Once Tina and I were told by one of our older son’s middle school teachers that he asked too many questions. We were not surprised.
Our son had complained to us that when he asked questions he was discouraged from asking them.
I think we understood both sides.
The teacher had an agenda. She had a lesson plan. Her job was to teach the lesson plan and pour her knowledge into 30 students, making sure they soaked it up and then spilled that information back out on their exams proving that she had done a good job of teaching and they had done a good job of learning. I’m sure she could handle an occasional, spot-on question.
There lied the problem. John’s questions were more than occasional and they were rarely spot-on.
The teacher’s lectures were good. They were stimulating John’s mind, which didn’t always follow a lesson plan. For John, the subject matter created tributaries, rabbit trails, and side chutes of unanswered questions.
However, the teacher couldn’t go down all those rabbit trails or she’d never finish her lesson. So instead of encouraging him to ask one or two good questions, she decided the best thing was to shut the gate completely by discouraging a child whose thirst for knowledge was real.
So as we sat in consultation with this middle school teacher, she let us know that questions were best left unasked. They were disruptive.
Now we’d been encouraging both our sons all their lives to ask questions. I had a poster in John’s room that read, “Wonder is the beginning of knowledge.” It showed two boys on top of a boulder looking down into a mountain stream, one of them pointing to the other, showing him something in the water.
Now I had to tell him to “zip it up” in the classroom. No more questions.
Most children are great at asking questions. Preschoolers ask their parents an average of 100 questions a day. http://amorebeautifulquestion.com/why-do-kids-ask-so-many-questions-but-more-importantly-why-do-they-stop/
Why aren’t there any more dinosaurs?
Why are people different colors?
Why doesn’t that man have a home?
Why do people get sick?
If she’s happy, why is she crying?
Why do I have to invite him/her to my birthday party?
Who made God?
So parents, why is it that by the time our children reach graduation, we are not still being bombarded with questions? We must have taught them all we know or they must know everything.
Oh yeah, we get the occasional question, as we are reminded in Harry Chain’s song, “Cat’s in the Cradle.”
“What I’d really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later; can I have them please?”
Why is that?
Could it be that by the by the teenage years many parents have taught their children exactly what that middle school teacher taught our son. It’s best if you keep your questions to yourself.
I’m busy. I have an agenda. I’ll tell you what I want you to know. Let’s don’t wander off subject. I know you have a mind of your own, but remember, I’ve lived a lot longer than you. We will be having a test on this later. Your job is to just tell me the right answers. http://amorebeautifulquestion.com/why-do-kids-ask-so-many-questions-but-more-importantly-why-do-they-stop/
Then we send them out into the world, a world that’s different from the one we leapt into a generation or more ago, a world that is changing fast, and of course, we expect them to give all the right answers in all the right situations, but how can they when they been discouraged from asking all the right questions.
In his book, “A More Beautiful Question,” Warren Berger asks, “What if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change by enabling them to be better questioners?” http://amorebeautifulquestion.com/can-school-be-built-on-questions/
In researching his own question, he discovered Deborah Meier who began her career as a kindergarten teacher in Chicago. She taught in Philadelphia and then New York City where she became founder and director of the alternative Central Park East school, which embraced progressive ideals which encouraged students to ask questions. Students were placed in creative environments and hands-on learning activities that stimulated the senses which naturally led to more questions. (Ibid)
Meier was taking the experience she had as a kindergarten teacher and using the same principles in other grades. Teaching kindergarten was such an extraordinary intellectual experience, and she thought, “Why couldn’t we just keep doing that?’ Only in kindergarten, she said ‘do we put up with kids asking questions that are off-topic.’” (Ibid)
I believe that Jesus’ mother taught Jesus like Deborah Meier taught and encouraged her students. This is one way to explain how a twelve-year-old had the self confidence and the freedom to ask question to religious leaders in the temple and give them his opinion when they asked him what he thought about religion or other topics they might have been discussing.
Luke tells us that Jesus accompanied his parents to Jerusalem as he had done each year to celebrate the annual Passover Feast. Jerusalem was filled with celebrants. By the age of twelve, Jesus would have known his way around the city.
It is doubtful that he was under the watchful eye of his parents the entire week they were there for the celebration. Jerusalem was a safe place. They were likely in contact with each other on a regular basis but they were likely separated at various times as well.
Apparently, there wasn’t good communication as the family gathered with a large group to leave and Jesus was left behind. Jesus was old enough to travel with the men at age 12. Joseph might have thought he was travelling with the women but Mary likely thought he was traveling with the men. This wasn’t discovered until the group had traveled an entire day. You might imagine how panic set in among Mary and Joseph.
I felt that panic once at Disney World. I had my two children way up in a two-story rope jungle gym. Ryan was only about six years old and I lost him for about five minutes among the ropes and other people. I yelled his name and looked frantically for him, but couldn’t find him.
The panic, the fear, the sick feeling I had in my stomach was terrible. I can only imagine the fear, guilt, and embarrassment that Mary and Joseph felt as they had to leave their group to look for Jesus. First they looked for him among their relatives and their friends. When he wasn’t there, they had to return to Jerusalem and begin searching for him there.
Where do you look for a lost 12-year-old boy in the city? My guess is that they retraced all of their steps. They probably knocked on every door of every person they knew.
Finally, they decided to go to the temple. Perhaps it was the Spirit of God that led them there. It could be that they went to the temple to pray and unexpectedly found him.
Luke paints a picture of his parents finding him, but not rushing in immediately. It’s as if they see him and are stunned enough by what they see that they stand there long enough to observe what’s taking place.
Jesus is sitting among the teachers. He is listening to them and asking them questions. They are asking him questions and they are amazed at his understanding and his answers.
His parents are amazed at what is taking place, but then his mother gives him a scolding. Notice, she does not scold him for asking questions or “bothering the religious leaders.” She’s upset because he missed the appointed leaving time. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”
Then, Jesus answers his mother’s question with two questions. “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
This becomes ones of Jesus’ skill sets, using questions to answer questions. Even at age twelve we see a glimpse of what we will see from him all through his life, the ability to use questions as a means to get others to think, ponder, search their hearts about spiritual matters.
Some parents, angry that a child wasn’t where he was supposed to be, might have taken this as a smart-aleck remark.
But this is what Deborah Meier has taught me about this passage. Jesus was a questioning, inquisitive, intelligent twelve-year-old, partly because Mary and Joseph raised him in an environment where questions were allowed and encouraged.
They knew Jesus thought deep. They knew his questions meant something, but they were not sure what he meant by “Didn’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?”
Sometimes we don’t like to admit to a child that we don’t understand something that happens in the world around us. We had rather pretend that we know the answer than admit that we don’t. That’s one reason we sometimes discourage them from asking questions.
Even here, Joseph and Mary just took Jesus and went on home to Nazareth but they didn’t say anything because they didn’t know what he meant by his question.
Luke does say that Jesus was obedient to his parents and that Mary treasured all these things in her heart. To me that says she continued to think about what it all meant.
I believe that Mary later understood that question and looked back and could see that even at age 12, Jesus had a growing understanding of his unique relationship with God, and was learning to use questions to shape that understanding.
I am afraid that our Christian faith has become too much like the education system that our son had as a middle schooler. We discourage questions when we should be encouraging them.
Author and pastor Carey Nieuwhof believes that one of the reasons that the church is losing so many millennials and teenagers is that we have created an environment where they are not free to voice their questions: questions of doubt, questions that challenge commonly held beliefs, questions that are received without being dismissed with pat and trite answers. (“Lasting Impact,” Carey Nieuwhof, The reThink Group, Inc, Cumming, GA, p. 95).
Instead they are told, “This is what you need to know. Learn it. You will have a test called the ‘Test of Life.’ This will come in useful one day.”
While there may be much truth in our words, a lot of people learn in different ways.
I want to assure you that God is not bothered or threatened by our questions. Questions are how we learn.
You cannot formulate a question that has not already been asked by someone.
Questions are a natural and important part of our faith. God made us to be inquisitive. He made us to go down rabbit trails and tributaries of the mind and to wonder about all kinds of things.
At age twelve Jesus was separated from his parents but he wasn’t lost.
For Jesus, being lost would have been to have all those questions and have no one to answer them. Jesus would have been lost if he’d had all those questions without having anyone to pose them to.
People of faith. we are on a journey. We are not people with all the answers. However, we are people who worship Jesus who claims to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. As we live our lives as Jesus followers, He continues to reveal to us what the right questions are so we can discover the answers we need in order to be on the path of grace and wholeness.
So, my parting advice to those of you who are graduating today is the same advice I have for people who are nearing retirement. Never stop asking questions and seeking the claim that God has upon your lives. As you do, remember the words of the Apostle Paul, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” (1 Cor. 13:12 NIV).
Bless now these graduates and also us with inquisitive minds. May we not be afraid to ask the hard questions about our faith, ethical issues, relationships, poverty, war, the environment, racial issues, sexual identity, and community issues. Help us to look in the mirror and ask the right questions about our own lives. For if we ask the right questions, there is a greater chance that we might be led to the right answers. Lord, Jesus’ presence in the temple and his question to his parents, “Why were you searching for me?” reminds us that if You are not a part of our search and a part of the answer to our questions in some way, we are likely to have come up with the wrong answer and have traveled down the wrong path. So lead us all. Lead these graduates and us to question and to grow in our faith and in our love for You. Amen