When people are going through troubles, we tend to ask variations on a single, searching question: “Why is this happening to me?”
I get it. I’ve been there. And I’ve known so many people, including good friends and relatives, who have been hit with all manner of misfortune: cancer, death, work and money problems.
Asking the Wrong Question
Sometimes you have to ask that question, especially in cases of genuine trauma. If so, you should also consider professional help before you get too deep into that hole. But for troubles that fall short of trauma, it’s usually best to reach for a different kind of question instead.
For instance, not long after I became publisher of one of Thomas Nelson’s book divisions, we lost a major author to a competing company. This had a significant negative impact on our bottom line, and my attitude. At first, I was angry. Then I became discouraged.
Finally, I realized that “Why is this happening to us?” was not the right question to be asking. So instead, I started asking, “How can this make us better?”
Immediately, my spirits perked up. The possibility began to energize me, which rubbed off on the team.
In hindsight, I can say that losing that particular author was one of the best things that could have happened to my division. We learned and grew from the experience in ways that wouldn’t have happened if the author had stuck with us.
Ask Better Questions
The biggest lesson that I learned from turning things around after losing a star was this: The answers we get are often determined by the questions that we ask.
If we ask bad questions for the situation, we’re likely to get bad answers. But if we ask better questions—empowering questions—we might get better answers. I’m talking about answers that don’t just reinforce the idea that we’re stuck.
With that in mind, here are my seven questions you can ask yourself when things head South:
1. What Does This Make Possible?
This is my go-to question to start. It helps to reorient you to look for new possibilities in the midst of troubles.
2. What If It’s Not the End but a New Beginning?
This helps to drag you out of that notion that you’re stuck. Maybe if you look at it from a “new beginning” point of view, you can see something you missed.
3. What If the Answer Is Just over the Next Hill?
This question (and the next two) help to lengthen your time horizon. You may not see the solution now, but how often has that been true before in your life? Over time, you tend to work things out.
4. What If I Need This to Prepare Me for the Next Chapter?
Troubles often lead to changes in our lives. We change jobs, shift careers, reevaluate things. Maybe instead of asking “why?” here you should be asking “what should come next?”
5. What Will I Tell My Grandchildren About This?
This question adds an additional layer, and helps to really pull you out of your “stuck” mental space. It presupposes not only that you are going to get over this, but that you’re going to learn from it—and distill lessons for future generations.
6. What If God Knows Exactly What I Need?
This question helps to reorient you spiritually. It can help to consider that, even if we don’t quite get it yet, maybe God does.
7. What If God’s Speaking to Me in These Troubles and Blessing Me?
This question helps to focus us on the blessings that can come from going through adversity. I’ve experienced them in my own life. Plenty. I hope these questions can help you to see them, too.