I once sat across from a gentle, unobtrusive man I did not know well, but we had arranged to spend an afternoon together. I soon found out he was not one for small talk. We’d been seated for only a few minutes when, unhurried and without trying to fabricate conversation, he asked what was on my heart. This simple invitation opened an untapped reservoir in me, and the hours of conversation that flowed from there were rich and meaningful.
He listened to me with care and attention. His warmth and openness let me know he would receive me just as I was, no expectations. I remember how he kept smiling at me with genuine joy, as if he were stranded on a desert island and I had arrived with news from home. He didn’t labor to sound insightful or wise. He didn’t try to land some prepackaged whizz-bang question. He just leaned forward and allowed curiosity to lead the way.
While we were together, I found myself becoming curious about him as well. When it came time for us to part ways, I was aware that something vibrant had awakened inside me. Later, he told me the same was true for him. Only hours earlier, we had been acquaintances, but now we were companions. It took only a few beautiful questions to lead us there.
English poet David Whyte speaks of our need to nurture this discipline of “asking beautiful questions.” Beautiful questions are ones that sink into deep places of the soul, that welcome others as we search for connection and friendship, and that open up new territory two people can share. Beautiful questions assume the person before us carries many unique gifts within and much goodness that’s waiting to be discovered.
Jesus seemed the sort of person eager to learn names and histories, dreams and fears, curious to uncover the beauty and the tragedy in every story.
Studying the life of Jesus, we discover how He models this art of asking. Perusing the Lord’s numerous encounters, we discover how many thoughtful, engaging questions He asked. Christ was an immensely curious fellow. To terrified disciples on a storm-whipped schooner, He said, “Why are you afraid?” After watching Peter’s short stroll on the water and after pulling the flailing disciple out of the cold sea, Jesus wondered, “Why did you doubt?” To Martha: “Do you believe this?” And to bewildered followers: “Are you confused?”
Jesus, the perfect God-man, reveals to us how to live authentically, how to be more fully ourselves, and how to love and welcome others. Further, the Scriptures unveil one rarely explored part of Jesus’ humanity: His inquisitive, engaged approach. Jesus pursued meaningful relationships with women and men, young and old, affluent and destitute, religious insiders and those at the fringe. With so many of these friendships, Jesus posed questions that pierced the heart and opened genuine conversation. He seemed the sort of person eager to learn names and histories, dreams and fears, curious to uncover the beauty and the tragedy in every story.
For a question to be meaningful, it must be genuine. At times we ask questions not because we care to know a person but rather because we’re trying to extract information, build our stockpile of knowledge, maneuver for leverage, or support the image we want to project. Jesus’ questions, however, were always real questions, always in search of honest friendship.
Because we are all bearers of God’s image, we’re sure to find some meeting ground between us, no matter how different we may be.
Many of us fail to engage others with beautiful questions because we are self-absorbed. If we are overwhelmed with our own status or our own agenda, then it’s nearly impossible to be truly curious about the friend or spouse right next to us. If you should happen to spend extended time with family members or colleagues who never show any curiosity about you or your life, you’ll likely walk away feeling exhausted and lonely. Selfish people are consumed within their own small worlds, and they suck the life from everyone around them. Selfish people are not curious people. Jesus’ entire life, however, was an expression of self-giving love. No wonder He overflowed with so many good, penetrating questions.
Some questions open a conversation, but others will shut it down. The truly engaged arrive with an open hand and an open mind, wondering what might be discovered or what unique beauty might be unearthed. Good questions assume a kinship—assume that because we are all bearers of God’s image, we’re sure to find some meeting ground between us, no matter how different we may be.
If we want to cultivate generative curiosity, we must learn to be unhurried, to be present with the people in our life. Beautiful questions are a form of hospitality, creating space someone else can inhabit, where he can be heard and known. Jesus invites us to embrace His vision for redeemed humanity, and beautiful questions are one sure way to do so.
Illustration by Valero Doval