The most helpful answers aren't always the ones that come from questions you ask. Instead, sometimes they result from the questions others ask you. This occurred to me after a recent chat with a mentor friend. I was feeling restless. I had stuff in my heart that I didn't really understand. I felt all knotted up and I wanted to talk with my mentor about what was troubling me, but I didn't even know how to put words to it. My ever-wise friend moved us in the right direction with three well-pointed questions.
She started off with a simple question: "How are you doing?" I answered quickly: "Fine."
She shot me a look and asked me again. The emphasis she put on the word doing and the look in her eyes was a warning to slow down and really consider the question, so I did. Was I really fine? What were the uneasy things going on in my head and heart and what was prompting them? In really slowing down, it became apparent this actually wasn't a simple question at all. Was I taking care of myself by allowing the amount of margin and breathing space I knew I needed? What was my body saying? What were my emotions telling me? And this question wasn't just about how I was doing physically. How was I doing as a mom and a wife and a friend? A recent conversation where leaky eyes had crept up on me and took me by surprise came to mind. My friend just listened.
Then she moved on to the next question: "How are you and your job doing?" Not wanting her to repeat the look, I took this one slow. Everything was going well, but that wasn't really what she was asking. She was digging into how the relationship was going—between this job and me. Was I managing my work or was it managing me? Was I walking the gentle line of balance or was I tipping over to the side of working too long and too hard, as I was so inclined to do? Was I deriving my satisfaction with myself based on what I was able to accomplish, focusing solely on results and not paying attention to what was embedded in the process? Was I lending my heart to the people and the pain and the passion that was before me every workday? Was I taking time to celebrate the work God was allowing me to be a part of or was I just showing up and grinding it out? The answers poured out, even without my friend having to prompt me with the secondary questions. I felt my friend's kind eyes on me as if to say, are you listening to this?
Then the third question came: "How are you and God doing?" I gave this one the pause it deserved. I had recently fallen into the trap of being a drive-by prayer girl. Praying on the go, in between the stuff I had to get done, when I had time in the car. My prayers went out like a shotgun, unfocused bullets flung with the hope that they would hit something. Hurry up and hear me God, I have places to go. Sometimes my moments with God are fierce and rich as my heart cries out and I feel God's fingers entwined with mine. But lately I had entered a season that felt rote and perfunctory—just something to check off my list.
I heard my voice talking but I didn't like what I was hearing. My tone was tired, weary, worn out. I tried to excuse myself with the story of how horribly busy things had been recently, but I shut it down before it went too far. I knew it wasn't true. Life is always busy and I find a sense of safety in that. But here is what I knew: I had not been noticing my life. I had let my work priorities get off balance and become the driver of my thoughts and emotions. They'd taken me to a place I didn't want to be. I had been talking to God, but I hadn't been listening to the big things he wanted to say to my heart. I hadn't been running to my loving heavenly Father with my frazzled heart. Oh God, I need you.
I have had many mentors in my life for different purposes. Sometimes they are professional friends who help me get better in my job. They give great advice and talk me down off the crazy ledge. Sometimes they are just older, wiser moms who are a friendly listening ear and someone to commiserate with. But with these three questions, this mentor relationship became different in a very helpful way—by prompting me to listen to me.
I've asked my mentor friend to make these same questions an ongoing part of our conversations. She has committed to ask them simply, directly and not let me off the hook when I try to skim on my answers. I've committed to give them the pause they deserve and then to listen to my own voice and take action. These questions had stirred honest thinking and resulted in much needed listening to my own voice. They had required me to notice. They were the best three questions my mentor could have asked me.