Sometimes I wonder if that’s the response that Adam got from Cain when he asked him throughout his life, “So how was your day, son?” I can almost see in my mind Abraham, at over 100 years old, walking into the tent, laying down his cane, and saying the same thing to Isaac, “So, my boy, my great hope, my promise from God… How was your day?”
The spirit behind the question is good. We care about each other in our families, and one of the ways we do is by engaging each other in discussion. Talking and listening, giving and receiving. The spirit is right, and it’s certainly better than the alternative of not asking any question at all and instead every family member just being absorbed in their own stuff, even when they’re all together.
But even if the spirit is right, perhaps the question is wrong. And there are good reasons to believe this to be true:
1. It’s not specific enough.
“How was your day” is the textbook general question. And general questions generally receive general answers. When we ask a question like this, we are putting the responsibility on our children to volunteer difficult information rather than taking the burden on ourselves to know enough about what’s happening in their lives to ask them about that life in a more specific way. In other words, a specific question is a small way of dying to ourselves.
Instead of the general question, ask about specific relationships. Ask about tests. Ask about what you talked about the previous night. We want to show our kids not only that we care, but that we actually remember. But to do that, we have to listen, and then bring up what’s been talked about before. Which is, in truth, easier said than done, especially since we are already preoccupied with how our own days went. But again, here we have a small opportunity to die to ourselves for the sake of our kids.
2. It’s not hard enough.
“How was your day?” is an easy question. And an easy question asked is an easy question to dismiss. It’s as if both parties in the conversation can, in the span of 15 seconds, check off the daily check-in from their to-do list and get back to the real business of life. A general question, then, requires virtually nothing of either the asker or the answerer.
Engaging with our kids is not easy. It’s hard a multiple levels – hard emotionally as we hear about their pain, hard practically as it takes time and patience, and hard even physically sometimes as those children have trouble expressing themselves. But the hard is not bad. The hard is good, and so is the patience and perseverance that comes from it.
3. It’s not reflective enough.
As parents, and maybe in particularly as a father, we are meant to reflect something more. See, fathers are shadows of a greater Father. God has given us these children not only to protect them, provide for them, and teach them – He has given us these children for us to point them to their true Father. I am, as their dad, a visible portrait of an invisible reality. In other words, both when I do the right thing and when I come up short as a dad, I am but a shadow of who God is. By God’s grace, I pray that our kids might say over and over again when they encounter God is something like this: “It’s like daddy, but better.”
- God loves me like daddy does… only better.
- God provides for me like daddy does… only better.
- God disciplines me like daddy does… only better.
- God takes care of me like daddy does… only better.
Our questions ought to reflect that reality. That in the same way we are commanded to cast all our cares on the Lord – not just the big and significant ones, but all of them – so also should we be specific, attentive, and engaged enough to not just know what those cares are in our families, but to ask about them. In so doing, we are pointing our whole families, but in particular our children, to their greater Father in heaven.
Parents, let’s be diligent in this. Let’s not let ourselves off so easily, but instead press in and press on. It will take time, but as we do simple things like asking better questions we can develop habits. And those habits lead to the kind of culture we want to have in our families.
Michael Kelley lives in Nashville, Tenn., with his wife, Jana, and three children: Joshua, Andi, and Christian. He serves as the Sr. Vice President of Church Ministries for Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the author of Growing Down: Unlearning the Patterns of Adulthood that Keep Us from Jesus, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God; Transformational Discipleship; and Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life.
This post originally appeared on michaelkelley.co.