Years ago, I wanted to pray for some friends of ours, a married couple who had a great interest in spirituality but who hadn’t landed in any one particular faith. I wanted them to get to know Jesus. I thought that relationship would bless them and delight them and that they would experience the fullness of God’s love for them and their purpose in the world by coming to know Jesus personally. I still believe this is true.
And yet I also felt icky praying for them, and I couldn’t figure out why.
Eventually I realized it was because I was praying with an attitude of superiority. I had cut myself off from my friends in my heart, as if I had something to offer and they had nothing to give. Once I realized that attitude, it didn’t change my desire for them. I still wanted them to know Jesus, and I still prayed for that. But I was able to pray with a posture of receptivity, with a desire to see their particular gifts and to receive those from them, whether or not we ever shared the same faith. I started to assume not only that I had something to offer but also that I had needs that they could meet, if only I would approach them with humility and love.
Over time, I’ve come to understand that God has made us as people who are designed to give and receive love. I’ve come to understand that love is not coercive but receptive, not insistent but invitational. I’ve come to learn that love is relational.
Jesus models the way of love in his interactions with people in all sorts of ways, but one primary way he models love is in the way he talks with people. He doesn’t shy away from what he knows to be true. He isn’t afraid of offending people. He isn’t reluctant to teach, but he doesn’t need to win arguments or convert people to his way of seeing. He operates with humble confidence. And he does this largely through questions.
I haven’t taken the time to do the counting myself, but I’ve heard that Jesus asks 307 questions over the course of the four books of the Bible that contain stories about him, and 183 questions are asked of him. Nearly 500 questions go back and forth between Jesus and the people around him.
According to James Danaher, Jesus only offers direct answers to 3 of those questions.
Jesus hardly ever offered direct answers, and yet he was arguably the best teacher and guide into a relationship with God who has ever lived. What can we learn from him?
I wrote a post last week about how understanding ourselves as children of God will help us to have conversations with our own children about faith. Today’s post is part two, and here I want to suggest that asking and receiving questions is also central to having meaningful and long-lasting conversations with our kids (and anyone else for that matter) about faith.
We can take Jesus’ way of talking about faith–in the form of questions, in ongoing discourse that opens up relationships rather than commandments, in loving exchanges–and we can follow his gentle, confident way as we talk with our kids.
We don’t need to have all the answers. We don’t need them to understand everything all at once. We don’t need to force belief upon them.
Jesus invites us to love our kids by asking questions, by taking their questions seriously, and by walking together in love.
On a practical note, I’ve recently found a guide to Faith Conversations that might be helpful to you, as it poses four sets of questions we can ask our kids. Then again, it might not be helpful because these questions can be tough even for me to answer. “When did you feel God’s love today?” is one of the questions, for example, and that can be a bit abstract for all of us. And yet when we think about what Paul tells us about what God’s love looks like: patient, kind, forgiving, or about what the fruit of God’s Spirit looks like: love, peace, joy–then that abstraction becomes a little more concrete.
So perhaps begin by asking, “When did you feel peace (or love, hope, joy) today?”
What if every time we feel love, joy, and peace, we are feeling God’s presence? What if every time we give or receive forgiveness we are participating in God’s work in the world? These are the types of questions that guide me toward seeing God in unexpected corners of my day. I hope that’s true for our kids too.
I’m going to offer 5 other ways to put these ideas into practice in my newsletter next week. If you’re interested in thinking more about how to talk with your kids (or friends) about faith, you can sign up for my newsletter here.