We have this thing we do with our kids when they come back time after time with the same question. If you’re a parent of anyone over 4 or 5, you know what I’m talking about.
“What’s for dinner?”
“What can I have to eat?”
“What are we eating tonight?”
“Dad, I’m starving to death… isn’t there something I can slather in puddles of ketchup?” They don’t say that, but that’s what I hear.
And that’s all within about 5 minutes.
So we started this thing where we will answer a question one time. We make sure the kids can both hear the answer and are relatively undistracted. We make eye contact with them and we answer the question, slowly and clearly. Usually, this is difficult for me to do with a straight face, but I’m getting better at it.
“Pizza, chips and yogurt.”
There’s some sort of ridiculous celebration because we’ve just named their favorite meal. They’ll make up some silly pizza dance, get themselves all wound up and giddy, and fall down to the floor laughing and dizzy. The entire thing is quite entertaining.
And three minutes later… “Dad, so… what are we having for dinner?”
YOU JUST MADE UP A SONG AND A CORRESPONDING DANCE!!!! I want to yell, but I don’t.
It doesn’t even matter what the questions are anymore.
“What are we doing again tonight?”
“What movie did you say we were watching for movie night?”
“When are we going back to the library?”
“So can I get a puppy/unicorn/dinosaur/astronaut for my birthday?”
We answer the question once. We let them go from there. Almost inevitably, they come back to the same question again. So once we’ve answered it, we respond with simply this:
“Asked and answered.”
Once we say that, the conversation is usually over. Either they spend the next few moments trying corporate sibling memory exercises to remember, or they drop the subject.
The funny thing is that they usually know the answer. All it takes is a minute or two, and they’ll coax it out of each other (and do the dance/song again). Or one of them will actually dedicate a few moments to think back and they’ll repeat it back to the other one (and then do the dance/song again). Or one of them will stroll into the kitchen, see the pizza cutter and the ketchup on the counter and have a lightbulb sort or moment (and then do the dance/song again).
They know the answer, and still, they ask again and again. The brains are working too fast. The inquisitiveness is running in top gear. They love the sound of their voices. It’s what they do, even when they know the answer.
We used to answer every time. Without thinking, we’d respond every time. Eventually, our voices carried no weight, no authority- because there was an answer to every question, every time. They’d yell from the living room and I’d yell back from the kitchen and they didn’t have to listen because they could just yell again.
Our voices became words that didn’t matter. Our answers became meaningless.
This is me and prayer on so many levels. I ask. I ask again. I ask a third time, and it’s entirely likely that I sound exactly the same to Him as they sound to me, like a lost little hyperactive soul that can’t think past the next condiment.
If I’m being honest, when a prayer is answered, I go through my own little song and dance. I’m often just mindful enough to give it sufficient time and attention that it looks like I learned something. Like the kids, there is something of a genuine celebration in that moment of peace or victory or gratitude. But then the silly dance ends.
And then I ask again, in some way still clueless of the answer.
One more time. Still bafflingly unaware that I already know.
And still again.
“Asked and answered, Chris.” And I get silent because I know that I know, even if I don’t know. I know that I should know.
I don’t ever want Your voice to be meaningless. May Your words to me, Your answers to my prayers always matter.
And may I know, every time, that when I ask, You have already answered.