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Right Questions

by Martha E. Stortz

 A student came into my office, distraught. she had the opportunity to take an internship in Washington, D.C., after graduation—but a family matter bound her to Minneapolis, Where We Were on that late spring after- noon, Watching cottonwood float by on a Warm breeze. She asked a question: “What should I do?” We talked into the late afternoon, outlining possible courses of action, sorting through potential consequences.

Then I posed another question: “What do you want?”

The question caught both of us up short.

I had no answers;  I simply asked a different question, one that shifted the focus from what  she should do to what she desired. It shifted the focus from head to heart. And instead of deciding, she had to discern. It gave  us  both  a  different  angle  of vision—and  we needed that.

Sometimes asking the right question is more important  than  coming  up  with  an  answer  to  the wrong  one. In advice to a young  writer, German poet Rainer Maria Rilke identified the importance of asking the right question:

“Don’t  search  for  answers,  which  could  not  be given  to you now,  because you would  not be able to live  them. And  the point  is to live  everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future,  you  will  gradually, without  even  noticing  it, live your way  into the answer” (Letters to a Young Poet).

Living  the questions invites us to encounter afresh the biblical God, this time as a God who’s always  asking questions—and those questions search the heart.

Martha E. Stortz is the Bernhard M. Christensen Professor of Religion and Vocation at Augsburg  College, Minneapolis,  Minn.  She wrote the 2007–08 Bible study for Gather (then Lutheran Woman Today): “Beatitudes:  A Compass for Discipleship.”

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