house in place, solidify relationships so intimacy and trust can grow. We know and are known through well-placed questions. We develop understanding for others rather than assumptions and comparison with questions. And we cannot help but grow in wisdom when we ask questions of and listen to the wise. 

Here's something else I've noticed: the world is starving for more question-askers and empathetic listeners. With the advent of social media, everywhere we turn these days we’re bombarded with people sharing their every thought and displaying their lives for all to see. We ourselves are often shouting to be heard online, and when we don’t feel heard, we shout even louder. Perhaps we are so busy shouting that there is not even the space to ask good questions, listen carefully, and think about what we’re hearing. Or perhaps it’s that we’re naturally good at talking about and focusing on ourselves, and asking questions and listening requires thinking beyond our own desires.

Sometimes I try to picture the internet in my head and I see us all as blue dots across the world map, shouting and spouting, but far too many of us feeling isolated and relationally poor. And we don't have any idea why. Isn't talking the way to be heard? Isn't spouting an invitation for others to come toward us?

What if observing, asking questions of others, and listening is really the way to be heard? What if showing interest in others is really the way to deeper friendship? What if well-placed questions are a form of ministry to others that, in time, develop into intimate relationships?

Consider Job and his friends. Job’s friends showed up on his doorstep, sat with him silently for seven days (good!), and then, without asking a single question, started spouting off counsel, all of which came from their own experiences and assumptions (bad!). If they’d only asked a few questions and listened well to Job’s grief, they could have comforted him and offered him hope rather than compounding it.

Job’s friends offer us “what-not-to-do” wisdom and in their lack of questions, we see more clearly that our goal in asking questions and listening well is not to gather information as a busybody might do or patronize the hurting but to develop or further a relationship so that we might serve that person in some way. So much can be helped and so much can be diffused by a simple question.

Although I am shy and although question-asking can often be awkward and uncomfortable, I cannot begin to calculate back to you how questions alone have changed my relationships. If I were to try, I may begin shouting and spouting myself as I show you that map in my head and what a ripe opportunity exists for anyone who will consistently ask purposeful questions of others. They will have ministry opportunities and friendships in abundance.

Do you desire deeper relationships? It is not as simple as a question, but it absolutely begins with a question or two.