“How is Your Walk with God?” and Other Questions Jesus Never Asked

'How is your walk with God?' and Other Questions Jesus Never Asked

I had lunch the other day with a friend. Over soup and salad at Panera, she told me about the unexpected suicide of a family member on Christmas. Then, she told me about the subsequent conversation she had with her Christian college roommate after she returned to school for second semester.

“How’s your walk with God?” the roommate asked, and as my friend told me this, I found myself rolling my eyes so far back into my head that it gave me a sudden rush of headache.

It sucks,” she told her roommate that day – the most honest answer she knew how to give in the face of the tragedy that had split her life into two distinct parts: Before the suicide. After the suicide.

But the Christian college roommate leaned in, armed with a litany of suggestions masked as questions. Questions that she had heard, I’m sure, from years of churchgoing and youth group, years of Christian college classes and Bible studies and conversations. Are you spending enough time in the Word? Are you praying? Are you remembering that God IS Goodness?

She was, I suppose, trying to help in the way she knew how, but hours after I drove away from that lunch, that question kept niggling at the back of my mind, bothering me for reasons I couldn’t quite articulate.

How’s your walk with God? It’s a question that I’ve asked others hundreds of times in my life. A question that I’ve been asked more times than I can count.

It sounds like an open-ended question at first blush, but it feels to me heavy-laden with expectation. There is a right answer to this question. It seems almost clinical – something your physician might ask when charting your health. Something along the lines of How is your diet? Or Are you exercising?

It’s a question that wraps around you like a blood-pressure cuff, and the way you answer it tells you something about your failure or your success.

How is your walk with God? If the answer is “it sucks,” then it stands to reason that you must be doing something wrong.

Let’s figure out what that is. Let’s get this thing back on track.

*

Ask me about my walk with God these days, and I mostly hem and haw. I don’t know what to tell you about the state of my faith, which seems to ebb and flow with the seasons and the hours and the moments of my daily life.

While I recognize the importance of the spiritual disciplines of prayer and quiet and Scripture reading, I no longer believe that they correlate directly to that vibrant, heady spirituality that I used to frame as “success.”

I’m not even sure that “walk” is the truest metaphor for my particular spiritual journey. So many days it doesn’t feel like I’m moving anywhere – forward or backward. Rather I’m just here, still – waiting for something like faith to grow inside of me.

It seems truer to talk about my faith life as a tree – so dependent on the soil and the weather and the rain and the sun. Dormant during long stretches of the year, but reaching ever toward a hope I can’t fully understand. My faith is not a movement – a walking toward. The growth is so slow and quiet that you’d never even notice that it’s happening.

*

Out of curiosity this week, I Googled questions that Jesus asked. I wanted to know if this How’s your walk with God business had any biblical grounding, and so I read through several lists compiled by pastors and bloggers and theologians.

Reading through Jesus’ questions, so odd and beautiful, so simple and complex, I was arrested by him all over again. I found myself in quiet awe of Jesus who asks:

Who are you looking for? (John 20:15)

Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:13-15)

“Why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26)

This is the Jesus who doesn’t, in the end, ask How’s you’re walk with God. Nor does he ask How’s your prayer life? Are you doing your devotions? Are you in the Word? Are you plugged in to a church?

In fact, none of his questions seem posed to assess the spiritual performance of the people he’s talking to. Instead, they reach deeper, toward desire and identity.

His questions reach into the hidden places, the unwell places, the broken places – not to suggest that we get it together, but to show us that he is holding it together for us.

He is asking: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Matthew 20:32)

He is asking “Do you want to get well?” (John 5:6)

*

In one of her most famous columns, Cheryl Strayed (as the Rumpus’ “Sugar”) responds to an inquiry that says very simply:

Dear Sugar,

WTF, WTF, WTF?

I’m asking this question as it applies to everything every day.

Best,

WTF

“Sugar” (aka Strayed) responds to this seemingly throwaway question with a moving account of her own sexual abuse as a child and about the way we have to press into the terrible things in life in order to finally kill them.

She concludes the column by encouraging the writer to “Ask better questions, sweet pea,” and that line has stayed with me.

I hear it in my head sometimes, when I’m skimming the surface, when I’m careening into my own cynicism, when I’m slammed against the unfairness of life. Ask better questions, sweet pea. Because in the end, the answers we get depend on the questions we pose.

I think about Jesus’ questions – the best kind – that cut through the performance and the religion and the rightness and into the broken, beautiful heart. What do you want me to do for you?

I think of that earnest Christian college girl, of all of us, so eager to help each other in the walk. Ask better questions, sweet pea. We need it on a bumper sticker, on a whole fleet of bumper stickers.

We need it to remind us it’s not our job to fix anyone. Our work, despite the mixed messages from our DIY culture, is not to give one another spiritual health assessments and then offer 10 steps toward better faith.

Rather, our work has to do with making space for Christ, with making space for healing, with offering grace and mercy, kindness and love.

Ask better questions, sweet pea. Ask them to yourself. Ask them to one another. Ask that which you cannot answer and then be quiet.

Wait for the whispering of God’s love to fill in all the gaps.

80 thoughts on ““How is Your Walk with God?” and Other Questions Jesus Never Asked

  1. Beautiful. I can relate to this so much. Thank you for your words Addie, they have had such an impact on me over the last several years.

  2. I needed to read this today. I was feeling bad literally 15 minutes ago that the best I could say about my spiritual life that it was kinda a limp, certainly not a walk and definitely not the running some Christian songs talk about.

  3. Yes, yes, and YES. But just a warning – just wait until people begin asking you if your kids are walking with the Lord….it sucks.

      1. So our priest is great – he says “Just look at them and say ‘God is walking with them'” and walk away. 🙂

        1. That’s a good one. My kids are small now, so I have a while before that starts happening, but, oh man!!! I want to be prepared. The walk with the Lord question has been one of the most detrimental situations in my struggle in my faith. I want to be sure I put a stop to it now.

  4. Yes- I can definitely relate to this. I no longer have the sort of beliefs in which the concept of a “walk with God” would make any sense- but I really believe I experience God through a lot of things that happen in my life.

  5. I love that – ‘Ask better questions sweet pea’. Ok. I will. Of myself and of others. And as to the notion of a ‘walk’ with God, on its absolute best days, mine is very much a crawl, with a side of clinging on.

  6. “It seems truer to talk about my faith life as a tree – so dependent on the soil and the weather and the rain and the sun. Dormant during long stretches of the year, but reaching ever toward a hope I can’t fully understand. My faith is not a movement – a walking toward. The growth is so slow and quiet that you’d never even notice that it’s happening.”

    This is beautiful and exactly what I feel, what I want to celebrate in the face of years of cynicism and doubts that kept me totally stagnant. These small measures of growth that can only be seen when I look back on what I was a year ago, they matter. Thank you for this image. It has me thinking of my early zealous years of faith as a tree without any roots, shooting up and up and waving wildly in the breeze but with nothing to sustain me when the drought came. Perhaps in these slow years it’s our roots that are growing out and deeper, seeking what nourishment can be found. It’s the years of grafting in with others around us, marking seasons and life and death and life again. When I think of it that way it seems quite holy and appropriately small – the sort of life I might actually manage to live into. One with the time and space for lots of questions. Good questions.

    Thanks for this, Addie. So much to think on.

  7. Hi, Addie 🙂 I know I haven’t been around much, but “Hi.” 🙂 I still read a lot of your stuff. Seems like I read less, these days, I dunno.

    Anyway, love this post. Just wanted to tell you that. I hate this question, and I hate the spirit in which it is often asked (not always, but just about). It’s a very condescending way of saying “you’ve got spiritual problems that I don’t have because I’m walking with the Lord.”

    Basically, yeah, my spiritual life sucks by the standards of all the judges in the world.

    But, somehow? Yeah, JESUS. That’s all I’ve got, people. ALL.

  8. Your writing this means so much to me, Addie. The thoughtfulness and understanding you’ve shown here is flooring. The more I’ve been flung into this year, the more I find myself drawing closer to those questions Jesus asked. Thank you for reminding me of them. In the end, our faith is so much more complex and than a linear line, a steady pace. It is expantion and rest, stretching and decay. It is growth in the messiest way, and your writing and our conversations have played a part in that. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my story and respond to it. You’ve helped me make better sense of the season I’m in.

  9. I was just trying to have this conversation this weekend, and you’ve explained it so much better than I did. “How’s your walk with God?” and “Where are you going to church right now?” are like my most dreaded questions. No matter how much the person asking it cares about me, I always feel the inevitable sense of failure when I can’t answer it. I’ve been trying to share alternative, less “loaded” questions to ask. This post will help me so much with having something to share and a way to articulate why I can find something so well intentioned to be so painful.

    1. I dread those questions too. I’m so glad that this post helps to give you some additional language to be honest about what you need. So hard to do with those “well-intentioned” people!

  10. Yeah, I think “solar Christians,” as Barbara Brown Taylor calls them, can think really linear about faith. The older they grow, the stronger their faith. Hard things come, but Jesus’ presence is stronger through it all. They don’t really wander or stay still or feel lost. It’s just steady. But for me, a lunar Christian, faith is messy and tangled and more like the prayer labyrinths the UMC Women made for General Conference this past week. It’s forward and backward and no certain direction in sight. I’ve heard the “how is your walk with the Lord” people say “spiritual lives are like golf balls. You start off with one little thing, like not doing quiet time, and if you continue down that path, you end up really far from the goal.” They assume the path is linear, straight, narrow. In reality, for me, it is a maze, a twisting, winding thing. It took several years to break that way of thinking, having been both of these roommates at different times, but now I can see how much shame and anxiety and perfectionism that were fed by that “have you had your quiet time/do more for God” line of thinking.

      1. Yeah! Check out “Learning to Walk in the Dark.” It is such a good side-by-side read with Addie’s “Night Driving.”

  11. True story: my two daughters were being interviewed to work at a Christian summer camp for one week a couple of years ago. They were ages 12 and 15. The interviewer (a board member of the camp), asked the 12 year old, “How is your walk with the Lord?” I was with her in the room and of course, how would a 12 year old answer? She said nothing and flushed beet red. I kind of tried to ask her the question in another way, but I was miffed. After the interview, I said to my daughter: I wouldn’t have known how to answer that question. Now I know what I would say in a situation like that: Could you please ask a better question?! Thank you for this. You made my day!

    1. Such a difficult question for anyone — but particularly someone young, just getting their footing and figuring out how to talk about her faith. I remember answering this for a camp job interview too and being afraid that my “walk with God” wasn’t good enough, that it would keep me from getting the job. Yuck.

  12. This is one of those questions where I know what it means in the abstract, but can’t actually define it (didn’t grow up evangelical, but have been immersed in it for the last ten years or so). I used to say “Great! We’re on a first-name basis now,” which didn’t go over too well. Most of the time, the person asking is not someone I would trust enough to answer truthfully. The Christians in my life I do share my struggles with don’t need to ask that question.

    Once I applied for a childcare position in a church and one of the application questions was “Briefly describe your walk with the Lord.” “Briefly”?? There’s a reason I too wrote a book about it 😉 Also, however I answer that question has no impact on my ability to work with kids!!!

    1. I hate those application questions. I get why they’re asked, but I hate them all the same. To me, it’s on par emotionally with asking, “Hey, how’s your sex life?” “Um… it’s none of your business.” It’s a really personal thing to ask! Especially when it’s a tiny paragraph on a job application.

  13. But aren’t the marks of a truly humble person “precisely that they are more interested in you?” And what is more humble than asking “How’s your heart? How’s your walk? I’m praying for it.” That’s Mere Christianity 101. In this instance, telling Sweetpea to ask better questions is belittling their genuine concern and kinda questioning their status as a humble Christian while simultaneously easing oneself into dissension. This seems like a slippery slope. Too difficult.

    “How’s your walk with God?” -Nice Nancy
    “I’m trying to make more space for listening, healing, kindness, grace, and mercy.” – Just Janice
    “Great! What can I pray for?!” -Nice Nancy
    “Better questions, Sweetpea.” – Just Janice.

    Honestly, maybe we do need a self-help book on how to act during these spiritually confusing interactions. Like Dale Carnegie for Decent Christians. Like “how to talk TO evangelicals; without sounding like a pompous psuedo-contemplative pariah ”

    “How’s your walk with God, dude?” -Teen Leader Andy

    ” ‘I do not exist, but faithfully insist, sailing in our separate ships and from each tiny…’ ” -Skater Drew

    “Ugh what? Are you still taking medication?”- Teen Leader Andy

    “….’takes a steady hand to navigate adulterous waters.’ Yo, you like mewithoutyou?” -Skater Drew

    “That song by Toby Mac. LOVE IT! So, where are you in the ‘Steps to Freedom?’ ” -Teen Leader Andy

    “Hey have you read the Lamsa Bible? Holy shit, man?!” -Skater Drew

    “Lamsa? Bible? No? Sounds suspiciously like Nambla, I don’t trust it. Why would you bring up Nambla right now? And why is there a brown man on the cover of this strangle Bible?
    Anyways, are you sure you’re okay? Finish this sentence for me; Jesus is ______”
    -Teen Leader Andy

    “Not your marketing tool! Boom! Abwoon d’bashmaya! I gotta go smoke. Hey the church is paying for this meal right? – Skater Drew

    “Great idea for a bumper-sticker, we’ll really stick it to that Judah Smith! HA! Stick it! Hey, let me pray for you again right quick, we gotta get you off these cigarettes, and I’m not so sure about this Isis sounding Bible either.”

    Poor, poor Andy.

      1. lol oh yeah, like a bit of irony?

        hopefully, when done well, the intent and phrasing are meant to illustrate a point that is otherwise intangible because the targeted behavior is extremely difficult to pinpoint. behavior that is seemingly “beyond reproach” in its Christian concerned niceness.

        but perhaps this too is a slippery slope. who ever learned anything from irony?

        great post tho. my girl really wrestles with those cringing interactions that almost always come from old “friends” within her homeschool-connections upbringing. she loved it. definitely gave words of truth to many muddled thoughts. she’s a ceaseless No. 9 Peacemaker (blessing and curses) by default, and usually internalizes such moments till they become a wordless rage of mental constipation. so, big help.

  14. Yes yes yes. Ask better questions, and then be quiet. This is so hard, and also so necessary. Great post, Addie.

  15. Opening up new metaphors is so important – it can be so life-giving! Thank you for sharing what you have found works for you. Boy, those questions Jesus asked were powerful! Why haven’t we been using these?
    I’ve used the tree metaphor for my faith for years (hadn’t realised how poorly the ‘walk’ one fit with me until now!), but lately I’ve been focusing on the seasonal effects of autumn – losing my coverings of leaves and rediscovering and learning to celebrate my true form.

  16. I love so much about this post, Addie – from the discomfort with the question, to the metaphor of the tree, to the musings about the questions Jesus asked, to the charge to ask better questions. So, so good. All of it.

    I’ve always struggled to answer the question of how my walk with God is – and I’ve always thought it was something broken or lacking in me, some spiritual fault of mine that I didn’t have a good, ready answer. I needed to read this – to know I’m not alone, to think about it in different terms. Thank you.

  17. Fortunately the Bible doesn’t end at the gospels and we have the letters of Paul and other apostles.

    “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed–not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence–continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,”

    “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.”

    Then there’s Jesus himself.
    “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    “In this manner, therefore, pray: [Lord’s prayer]”

    “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
    “This kind cannot come out, except by prayer.”

  18. I truly don’t think any writer has ever cracked me open the way you do. I don’t know how to say it better than that. This is lovely, and precisely what I needed to read.

  19. Thank you so much, Addie. As always, your words and perspective are a balm, a light in the darkness. And I’m reminded again that I need to read that book by Cheryl Strayed.

  20. I have never read your blog before, and I really liked what you had to say. It was provocative and got me thinking about a few questions of my own. Since I am a Pastor, spiritual conversations are part of what I do on a regular basis. I literally loved what you said about asking good questions! It’s amazing what happens when good questions are asked. What I have found is that most people have never really sought to understand or empathize with someone they are talking to because the questioner really didn’t want to know the truth about what was happening deep inside. That takes work and sometimes more than what people really want (they want to feel like they talked to you and were nice). Thus, when I ask people what’s happening inside, it’s amazing how thankful people can be. But I’m not interested in whether you say you and Jesus are fine (I usually call BS on the answer anyway), I want to know what’s really going on in your heart because that’s the only way I will be able to help. In true christian community, honesty about your relationship with Jesus should not be met with shame or hiding. If you and Jesus are having a rough time, say it! Isn’t that the way half the Psalms are written? It is to our detriment that we have not learned to be honest about our feelings and thoughts towards God – how much more are we dishonest with ourselves and others?

    Sorry if I have been confusing, but I have written all this to say, it is often not the question itself that is bad ,but rather the questioner’s motives that determine whether a question is good or bad. Jesus never asked a bad question because his motives were always good (it also helped that he knew their thoughts…).. I can have 2 people ask me the same question and I can walk away from one upset and the other full of hope. Why? The intent of the questioner is everything. A trusted friend asking the question, “how are you and Jesus doing?” produces thankfulness and evokes an honest response from me because they cared enough about me to ask, while someone I do not trust produces suspicion in me and consequently, evasiveness (perhaps dishonesty as well).

    2 More Comments regarding your post, then I’ll shut up. lol… 1 – I think it would be odd for Jesus to ask how you and him were doing because he already knows, so I don’t agree with your argument there and 2nd, I expect people who love me to ask questions to help me be accountable because I want to grow in my faith. For example, I want the couple of men I meet with to ask me how my wife and I are doing. I also want them to ask me about how Jesus and I are doing, because, you see, I am in relationship with both my wife and Jesus and I need to answer those questions. Are they hard to answer? Yes! Why? Because we often don’t like to be honest with ourselves about what is truly going on in our hearts. Our hearts are often very dark and I need to be able to talk about what is really there with other believers I trust.

    So… the moral of the story is that not all questions that appear to be bad are actually bad (some are just plain bad, though haha). Questions that make people uncomfortable are not necessarily bad unless the intent of the questioner is dubious or untrustworthy. Jesus was a master of the uncomfortable question as his questions exposed what was actually in people’s hearts (usually religious people were the only ones offended by the questions). if you are put off by someone’s question, perhaps you should ask yourself whether it was the question, the questioner or your unwillingness to answer honestly that made the question a bad one.

    1. Thank you for providing some important clarity. I appreciate what appears to be the intent of this but it speaks to what I find to be a growing problem I see in Canadian Christianity where we just want the “Jesus is love” message without the ‘negative’ junk that comes with accountability, being in community together and the whole doctrine around sanctification, never mind being able to talk about sin in order to share the message that Jesus isn’t just love, but that he saves us from our sins.

  21. “How is your walk with God” sounds like the law that kills, instead of the spirit that makes alive.

  22. This is a great reflection, and very well put. My mom tells stories of her time in college, always feeling alienated from the Christian club on campus because they would just drop a “so how’s your walk with God” style question into casual conversation.

    I have something I’d like to share, which partially agrees and partially challenges your post. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    My church recently started small groups based on the Class Meeting model, something John Wesley originated in the early Methodist church. The intent is for members to reflect on their own spirituality, and the fundamental question in Wesley’s day was “How is it with your soul?” — our church has adopted a similar question, “How is your life with God?” We also ask each other questions like “How have you seen God at work in your life this past week?” and “What’s something you’ve felt God is calling you to do?”, and so on. But every week, we always ask that root question, “How is your life with God?”

    I’ve come to love this question, but after reading your post I’m pretty sure part of why I love it is that we’re asking one another something very different than the people in your examples.

    Probably the most important difference is that everyone in each of these small group meetings arrives *expecting* to be asked that question, but we’re also *not* asking one another whether we won Spiritual Discipline Bingo this past week; it’s a very open-ended question, for people to share as much or as little as they feel comfortable about anything in their faith experience.

    We’ve had members share about spiritual disciplines, but also about job loss, career changes, vacations, illness, depression, relationships, whatever matters to them that week. We have a guy who has started his answer with “It is well with my soul” almost every week, and a guy who recently went through a major depression episode (that was me, so I’m willing to share that), and we’re always very open to sharing and hearing whatever is on our hearts.

    I share all this, not meaning to diminish any of what you’ve shared, but to highlight that it seems not to be so much about the words as the purpose, and the context. I’ve always loved the analogy of walking with God. A good walk is invigorating, takes you places you haven’t been before, and has lots of exciting detours along the way. I like the metaphor — but as a metaphor for something beautiful and compelling, not as a metaphor for legalism and repetition.

    Finally, I’ve learned that no one way of being Christian will fit everyone. The Church is *huge*, and that’s critical and excellent. It also means that there are more ways to connect with God than I’ll ever know or understand. I’m glad that there are people for whom a more structured set of practices draws them to God; I’m also comfortable with the fact that I’m not one of them.

  23. There is so much about this post that I love. I really reading your insights and advice, which I think so many could benefit from. This is definitely going to stick with me. Thanks Addie.

  24. I love the tree metaphor. Have you read The Tree That Survived the Winter by Mary Fahy? It’s a super short read, unrelated to the topic at hand, but you’d appreciate the tree illustration.

  25. How is my walk with God?

    I had a vision of sorts one morning in church. I was thinking about that “Footprints” poem, the one where two sets of footprints walked along the sand, and at some points there was only one set. Well, I saw my own version of that. There were still two sets of footprints. One walked a straight path to heaven, presumably Jesus, and the other sometimes walked with him, but at other times wandered off to explore something along the way. Usually the Jesus footprints stopped and waited for me to return, but sometimes they came to me and led me back to the path.

    That’s what I feel my faith is like. Sometimes I’m walking with Jesus, strong in my faith, and other times I’m straying or lost. Sometimes I feel like he waits for me to come back, and sometimes I feel like he comes and leads me back.

  26. I hate those questions too! I don’t have the ability to lie, so I am vague or honest, depending on who is asking. i guess i never answer those questions because the ones who ask these are the ones you can’t trust. it’s so in your face. and Jesus was never an in your face kind of guy. If we are asking what would Jesus do, the questions we do ask are the ones that He actually asked!

  27. Doesn’t the Bible tell us that we will know His people by their fruit? (Like the tree metaphor again. ) I mean, most people can recognize a spiritual life by its fruit. So asking the question “How’s your walk with God? ” seems such a big, brood idea.
    I like the questions you shared… the ones Jesus asked. I will say, tho, that the Bible does tell us to “pray without ceasing” and teaches us how to pray. It also tells us to be still, trust, listen, etc… And those are all pieces of our relationship with God. Which I don’t think we need to ignore.
    You would go on several dates with someone before marrying them… to get to know them. Well, we need to get to know Jesus more if we are supposed to emulate Him in this sinful world. So please don’t forget that reading the Bible and praying are so important. <3

  28. I had a high profile job as a m&a lawyer. I crashed into an initially undiagnosed and then very public depression. It was the lonelinest and most humiliating experience of my life. Worst, I felt I had made a mockery of my witness. This is the single best piece I have read on God and personal crisis. Thank you.

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