Most of us don’t wake up in the morning and make a list of ways we can be insensitive that day. We probably don’t have on our daily to-do list “one stupid thing I will say today.” For most of us, we are capable of doing these things without them being on our to-do list. We don’t mean to be insensitive or stupid, but we just can’t help ourselves. Our curiosity will not let us do otherwise.
Over the past few weeks, several friends of mine have been diagnosed with life-altering illnesses. They each have different issues, but they have all been asked stupid questions that may surprise you.
Here are some of the stupid questions they have been asked:
1. How long did the doctor give you?
2. I would NEVER do that kind of treatment. Is that all they can do for you?
3. Is there anything going on that might have caused God to need to get your attention?
4. Can I be the first person you call when you are told you have been healed?
5. Can I have your blue sweater/bicycle/CorningWare if you don’t make it?
6. Can you tell me about your treatments so I can see if my dad/husband/sister should do the same thing?
7. Have you thought about writing a blog so we’ll know how we can avoid this same illness?
8. What do you need from me?
The last question may seem out of place, but analyze that question for a moment. First of all, by asking this question, you make the person with the illness responsible for deciding how you help. They already have enough on their plate, and this question just adds more to it. The question also gets you off the hook if the person doesn’t give you an answer. On top of that, the person know that about 705 of the things they want to say will be things you can’t do or are unwilling to do.
After listening to these friends, I began putting together a list of better questions to ask.
Here are some better questions to ask a person with a life-altering illness:
1. Can I give you a ride anywhere?
2. What is your favorite thing to do when you are waiting for the doctor?
3. What would you like me to know?
4. I don’t have any questions, but do you remember when [insert some memory that is just worth retelling].
5. I’ve made a meal for you and your family. What time would you like for me to drop it off, and do you want it frozen or ready to eat?
5a. How do you like your steak?
5b. Chocolate or apple pie (or both)?
6. Have you read the latest novel by __________? I have a copy for you, and I don’t need it back.
Sooner or later, someone in your Bible study group will find out they have a life-altering illness. You are probably on the short list of people they will tell. When they do tell you, try to avoid the stupid questions and ask them something that lets them be the star. After all, it is about them.
What other questions would you add to the better questions list?
G. Dwayne McCrary is the team leader for Adult and Young Adult group resources at Lifeway, leads two weekly Bible study groups (one for empty-nesters and one for 4-year olds), serves as an adjunct professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and carries 20-plus years of church staff experience. He is married to Lisa (both native Texans), and they have two children and one grandson. Find him on Twitter: @gdwayne.