The BIG POWER of the small question

I’m new to Facebook.  Barely 2 weeks into joining this virtual community, I find myself with over 100 friends.  This new community is buzzing with activity – posts, questions, messages, and shared photos.  There is a constant stream of communication.  Updates, comments, and peeks into family vacations.  Some of the Facebook crowd apparently doesn’t sleep.  Cyberspace pulsates incessantly as folks reach out in desperate attempt to make connection with one another.  Yet beneath the bustling community, I’ve felt an undertone of sadness.  I’ve found myself wondering if those who spend so much time online have counted the cost associated.  The precious currency of time is spent pecking away at the keyboard rather than investing in the family and friends with whom they (we) live?

Lest I become too critical of the online community, I’d suggest that we all have our forms of “misspending” our currency of time and energy.  I often go about my days talking, not listening.  Doing, not being.  Telling, not asking.  When we I take the time to engage another, I often resort to a chronic dialogue.  “How was your day?”… “How are you?”…  “How was the weekend?”…  The questions, though good-intended, do little to stimulate any depth of response from another.  They are too familiar.  Too broad in scope and too easily satisfied with vague answers.

In The Eyes of the Heart, Frederick Buechner tells of his driving desire to learn more about his father, who had died when Buechner was young. He spent years mining the memories of friends and relatives in order to excavate some new nugget of information regarding his father.  He was after something deeper than “he he had been a charming, handsome young man, and everybody liked him.”  Later in life, his daughter told him that he’s was asking in the wrong way.  “If you want to get a big answer, she said, you should ask a little question.  I should ask people if they remembered ever eating a meal with him.  Or playing tennis with him.  Or arguing with him about politics.  Or being with him at a bar, or the movies, or on a subway.  Who could say what one, small concrete memory might jog loose?”

Perhaps we would be well served to take the same advice.  Could we take the time to be intentional and ask small questions?  If we really want to know more of someone, do we have a vision of what “more” could look like?

  • When my husband comes home from tennis with friends, do I ask him, “How was the afternoon?” OR do I dare ask him “How did it feel to be with that group of guys?” (true example from yesterday… and I didn’t)
  • When my children seem unusually fragile, do I take the time to ask what had transpired earlier when their friend had been over?
  •  Do I simply ask my friend, “How was your vacation?” OR do I dare ask what it was like to try and reconnect with her husband?

I can only imagine how my relationships could be transformed and deepened if I frequently gave others time to paint descriptive pictures of the scenes of their life.  What details have I been missing in the rush of the day?  What details have I hurriedly assumed and added in?  Could I slow down and intentionally  ask deliberate “small” questions?

Probably not with my 100 Facebook friends.  But perhaps with a few.



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