“You’re not asking the right questions.”
The private detective was standing opposite the police chief, firmly placing his hands on the worn wooden desk between them. “What about the…” and with that, the detective launched into the train of thought that had led to his recent epiphany.
What led to this moment?
The chief and his department had already issued their verdict on the case, but the detective sensed there was more to it than met the eye. He’d spent the past weeks pouring back over the evidence—each clue, each photograph, and each statement.
At first glance, it seemed that the initial verdict was right—everything seemed to point to the suspect that the police currently had in custody. But as the detective started to look at the evidence from other angles and piece together alternate scenarios, he realized there were crucial gaps that the first investigation failed to recognize. There were minutes that were not accounted for, and slight discrepancies that didn’t add up. He’d visited each of the eyewitnesses once more, this time with a new set of questions. These questions were met with a new set of answers—and now, he knew the real culprit.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“You’re not asking the right questions.”
This time, the statement came from my best friend on the other end of the line.
“If you keep asking the wrong questions, you’ll get the wrong answers,” she continued.
I was frustrated. I was asking the questions others seemed to have asked in my situation, or were asking of me now. I was asking the questions that seemed natural.
Natural. Funny, that’s not what they were at all.
We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded with messages. The average person receives over 5,000 advertising messages a day—and this doesn’t begin to include the messages we receive from media, church, colleagues, friends, and family.
Even social cues send us subliminal messages. If someone is standing with their arms crossed, they are closed off, protecting themselves, and not as receptive to what we’re saying. If they’re leaning in towards us—eyes big and smiling—we sense enthusiasm and excitement. We feel confident, and start to mirror their excitement and energy.
In short, the messages we receive are powerful—they’ve shaped and reinforced our identity since we were kids. Many of these messages are positive—ones of affirmation, inclusion, and optimism. But we also are confronted with messages that question who we’ve become and what we believe, and cause us to re-examine our identities in ways that may not be for the best.
Just like reciting the ABC’s, repeated “reception” (bombardment) of these messages causes us to learn and adopt different ways of thinking and acting. We learn certain ways to behave and act—and questions to ask—in different scenarios.
For example, we’ve learned through the right messages and experiences that God is good, and we can trust that goodness. So in trials, we naturally start to act out of a place of confidence and victory. We are not daunted. We don’t ask, “Will He be good again?” We state, “I can trust Him for goodness today—and always.”
But, sometimes these “learnings” aren’t as healthy. They might teach us that because something is going wrong, it must be our fault. It can teach us to ask questions like “What have I done?” or “What does he / she think of me?” that may lead us to the wrong conclusions.
“What does he / she think of me?”
Wow. That’s a good example.
When we’re interested in someone, we take his or her perception of us into much greater account. You start putting greater care into what you wear when you see them. You take an interest in their interests, and hope they return the interest. You start to pick up on cues when they’re with you—“He did this when I said this” or “She leaned in when I started talking about this.”
Now, this is all good and natural. Positive messages received on both sides are what start beautiful friendships and relationships. Our ability to perceive is a wonderful, Godly gift. These friendships and relationships are wonderful, Godly gifts.
And, clearly these perceptions may change the way we act. “He likes it when I wear blue.” and we may start to buy more in that color. Or, “she likes it when I hold her hand.” Perceptions and subsequently adjusted behaviors can make both people feel loved, heard, and valued.
However, through all of these things, we must be careful in how the questions we ask of the other person—and how we interpret our perceived “answers”—evolve.
Then, it’s easy to start taking our questions of, “Who am I?” and “Who should I be?” to this other person to answer, instead of to God.
This transfer of identity is the number one destroyer of relationship.
In complete honesty, I’ve learned that I’m not—and nobody is—qualified to answer these questions about themselves, let alone assume the responsibility of trying to answer them for another person.
Let’s zoom out now—we also may be taking these identity questions, “Who am I?” and “Who should I be?”, to our job, our society, or our hobbies.
Whoever we are currently asking to answer these questions, they are ultimately meant to be answered by our Creator—our Savior, the Lover of our Souls, the Author of our Faith.
Author. That mean’s He’s writing the story. He has crafted a purpose that is unique to us, and our place in His Kingdom. And only when we start asking the right questions, of the right Person, do we get the right answers and find ourselves in the right place.
Right questions. Right Answerer. Right answers. Right purpose.