When Questions are Threatening
When I was 8-years-old I learned questions could get me in trouble, yet I had to ask questions. Questions were the means to calming fears, exploring my world, and learning about everything the peeked my curiosity. I didn't have the capacity to stop asking questions, so instead, I became a very savvy questioner. I asked specific questions of specific people and even in specific contexts or moments. It was one of the first skills I developed to survive my environment and still maintain some authenticity in who I was.
To this day that life-altering moment haunts me every time I desire to ask a difficult question. The life-altering moment happened during my first experience with deep grief in my life. My grandpa died. Yes, grandparents die, but my grandpa was only 61-years-old and he adored me and I him. I was his first grandchild and I was a girl, which was a big deal after he and my grandma had raised five sons and no daughters. I was spoiled in a good way by our mutual devotion to one another. When he died suddenly due to complications from open-heart surgery, my 8-year-old world felt like it had been destroyed. I missed him desperately and I had a difficult time understanding all the emotions stirring inside of me.
One day, I brought my confusion and grief to my dad in the form of a question. I asked him, "If God is good, why did He take Grandpa?" My dad roared at me, "We do NOT question God!" and he stormed away leaving me devastated. I had angered my dad and apparently God too. What now?
I was too young to realize that day that my dad was grieving too, however, his reaction has profoundly shaped both my view of God and how and when and to whom I ask questions.
That experience as well as many other experiences with my dad taught me some people can't handle having their foundational beliefs questioned because it might put their life in jeopardy, literally. It is almost like the difficult questions might introduce negative consequences. It is superstitious for sure, but when your foundational belief about God is that He alone is in charge of all things, both good and evil, well, eventually you become the obedient, fearful puppet in the game of life.
Questions that challenge foundational beliefs cause fear and insecurities to rise because deep inside, a still small voice wonders if the belief might be wrong and if it is wrong, then what?
Yes, so much uncertainty can rise from asking a difficult question. Yet, I have found that uncertainty can also lead to greater confidence, a broader world-view, and opportunities to learn from exploring concepts through good questions.
I have pretty much gotten over my fear of asking the difficult questions, but I haven’t changed my savvy approach in whom and where I ask questions. When someone is deeply dug into their belief system and needs that belief system to remain unshaken in order to feel secure in life, it doesn’t benefit my relationship with that person to shake their foundation with scary questions. At age eight, I simply didn’t ask my dad questions about God anymore, and at age 43, I still don’t ask my dad difficult questions about God. I don’t ask him questions about God because I know it sends him into a terrifying space and that isn’t something I want to do for someone I love and respect. When God does come up, I listen to what my dad wants to say and that’s it. I don’t agree or disagree. I don’t ask questions. I simply honor his belief system by providing my full attention without commentary.
If I were to begin asking my questions and challenging his beliefs, I would create tension and divisiveness between us, even more than is already there. Because I believe love and relationship have greater importance than someone agreeing with my beliefs, I am okay not arguing and questioning. It isn’t up to me to change my dad’s beliefs and heart. Only he can choose to change. My only responsibility is to love him right where he is at and save my difficult questions about God and other such topics for the conversations with people who have learned there is so much freedom in holding our beliefs loosely with a willingness to learn from the process of asking great questions and together, wrestling with possible answers.