A friend came to me and trusted me with her story yesterday. Is there anything more sacred than being trusted with someone’s story? She’s facing a lot of questions in her life right now and is searching for answers. She said she was worried to come to me, that she might offend me with her questions. Offend me? When did we begin to tell people that the church (meaning the body of Christ, not the building) was not a safe place to ask questions?
One of my early memories of the church was asking a question. The pastor had come to our Sunday School class and said we could write down any question we had on a piece of paper for him to answer. I had a lot of questions. It’s just in my nature. I wanted to know did God create dinosaurs and if so, why weren’t they talked about in our Bible lessons? The Sunday morning had arrived and the pastor was reading the questions from the pulpit in front of the whole congregation. I remember when he asked my question and I remember everyone in the room laughing. No answer, just laughter.
I was so embarrassed. Now looking back as an adult I imagine they were laughing at the “cuteness” or naivete of my question, but as that child, in that room, I felt nothing but smallness and shame. I learned that church was not a safe place to ask questions and so I don’t remember asking another question again for quite some time. Different from my friend, I wasn’t afraid of offending another with my questions, but I was afraid of being offended by others if I asked a question.
That early childhood experience shaped me (like they all do) to create space in my life where questions would be welcome and where they could flourish. Once my questions started, you just couldn’t stop me and I searched and searched for answers. But at some point along the journey, I was confident that my all my questions were answered. And maybe that’s where part of this hang-up amongst some of us in the church starts with welcoming questions. We think our questions are answered so why should anyone else continue to have them?
It’s like there’s this standard set of questions, where do we come from, where do we go when we die, etc. and once those are answered then we’ve “arrived”. It’s a stage we all go through as I said earlier (Life is Messy) but why does it close us off to more questions? And why does it close us off from accepting other’s questions with open arms and open minds?
I had my questions answered but I kept meeting more people along life’s journey that had different questions. They either weren’t satisfied with the answers they were receiving or their questions just kept going a step deeper and a step deeper. I realized my space for questions just needed to get bigger for others. And then as life got messier and messier, my own answers weren’t enough anymore. As I offered more space for other’s questions, I had to allow more space in my own life again for questions. My preconceived notions from before told me at first my questions weren’t welcome and I had to come to a realization that I had become what I didn’t want.
I’m asking questions again, almost daily lately. This time around I’m not seeking answers though. The questions are enough to drive me deeper into trusting God more and believing that in the end he’s got the whole thing figured out. My questions bring hope, not my answers. I was reading the wisdom of Sally Llyod-Jones with my son and she reminded us all that hope is not something we wish will happen, Biblical wisdom is something we know will happen. May we all feel the safety to ask questions and to be a safe place to receive others questions, not to always provide them answers but to always remind us that we can stand on hope.