“Do you not yet understand?” Matthew 16:9
My kids and I went to the new Discovery Woods a few weeks ago. We met up with my husband’s cousin MaryAnn. After, we went back to MaryAnn’s house and had dinner with her and her two grown children, Jonathan and Anna.
It always amazes me how much Jonathan and Anna engage my kids. Although they’re in their mid-twenties, they show such a sincere interest in whatever my kids’ passion of the day is: Pokemon, Harry Potter, you name it. I watch my kids grow a few feet taller with all the attention.
As we drove away, I asked my kids what that felt like: to have people so interested in them that they dropped whatever they were doing to focus and shine the spotlight on them. Of course my kids said it felt wonderful. Then they quickly went back to their own kid conversation and didn’t give it a second thought.
I once read that the only common denominator among Rhode Scholars is they all sat down to dinner every night with their families. That little factoid intrigued me. I immediately vowed to myself that when I had a family of my own, I’d keep dinner time sacred.
For years I have been scolding and disciplining my kids at the table. I have also tried a million and one tricks attempting to keep that long ago vow to myself. It all seemed to be a futile exercise as chaos reigned, until recently. After more than ten years of sweat and tears, all my efforts have FINALLY payed off. I am thrilled to report that dinner time is actually enjoyable now.
During the school year, we each take turns sharing three things about our day that no one knows. During the summer, we each take turns sharing about the books we’re reading. My number one rule is that no one interrupts the one who is sharing. At last, dinners were peaceful… but something was still missing.
If my research is correct, Jesus asked 153 questions over the course of the four Gospels. He didn’t just preach, using monologues. He asked questions of His listeners to engage them, to create dialogue. Not only did He push them to ingest what He was trying to teach them, I think He was trying to role model the best way to learn anything, and the best way to read the Scriptures: we need to listen, get curious, ask questions, and then listen to the answers. That’s what leads to more knowledge, and better understanding.
Bingo! That was my missing dinnertime piece. Focusing so much on getting my kids to not interrupt each other, I had established a rhythm where everyone took turns giving their own monologues. Sure, my kids had gotten so much better at listening, but they hadn’t learned to be engaged. They were just biding their time until they could give their own monologue. That wasn’t broadening their horizons at all, and I’m sure that wasn’t the way those Rhode Scholars broadened theirs.
After this revelation, I recently brought up our time with Jonathan and Anna again at dinner. Through a series of questions, I led my kids to the conclusion that it was so enjoyable talking with Jonathan and Anna because they listened deeply, got curious, asked questions to learn more, and then listened to the answers. I called the process “Curiosity Questions.” Then I said that from now on, we each have to come up with at least one Curiosity Question to ask after each of us gets to share.
Wow! The difference that one new element has made is unbelievable! I can literally see my kids listening deeply as their little minds work to formulate a Curiosity Question. Moreover, the one being asked feels so special that we care enough to want to learn more about what matters to him or her.
By no means am I aspiring to create my own little Rhode Scholars at my dinner table. But truly listening to people, and caring about what matters to them, are gifts in and of themselves. If I can raise my three kids to do that, I will be blessing the world three times over.
Questions For Reflection:
* Are my kids engaged while listening to each other at the dinner table?
* Do they get curious enough to ask questions to learn more?
* Do I get curious about what they share, asking questions to learn more from them?
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