Every now and then someone sends me an e-mail that goes something like this. “I’m trying to start a blog. Can you give me some advice?” Initially, I didn’t respond. I honestly had no idea what to say. As variations of the same message came with greater frequency, I began reflecting on my own life and how it is I arrived here. Mostly, it’s God fault. So much of my journey has nothing to do with me.
But with continued reflection, I began to notice a common thread: curiosity.
It’s my curiosity, I believe, that got me here. And by “here,” I’m not referring to status or success. If you’re after those things, you will find little help here. I’m referring to my perspective, the values that shape how I interact with everyone and everything.
Curiosity is one of the most important disciplines for continued growth, thriving relationships, intimacy with God and empathy towards others.
I use “discipline” intentionally. Curiosity is wired into us and can be cultivated by anyone. If you’ve ever fallen in love, typed something in a Google search box, watched the news or scrolled through social media, you’ve been aroused by curiosity.
Let me give curiosity some skin. Put simply, it’s the practice of asking questions. But unlocking its transformative power requires a couple additional steps. First, the ability to pay attention, to listen to the answers to your questions. Second, the courage to act.
Ask questions. Pay attention. Act.
Remarkably easy, right? So why aren’t more people curious?
Here’s where stuff gets real.
Our world doesn’t value curiosity. You need to know that up front. We rarely use the word in a positive light, if we use it at all (“That’s a curious choice”). More times than not, we substitute curiosity for a more negative descriptor.
As a little kid, for example, I was never called curious. Instead, the word was mischievous. Throughout my teenage years, mischievous was dropped in favor of insubordinate or disrespectful of authority. Once I entered adulthood, those were tossed aside in favor of non-conformist.
At times these words appropriately described my behavior. But many times, I was merely inquisitive. And this desire to know was interpreted as something very different. Curiosity, you see, is a threat to power, order and control, the central pieces of almost every society and institution.
So, if you choose to be led by curiosity, know you will face resistance.
The natural question now becomes, Why aspire to live curiously? Why risk the resistance and negative labeling?
Curiosity is freedom. Curious people aren’t afraid to ask questions or challenge the status quo. They have fewer allegiances, in other words. They aren’t enslaved to the “security” provided by existing power structures or the “comfort” that comes from a risk-free existence. As a Christian, I believe curiosity opens our heart and mind to the Spirit. As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:17, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
But it doesn’t stop there. There are many more reasons why curiosity matters, many of them timely. I want share 5 with you.
1. Curiosity allows you to engage people with different perspectives.
Internet and social media have created a much smaller today than, say, a generation ago. This is mostly good. But in some ways these same tools have increased the sized of our ego, which is always bad thing. Today, we’re so used to living in echo chambers that any worldview aside from ours falls on deaf ears. And with each passing day, we become increasingly convinced that our perspective is the perspective and decreasingly tolerant of anyone who asks us to see things through their lens.
Curiosity poops all over this silliness. Motivated by humility and shared humanity, curious people seek out different perspectives and engage people with different a worldview. They ask these people questions and listen to their response.
They don’t listen with the intent to respond or rebuke or correct. This is key. If you ask a question for any other reason than to listen, it leads to more skepticism and cynicism. Instead, curious people listen with the intent to listen. For curious people, asking the question is the answer.
Do this enough, your heart and mind will become pregnant with empathy. And empathy gives birth to love and unity, two forces that can radically transform our communities and our world.
2. Curiosity opens your heart and mind to the marginalized and oppressed.
As Christians, you and I have a responsibility to intercede on behalf of the marginalized, voiceless and oppressed. Curiosity keeps your heart and mind open to what the Spirit might be doing and where he might be leading you. Sometimes these places are difficult and uncomfortable.
The refugee crisis in Syria is an impossibly sad situation to understand. Visiting people in another country or right down the road who navigate life with little to nothing disrupts your comfort bubble. The same can be said about sex trafficking or cancer.
But know this. God is with those people. And if we intend to join God’s story, we should be with them too.
Three months ago, we brought our daughter home from India, culminating a four year journey. I remember the night it started for me. My wife had been all in for several weeks. I was still unsure. On this night, I picked up a book Tiffani asked me to read, Fields of the Fatherless, and started reading it. I finished it a few hours later and with eyes full of tears and a heart full of conviction, I told Tiffani I was all in.
Had my wife not been curious, we would not have adopted. Both Tiffani and I would have a lesser view of and love for God. And most importantly, one more child would grow up without a family. Our adoption journey was filled with both grief and elation, disappointment and celebration. But the whole journey transformed our lives.
And the whole thing was sparked by curiosity.
3. Curiosity gives your marriage energy and excitement.
When you and your spouse fell in love, you talked on the phone for hours. Deep conversations were plentiful. What happened between then and now?
Familiarity crept in, and you stopped being curious about one another.
If you want to restore some excitement and energy to your marriage, start asking your spouse some questions. Ask him about his day. Ask her about her relationship with God. And pay attention to their answers.
4. Curiosity will prevent fear from running your life.
Irish poet James Stephens once said, “Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” Fear poses as a big, scary thing hovering you with a never-ending list of reasons why you shouldn’t step out of your comfort zone.
“If you take that new job, you will fail. If you give your heart to him, he will break it. You will lose everything if you tell someone about your addiction.”
Curiosity has just enough naivete to respond with, “Are you sure?”
Even then, you’re not guaranteed to beat fear. You must continue moving forward. But you’re guaranteed to be defeated if you don’t start there. Overcoming fear begins with small steps and subtle questions, not with one huge leap or a single brash statement.
“But what if I don’t fail? But won’t I lose everything if I keep my addiction a secret?”
These are first steps, and every subsequent step moves you closer to the beast. As you press in, you begin to see fear for what it is, a big talking thing with no real power over you.
Curiosity gives you the courage to challenge fear and eventually expose it.
5. Curiosity makes you resilient.
Grit and resilience are cultural buzzwords. Rightfully so, in my opinion. Resilience is one of the most important traits for growing and persevering in faith.
Entire books have been written on the subject, so I won’t pretend to give you a comprehensive definition. But resilience has a lot to do with responding well to struggles, and moving past the “nos” to discover a better “yes.”
Curiosity aids resiliency in two ways. First, curious people are used to no. Rejection and failure don’t derail them. Second, curious people aren’t enslaved to certainty. They don’t claim their perspective as gospel.
Last year, I went through the most difficult season of my life. I lost a job in a humiliating way. I was jobless for a year. A close family member committed suicide. Our first adopted daughter died weeks after we were matched with her.
Some days the darkness was tangible. I could feel it with every step. What sustained me was curiosity. Even in the hardest moments, I believed my suffering had a purpose. I wasn’t sure what it was, but I trusted God would reveal it.
Curiosity can and will transform your life. I pray God gives you the desire to cultivate and the courage to act on it.
Grace and peace, friends.