As I was going upstairs to get my jacket as I was leaving to go to my office, he followed me up the steps-as he usually does. Between the time I went upstairs and the time I came back down, he must have asked ten questions: “E (his name for me), why are you…? “ E, why is this?” E, how come….?”
The blizzard of questions from my four year old grandson, Jaden, begins cascading down when he hits our door every Monday and Friday and-except for his two hour nap-continues unabated until either his “Gama” (i.e., my wife-Jaden has trouble pronouncing “R’s” and “V’s”) or I take him home (naturally, the ride back to his house is preceded with a question, ”E, are you taking me back to my house?”).
Jaden’s “Gama” has been his babysitter from the time he was born until this fall when he entered pre-school-where he attends three days a week. But before this fall, he was with us every day. His mother would drop him off between 6:15 and 6:30 every morning. He would spend the first 60-90 minutes with me before I would have to leave for work.
It has been interesting to watch him develop over the years-to go from just laying there in his baby seat, to me helping him play with his toys, to him playing with his toys by himself, to listening to a Bible story each morning-which he loves. If somehow, I forget to read him his story, Jaden will quickly remind me, “E, we didn’t weed the sto-wee” (he struggles with “R’s” and “V’s”, remember?)
Watching Jaden learn these past four years has been fascinating, but I have learned a lot from him as well; things like the words to the opening song of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood”(I know the song that they sing at the end of that program, too, “And you’ll have things you’ll want to talk about. I will, too”). I know the words to “Luna” (“Luna, come and play. Luna’s here-whatta ya say?” If there’s not a preschooler in your house, you have no clue of what I am talking about).
And I know the words to the song that they sing at the end of Sesame Street-which Jaden expects me to watch with him (a lot of the characters are still the same as they were when my children were that age-including, my favorite-“The Count”). Then, he expects me to sing the song-which, I do-every time. And I am very proud of the fact that I have learned how to put Jaden’s car seat in my car (it took me a while to figure out how everything worked-but I’ve got it now!).
Here are the three most important lessons that I have learned from Jaden:
- The Way to Keep Learning Is to Keep Asking Questions: Jaden asks a million questions because he is learning about the world around him. He asks questions about things that I long ago stopped noticing. For example, he looked up in the sky one day and said “Why are the clouds moving?”
Well, I am not sure that the clouds really are moving or if that is an optical illusion. And the reason why I do not know that is because I long ago stopped paying attention to clouds. Why they move does not matter to me. And we only ask questions about the things that matter to us.
Maybe that is the problem with adults-we stop paying attention; to things, to situations, to people. Maybe the reason why we lose about 40% of the people we baptize is that on the first Sabbath that a new convert is missed, not enough people are like Jaden and ask a question: “Why is So-and So not here today?” “Where are they?” Or, “Why are our young adults not more involved (at least-some of them)?”
Remember: We ask questions about the things that matter to us.
That is not in any way to suggest that missing members and dis-engaged young adults do not matter to our church-I believe they do matter. But saying that they matter and even inquiring about people when they are missing, is not enough. And that leads me to the second thing that I have learned from Jaden:
- It’s Not Enough to Ask Questions. The Learning Process Is Only Complete When You Find Answers. While it may seem as though Jaden is just asking a million questions for the sake of asking, I believe he really wants answers to those questions. Without getting answers to his questions, I do not think that he will learn very much.
We need to ask things like “Where are all the people we are baptizing? “ “Why aren’t more of our young adults more engaged?” But asking those questions about those things, without getting answers for those questions does not seem to me to do a whole lot of good. We need to ask the right questions-but we also need to get some answers-otherwise, what ultimate good are our questions?
It sometimes seems to me that we have become satisfied with just asking questions about things like retaining our new believers and engaging our young people. Or-just talking about those things. Or-lamenting them.
I just finished having the privilege of spending the weekend with the Executive Committee of the Allegheny East Conference and providing an orientation for them. One of the things that I reminded them was that the good people of the Allegheny East Conference did not elect them to simply talk about problems or lament the problems-they are there to solve them.
One of my favorite quotations comes from one of my favorite writers, Pastor Carey Nieuwhof, a first-day Pastor in Toronto, Canada, who said:
Talking about an issue-even talking passionately about an issue-but doing nothing about it, is a complete waste of time.
I have sat in a zillion meetings in the 41 years I have been privileged to be in ministry. And I can tell you that there is a lot of time spent talking about the various problems we face in our church (almost all of which-by the way-are being faced in every denomination. Sometimes, we seem to believe that we are the only ones dealing with the things with which we are dealing-we’re not).
Talking about a problem is an important part of the process. But it cannot be the process. The meetings and the discussions and the questions and all of that are merely a means to an end. The end goal is to get some answers.
I am not ready to believe that the questions we face in the Seventh-day Adventist Church have no answers. Our problems are spiritual; they have spiritual solutions to them. And at the Head of our Church is Jesus-Who not only has the answer; He is the Answer.
- Lastly-But Perhaps, Most Importantly-I Have Learned from Jaden the Value of Unconditional, Unfeigned, But Freely Expressed Love. When I am home with Jaden, frequently after Sesame Street, we’ll stay in the television room and he’ll play with his toys while I do some work on my IPad (Naturally, that is preceded by another question, “E-are you going to wok on your IPad?”-another missing “R”).
Periodically, during those times-out of nowhere and for seemingly no reason-Jaden will say “I love you, E”.
I am not nearly as good at saying that to the people I love as Jaden is. But that is one more thing he is teaching me. Hopefully-I shall be a good student.