There is a skill that every father needs to learn and then be able to teach his children. It is essential for effectively sharing the love of Christ with your family and others.
Without this ability, you and I will leave people with the impression that we think we are more important than they are. The absence of this is particularly evident at social gatherings. The ones with it are a pleasure to be around, while the ones without it are boring.
If you don’t develop this skill, your wife may doubt that you really care for her. If you don’t practice it with your children, someone else may steal their hearts away from you.
Jesus was a Master of this. In fact, He amazes me every time I read that He did it. Sometimes I cannot understand why He did this, other times it was pretty obvious. What is this skill?
I commented briefly about it in last month’s Corner from Mark 9:21, when Jesus asked a boy’s father, “How long is it ago since this came unto him?” Jesus is God, and He knows everything. Why did He ask the question? Was He seeking a confession or some information He did not know? I believe Jesus asked the father the question because He wanted to draw the father into a conversation in order to reveal needs in the father’s life.
Jesus was accomplished in the art of asking questions. Why is the ability to ask questions so important in life? First and foremost, it communicates worth to the person you are asking because it says that what they are thinking is important to you.
To my shame, there have been times when Teri was describing a situation to me and “in all my great wisdom” I’ve quickly figured out the solution to her problem. I’ve interrupted her with answers she was seeking. However, what I really did was to communicate that she wasn’t as important as my time. I had given her a swift answer so I could get on with other things. Jesus could have quickly healed the father’s son mentioned in Mark 9:21 without any communication, but He didn’t. He took what time was necessary to get to the heart of the matter, which included growing the father’s faith as well as delivering the son.
That is why questions are so important. What if I were to wait until Teri finished describing to me her problem? Then, what if I asked her a few questions to verify that I understood the situation, gleaning additional clarification as needed? Wouldn’t this communicate that I care about what is important to her and am putting her interests first?
Another example might be the times I’ve been out all day and haven’t had a chance to speak to Teri. Finally I come home and ask her about her day, how she is feeling, or if she had any problems. Aren’t I telling her that I love her and that she is important to me by asking the questions and being attentive to her answers? Who am I communicating is the most important if I’m only interested in telling her about my day?
The same is true with our children. Communicating heart to heart involves asking our children questions about their struggles, their likes and dislikes. It is an excellent way of showing genuine interest in them and getting to heart issues.
We cannot effectively witness to someone without asking him questions. It is very difficult to communicate the love of Christ while “verbally shoving” something down someone’s throat—and that is what a constant stream of words does.
Consider the following examples. “Jim, you need to be saved so you won’t go to hell. You need to confess you are a sinner.” Or, “Jim, where do you think you will spend eternity? Would you be interested in learning what the Bible has to say about it?”
“Donny, I have seen you being very mean to your sister, and it better stop.” Or, “Donny, I’ve observed you having some conflict with your sister lately. Would you tell me about it? Has she offended you in some way? Shall we talk about it?”
It will help a child throughout his life if he learns how to ask good questions as a means to get to know others. Think how common it is to spend time with someone you don’t know very well. What better way to get to know something about that person than by asking questions?
Years ago, our evening family altar time was interrupted by a knock on the door. Nathan, then thirteen years old, jumped up and said he would see who it was. He stepped outside and didn’t come back in for quite a few minutes. When he finally returned, I asked who had been at the door. He said it was one of his lawn-mowing customers. I asked if there was a problem, since he was gone for so long. Nathan said, “No Dad, there was no problem, we just got started talking.” The gentleman Nathan was talking to was probably fifty years his senior, but because Nathan is skilled at asking questions, he was comfortable talking to just about anyone.
We have found communicating through questions to be essential for our monthly visits to the City Union Mission. The men we “visit” with are often not refined in their social skills. Carrying on a conversation can be quite difficult at times. Questions that require more than a simple “yes” or “no” answer are the primary arsenal for chipping away the hardened outer layers of these men.
Questions are a surgeon’s tools for getting to the heart of man. When guided in a gentle but purposeful fashion, they will unlock a great treasure. They can bring to light hidden hurts that have been long buried. They can be the key to discovering deep waters. When I sense a closed spirit in Teri or the children, loving questions will uncover issues that I need to address or offenses I have committed.
How can we teach our children to gracefully employ the art of communication though questioning? Practice with counsel makes one skillful. Fellowshipping after church or with dinner guests provides wonderful opportunities for children to practice their communication skills. Encourage your children beforehand to think of questions they can ask. Then have them practice the questions with you prior to the guest’s arrival. That way you can help them learn what is appropriate to ask and how to be gentle with the questions.
I suppose the most difficult aspect of asking questions for a child is learning what is appropriate to ask and what is not. Questions about the guest’s physical appearance are always the most risky. One we have learned to shy away from is, “So when is your baby due?”
There are some dangers with questions. As I just mentioned, some questions are inappropriate because the relationship or an assumption can prove false. Questions can be blunt, insensitive, demanding, or too many. Our tone while asking is very important and often will tip the scales toward appearing caring or toward being pushy and demanding.
Teri and I are amazed at how often we encounter people in social settings who will never ask a single question about our family or us. It isn’t that we are dying to tell them about ourselves, it just makes the conversation much easier and more pleasant. By their not asking any questions, they appear to be interested only in themselves, and we run the risk of appearing nosy after asking them question after question.
I would encourage each dad to evaluate his communication skills in questioning. A good place to start is by asking your wife if she feels you show interest in her. Do you ask her about her day, her needs, and her cares? If you aren’t doing this, repent of your selfish focus. Then begin to ask your wife and children questions to communicate that you are putting them first and caring about them. Make this ability to use questions a priority in your life, and then teach it to your children.
I have found the art of asking questions one of the most important skills I have. I must give credit to two people in particular. One was a man who taught a sales seminar I attended in 1982 on being successful in sales. The other person is Teri’s mother. She is gracious and skillful in interacting with others, and I see much of this is due to her ability to ask questions.
Dads, may we be ready instruments in our Lord’s hands through our communication skills and equip our children to be the same. These children will then be comfortable in social situations and will bless you.