10 Questions to Ask Instead of “How’s Your Walk with God?”

10 Questions to Ask Instead of 'How's Your Walk with God'

“Intense listening is indistinguishable from love, and love heals.”

~ Kenneth Blue

Several months ago, I started meeting with a spiritual director.

The first week of every month, I go to her office, and she lights a candle to recognize that God is here with us. And then we begin.

Sometimes we talk a lot. Sometimes there is a lot of quiet. Most of the time, I cry, and it’s not because I’m having some profound emotional experience or because I feel God in that way I used to think I had to.

It’s because I feel safe. It’s because I don’t have to pretend.

I come to these sessions all twisted up and preoccupied, mostly not sure what I need to talk about. And my spiritual direction’s gentle, purposeful questions are like soft, solar lights on a pathway, inviting me into the presence of God.

I leave those sessions not with a sense of my inadequacy or an armful of suggestions…but rather a sense of my belovedness.

*

This past month, I’ve been reading a book about spiritual direction by Alice Fryling called Seeking God Together: An Introduction to Group Spiritual Direction.

I’m not sure yet, if I am ready to start my own spiritual direction group…but I picked up the book because the process has been so life giving to me, and I wanted to find ways to integrate that kind of attentiveness into my existing groups and conversations and church experiences.

In the book, Fryling writes this:

“In spiritual direction, we look at the truth of our present situation and experience.
The question asked is not ‘What should be happening in my life?’
but ‘What is happening in my life?’ We look for God here, now, because the place
we are in in our lives is the place where we find God.”

~ Alice Fryling, Seeking God Together

It’s a subtle shift in language, but an important one. After all, there are a million miles between what should be and what is, and so many of the Christian Living books and blogs and music and “devotions” out there focus on the former.

Believe me, I’m acutely aware of all of the ways I’m not measuring up. I don’t need seven simple steps toward a vibrant spiritual life – seven more ways to fail. I don’t even really need an “accountability partner,” that churchy staple – to ask prod me toward more intentional time in the Word and in prayer.

I do need people to ask me questions and to move alongside of me in my spiritual journey. But I need those questions to be asked with exceptional gentleness and care, without agenda, making room for me to recognize that God is already here. God is already at work.

I think this is something that each of us needs, but it’s particularly important for those like me, who are coming blinking into adulthood from blinding-bright, “on fire for God” spiritual adolescence, where performance and spirituality were so tied together. We are hyperaware of the inherent expectations in loaded questions like, Are you reading your Bible? and How’s your walk with God?

We need to be asked better questions if we are going to re-engage with our faith in any meaningful way. Questions that focus not on what we are doing or not doing…but what God is doing.

After all, the healthy, whole spiritual life is not about hustling to read the Bible more, pray more, be more, try harder. It’s not even about feeling God – a lesson that I have to continue learning and relearning.

It’s about attentiveness. It’s about recognizing God, as Alice Fryling says, here, now – in what is actually happening in my life.

*

So what does that look like?

If we’re not going to ask “How’s your walk with God?” in that off-handed, expectant way that we’re used to, what should we ask? If we’re going to be mindful of not offering suggestions and tips, what should we offer instead?

One of the great gifts of both my own spiritual direction experience and of this book I’m reading has been finding a different language for interacting with others in their spiritual journeys – and for interacting with my own.

Most of the time, it’s a simple tilt of language – away from performance, toward the heart.

For example, instead of asking “How’s your prayer life?” – which requires your friend to make a judgment on whether he is succeeding or failing, praying enough or too little, connecting with God or not – try asking this:

“What is prayer like for you? What kind of prayer is most appealing to you?”

Instead of asking “Are you doing your devotions?” which invites shame and discouragement if the answer is no, try asking your friend:

“How is it for you when you read the Scriptures?”

With this simple language shift, we move from judgment to curiosity. We invite our friend deeper into her own heart; we give grace for where she is rather than suggesting that she do more, be more, try harder.

Alice Fryling’s book is filled with dozens of life-giving questions, along with so much wisdom about seeking God with others in a gentle and purposeful way. I’d encourage you to pick it up and read it.

When it comes to asking better questions though, these ten, found in her book, are a great place to start:

What is something you desire in your life these days?

Who in your life (past or present) has given you a taste of God’s love?

When or where are you most likely to be aware of God’s presence? When or where are you least aware of God’s presence?

What do you think God feels [or thinks or is doing] in you as you experience this situation or relationship?

How is your view of God changing because of this experience?

How would you like God to help you in this?

How do you think God is inviting you to respond to this?

How would you like to experience God in the next few weeks?

What would be helpful to you right now?

I think about the friend I wrote about in my last post, the friend whose Christian college roommate asked “How’s your walk with God?” right after a close cousin had committed suicide. It sucks! My friend said — and then received a boatload of suggestions to improve it. I know she left feeling defeated; I imagine that her well-meaning friend might have left feeling that way too.

How might have that conversation been different if the roommate had asked, How would you like God to help you in this? Or What do you need Jesus to do for you?

And when I say, Ask better questions, sweet pea, this is what I mean: ask with grace, ask and then listen.

Ask knowing that it’s not up to us to direct one another’s lives…but rather to help make space for them to meet God.

Ask with grace and with care. Ask with loving, transformative listening.

18 thoughts on “10 Questions to Ask Instead of “How’s Your Walk with God?”

  1. Addie, right on, again. I read your post yesterday and couldn’t stop thinking about it. And then right on my Facebook feed came the same type of “Christian” response you are debunking: A friend admitted his depression, and a commenter said, “You can’t live life based on the past. The past is in the past” Basically, she told him to get over it; his depression wasn’t valid. Ugh! I gave her a long response sharing my experiences with depression, and will be writing my next blog post about “Why It’s Not Actually Helpful (or Biblical) to Say ‘The Past Is in the Past.’ ” Thanks for deepening this discussion. We certainly need to ask better questions…and instead of giving advice, more often we need to just listen.

    1. It’s so easy to try to put a bandaid answer on each other’s pain, isn’t it? Listening and staying — even though there’s nothing you can do — that’s the hard thing. But that’s what love looks like. Thanks Lindsey.

  2. Addie, “I do need people to ask me questions and come alongside me. . .” I believe this is what every person needs-whether or not they are aware of it. I wonder how many people would admit that they don’t feel safe in their churches. Four years ago, my husband was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder & our relationships with those we assumed we could trust in the church became the most stressful and the “un-safest”. As of yet, no one has asked me “what is it like for you living with someone with PTSD?” “What do you need from me?” or better yet, “Do you want me to pray for you or can I just sit with you?” Basic caring questions. My experiences over the last years have made me rethink my approach to others. Less talking, more listening. Less praying, more being. I think it would be interesting to offer a class to new church people on how to avoid the pitfalls of Christianese-before it’s too late!! You last two posts were so refreshing for me! Thank you. Also, I bought and read (in 2 days) Matt Bays’ book God in the Ruins his guest post. An amazing authentic read. By the way, I live in Winnipeg so hello from not too far!

  3. Addie – this is good and helpful. It allows for the depth of self-awareness necessary to facilitate spiritual self-expansion through the guidance of the Spirit. It is devoid of judgment, expectations, guilt, and shame. When others feels more comfortable allowing us to journey with them, I think it makes Jesus’ face and heart smile. It also keeps the focus on “being” rather than “doing” – an essential! Thanks for sharing your heart!

    1. “When others feels more comfortable allowing us to journey with them, I think it makes Jesus’ face and heart smile.” — I love this. Thanks so much for the kind words.

  4. This is so helpful. I need that undoing of the ‘should’. I need to focus on the ‘is’. It’s hard when you’ve grown up with so many shoulds, isn’t it? They’re prisons walls, but walls can also feel safe. It’s hard to adjust

  5. Who is to say that the faceless friend catching up at the local Panera Bread didn’t read this post and then continue with their line of questioning on their despondent Christian brother/sister?

    “We need to be asked better questions if we are going to re-engage with our faith in any meaningful way. Questions that focus not on what we are doing or not doing…but what God is doing.”

    Absolutely. But those are questions we are asking OURSELVES. And that is an utterly refreshing shift in dialogue to carry with US when we are ALONE and asking questions about OUR walk. Or to quote Paul; “examining our faith.” The subtle change from SHOULD to IS taps into the fount of every blessing. Mainly blessing of the NOW. I’m thankful for that bit, I will take it with me from here out. Bless the blogs.

    But the quick shift to “what does that look like?” when asking OTHERS, is dangerously close to flying under the “Christian Living” banner. Like if Joel Olsteen found the time to pen “How to Ask Better Questions.” Which would undeniably sell hundreds of thousands…The college friend asking the “BETTER” questions is still operating out of a place of blissful ignorance, a place of self-satisfying feigned humility, checking off the “How to Ask Better Questions” on their list of newfound Christian depth. From this vantage point, I could almost see “ASK BETTER QUESTIONS, SWEETPEA” on a Lulu Lemon hypermesh “No Sweat, Holmes” yoga/prayer mat.

    If one is asking themselves these questions while flowing in the great “naked now” then their questions will function as you’ve suggested in your “instead, try this” section. It’s a symptom of the freedom Christ affords us in the NOW. But without doing the solo work, just like the proverbial concerned friend at Panera, it is almost foolish of us to not assume that the well intentioned college friend did not already have this superficial conviction to begin with. Like, “Hey, have you read that book by Pastor Olsteen on asking better questions?” It’s almost a default setting confused within us. It misses the point, blindly.

    Listen, I’m not intending to be crass, and I’m ever mindful of Thumper’s loving Momma-Bunny’s advice and its implicit judgement on these topics. But I am asking myself, my peers, and you, to ask better questions, Sweetpea. It’s heart work. And freedom is the only key. The freedom to actually participate in “transformative listening.” In itself, it is freedom FROM the concerned college friend. Freedom from ourselves. It is something that would invite such a college acquaintance into a place of asking, like Christ, “______________, _____???”

    I understand the grace, mercy, transformative reading it would take to make sense of this. But until we have faces, we should try to meet the faceless where they are, even at Panera, and even if their questions aren’t the best.

    Draw in the sand until we got the right questions, I guess?

    1. “But until we have faces, we should try to meet the faceless where they are, even at Panera, and even if their questions aren’t the best.” I agree with that. Though for my friend, in the aftermath of that suicide, it was hard, I imagine, to give her questioning/problem solving roommate that kind of grace.

      I’m not suggesting a new “solution” with these questions — just another way to approach those spiritual conversations. What I like about the questions that Fryling asks in this book is that they do invite that heart work that you talk about.

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Drew. You always make me think.

  6. Thanks for a wonderful article. I’m reminded of a favorite Oswald Chambers quote: “Never complain to God that you’re of no use where you are. Because you’re certainly of no use where you aren’t.” 😉 How life IS — not “should be.”

  7. The main point is to listen! My greatest witnessing experience was listening to those abused in the name of spirituality. I apologized for my fellow Christians, and the ones I listened to appreciated my words. I think that is what changes people, love and respect. Not a lot of words. Talk is cheap.

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