First, someone of influence, a parent or teacher perhaps, said something along the lines of, "You ask too many questions." We became self-conscious, embarrassed, or ashamed of our curiosity. We began to stifle our questions, afraid to be singled out as one who wanted to know.
Or even worse, we reached a point where we came to believe we already had all the knowledge we really needed. Sometimes we get a warped view that says education is something to be completed so that life can then be lived.
When either of these tragedies hits us, our curiosity becomes dormant. We begin to accept the way things were without questioning. We no longer marvel at the mysteries of nature. We stop wondering about the whats and the whys and the hows around us.
Do you doubt what I'm saying? When was the last time you did some research, not for a project at work but simply because something intrigued you? When was the last time you looked at the stars and asked God about their mysteries? How long has it been since you looked at a child and laughed at her wide-eyed wonder?
If a person has not retained his natural inquisitive spirit, is there anything that can be done to regain it? Happily, yes. Curiosity is another habitual attitude that can be cultivated. Here are some suggestions:
Spend time with curious people, especially children. Formal education taught us that answers are more important than questions. We frequently heard a professor ask us to hold our questions until later, so she could "get through the syllabus." An approach to education that places information above discovery inevitably leads to knowledge without context. Yet when we are in the company of people who question everything, we discover areas of our own lives that we have walled off.
When the principal of a school our children once attended died of cancer, my younger daughter asked, "Why didn't God answer our prayers and heal her?"
My first impulse was to hush her by saying, "We don't question God." Instead, we talked about how God had indeed answered our prayers by relieving her suffering and taking her home to heaven.
That triggered the next question, "What is heaven like?" Describing heaven led to a theological discussion, "Why do only those who love Jesus go to heaven?" In about five minutes, a six-year-old had managed to ask three of the most difficult questions about the Christian faith. On the inside I was thinking, Why must you ask so many questions? Thankfully, I didn't say that and attempted to articulate my own thoughts about these deep subjects in terms I thought she could understand.
That encounter caused me to reexamine other hard subjects I had been afraid to examine. Later that year, my senior pastor, Rick White, and I preached an eight-week sermon series entitled, "If I Could Ask God One Question." My bedtime conversation with Meagan was one of the incidents that gave rise to that series.
Keep a journal to record questions and insights. In How to Think like Leonardo DaVinci, Michael Gelb suggests making a list of one hundred questions. "Your list can include any kind of question as long as it's something you deem significant: anything from "How can I save more money?" or "How can I have more fun?" to "What is the meaning and purpose of my existence?" and "How can I best serve my Creator?"
Gelb recommends a hundred questions because the first twenty or so will be off the top of our heads, and it is in the next thirty or forty that themes begin to emerge. "When you have finished, read through your list and highlight the themes that emerge. Are these themes about relationships? Business? Fun? Money? The meaning of life?"
These dominant themes are more important than the actual questions, because they illuminate areas of our life where we are most open to growth and change.
Look up unfamiliar words you find while reading. Some might argue that a love for words is a symptom of a curious mind, but I believe strongly that expanding my vocabulary expands my understanding of life.
Ecclesiastes 12:9-10 says, "Not only was the Teacher wise, but also he imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true." ...
Learn a new language. Researchers tell us that Spanish is quickly catching up with English as the most common language in the United States. Since I have a passion to reach the thousands of Spanish-speaking new residents in my county for Christ, learning their language is going to be an essential skill. ...
Cultivate the art of asking for feedback. I'm curious to know what other people think, especially about the things I do that are part of my life's focus. When I teach, are people learning? When I write, do readers follow eagerly? If not, I wonder, What can I do to improve? I need to know, and the only way to really find out is to ask. Asking for feedback is an art, and not every person is capable of giving the kind of intentional feedback I want. So if someone comments on a study I've taught, I might ask something like, "What part made the biggest impression on you?" If they can't answer, I figure they were just being polite. If they respond, then I can probe a little, trying to discern if what they heard is remotely connected to what I intended to say.
Become a student of human nature. Why do people behave in fairly predictable ways in given circumstances? How can I learn to present new and potentially disturbing information to people without triggering their natural defense mechanisms? ...
Pursue eclectic interests. Curiosity allows us to make a difference even beyond our field of expertise. How else do you explain that some famous inventions came about when people pursued an interest outside their area of training and education? John Dunlop invented the pneumatic tire, but he was a veterinarian. A cork salesman named King Gillette invented the safety razor. The founder of Kodak, George Eastman, was a bookkeeper. In 1 Corinthians 12 (NRSV), Paul uses the word variety three times in his discussion of spiritual gifts. We would do well to experiment more with this variety. God might use us to bring about something new in a way that surprises all of us.
Take time to contemplate. Traveling at the speed of life down the twenty-first century highway, we tend to ignore most of the rest stops along the way. Our pace leaves little room for contemplating, pondering, or meditation.
We often feel guilty if we are not busy every waking hour. Because work for most of us involves our minds rather than our muscles, we "relax" by engaging in some type of mind-numbing behavior like watching television. I try so hard to maximize my time that I can unfairly categorize time set aside for thinking as "wasted time." ...
Luke 2:19 records the response of Mary to the dramatic events surrounding the birth of Jesus: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." While God never promises to reveal the answers to all our questions, there is much to discover when we pause long enough to reflect on his magnificent ways.
Excerpted by permission from Go the Distance: 21 Habits and Attitudes for Winning at Life, copyright 2002 by Ed Rowell. All rights reserved. Published by Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tenn., www. www.lifewaystores.com, 1-800-448-8032.
Ed Rowell is owner of an editorial consulting firm and is the Teaching Pastor at The People's Church in Franklin, Tenn.
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