We tend to think insightful people have all the answers. They have the “tweet-able” quotes, the sticky one-liners, and penetrating analysis. But the more conversations I have, the more people I talk to, there is one interesting attribute characteristic of the most insightful people I’ve known: they ask questions.
The best thinkers among us like to walk around a topic and look at it from all angles. They ask questions no one else is asking. They ask new questions and old questions in new ways. They avoid the pitfall of making uncorroborated assumptions. They don’t make the mistake of believing they know everything there is to know about a topic or circumstance.
As a brief aside, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that an inability to ask questions or enough questions is a character flaw. When someone is prone to making exponentially more statements than they ask questions, the engine of hubris is likely driving that. For what it’s worth, Jesus asked 307 questions in the gospels. He was asked just 183. He asked more questions than were asked of him. And he was the most insightful human being ever to live. Interesting.
You don’t have to make statements in order to give understanding to dull minds. You can encourage a listless soul or soften a hardened heart through questions. Questions build a platform for the work of God in someone’s life. So don’t stress about making the right statement. Work to ask more questions.
These days I’m itching quite a bit. I’ve battled eczema for 30+ years and winter is particularly troublesome. Even though scratching ceaselessly is terrible for my skin, scratching the itch is satisfying. It feels good. C.S. Lewis uses this imagery to describe pride. He writes:
“The pleasure of pride is like the pleasure of scratching. If there is an itch one does want to scratch; but it is much nicer to have neither the itch nor the scratch. As long as we have the itch of self-regard, we shall want the pleasure of self-approval; but the happiest moments are those when we forget our precious selves and have neither but have everything else (God, our fellow humans, animals, the garden and the sky).”
The itch of self-regard craves the scratch of self-approval.
Self-regard, or the “look at me” mentality, is something we probably associate with boasting. We’ve all encountered it and we’ve all done it: “I deserve applause because I’ve accomplished so much.” The itch of pride needs the scratch of admiration.
But self-regard isn’t just on display through boasting; it’s on display through self-pity. Self-pity says, “I deserve applause because I’ve suffered so much.” The itch of pride needs the scratch of admiration.
Boasting is easier to label as “sin.” Self-pity…not so much. Why? Self-pity sounds like self-sacrificing. And self-sacrificing is pious, right? Not so fast.
The need self-pity feels doesn’t come from a sense of unworthiness, but from a sense of unrecognized worthiness. In essence self-pity says, “Look at all I’ve endured; consider how much I’ve suffered; listen to my list of grievances experienced; and give me my due. I deserve better.” Self-pity is boasting’s sibling. They both originate from the same source: pride.
Jesus shows us how to suffer unjustly. Throughout the torment of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, Jesus never once uttered words that smacked of self-pity. His demonstration of humility was astounding. He was holy throughout the totality of the injustice. Let’s look to him and learn from him.
Did you know magazine ads and press releases once celebrated the health and lifestyle benefits of building with asbestos and smoking? Decades later we look back on that and think, “How silly!” But at the time, people who smoked or handled asbestos had no idea what they were dealing with. This was a significant cultural blind spot. Blinds spots cause us to believe things that aren’t true and do things that are foolish. What about today’s blind spots? What are those?
A five-year-old hits a home run in T-ball. Dad and mom think, “He has a future in the Big Leagues!” So they enroll him in a program that provides the best coaching and greatest opportunity for advancement. While they hate to have to miss church so frequently because of his baseball schedule, they don’t see any other way to unleash his full potential.
One of the blind spots operating in this story is the infinitesimal chance this 5-year-old ever makes it to the Major League. It’s just statistics - do the math! The other blind spot is the life lesson this kid is learning: church is important… unless there is something more important.
Parents who routinely skip church to maximize their children’s athletic prowess shouldn’t be surprised when they go away to college and routinely skip church to sleep in, do homework or anything else they deem to be more important. It was modeled for them: church is important… unless there is something more important.
This blind spot of maximizing potential, athletic or otherwise, at the cost of church attendance is an asbestos of our day. Rather than waking up decades from now and saying, “How silly,” let’s wake-up now so we don’t have to.