Can a question change your life? I think so. over the enxt few days, i will be publishing one *unfinished* chapter a day of a new… what will it be? I don’t know. Book, essay, podcast, I haven’t decided but since finishing my research, I am more convinced of the power of questions than ever before. So here’s the introduction.
“I’m not telling you… I’m asking you.”
The question that followed that statement completely changed the course of my life. My perspective, my worldview, and my view of myself never was the same. This is the power of One Question.
I have spent the last years as a student of both leadership and organizations. I’ve done PhD research on coaching. I am both a practitioner and a theorist. But nothing has impacted my life to the degree that answering that One Question has. Now, if you are not a person of faith, this next part of the story you will have to go with. Put it into whatever framework you are comfortable.
As a 20 year old, I was stuck in the existential angst that afflicts young humans. What would I do with my life? As a believer in Jesus, I had been taught that self-sacrifice was part of the package of giving your life to God’s purposes. But as the child of a pastor, I was not as enthused about that idea as some. My family had move from East Texas to Europe as a child. I had lost my friends, my surrogate grandparents, my real grandparents, my culture, and my language. I had to give up baseball, football, apple pie and Chevrolet.
Yet in college, I was finding myself drawn into the same world I had come from. Global Workers, those people giving their lives to sharing the Christian message of God’s love for humanity revealed in Jesus Christ, would come through our school and share. When they did, I consistently found myself emotional about the stories their shared. Something was resonating deep in the depth of my being. That something was conflicting with my memories of growing up. I didn’t have childhood trauma. I had good parents and a comfortable living environment. However, that life was not a life to which I aspired.
One morning I was in prayer and wrestling with these conflicting emotions in my heart. I clearly remember the moment as I told God “I don’t want to go.”
And that is when I got my One Question. A thought came to my mind. I say it was God speaking to me. You say what you want. But here’s the conversation as it played out in my mind.
“Lord, I don’t want to go.”
“Son, I’m not going to make you. I’m asking you. Would you go for me?”
Now, my view of God was not a conversation where I get options. The 10 Commandments are not 10 Suggestions. The Great Commission is not the Great Consideration. God speaks, we obey. Right? In this One Question, I felt I had an encounter with the living God, and this living God asked me an open question.
“Would you go for me?”
Wait, was that a thing? Could I say “no” and God would be ok with me? I laugh now when I realize how small my view of God. The idea was that my constant perfect score on his directions in my life would determine my entire future seems ludicrous in hindsight.
But my One Question opened up a whole new way of seeing the world, one in which the Creator of the Universe would allow me to make decisions. I know, there are theological tensions here. Go read one of the million tomes written about those issues if you are starting to get hung up. All I know is that One Question allowed me to reframe my whole view of God, the world and my place in it. From that new place of understanding, I gave myself permission to embrace what was a calling. And I haven’t looked back.
Questions are the superpower of the wise. Questions allow us to bring wisdom to bear in situations where we don’t have enough knowledge. Even in the new era of Big Data, decisions will always be made with that slight edge of believing in faith. As I engage on in my fifth decade of life, I have fewer and fewer answers but more and more questions. Not about everything. There are some questions that have been settled in my mind. But as a teacher, pastor, and leader, people have often come to me with questions about their lives. Increasingly, I had grown frustrated with their lack of follow through on my genius solutions. Until I realized that I don’t like being told what to do either. I want to own my decisions. But sometimes I need a good question to help me get there.
The following are ideas that come out of my research and that of others but the questions are not exhaustive. Neither are they comprehensive. I am sure you have many more. This is not a meta-analysis of the research on questions. This is a starting place.
The following posts are a series of interviews with friends and acquaintances. All have given me permission to use their stories, some their real names. Others have chosen to remain anonymous, and I have altered narrative details to protect their privacy. As much as possible, I have kept their story intact. All had One Question change the course of their lives. The questions themselves are often useful, but it is the thinking that is unlocked by the question that I want to explore together.
I am by no means a coaching expert. I enjoy talking. I enjoy my own opinion as much as the next guy. Every year on my birthday, I share a life lesson learned for every year that I’ve lived. Last year I wrote 49. But as I did formal research with clients, not coaches, the consistent pattern was that clients loved being asked questions. So here’s a question.
Shall we begin?