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Questions can be powerful! They can help us to see, feel, think, and do things differently! Do you want better relationships? Then ask better questions. Do you want a great life? Learn to ask great questions.
This pattern was never better exemplified than when a young, fourteen-year-old boy accepted the familiar invitation from James — “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.” — and decided to ask God which church he should join. That single question not only changed his life forever but also changed the world forever by ushering in the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Truly, questions can be powerful agents of change.
In this unique and thought-provoking book, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life, Wendy Watson Nelson explored the power of asking — and answering — certain questions. Questions such as:
- What is on my premortal list of “Things to Do While on Earth?”
- What is the one question I most need to have answered from the scriptures today?
- How can I be more of my true self at the end of this experience?
- Whose agenda is this supporting?
The book's full-color graphics and illustrations help us visualize and personalize these important concepts, and we are invited to pause and reflect on the different kinds of questions we can ask and the remarkable ways new questions can help us solve old problems.
Filled with inspirational insights and grounded in doctrine and the scriptures, Change Your Questions, Change Your Life presents what may seem to be a revolutionary way of looking at your life, but in reality it simply, and with great clarity, articulates one of the most profound ways the Lord has always taught His children and invited them to progress. For truly He has said “Ask, and it shall be given you” (Matt. 7:7).
About the Author
Wendy L. Watson Nelson holds a Ph.D. in family therapy and gerontology. Prior to her marriage to Elder Russell M. Nelson on April 6, 2006, Wendy had been a professor of marriage and family therapy for 25 years. She taught for 12 years at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and the last 13 years at Brigham Young University—teaching doctoral and master students. In 1999 and 2000, she chaired the BYU Women’s Conference. She is the author of several books, including Rock Solid Relationships, and several talks on CD, including Things Are Not Always As They Appear.
The Power of Questions
Seeing It As It Is
Questions can be powerful!
Questions can help us see things we haven’t seen before!
It was a photo I took of a leopard that most recently taught me this truth.
I was with my husband on a game park in South Africa. We had a guide and a tracker and we were traveling in an open Land Rover. (The operative word is open.)
This was my view as we traveled through the South African wilderness. Note the gun. This was no Disney safari!
We spotted elephants and zebras and giraffes. We were very close to the animals and the guide told us how to remain safe:
Keep your arms and hands inside the vehicle. Be quiet and don’t stand up to view the animals. They are used to the shape of the vehicle and will leave us alone as long as the shape stays the same.
There was no question about my willingness to be compliant.
We drove for hours on end, very early in the morning and in the evening. The cold of the desert was intense, and we layered every item of clothing we had brought—and then borrowed more. As we roamed the land our eyes became more able to spot camouflaged animals, and our ears heard the rustling of creatures more quickly. Upon sighting an animal or grouping, our tracker and guide would position our vehicle as close as possible to the animals.
Here is the evidence of their success:
I gasped when I saw this photo. And I had taken it! I don’t own a sophisticated camera with a huge telephoto lens. Mine is a small digital camera I can hold in my hand. It is great for family photos. So when I got home from the trip and was reviewing my photos in the safety of my living room, I saw something I had not seen before.
While taking the photo, I had known we were very close to the animal—so close that I could have literally patted that leopard’s head. But looking at the photo made me realize just how close we had been, and it made me shudder, especially when I recalled what my husband said as the animal walked away: “I didn’t like the way that leopard was looking at you!”
Looking at the photo, I could see exactly how he had been looking at me. And I didn’t like it, either. Why hadn’t I seen it at the time?
The reality revealed through the photo allowed me to see something I hadn’t seen in the actual live moment. Looking at the photograph now was like getting a whack on the side of my head, and I asked myself:
What was I doing in such a dangerous situation?
At the time it hadn’t seemed that dangerous. But with some distance and some reflection—both of which the photo provided—the danger of the situation was undeniable.
Perhaps that’s similar to other situations in our lives.
We live with them day after day—until something causes us to see ourselves and the situation in a new way, and we recognize the danger for what it is: Life-threatening. Spirituality-threatening. Relationship-threatening. And we know that a change is urgently needed.
I shared the experience with a group of women. One wrote the following in a note to me:
“The story you shared of your experience with the leopard has given me something that I cannot adequately describe but that was, and is, essential to my future and every choice I make from here on out. Truly no exaggeration.”
What? A story about a photo of a leopard caught a woman’s mind and heart in such a way that it will now influence her future and every choice she will make from here on out? Really? How could that be?
Her note continued:
“That you did not recognize how dangerous the situation was while you were in it, but only after you saw the photograph of the leopard, is analogous to my life. Your leopard-picture story helped me today because I will no longer feel stupid or inept for living in a dangerous situation for the time I did. I no longer feel defective.
“Intellectually, I’ve already recognized that I was in a survival mode and simply did not connect to any fear. But emotionally I’ve been berating myself for not recognizing and taking action sooner. No longer will I berate myself. I did the best I could! And I left as soon as I knew what was really going on. When I saw the full picture.”
Asking great questions does just that.
Great questions allow us to see a fuller picture.
Great questions can motivate us to change because they invite us to reflect. They help us to see some part of ourselves or others or a situation we’ve never been able to see before!
A wise Chilean biologist defined the term “reflection” in exactly that way:
“The moment of reflection… is the moment when we become aware of that part of ourselves which we cannot see in any other way.”1
The Savior invited the men who were ready to stone a woman to reflect—to see a part of themselves that they could not see in any other way. As the scribes and the Pharisees railed on about the punishment a woman “taken in sin” should receive, Jesus stooped down and traced with His finger on the ground. He invited them to take a close look at themselves by saying, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). The men judged themselves and slunk away in shame and disgrace.
The power of questions comes from their ability to invite us to reflect!
If you want a great experience with questions, and with being invited over and over again to reflect upon your life, read Alma 5. There are at least forty questions within that one chapter. I never seem to be able to get an accurate count because Alma’s questions are so effective that I start thinking and reflecting… and I lose count.
Read Alma 5 and select your favorite questions. Then answer them.
Alma invites us to look at our lives through the mirror of the Lord—the most important mirror of all. Alma invites us to reflect upon our standing before the Lord and increase our desire to change and to be better—all through the use of great questions!
Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself and suddenly seen something about yourself you had never seen before? Perhaps it was your slumped posture or your sagging belly or the scowl on your face—when all this time you thought you were standing straight, were very trim, and were smiling and looking as approachable as you felt?
The picture invited you to a shocking reflection.
Questions invite us to reflect.
I think of a father who was dutifully helping one of his children get ready for bed. He barked out order after order: “Brush your teeth. Wash your hands. Put on your pajamas.” Suddenly his young daughter turned to him and asked a question: “Do you own me, Daddy?”
Oh, the power of a child’s question to invite a father to reflect and to repent.
I think also of a grandmother who at Christmastime was hurrying and scurrying to get everything done. She was exhausted. It was very late at night and yet she still had one more gingerbread house to make. She was determined to get it done. In the midst of her focused frenzy, her little four-year-old granddaughter turned to her and asked, “Grandma, are you mad at me?”
“No, dear. I’m not mad. I’m just very tired.”
Then the little girl asked a question that invited her grandmother to see herself in quite a stark way. The little girl asked, “Well, Grandma, do you know that when you’re tired, your voice raises?”
I LOVE Questions!
I love their ability to help us focus.
To see things we’ve never seen before.
To understand things we’ve never understood before.
To think things we’ve never thought before.
To have the courage to do things we’ve never had the courage to do before.
What are your questions doing for you?
Are your questions enlivening you?
Enlarging your life?
Expanding your vision?
Enriching your relationships?
Are your questions depressing you? Discouraging and demoralizing you?
Are your questions inviting fear or joy into your life? Energy or frustration?
Now, let’s step back for a moment and talk about questions in general.
What has a more positive influence on you? A statement, such as: You look great!
Or the question: Have you been working out?
Which might be more encouraging? A statement: You are so good! Or a question: Are you as good as you look?
Questions can be soothing, such as a question we coo to a baby: Why are you so adorable?
Questions can be fortifying, such as a question we may say to a dear friend: Why am I so blessed to have you in my life?
Questions can be endearing, such as a question we might whisper to a spouse: Do you know how much I love you?
The question lingers a little bit longer than the statement I love you, doesn’t it?
Embedding a statement within a question can strengthen the statement.
Some questions can stop us dead in our tracks, such as the question a wife in a cartoon asks her husband. He is attempting to offer her an apology when she interrupts him and asks: How do you dare apologize to me after what you did?
Can you feel the mind-freezing effect of such a question?
Some questions can be guilt-inducing and immobilizing: Why can’t I ever trust you to do what you say you will do?
Or comforting: What can I do to help you today? What would lighten your load?
Some questions are just for the moment: Would you like fries with that?
And the effect of others can linger for years—such as the agonizing questions parents may punish themselves with following the death of their child by suicide: Why did he kill himself? Where did we go wrong? Why didn’t we do something when we saw him changing?
Some questions can cut through very difficult and highly charged situations, such as the question Brigham Young humbly asked Joseph Smith after being falsely accused by the Prophet in public. Instead of defending himself Brigham asked, “What do you want me to do?”2
Questions can indeed have a powerful effect!
Let me share a personal example. Some might call me a “creative cook.” I am not fond of following recipes and some of my concoctions are more appealing than others. I’ll admit that in my best efforts to make something delicious for dinner, sometimes I get a little carried away with the ingredients I put together. My husband consistently handles these precarious dining situations with loving kindness. As I bring to him my latest creation, he asks one question that always warms my heart and makes me laugh:
Now, honey, if we were at a restaurant and wanted to order this, what would we call it?
What a marvelous spirit-lifting and relationship-building question!
Unfortunately, some questions can CAUSE trouble!
Let’s consider the troublemaking question that begins, “Why am I so… ?” and ends with any number of self-demoralizing, hating, flogging, defeating, disdaining, or sabotaging words or phrases. Most of us don’t need much help writing a negative kind of question, do we?
Ask yourself, “Is there a trouble-making, havoc-wreaking question in my life that sneaks up on me from time to time that begins with Why am I so… ?”
Troublemaking questions are spiritually weakening.
What troublemaking questions do you presently ask yourself, others, or the Lord that invite the 4 Ds into your life and relationships?
If you wanted to have a real “pity party” with the 4 Ds present, what questions would you ask yourself to guarantee that doubt, discouragement, depression, and despair would show up in your mind and in your heart?
What questions cause trouble for you? Can you list some of them?
Write them down so you can see them.
Which question is the biggest bully in your life?
Which one pushes you around the most and causes you the most trouble?
Which question has been holding you back from moving ahead with your life?
Now, think about the influence of those troublemaking questions on you, your life, and your relationships.
What do they invite you to think, to feel, and to do?
Well, now, are you ready for some change?
Consider the questions that President Henry B. Eyring counseled us to ask ourselves on a daily basis:
• “Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch [me] or [my] children or [my] family today?”
• “Did God send a message that was just for me?”
• What can I do “to preserve that memory for the day that I, and those I love, will need to remember how much God loves us and how much we need Him”?3
Imagine the effect it would have in your life if you were to consistently ask yourself these three great questions.
• What would you begin to notice?
• What would you begin to remember?
The truth is that the Lord wants you to have a great life and the adversary doesn’t!
Simply put, the adversary wants you to be as miserable as he is.
The apostle Peter said it so well:
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
The adversary wants to devour your life! He wants to destroy you and everything you came to mortality to do. And he wants to devour your relationships!
Now, I don’t know about the roaring lions of which Peter speaks, but I do know about the ravaging leopard that prowls about seeking whom he may devour. In fact, a chilling follow-up to the story of our safari is that the day after we had that very up close and a little too personal meeting with the leopard, an employee was attacked and killed by a leopard in the camp right next to ours!
So I would echo and slightly adapt Peter’s words to say:
“Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a ravaging leopard, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour!”
It’s a jungle out there—literally and figuratively. Make no mistake about it.
As a way to ensure our survival, the apostle Paul urged us to “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Asking ourselves great questions, useful questions, inspired questions, and truth-filled questions can help us put on our essential protecting armor.
The following words by President Henry B. Eyring speak of the reality and urgency for protection:
“As the forces around us increase in intensity, whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient, will not be enough.”4
That warning impresses me more every time I read it and think about it.
Whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient to build a great life in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s will not be enough now in the twenty-first century.
Whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient to build a great marriage won’t be enough today.
Whatever spiritual strength was once sufficient to protect our families won’t be now—not now that the forces attacking our lives, our marriages, and our families are exponentially increasing.
We need to counter the insidious and relentless attack on our lives, our marriages, and our families by dramatically increasing our spiritual strength daily.
The questions we ask ourselves, others, and the Lord can help us do just that!
… some of the questions in your life.
1. In the last 24 hours, what is one question you asked yourself?
2. Is there a question you long for someone to ask you?
3. Think of someone with whom you want to build a stronger relationship. What questions do you typically ask them during the first few minutes you are together?
4. What is the last question you asked the Lord?
Take a few minutes and answer those questions about the questions in your life.
Now think about…
What effect do your questions have on your spirit and on the spirits of those you love? Do your questions build and lift? Are they likely to strengthen others spiritually?
Some questions can bring about change when everything else has failed.
Let me give you an example:
I once spoke about the power of questions with a group in Hawaii, and the next day a woman—let’s call her Sally—came to me and told me her story. She had come to my class quite preoccupied because of a troublesome situation with her dearest friend—let’s call her Carol—who lived on the mainland. The conflict arose when Carol called Sally to tell her what was happening in her (Carol’s) life. As Sally listened she became increasingly concerned that once again Carol’s family members were taking advantage of her. Sally said she wanted to help Carol see what they were doing and to help her. But the more she tried to help, the more offended Carol became and the telephone call ended abruptly and painfully for both women.
Sally told me, “I came to your class yesterday in so much distress about this horrible phone call with my dear friend. I didn’t know what I should do. All my talking and trying to clarify what I was trying to say only made things worse. It seemed like Carol’s heart was so hard, and I just couldn’t get through to her. I wondered if I should try another phone call, or send a gift, or even if I should fly to see her and work this out in person. I felt as though I had truly lost my best friend, and I just didn’t know what to do.
“So I came to your class with all of this on my mind and heart and listened to you speak about the power of questions. I went home and thought a lot about what I had learned, and I thought about my friend and the power of questions. And then I prayed. I prayed about my friend. And I prayed to know what question I should ask that would heal her heart and our friendship.
“When I woke up this morning I knew the question I should ask. I called my friend and with all the courage I could muster and with all the love I have for her, I asked her the question. And you wouldn’t believe what happened! That one question changed everything. It changed her heart. It opened and softened her heart towards me. It changed her view of me—from being a cruel meddler to truly being her dear friend. It changed our friendship. I don’t think we’ve ever had such a heart-to-heart talk! It was a remarkable experience. That one question brought my friend back to me.”
What was the question?
It was simply, “How can I be more like you?”
What a great question! Asking that one question healed a situation that all other efforts were only making worse!
Questions can bring remarkable healing in undeniable ways. They can bring hope.
Questions can linger on our hearts and in our minds in very useful ways, all the while inviting us to think of, and to see, things we haven’t before.
Questions come with that little hook at the end. Therefore, they never come alone. They hook thoughts and feelings and possible actions. One question can pull all of that into your heart and mind. That’s a pretty powerful hook! And those thoughts, feelings, and actions that are hooked work either for us or against us.
How can we use the connection between the questions we ask and the thoughts and feelings and actions that are triggered by those questions for our good?
How can we change our questions and therefore change how we think and feel about a situation and therefore change what we can do?
Let’s start by talking about solution-seeking questions.
What kinds of questions can help you find solutions? Have you discovered some?
Think about a difficult situation you are presently in.
It’s been tough slogging for a really long time, longer than you ever imagined. You continually try to make the situation better and nothing seems to change. You feel discouraged and want to cry out, as did the Prophet Joseph Smith, “Yea, O Lord, how long… ?” (D&C 121:3).
What happens to your mind and your heart when you “try on” the following question:
What can I do to learn from this difficult experience?
What words are you drawn to in that question?
The word do? The word learn? The word I?
Some useful variations on that question could be:
• What can I do to learn what I need to learn from this difficult experience?
• What can I do to learn what the Lord wants me to learn from this difficult experience?
Can you think of a time when a question helped you to “think outside the box”—that old box you had been locked up in for so long?
One woman’s courage, energy, and ideas started to flow when she began to use the question: What can I do to learn from this difficult experience? Asking that question helped her to see things she had not seen before. It was as though she had been given a new pair of glasses.
Her initial response was like the response of many others. She wrote:
“Do you mean there is something I can do? Just that thought helps me breathe differently. When I ask myself, ‘What can I do to learn from this agonizing situation I am in?’ I feel as though I’m not at the bottom of a pit anymore. It almost feels as though a ladder has been given to me. I start to feel as though I can have some influence on my life and that I am not totally controlled by the situation. I like that.”
Later she wrote:
“By focusing on what I am learning through this horrible experience, I’ve started to think of this situation as my custom-made university course. I think I am doing post-graduate studies in life, in relationships, in me, in prayer, in revelation. I am starting to keep notes on what I am learning and all of this is helping my thinking to shift. And that is not easy for me. But asking this question is helping and I notice that even some of my feelings are following suit. I feel less anxious. Less worried all the time. Less depressed, for sure. And I have much more energy when I ask myself, ‘What can I do to learn from this difficult experience?’ With the extra energy I am starting to do some things in my life other than just murmur about the situation. My old questions were zapping all my energy and I was becoming a couch potato and TV addict. I hated it. But I couldn’t stop it. Or so it seemed. Yesterday I went for a walk. I called a friend I hadn’t talked to in a long time. I am starting to do some things I had stopped doing. Now I find myself asking, ‘Why did I stop doing those things? Why did I stop living my life just because my life wasn’t what I wanted it to be?’ I was in such a fog. Now, as I use the ‘What can I do to learn what I need to learn from this situation’ the fog is lifting. I have to use it every day. And every day I do, I see things and feel things and do things so much differently than before.
“Maybe someone looking in at my situation would say that nothing has changed. But for me, everything is different. I am doing and I am learning and I am writing about what I am doing and what I am learning. I am different.”
Think about your own personal tough situation and ask yourself:
What is it I’m supposed to be learning through this difficult situation?
That question can be so useful as we continue to discover that our timing is not the Lord’s timing. When we wish that something would end, and yet it doesn’t, asking the question, “What is it I’m supposed to be learning?” can help us continue to put one faith-filled footstep in front of the other. To see some things we haven’t seen. To be encouraged to try some new things so we can learn what there is to learn. To pray to know what the lessons are.
Consider the question:
What is it I am supposed to be learning from this difficult situation?
In Doctrine and Covenants 122:1–7 the Lord names more than fifteen horrendous things that could happen to the Prophet Joseph Smith, and in the end His counsel is that “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good (” D&C 122:7).
Take a moment and really think about this profound promise from the Lord:
Whatever difficult situation you are in—“all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good” (D&C 122:7).
Write about three benefits that have come to your life through a very difficult experience.
This life is all about gaining experience—sometimes, perhaps most times, through experiences we would never choose on our own.
The Lord’s tutoring helps us generate more spiritually strengthening questions.
Questions such as
• How can this situation benefit me?
• What growth and new understandings will come to me out of this situation?
• How will it turn to my good?
• Has it already started to turn to my good?
• What is already happening that is good, that I have been overlooking?
• How will this situation turn to the good for those I love?
• What can I do so that this situation will turn to the good for those I love?
Questions can be Powerful!
Consider the question
How will this situation turn to my good?
Now consider other spiritually strengthening questions that have come to your mind in the last few moments.
Write them down so you can remember them because questions can be powerful!
by Rose - reviewed on January 12, 2010
I was delighted with the practicality of this book. It was not just mumbo-jumbo feel good stuff. I read my scriptures daily and have done so for years, but reading them looking for a specific answer to a specific question has been an eye-opening experience. I bought four copies--one for me and one for each of my daughters.
by Kayleen - reviewed on January 22, 2010
I don't have a lot of time to read so when I do I want a great book - this is one! It was thought provoking and gave so many great insights as to the direction we should take our thinking. I love it! I'm always looking for great little thoughts to put in presentations I give. This book gave me some great stuff to work with.
by Christen - reviewed on January 06, 2010
I was absolutely floored by this book. I was expecting it to be good, but not this good. It gave me a different perspective on my life and challenges. I now feel more empowered to take responsibility for my struggles and find new solutions for them. It's also done very creatively, with a lot of pictures and illustrations that make the messages more powerful than they already are. It's gorgeous - put together so beautifully. This book is well worth the price. It's without a doubt Sister Nelson's best work.
by Customer - reviewed on May 26, 2011
Nice book, good stuff, but I ended up selling it. It had too many repetitions.
Wondering what you were sent here to do?
by Bobbie J - reviewed on April 15, 2010
This book is amazing!!! This is not a sit down and read book. It's a book of pondering each chapter. This book has really helped me in my challenges and I have an increase of scripture study. This book has some great quotes and material!
Life Changing Book
by Betty M. - reviewed on March 25, 2010
WOW! What a powerful book!! This is NOT one to be read casually while on a bus or waiting for an appointment. It is a WORKBOOK in the course of "eternity 101." For each hour you spend alone with it, doing all homework faithfully, you world and spirituality will grow as never before. This is a POWERFUL book!! If you want to expand your mind and soul - get it now!
What an amazingly powerful book!
by Customer - reviewed on April 27, 2010
This is a very thought provoking book that gives several suggestions on how to more fully recognize the blessings and love our Heavenly Father has for us individually, as well as an extremely effective way of receiving personal revelation in our daily lives. I bought several copies as gifts for some very special women who would be strengthened by the book's message.