I’ll never get over how important asking the right question can be. When I began learning about ministering to others or “doing life” with other people (as the church sometimes calls it), I didn’t realize that you could so easily signal the wrong priorities with the wrong question. For instance, if someone you are supposed to volunteer with doesn’t show up for their shift, the intuitive question to ask that person might be : “Where are you?”
However, I was taught to ask: “How are you?” instead. Just noodle for a second on how powerful a simple change like that could be?
Recently, I re-started my small group, that is a group of people who meets in someone’s home or restaurant or some other location for the purpose of talking about life, biblical messages and/or growing closer than they can sitting in church or a classroom. Regular church goers, and folks who have been in small groups, know that the summer is a time when these groups get a bit more sporadic or go on a hiatus, only to come back together in the fall in a more predictable way. When we re-started in September, one of the couples, who enthusiastically started the group with me, stopped coming after the first meeting. I checked on them of course, asking “how are you” instead of “where were you?” They said they were fine and they were coming back soon, citing that there was “lot’s of family stuff going on.”
One day, I was on my commute home and I got an incredible urge to check on these folks again, something just didn’t feel right. So I said a quick prayer and then I told my Apple Car Play (automated hands free messaging system) to send a text message to (names and details changed to protect anonymity) “Louise.” The Apple Car Play said : what do you want to say to “Julie”. I quickly replied: “Cancel.” I know what your thinking; Julie doesn’t sound anything like Louise? However, Julie was Louise’s daughter. So I tried again. Same result. Weird! I tried a third time really over enunciating – “L O U I S E.” This time it worked. I left a message for Louise letting her know that I was praying for her and thinking about her and her family (I knew one of her relatives was ill.) This is the message the Apple Car Play robotically read back to me on my commute:
“John you certainly know how to reach out when I am very overwhelmed. Julie was involved in a truck accident this morning. My brother (a different relative than the one I was thinking of!) suffered a stroke and is having a hard time. Please keep me in your prayers.” This was followed by a picture of Julie’s truck and a subsequent note that she was not hurt.
Apple Car Play helped me say and send another prayer before I even got home and Louise and her husband said “thanks.” Obviously, the ideal situation would be to go see the folks in person, but they were at the hospital with the cousin. Failings of the text medium aside for a moment, the question I implied with my text was: “How are you, I am thinking of you,” and not “where were you, were the heck have you been? “
Believe the Best is one of our Ashley Ridge Church cultural values and it is at the heart of this scenario. We strive to assume the best of the people we interact with, both those who are new to us and those we “do life with.” We try to assume, even in contradictory circumstances, the very best motivations and intent on everyone’s behalf. In that scenario, Louise wanted desperately to be part of our circle and attend our small group meetings, so something else must be preventing her from coming? I’d better check on her and see how she is doing.
The alternative is what we instinctively think: “that person doesn’t want to be our friend anymore, they must have found a new group to hang out with.” The wrong way to think, and I have to be reminded of this plenty of times per day, is : “that person is rejecting me/us.”
Next time someone misses a meeting or a deadline or drops the ball in some way, try thinking this way: “Me and this person, we are really better together, I wonder what’s keeping us from getting in synch and how can I help remedy that? I wonder how that person is doing?” “How are they feeling?”
You won’t regret shifting your approach, I guarantee it.