On a fall day just after sunset I took three year old Hannah running with me. She insisted on wearing her running shorts even though it was quite cool. So I bundled her up in a blanket and coat and tucked her into the jogging stroller and off we went. As I ran, Hannah and I carried on a cute interchange, both of us engaged and enjoying the company of the other. Then I suddenly realized the nature of our interaction. Everything out of Hannah’s mouth was a question:
“What do we do in winter?”
“What happened to the water?”
“Is that a mama horse or a baby?”
“Why are there white lines and yellow ones on the road?”
“Is that Erin’s seminary?”
“Did they move the seminary building?”
“Why was the dog barking at us?”
“Why are there different white lines on the road here?”
“Was there a road running race before Hyrum was born?”
“Isn’t that a beautiful sunset — orange, purple, pink, blue?”
I was taken with the nature of her questions, their simplicity and how each had to do with making sense of the world and the people around her. Just open, easy, natural inquisitiveness springing from her need to know. Is this one of the reasons the Lord has commanded us to be like a little child?
Questions can be powerful tools that bring direction and meaning to our lives. Our questions influence our experience and the choices we make. Questions accelerate our learning and invite the quiet promptings of the spirit. Asking a sincere question signals that we are ready to learn. “Ask and ye shall receive,” takes on new meaning when we understand the power of questions. Is it any wonder that the Lord extends this invitation to us over and over again?
Just a few weeks ago I had an experience that once again proved to me the power of a question.
I was feeling that my life was out of control. As the mother of seven, it seemed that I was bombarded with all kinds of details and to do’s and tasks that, though necessary, seem to leave me empty and exhausted with little or no energy for what is really important to me. I needed to get a handle on my life and figure out how to bring back what is most important. Determined to get to the bottom of this I sat down with paper and pen. At the top of the paper I wrote this question: “What do I want in my family and home that at this point are not happening regularly?” Then I answered my own question. My list has 28 items. Some of these are:
- Singing/making music together
- Individual dates with children
- Weekly inventory—personal and couple
- More gospel stories shared or read
- Children more involved in cooking and kitchen clean up
- Children more involved in Family Home Evening
- Winter walks
- Me playing the piano to relax and enjoy
- More consistent reading of classics to children
- More “tucking in” for each child with quiet, shared reflection about the day and prayer…
I noticed a pattern in my answers. Every one of them had to do with people and creating connection and shared meaningful experiences. None of them had anything to do with getting more done or getting all caught up. It helped for me to recognize this.
I worked on this question for half an hour. Just as I was beginning the process of choosing a few and making a plan to get them back into my life, I got interrupted. My paper was left tucked in a binder for the rest of that week and through the next. Forgotten. One morning I found it again. I read my question and my answers and realized that just asking the question had brought five of these things back into our family almost effortlessly. Asking this particular question simply helped me to see an unwanted pattern and then to choose people over busy.
I have another set of very helpful questions I often ask. Again with paper and pen in hand, I write the names of each person in my family, including my own, leaving a space between names. At the top of the paper I write these questions: What does ________ need to feel supported, strengthened, and loved? What will inspire and motivate them? What do they need help with? Then I go down my list asking these questions for each person. I picture them in my mind. I try to see them, especially their eyes. I write the ideas that come about each person. Asking and answering these questions helps me to see what I would otherwise have missed. And they help me to focus on what is really important... people.
Sister Wendy Watson Nelson says this about questions:
“I LOVE Questions! I love their ability to help us focus. To see things we’ve never seen before. To understand things we’ve never understood before. To think things we’ve never thought before. To have the courage to do things we’ve never had the courage to do before.”
Questions are powerful! Questions remind me of my little Hannah needing to make sense of her world. “Mama, what do we do in winter?” “Mama, is that a baby horse or a mama?” And “Mama, isn’t that a beautiful sunset — orange, purple, pink, blue?”
In the last mile of our run through the rural Erda countryside, I spied seven deer and stopped so that I could help Hannah see them. We held ourselves quiet and still so we could enjoy watching the deer. And then we started to run again. The deer began to run too and it felt like for those brief moments we were running with the deer. Then the deer stopped and we continued on and Hannah called out, “Good-bye Deer!”
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Author’s note: Change Your Questions Change Your Life by Wendy Watson Nelson is an excellent book to help anyone learn to ask the kind of questions that make all the difference.