I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to our Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Jean Wise’s reflection Linger with the Questions.
For Christmas, my daughter gave me an online subscription to a story sharing software program. This package includes weekly story prompts for the recipient to respond and share a story from their life. At the end of the year, we would receive a hardcover book with all the stories collected in a legacy, keepsake compilation.
Each Monday a thought-provoking, memory-stirring question pops into my email. What was your dad like when you were a child? What was your first big trip? Write about one of your best days you remember. You have the option each week to choose a different question but so far, I haven’t gone that route. But one week’s question almost became the first switch.
What was the best job you’ve ever had?
Surprisingly I found this a difficult question to answer. It would have been easier to find a new question, but one thing I have learned on my spiritual journey as monk in the world is when something stirs or jars my spirit, brings me tears, or causes me to pause – I better pay attention. A life lesson will soon be revealed.
So I lingered with the question. I let the question rest, then rise like leaven dough. I revisited past jobs enjoying some memories and naming the sorrows rising from others. I remembered what each position taught me and how the people and work shaped me.
This question brought a delightful conversation between my husband and me. He is more of the pessimist, yet he recalled and relished in the joyful memories. Me, the optimistic one, wallowed in dark difficult recollections that still stirred up anxiety and nausea.
He observed I never considered my roles as wife, mother and grandmother in my search for the answer. We debated the definition of “job” and for a time I felt guilty I didn’t name those parts of me as my favorite, but I felt there was more to learn from a different answer.
The true epiphany arrived several days later.
What was the best job I’ve ever had? The one I hold now. My position of Deacon in my church and as a writer. Walking as a companion with others as a spiritual director and playing and creating with letters and words matches my core calling. This is who God created me to be. A strong sense of puzzle pieces fitting together precisely. All my other jobs were good for that time in my life, but today’s work aligns best with my soul.
An ah-ha moment filled with joy, contentment, and peace. A life-giving awareness I would have lost if I had ran from that question.
“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rilke
Taking time to identify and explore questions is a valuable spiritual practice. Questions are invitations to options and increase curiosity on my journey. They serve as lights to guide next steps in discernment. I begin to see what may wait unnoticed along my path.
Questions provide clarity as I struggle to articulate what is going on within my heart. They help me name my doubts and obstacles. Questions are tools for living fully and wholeheartedly.
Noticing what stops me from asking questions is another approach to this practice. Is it fear? Questions peel off protective layers that may lead me to let go of false narratives and ego driven pride. Staying with the question can create a safe space where stories can be held and explored leading to healing.
I have learned the importance of knowing when to not to ask questions. Some questions would be too sensitive right after a loss or trying experience. I find in these raw times, silence helps more that questioning. Identifying my emotions instead of trying to understand them. Asking why often appears but just echoes instead of being helpful. Maybe the better question during difficult times is what do I need right now?
The season of life affects my questions too. Opportunities for exploring start with each new year, new decade, and/or new beginning. Reflecting upon the memories and times of my life and holding questions show insight and wisdom. What is a story from my life that represents who I really am or what to be or represents my current need/pain? What was the biggest challenge, the biggest joy?
Questions help us sift through our values and dreams too. Am I living the way I know deep inside I want to live? What kind of legacy do I want to leave? How do I want to live in my remaining time?
As I became more comfortable with staying with the questions, I started to gather them in my journal as prompts and guideposts along the way. What is prayer like for me right now?
What habits and practices are sustaining for me in my spiritual walk?
Questions are wonderful guides for our spiritual journeys. Listen. Learn. Linger with the questions.
Jean Wise is a writer, spiritual director and Deacon for her local parish. She writes weekly on her blog, HealthySpirituality.org. She is an RN who has discovered her calling to nurture others – as she practiced in nursing and now as she helps others grow closer to God.