Curiosity May Kill the Cat

One lifetime isn't long enough to fully understand our heavenly Father. The key is to maintain this attitude and get back to asking questions about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I was driving with my 10-year-old son (10 and a half — he would correct me!) the other day when he asked a question that really stumped me: “Dad, if we all came from Adam and Eve, why are there different races?”

I sat in the car contemplating his question. But to be honest, no great answer came to mind.

“I’m not exactly sure,” I responded, “We should research this when we get home.”

“But I thought you went to seminary,” Garrison wondered. Why is it that my family has this uncanny ability to make me feel completely inadequate at the drop of a dime?

Garrison’s question led us into some great father-and-son time later that night as we searched for the answer. But looking back, the best part of our evening was the reminder of how important asking good questions is for success in life.

I love Albert Einstein’s take on this: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.” Holy curiosity. What a great concept.

Start By Asking Questions

Often when Christians tell me they feel bored with their devotional time with God, I’ll focus on curiosity. It’s easy as long-term Christians to develop a belief that we know everything there is to know about God. Some might argue, “I’ve grown up in the church; I read through the Bible every year; I’ve memorized entire books of the Bible; I regularly attend Bible Study Fellowship; I’m part of a small group or Sunday School class; I listen to podcasts of my favorite pastors every week; I’m pretty comfortable with my relationship with God.” Yet one lifetime isn’t long enough to fully understand our heavenly Father. The key is to maintain this attitude and get back to asking questions about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit — like Garrison.

I truly believe that the question is often more important than the answer. At the heart of asking questions is curiosity. This is actually one of my most favorite relational principles.

All relationships evolve, and this evolution involves getting to know someone at a deeper level. Early in the relationship this process moves along naturally. Remember the times when you were first getting to know someone? You’d spend hours asking them questions about every aspect of their life. But sadly, as relationships mature, curiosity seems to all but disappear. Why? It seems like over time we reach a certain level of familiarity that ends up shutting down curiosity — people believe that they know everything there is to know about each other. Although this brings a certain amount of comfort and sense of stability to our relationships, it can also lead to a relationship rut and boredom.

Remain Curious

Emotional intimacy requires ongoing knowledge and understanding. In the same way that we need to regularly do computer hardware and software updates (I just updated my iPhone to the new iOS operating system!), we need to constantly update our knowledge about people. Since we are all continually evolving as individuals (growing and changing spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically), we need to maintain a lifetime learner attitude — that one lifetime isn’t long enough to truly get to know someone. We need to remain curious about people.

Not only does curiosity help you maintain a current level of understanding about someone, it’s also the essence of true romance. The world seems to define romance as cards, flowers, candy, romantic walks and candlelight dinners. However, these things are not “true” romance. You can put anyone in the most romantic situation (candlelit dinner in Hawaii overlooking the crashing waves), but if the people involved aren’t curious about each other, nothing will happen. On the other hand, if you take two people who are intently fascinated, interested, intrigued and captivated by the other, and put them in a Wal-Mart parking lot on a cold, dreary night, I’m telling you that sparks will fly!

True romance is about being fascinated and curious about the other person. When we are curious about someone, it sends a powerful message: “You are valuable, and I want to deeply know you.” We all have the deep desire to be valued and deeply known. This is the essence of intimacy: In-to-me-I-see.

The key skill in being curious is to ask questions. This is why the 16th-century French Philosopher Voltaire wrote, “Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”

Like Garrison, kids have an uncanny ability to ask questions. I love their curious minds. Why do we seem to lose this ability as adults? Not only does this negatively impact our learning, but it hurts our relationships as well. I’ve often told singles that if you want to have success on a first date, learn to ask great questions. If you don’t believe me, watch one of those dating shows. You can almost predict with 100 percent accuracy if a guy is going to get a second date based on his curiosity about the girl and by the amount of questions he asks her.

One lifetime isn’t long enough to truly get to know a person or our heavenly Father. People and relationships are always changing — there’s always something to discover each and every day. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it will help strengthen your most important relationships.

Copyright Greg Smalley 2011. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Greg Smalley

Greg Smalley, Ph.D. is the executive director of marriage and family formation for Focus on the Family. He helps lead marriage seminars around the world and together with his wife, Erin, does intensive relationship coaching for both married and engaged couples. Greg is the author or co-author of 11 books including The Wholehearted Marriage, Before You Plan Your Wedding, Plan Your Marriage, The DNA of Relationships for Couples and The Marriage You’ve Always Dreamed Of. Greg earned his doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Rosemead School of Psychology at Biola University. He’s a fan of the Oklahoma Sooners, diet lemonade at Chick-fil-A and sports memorabilia. He and Erin have three daughters and a son.

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