That’s a good question

2016 9 15 Evan J MillerEvan J. Miller is a spiritual director and business leader with a special interest in the intersection of spirituality and leadership.  He is an active participant in the Open Table Mennonite Fellowship in Goshen, Indiana. Evan is a member of the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Network.

Perhaps it’s just in my circles, but I’ve noticed that if I ask a question and someone responds with “That’s a good question…” it often means they don’t know the answer.

I find myself drawn more and more to questions. I’m not trying to stump people or put them on the spot. I think I’m just getting more curious as I get older. Or perhaps I’m realizing how little I really know.

So in deep conversation and in my reflections about my own spiritual journey, I find myself looking for good questions.

Good questions cause us to pause. And if we’re courageous enough, they can take us to a deeper place. We may ponder them for days — or weeks — or years. St. Francis was said to ask, “Who are you, God? And who am I?” Those are questions for a lifetime!

Good questions invite us to let go of certainty, of having to know and be right. In my experience, that sounds more frightening than it actually is. In reality, in the moment, letting go of certainty can be strangely liberating. Good questions help us live into the uncertainty of not knowing, or what mystics sometimes call “unknowing.”

Probably the best questions arise from within a given situation. They’re customized to what is happening right now. But some questions have a kind of universality about them — a kind of generic utility. Their one-size-fits-all nature works in many situations.

I picked up one such universal question from the modern-day mystic, James Finley. Jim’s question is:

“All things considered, what is the most loving thing I can do for myself and others in this situation?”

This question invites us to a deeper, non-dualistic place because it makes us hold so many competing, conflicting, contradictory sides in our heads and hearts at the same time.

We’re not used to doing that. It’s hard work.

I’ve experienced how hard this is first hand more than once. For example, in working through a difficult conflict, this question created an opening for me to see the situation through another’s eyes. I won’t say I always got it right, because I didn’t. But it helped.

And because it invited me to consider the most loving act towards myself, it gave me permission to reestablish some boundaries that I felt were violated.

A good question can help you hold two or more contradictory ideas at the same time. It can help you transcend your stuckness. It can help you see yourself and others through a bigger, more loving lens. A good question helps you go deeper.

All things considered, what is the most loving thing I can do for myself and others in this situation?

That’s a good question.

How have questions helped you go deeper? Are there seemingly intractable situations you’re aware of now where a genuine, open-ended question might create a path to new and creative solutions? Are there general purpose questions you’ve found especially helpful? How do you use questions in your daily life?