Creating Space for Wonder

The other night, after putting the girls to bed, cleaning the kitchen, and shoving the stray toys into the playroom, I settled onto the couch to breathe and relax. Before I even finished my exhale, I heard a rustling upstairs.

IMG_3910Upon investigation, I found Bea peaking through the railings. I thought I heard a door open. I had been praying that God would tell daddy that his little girl misses him. I guess he can’t hear through the ceiling.

Bea, being Bea, seemed more disappointed in our ceiling than in God. She embodies that childlike faith that I have long forgotten – stopping to pray for anything or anyone without hesitation, believing fully that God is waiting to listen to her.

I’m on a planning team at church filled with people who have Advanced Degrees in Theology and Knowing God. We gather every couple months around a table, brainstorming, talking, and wondering about upcoming sermon topics. It’s an invigorating evening and I always leave learning something new. But I also leave wondering why I’m at that table. I’m definitely more on Bea’s end of the spectrum, as far as What I Know About God goes, and I often wonder how my own experience compares at all to those who actually know what the Bible means.

But that’s not why I’m on this team. I’m there because there is a place for me at the table. Because my experiences, though not as profound or as well-researched, still matter. And because our pastors place high value on the voices of our congregation, regardless of Biblical knowledge.

Bea asks a lot of questions about life, about God, about the way the world works. Even Elle’s favorite question right now is, Why??? It can be so tempting to try to find the answers. And there are some easy answers, but most are not.

Even if I do know the answer, I’m learning to respond to the questions with, I wonder.

I wonder if God can hear you through the ceiling?

I wonder why the moon is still visible during the day?

I wonder why that man is asking for money and food?

Sometimes we go home and look up the answer to our questions or after we wonder, I can help supply an answer. But I like starting out with I wonder. It keeps the discovery fresh and alive. It reminds us that our world is full of wonder.

I’m learning that I need to keep that as part of my own faith journey. If, instead of reading the Bible for answers or looking to figure out why God operates a certain way, I’m learning to wonder. Instead of wishing for (or demanding) answers, I’m learning to live in the space of wonder, of discovery, and of grappling with the unknown.

How do you balance answers with wonder? Even if you know the answer, how do you create space for discovery?

What did you say?

Let’s make a wise choice, Bea.
What did you say? Why?

Hey Bea, it’s time to head out.
What did you say? Why?

Studying for her next round of questions
Studying for her next round of questions

I could keep going, but that’s what our conversations are looking like these days. You would think after living together for three years plus nine months in-utero, Bea would trust me a bit more. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say things rarely happen the first time I ask, even when doing something quickly would benefit Bea. (Hey Bea, want a cookie? -What did you say? Why?)

I know that 99% of this is the age and phase. Part of it is Bea figuring out her own opinions and ideas. Part of it is busyness – I think she truly doesn’t hear me sometimes. And part of it is just the eternal why stage. It’s like her response is automated, without any thought behind it.

As frustrating as it can be to constantly (constantly!!) hear What did you say? Why? I wonder if that’s how my relationship with God can be. When an opportunity comes along or a gift is given, rather than being thankful and recognizing a blessing, I ask, What did you say? Why?

Maybe I need to remember to trust a little more, to live life a little more faithfully, and to assess my own questioning nature.

Do you respond to situations quickly or do you stop to ask questions?

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Listening to All the Questions

We were at the pool the other day and Bea started asking a random woman about a million questions – What are you wearing? Why? What are you doing? Why? Do you want to swim with me? Why? The woman, who was trying to relax, was incredibly patient and answered Bea’s questions with a laugh. Midway through, she asked me if Bea was about three years old.

Why yes – how did you know? The stream of questions fills our day and it can be both amazing to play a part in helping Bea discover her world and equally frustrating when I just want to pack up and get in the car.

Taking notes on her questions
Taking notes on her questions

Some questions I take the time to answer correctly and with reason, even if we’re in a rush. These are the bigger questions – the ones about how our world works, why we as a society do things a certain way, and why we as a family have chosen to do things. (Not that Bea asks in those terms, but I have learned to quickly categorize the nature of her questions.) Other questions, like why we have to wear shoes in the store, are quicker answers. I’ll admit, I’ve even resorted to the Because I said so answer – one I vowed I would never give to my children.

Being part of this process has been amazing. When we explained why a man was holding a sign on the side of the road, we were able to link it to the time we gave our leftover dinner to a hungry man and then link that to the reason daddy goes to work every day. And now, weeks later, Bea is still making those connections. It shows me how worth the time and effort it is to stop and really answer the big questions.

I realize that, even though I attribute constant questioning to preschoolers, I have never really stopped questioning. Perhaps I don’t do it aloud and I find most of my answers through books, articles, blogs, and trusted friends, but I still am always questioning my world.

I credit my parents with this trait. While I’m sure it was exhausting, they always made space for questions well beyond our preschool years. When I would come home from high school Bible study, filled with more questions than when I arrived, my parents would listen. Sometimes they’d offer an answer; sometimes they’d let me grapple with it myself; sometimes they’d process with me. When I would come home from the Sunday sermon, my prayer request form filled with questions and (what I felt to be) discrepancies in the sermon, my parents would listen. Every morning, I’d read the newspaper with my dad (the morning person of my parents) and we’d question the politics, letters to the editor, and local policies covered each day.

What I learned from my parents, now that I’m a parent myself, is the power of listening to questions. Most of my questions were not good questions. They were typical adolescent questions, helping me develop my own opinion apart from my family’s and my church’s. This process was awkward and filled with mediocre questions. But, by allowing me to ask all my questions, my parents helped me weed through the poor ones and hone in on the good ones.

I still ask too many questions. Most of them aren’t world-changing, big important questions. Most are just me processing through the most recent news story or book I’ve read. I’ve learned, though, that asking a lot of questions leads us to asking good questions. As I ask more and more, I pay attention to the good ones – the ones that have the possibility of changing the world, even if just a little bit.

And, as Bea questions more and more, I want to encourage her to keep asking. Many of her questions are unanswerable, but I will do my best to help her discover answers to the ones that can be found. I want her to begin learning to weed out the good questions – the ones that help her change her world.

Are you a questioner? If you’re around littles, how do you answer all the questions?

Linked with the High Calling’s community theme: The Power of Good Questions.

The Art of Inquiry

One of my favorite parts of teaching an inquiry-based program is the open-endedness of the questions we encourage kids to ask. Rather than explaining a piece of art, we ask things like, What do you see? and Great observation! Tell me more. Some things we have quick answers to: Clyfford Still died in 1980 but others we just don’t know, which is the point. It’s cool watching kids go from wanting to know the answers to embracing their own opinions of the art.

Teaching Bea the art of inquiry.
Teaching Bea the art of inquiry.

I’m almost finished reading The Lemon Tree and am feeling like none of my questions were answered. Even though the author made no promises to answer my questions, I wanted him to tie up the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a neat solution. He’d spent hours and hours of interviews and research and I want an answer! Really, Sandy Tolan’s book tells a story. He doesn’t take sides, but lets the storytellers tell their own versions of events. It creates a well-balaned work, but I still walk away with the now what? question hanging over me.

It seems like motherhood has been the ultimate inquiry-based experience for me. There are absolutely no answers! I only read one or two parenting books before realizing that it’s an in-the-moment, common-sense, questioning sort of game. No quick answers are available, and if they seem to be they don’t always work.

I’m learning to embrace the inquiry. Perhaps I’ll arrive at a definitive answer but in the meantime, the questions bring about more questions which, more often than not, bring me to a new understanding of a situation.

Linked with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing.

Faith Like a Child

Bea is in a phase of wanting large amounts of food on her plate. She is a very active eater, so this food doesn’t usually get eaten because she’s running around, distracted. However, she always asks for “a BIG one!” of whatever we’re having.

Lunchtime conversation often looks like this:
Me: Bea, do you want peanut butter and jelly or avocado and cheese?
Bea: I want a BIG one!
Me: Ok, but which sandwich?
Bea: A BIG one!

To her, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s a lot. I usually fill our smallest containers full of snacks or meals so that it looks like there’s a lot more than is actually there.

I was reflecting on this need for excess and her scarcity complex and was reminded of how I often view God. Instead of focusing on what God is offering, I just want more. And, often, what I want more of is completely off topic to what God is trying to give.

I wonder if God views our conversations like this:
God: I’m giving you the tools to listen and work towards reconciliation.
Me: I want a BIG (house, car, salary…)!
God: Ok, but how are you going to use the gifts I’ve given you to help build my Kingdom?
Me: I just want a BIG one!

I know we’re supposed to approach faith with childlike learning and wonder. And, when I look at how Bea learns I totally get it. Every day is an amazing new adventure. It’s so cool watching her discover her world and her untainted faith in how it works.

But, I’m looking forward to new phases, as well: To being able to go on outings without having to worry about nap time; To grapple through life and faith when she’s a teenager; To sit down over a beer and solve the world’s problems as an adult. I’m absolutely enjoying these years of small wonders, but I think the years when we’re able to connect on deeper, more meaningful levels will be amazing, too.

Again, I wonder if that’s how God views our relationship. While approaching God with childlike wonder is amazing, moving beyond the “I want” phase into more maturity is amazing, too. My guess is that God looks forward to the day when we can sit down over a drink and truly solve the world’s problems. Or, when we can actually get up and go do things that will bring about Kingdom reconciliation and peace right now.

As I’ve grown in my faith, my conversations with God have definitely shifted from a list of wants and thank-yous to sitting in the moment, grappling with world issues, and listening to that deep silence that often leads to new perspectives.

Biggest question here: Over what kind of drink would you and God solve the world’s problems?