Creating a Safe Place is More Important Than Proving My Point
It took me a while, but I now realize my grandchildren don’t need my ‘wisdom’ as much as they need the assurance that I’m a safe person with whom they can discuss the hard issues and not be judged, preached at, or shamed. Needing to prove my point is not the point—trust is.
Be careful what you read into that. I’m not proposing we avoid speaking the truth. Discipleship is all about speaking truth and helping another walk in it. But effective discipleship requires trust—creating a safe place to express doubts and process questions.
Certainly, there is value in the fact that I have been around the block a few times. But I still need to acknowledge that I don’t know everything. And neither do you, even if you think you do. As challenging as it is sometimes, I’m learning to not get bent out of shape when I don’t know the answer to something my grandchildren ask me—like why did God allow COVID-19?
I may have an opinion about many things, like COVID-19, but it’s only my opinion, not “thus saith the Lord”. Certainly, I have gained wisdom and life lessons I want to pass on to those I love, yet I dare not take my opinions too seriously (except with my wife—just kidding!).
For that which can be known because it is the truth, then, of course, I will do my best to invite my grandchildren, or anyone else, to work with me to find the answer whether it supports my opinion or not. My grandchildren need to know that I can learn a great deal from them as well. It’s not a one-way street. After all, pride does go before a fall.
Let me put it this way. My grandchildren need to know I care because they know I listen well without being judgmental (See Matthew 7:1-5). When they know I listen, they will begin to trust me. Because they trust me, they will likely want to hear what I have to say, when it’s time to say it. I don’t need to prove I’m right or that I have all the answers (which I don’t). I’m there to help them learn what is right and true because God has declared it so. It’s up to them to put it into practice.
But suppose we can’t find an answer, or we can’t know it yet? That requires a little different tactic. I have to admit we may never know some answers to specific questions, but we can know for sure who does. God is trustworthy, and He knows the answers. And I can at least tell them why I know God is trustworthy and that He always knows what is best, works for what is best, and will accomplish what is best.
Here are a few basic tactics I’ve learned to employ when dealing with questions from my grandchildren, or anyone else. I hope you will find them useful. It’s possible many of you already do these, but it never hurts to be reminded.
- When your grandchildren ask you something you don’t know, admit it. Ask them to help you to find an answer.
- When you learn something from your grandchildren you didn’t know, tell them how grateful you are God used them to teach you something new.
- Learn to ask questions rather than make statements. When we ask questions, we affirm the value of another person. It shifts the emphasis from me and my point of view, to genuinely wanting to know the other person’s view and reasons behind their view without necessarily agreeing with them. Here are some useful questions to use regularly:
- Will you please explain what you mean by _______? (define terms)
- I’m interested in knowing more about that. Can you tell me where you got your information?
- How do you know this is true? What led you to this conclusion?
- What do you think the consequences are of this position? In other words, what if it’s true, or what if it’s not true?
- I don’t have a clear understanding of this matter. Would you be interested in exploring it further together to see if we can gain greater clarity?
Gregory Koukl often talks about “putting a stone in a person’s shoe”. By that he means creating an environment where we can give someone something to think about—to “hobble away on a nugget of truth he simply can’t ignore because it continues to poke at him.” That is the power of questions and not thinking too highly of our own opinions. (I recommend Gregory Koukl’s book, Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions).
“In this circumstance, what is one thing I can say, one question I can ask, one thought I can leave that will get him thinking?” (Gregory Koukl)