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What Questions Are You Asking?

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Zora Neale Hurston

Have you ever noticed that people often have favorite questions? There are how people and what people and when people and why people. Of course, we need them all! However, it can be easy to settle into your question. If you keep asking the same question, getting new, deeper, or more transformative answers is harder. Voltaire wrote, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  Our questions can take us somewhere.

There are often good reasons to ask questions. A medical diagnosis, an accident, or a secret revealed can change your life forever. In the face of such things, you naturally want to know - How or why did this happen? The problem is that you may never get an answer.

The hard things that happen in life often stay with us; they linger like an undertone running through our lives and may not sound good initially. Over time, you may not always hear or feel the booming bass left by the song of suffering, beating as you move along. But if you dare to look pain in the eye and ask it a new question, sometimes the pain can fall into a new groove that can accompany you in a way that forms a rhythm you can handle or even appreciate.

It is helpful to ask new or different questions. Asking new questions can help us learn, grow, and identify gaps in our understanding. Instead of asking why, ask what this can make possible or how I can respond. What can I do, or how can I get through this? Who is with me? What do I want? How can I learn from this? Where and how do I see God with me? What blessing is already here for me to receive today? These are questions you can live into. It has often been said that the key to Albert Einstein’s success was that he stayed with questions longer than most.

I have been serving as a caregiver this year. It has involved lots of doctor visits, various treatments, and he effects that come with it. A few months into the experience, I was feeling overwhelmed by it. Then, in a quiet moment, a new question came - What if I thought about this in a new way? In a flash, I realized I could think of the experience in phases. It changed everything. Suddenly, I did not have to worry about what may or may not happen in phase 2 or 3 or beyond. I only needed to focus on where we were today.

It reminds me of Jacobs's realization in the Bible. People look at him and his story and see a troublemaker. But God saw something else. God doesn’t love people because of who they are but because of who God is.* In his goodness, God cared for Jacob. God came to Jacob in a dream when he was alone and in a rough spot. In the dream, God promised to be with Jacob wherever he was. Jacob said, “Surely, God is in this place, and I did not know it.” ** It’s as if he had a new question to discover: How is God with me?

Jacob had lived his whole life seeking a blessing, a reassurance that he was loved. He lived for years with those questions. He wrestled with God, but the experience left a mark on Jacob. He was left with a limp. It was his bass note, staying with him.

You never know what a person may be carrying or why they may limp, but if you look and listen, you may hear their song. “We pray to see life as it is,” wrote Joan Chittister, “to understand it and to make it better than it was. We pray so that reality can break into our souls and give us back our awareness of the Divine Presence in life.” Life is a mystery. We often don’t have answers, but we can keep asking questions.


*Frederick Buechner, Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABCs of Faith.

** Gen 28:16


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