Five-year-old Nate Seltzer from Stratford, Connecticut is such a geography whiz that he has appeared on national television several times. On one visit to the studio, the TV host showed him a street map. “Where is this,” she asked?
“Chicago,” he said.
“How did you know?”
Nate leaned toward her ear and cupped his hand in front of his mouth. “Because I accidentally peeked.”
Now, this is a child who knows the flags of The Gambia and the Republic of the Maldives. He could have shrugged off her question and the audience would have been none the wiser. Instead, he simply admitted his mistake. Doesn’t his honesty endear him to us? Transparency does that. It builds a footbridge across the gap from stranger to friend. At a time in history when we can erase wrinkles with a photo filter and serve up the highlight reel of our lives like tasty tapas, getting real with our friends is the difference between feigning to be like Jesus and really following him.
Children are skilled interrogators. With curious eyes, they look deep into ours and ask us everything from how much we weigh to how old we are, with zest—and zero regard for propriety. They ask at the Thanksgiving Day table and on Thursdays. If we aren’t prepared, we stammer for a response. As friends who desire to be like Jesus, we must learn the art of asking—and answering—good questions with sincerity and sensitivity if we want meaningful friendships.
Jesus’ question game today would warrant a Hall of Fame induction. Consider some of the questions he asked:
- And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
- Who do people say that the Son of Man is?
- Why do you question in your hearts?
- If you’re not honest in small jobs, who will put you in charge of the store?
- How do you expect to get anywhere with God when you spend all your time jockeying for position with each other, ranking your rivals and ignoring God?
Ouch. With his questions, Jesus, who was the Word, pierced like a two-edged sword. Where we placate, Jesus pursues. Where we conceal, Jesus cuts to the chase. He pushes past pretense. How’s your anxiety? he asks. Yeah? What about your faith? Integrity at work? Envy, jealousy? Lobbing such questions at our friends may feel like emotional grenades. If we want to reflect Jesus in our friendships, however, we need to risk potential conflicts and pose questions with courage—always keeping in mind the purpose: to know each other better and to build each other up in Christ.
We’re at the sushi counter. The waiter asks how we are. “Good,” we say (or, if we’re extroverted, “Great!”). This light exchange of pleasantries is appropriate among strangers, but is merely an appetizer on the menu of conversation between friends. It’s a starter, not the main course. It’s one thing to ask questions with courage, and another to answer them so. But if we long to relax around our friends and experience God’s grace and mercy through them, we need to crank open windows of our hearts we would rather shutter. Colossians 3:9 is straight-forward enough in its command: “And stop lying to each other. You have given up your old way of life with its habits (CEV).” Only Jesus can help us stop lying—to him, to ourselves, and to each other. Only he can help us relish the two ingredients of friendship we crave most: transparency and intimacy. To taste these, we must ask hard questions of our friends—and answer theirs—on Thanksgiving Day and Thursdays, and all days in between.