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At our City Women lunchtime event today, we discussed “Responding to questions”: how do we respond to others when they ask about our faith at work.  Genuine thanks to Charlotte Wright and Lydia Stone-Fewings, who set the open, down-to-earth tone for our discussions by talking about questions they had been asked in their workplaces.  And thank you, too, to Brewin Dolphin for once again making us so welcome in your offices.

There was animated discussion in small groups, with the following ideas shared at the end:

  • The Holy Spirit is present, in the question and the discussion – we haven’t got to do it all in our own strength.
  • Sometimes questions can be used as powerful tools – and there’s a power structure in the office hierarchies of who is asking whom.  But the chance for real connection and transformation often comes from a point of vulnerability, where there’s enough trust to let down the barriers of professional competence.
  • It’s easy to feel we’ve got to be perfect, to have the perfect answer, before we dare to engage in a discussion.  In reality, we haven’t got to get it all right, and give a textbook answer – we need to be honest, to be ourselves.
  • It can feel like to huge challenge, to know what to say, and what level to come in at.  Particularly when we are competent professionals who are used to having watertight answers to other people’s questions, we can feel the challenge of this!
  • Sometimes, we can helpfully respond to a question with another question, which can open up an honest engagement.  For example, if you’re asked, “How can you believe in a God that allows the Nice attack to happen?”, would it help to respond, “Are you up for telling me more about the God you don’t believe in?”?
  • If you’re asked, “What did you do at the weekend?”, simply mentioning that you went to church can leave the door open to a further conversation, if people want to pick that up later.
  • It can be hard to ask someone at work if they would like you to pray for them.
  • Can we respond without anxiety? It’s easy to be so anxious about whether we’re giving the right answer that we don’t notice what our colleague is really concerned about.

We may not have all the answers – but how important to open ourselves up to the questions!  And if you are asked a question that you don’t feel you answered well, stick with it, remembering the words of Raine Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

We finished with the prayer,

God of the journey,

Help me to listen to my colleagues’ questions and to discern the points when they want to go deeper.

Help me to have the courage, at the appropriate time, to share the story of what compels me to step forward on the most exciting journey of my life, the journey into your life and your love.