The Meaningful Question
I love questionnaires, interviews, anything that really prompts me to answer in-depth questions. I love them because they involve remembering the past, analyzing it and finding comfort for the present through the good memories or strength for the present by remembering the mountains me and God have already conquered. I have trained in psychology and so I understand all the dangers involved in clinging to it, or getting lost in it. I don’t take those concerns lightly: I live for the present, and the future; my ambitions rest in securing a safe and confident journey to adulthood for my children, and by diligently trying to adhere to a personal motto to do all I can today to avoid regrets tomorrow. So, I get the fact that the past isn’t why we were put here, and it’s a bad idea to cling to it.
And that’s as much of a disclaimer as you’ll get from me on this. Because, while I do fully grasp the limitations of memory and of the past itself, I also fully appreciate the lessons, comfort and self-discovery that can only be gained by flights of the imagination into the past. People say that time is a healer, but I don’t really believe that. None of us pass 24 hours without conscious thought of a behavior we partook in that day, or the day before, or twenty years before. Therefore, it’s not really time that heals, it’s the gaining of a clearer, or different, perspective of events that have already occurred. The only way to gain such a new perspective is to reflect upon it. When viewed with this theology, remembering the past becomes a big deal. Many people shut the door on the past, question the importance or reason for “reliving it”. Many people hide from it.
I make time for it.
I fill out all sorts of books whose contents contain nothing but extremely personal questions. Not only have I have completed the Dr. Phil (nobody laugh, until you try to complete his book)’s Self Matters Workbook twice, I’ve also unapologetically blackmailed anyone who knows me very well into doing it too, completed two copies in different years of the little blue book entitled, All About Me, A Mother’s Journal: A heirloom to the Children and many, many more. I “like” a page on FB entitled “Ten Thousand Questions” that provides one question a day and I have an active (well, okay, it probably depends on what your definition of “active” means. I don’t ALWAYS fill in the answer on the site, but I do often take the prompt and turn it into a full fledged article, blog, whatever. If that’s active, then I’m active. If it’s not, then I guess you’d say I’m an active observer) account at plinky.com. Today’s “prompt” provided the inspiration behind this entry. The question:
If you were guaranteed an honest response, what question would you ask?
Now, at first, it may not seem like that big of a question. I mean, without really digging too deep, there’s at least three questions that pop to my mind that, I’d wager, everyone I know would like an honest answer to: (1) Do I matter, (2) Am I loved and (3) Am I important? I mean, really, these are the core questions of the human psyche. We were never created to be an island, we were created to be social creatures and, for that very reason, we inherently care about how we’re perceived by others, and every, single one of us unequivocally is on a search for love. Not just of the romantic variety but love from multiple people: we innately want assurance that our parents, children, spouses, relatives all love us. And we all want to know that, if we weren’t here, we’d be missed, that we mattered, and that the decisions we made were positively important. So, while those universal three questions are important, they’re just that: universal. Not a lot of insight required to see that, throughout our lives, those three questions are high on our list of priorities.
If you actually stop to read the question, take it apart and then try to answer it, it becomes a bigger deal, and a harder question to answer.
If you were guaranteed an honest response, what question would you ask?
First off, the clause: “if you were guaranteed an honest response.” Joe and I recently had a discussion about whether or not there are types of questions that you really don’t want to know, even if you could. What are those questions? Why wouldn’t you really want to know the answer? For me, there’s not many questions that I wouldn’t want an honest response to, even if the response was negative. You’d also have to consider who you were going to ask the question to. God? If not God, then who? Why that person?
This takes some time for me.
I could ask my dad lots of things. Why would be the best one. Genuine understanding, in ways, might be genuinely helpful. But, I spent my entire childhood and early adulthood refusing to acknowledge my dad’s part at all. I focused on the events that I had to overcome, took him out of the picture and just dealt with the event itself. As I have explained to others before, it’s not really about the attacker, when someone is physically or sexually violated. People think it is. They initially want “justice”. But, in seeking justice, the focus shifts to the attacker: whether or not to prosecute, is he arrested, how long the sentence, how to think about testifying, how to remain safe from him, what’s his life going to look like? Focusing on “justice” delays healing for the victim, no matter how tempting it might be. Besides, even if the answer were honest, it would probably also be painful to hear. If I were looking at a genie in a bottle who could grant me one honest response to a question, would I really want to spend the question focusing on his thoughts? Would it really change my future, propel my healing or be so satisfying to understand why he saw me not as a little girl but as something else? Would it really be so beneficial to know what he thought when he saw me writing day in, and day out, about sad things?
For some, the legit answer might be yes. But, for me, the answer is no.
If not my dad, and not God, then, who else would I like an honest answer from? No one. I realize then, that if I could have one honest question answered, I’d probably use it to ask God something.
Inevitably, when I think about the ugly things in my past, I start thinking on the people who changed it for the better. My mom. My sister. Friends and relationships I’ve had that taught me, at least a bit, to better believe in the good of the world. Strangers. My children, who helped me rediscover laughter, taught me how to actually enjoy the feel of a cool breeze slapping against my cheek or dancing in the rain, who have helped me understand that life is about love, compassion and generosity–not bitterness, anger or resentment. Special teachers who showed me that I didn’t have to be a cheerleader or win a popularity contest to matter. Children I have mentored, teenagers whose lives I hope I positively impacted and who taught me that healing is a choice and that, while I may not be able to control what happens to me, I can control my reaction to it. I chose to believe that traumatizing, life-shattering things are part of my life because they have better enabled me to advocate for similar survivors: that’s a powerful thing and, while it may not take the scars away, it does provide meaning. Eventually, it comes full circle, as I realize that God is the one who matters the most. Things happened for a reason, determined and set in motion by the Almighty. I think of Christ hanging on the cross. Scripture says He did that for me.
That makes me think of all the things I’ve done, all the decisions I’ve made, all the poor choices I’ve chosen. It makes me think of the things of which I am proud and I wonder if those good choices justify the bad. I know they don’t. Yet, He distinctly holds my hand when I ask Him to, fulfilling Scripture found in Isaiah. Another promise of Isaiah, 66:13, says, “like a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” He has. He does. He did. And He will. I remember laying awake, crowding as close to the wall as I could get, and imagining that His arms were around me. I remember prayers that were specifically answered. Nature sings of His love: rainbows arch in the sky, the sky itself is a majestic thing, complete with all sorts of beautiful hues. Trees seem to sing, if you listen to them long enough. And He did all of it. The Scripture says, for me.
For the Tiffini who doesn’t know her left foot from her right. For the Tiffini who withdraws better than a turtle hides in its shell. For the Tiffini who has hurt others. For the Tiffini who it took twenty three or twenty four years to appreciate breath itself. For the Tiffini who sometimes takes for granted that He’s there, and that He loves me. For the Tiffini who can’t sing, dance or French braid hair. For the Tiffini who requires pen and paper. For the Tiffini who has high expectations, and is unapologetic for them. For the Tiffini who can’t relax. For the Tiffini who can’t forget. For the Tiffini who fails.
And then, it hits me. What my question would be.
How can I possibly make You proud?
I don’t know the answer. I know that the relationship with Him is unique, special and close. While I am no Abraham, I do believe He’s my friend. I know scripture tells me I don’t have to do anything to deserve His love (which is a good thing, since it’s impossible to deserve Him). But I also know that I don’t just want the bare minimum — I want to be as close to Him as Abraham. I want Him to smile because of me. The trauma, the nightmares, the tears, both past and the ones to come—–as long as I don’t have to be alone through the journey to health and healing, then, what else have I got to ask for? If I’m not alone, then I know I have a friend. If I’m not alone, I know I matter. If I’m not alone, then I know I’m loved. If He is going to be with me, knowing my past, then He obviously doesn’t care about my being perfect, which means I can just chill out, and be myself—and believe that that’s okay, because that’s how He made me.
Questions aren’t always supposed to have answers. Some of the best ones don’t. Plato loved asking rhetorical questions. I’m not sure I know the answer to the question I’d ask, but I am sure that I know One to whom I ask the question and, because of that, I can rest at ease.