Table Talk: Intentional Questions for Engaging Your Neighbors

Busy. One startling reality about the world we live in is that majority of people will live their lives entirely in what we might call the tyranny of the urgent. In other words, what governs our lives is not necessarily what we would like to do or even what we need to do; instead, what seems to comprise most of the real estate in the daily planner is what we must do. It can be a dark realization for many that we spend so much time on what is demanded of us without ever having paid attention to what we want or what we need. Exhausting. You and live a world full of people who rarely feel they have time to even slow down and think about themselves, much less their family and friends, and even much less their neighbors. Isolating. As a result, people live in a constant state of perpetual relational deficiency where they desire to know and be known, but feel that either they are too busy or others are too disinterested/busy/drained for them. If you don’t believe me, let me highlight a conversation I’m willing to bet my next paycheck that you’ve had today:

Person 1: How are you today?
Person 2: Good. You?
Person 1: Good.

Sound familiar? That’s about the deepest level of interaction most people will have for the majority of their day. It might seem a kind sentiment that someone would ask how your day is and it might even come with good intentions. I’m certainly not knocking anything here, but when is the last time someone asked you how you were doing and you genuinely felt like you could be honest with them? Or that they actually cared? When is the last time you asked someone how they were doing and made yourself available for more than a “fine” or “good”? Or when is the last time you actually cared? I would suggest to you that these types of interactions are symptomatic of the issue I presented before.

Let me invite you to imagine the type of deep work you could in your relationships across the board if you simply seized every opportunity to press into someone’s life. What if, instead of taking everything at face value and remaining on the surface, you boldly pursued the hearts of  people? Maybe you feel a certain level of discomfort in putting yourself out there in this way or maybe you’re so in your own head that you don’t feel like you have the time or energy to give. The challenging truth is that this tide will shift in your life one person and one interaction at a time. As I practice this in my own life, I can assure you that I often feel so intense compared to everyone else in a room. I often find myself placing my cards on the table and getting a brick wall in return. However, it all becomes worth it when I’m able to connect with that one person for whom I can tell it’s been a life-giving, encouraging and heart-warming interaction. Most of the time this comes at what I perceive to be the most unexpected of times for them, but let us be that joyful surprise to a person who feels like they’re swallowed in the depths of their day- who feels like everyone else they’ve spoken to has merely given lip-service to actually loving, valuing and caring for them. Let’s make it a point that in the chaos of our lives, we are always in a rhythm of inviting people to slow down and be. Whatever that might mean, whatever mess that causes, whatever discomfort and inconvenience that might be for ourselves- let’s stand in the gap, let’s turn against the tide.

The reality is that we need each other. Christ has designed his Church such that we might mutually build up, edify and encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Do the interactions you have with people in your life model and reflect this at all? When is the last time you felt like your words encouraged, affirmed and rooted someone in the love of Christ? How about your interactions with those who don’t know Jesus? Are you demonstrating the love and care of the father (1 Peter 5:7) and modeling the initiating love of God (1 John 4:19)? Are they being brought near to your life to see the love of Christ or is there an arms-length between you? Every relationship is the culmination of small moments. It’s important that we take every interaction captive to use it for good

How do we do this? First, we need to seriously consider our demeanor, attitude and speech when interacting with others. We need to examine our words and ways of engaging others such that they feel a welcoming comfort rather than cold disinterest. I call it Table Talk because it’s the kind of talk for family and not strangers. It’s the type of relational deep work that is done over the family table that looks very little like the “Fine/Good” conversations we have on a daily basis. In terms of our relationships, we spend the majority of our time splashing in shallow puddles rather than drinking from deep wells. Who has time for that? Surface level relationships offer for ourselves and others very little. Instead, dive deeply and leverage your daily interactions with people to show them that they belong at your table. Secondly, let’s change our vocabulary to be intentional such that it sows what we intend to reap in our relationships. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” Let’s trade the bland flavors of our conversations with the bold taste of graceThat might be what you say, sure… but I’m certain it has as much to do with how you say it.

This is all mere sentiment and aspiration if it can’t be practiced. Maybe it’s difficult for you to get into a rhythm of something so conceptual, so here are 8 simple questions you can ask that are better than “How are you?“:

  1. What’s new in your life?
  2. What are you excited about the most?
  3. What are you worried about in this season?
  4. What has been bringing you joy lately?
  5. What’s been on your mind/heart recently?
  6. How can I be praying for you?
  7. What would you rather be doing right now?
  8. *my favorite* “No really, how are you doing?

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