Thursday, May 7, 2015

the right questions

My husband shared his observation with me one night several months ago: He has noticed that the wisest men around him ask the right questions. Not just theoretical questions or hypothetical questions. They ask real questions, they ask good questions, and they seek answers.

Not only that, but they listen to the answers.

Since he shared that revelation, it has been on my mind a lot. I don't think it's an accident that he shared it in a time period where I was struggling to figure out the whole parenting/discipline thing (And here's a good question for you: When am I NOT struggling to figure that out?).

His observation began to connect the dots for me between parenting, discipling, being a Christ-follower, relating to others, and being a good wife. (Let me state this right up front: I am in no way good in any of the roles above, nor have I "figured it out.")

Questions are an important part of understanding. Furthermore, the right questions are paramount in identifying issues of the heart, evaluating the understanding of others, and developing mutual trust.

This has become clear to me in many different areas, but the most poignant of all, for me, is in parenting.

For the past few months, the boys have been sleeping sideways on a queen-sized bed. This was a change from their twin beds a few months ago, which they were just pushing together anyway (and it was tough getting into Brecken's bed between the wall and Brody's bed with this little belly of mine growing daily).

The shared bedroom, and now shared bed, has created some crazy, frustrating, extra-long bedtimes. In short, bedtime has been "bidiculous," as Brody would say. Sometimes it's a cute kind of ridiculous, as in giggling and singing and tiny voices telling stories into the night, and sometimes even little visitors in our room asking questions to stall.

Other times, however, it is a frustrating kind of bidiculous, as in boys kicking each other under the covers, loud talking, and their extra trips to the bathroom. Ridiculous, as in consequence after consequence until my whole body was on edge, tense, angry that they are being so disobedient and lacking self control.

And when my patience could not handle one more second of frustrating ridiculous, I would get out of my own cozy bed to launch myself into a lecture full of wagging fingers, hands on hips and scolding. "I have told you to be quiet and go to bed. I have told you to stop touching each other. I have told you..." My voice raises as I recount all the ways they aren't living up to my standard for them, and their eyes widen but are no more enlightened.

Sometimes I would even ask questions. "Why are you disobeying?" "Why can't you just go to sleep without problems?" "What is the problem in here?"

Monday night I was in the middle of rereading my favorite parenting book (Don't Make Me Count to Three, for about the fourth time) as the boys partook in their own kinds of bidiculousness, both the cute and frustrating varieties.

Providentially, I was in Chapter 8: "Guidelines for Verbal Correction" when their bidiculousness reached and skyrocketed past my tolerance threshold. And right there, at the crossroads between my anger and my seeking answers, I noticed something new in the book I've read over and over: Questions might be the key. And the right questions are often very simple.

So I tried it out. "Brody, are you obeying or disobeying my words?" This question requires a response. It requires a probing into his mind. He must interact with my words rather than repel the wrath gushing out of me when I am in a scolding rant. He must admit his wrongdoing. (I should insert here that the right questions use the right tone and volume level, too.)

"Disobeying," he said quietly. "Brody, Mommy loves you too much to allow you to disobey. What happens when you disobey?" And then, of course, there was our set consequence for disobedience.

I am not lying...those boys did not cause another problem that night. It was so remarkable that even Brad asked what I said to them.

There was something to this questioning thing. My focus in previous readings of my parenting book had been on the topic of the child's issues (disobeying vs. obeying, being kind vs. being unkind, etc.), but after noting the questions in Chapter 8, I went back to review other topics...The right questions were present in almost every scenario of discipline.

So now I have moved my questions into other areas.

When they are telling on each other: "Brecken, could it be that you are telling me that Brody is disobeying because you want him to get into trouble? Love does not delight in evil. Instead of coming to me to tell on Brody, what could you have done to help him choose to do good?"

The examples go on and on. I'm not going to tell you that it has solved all of our problems (seriously...we are a huge work in progress), but for what it's worth, it has been absolutely MONUMENTAL in helping me relate to my children, figure out what is in their hearts, and train them in righteousness. Instead of taking deep breaths to try to calm myself before launching into another monologue about obedience (kindness, patience, self-control, etc.) to my kids, I am instead learning to find the right question about those characteristics. This not only helps me to control my exasperation, but it also forces them to interact with me and think directly about their sin. (Side note: It is very difficult instill a value of self-control when you cannot exemplify it.)

And from these small experiences in parenting, my eyes were opened to the importance of asking the right questions, which now seems to be touted everywhere. In marriage, the right questions can lead you into great discussions and greater understanding. In discipleship, we must ask the right questions to determine where disciples stand, where they're struggling, and where they lack understanding.

In following Christ, I should be asking myself the right questions, too. "Am I embodying the fruits of the Spirit, or am I living in anger, envy, selfishness, disobedience (delayed obedience), worry, anxiety, or fear?" (As an adoptive mom in the midst of a constant stressful and angst-ridden waiting game, inspecting my heart in regard to those last three traits can be KILLER. Some days I spend the majority of my time checking for updates about the DRC adoption situation, and that does not bode well for my worry, anxiety, and fear.) "Where am I not surrendering my feelings to Truth?" "Where am I not allowing God's Word to reign in my life?"

And finally, I recently stumbled across this: "The heart of the righteous studies how to answer." (Proverbs 15:28) This implies that a question has been asked of the righteous. How can our children--or anyone else, really--whom we want to be righteous, "study how to answer" without the training and experience of being asked the right questions?

That's a good question.