Thought for the Week: Asking questions

Sarah Bell is asking questions

As belief in God is such a personal thing, it seemed only fair to give my pupils, who are from eleven to fourteen years of age, a chance to express their feelings, thoughts and ideas on this subject through a survey. Their anonymous responses varied from just a few lines to several pages. There were a few questions that many, clearly, really wanted to explore.

Some rejected the concept of God, seeing in science all the explanation they needed. Sadly, others had negative experiences in churches, some at the time when support was most needed. During a divorce one pupil was astonished that no one had reached out to her in her church.

However, the older ones were more questioning and had a more nuanced approach. God was not to be dismissed out of hand. If they were believers they were not unaware of the many debates. Some spoke of the time they started to ask questions. A thirteen-year-old boy summed this up as: ‘I will never stop believing. I just have a lot of questions which I hope one day I will find the answers to.’ Unsurprisingly, experiencing the death of a relative, for example, was a common reason that caused some of them to re-evaluate their beliefs. Reading about their experience of this and other painful moments that had challenged them was a privilege and, I hope, cathartic.

I asked if there were any questions that they would wish to ask God. One of the most moving responses wasn’t actually a question but a ‘thank you’ for putting them into this wonderful world with their wonderful family. Another felt that God had a hand in making her adoption possible. The stereotype of an ungrateful self-centred teenager is really shattered by these words. Many thanked me for the opportunity the project gave them. This reaction was not what I expected at all.

It is hard in teaching to find the time to pause. We are driven to get more and more into the curriculum and ‘open’ tasks often seem scary. I like the idea that pupils can be questioning and thoughtful. Providing neatly packaged answers is not always the right approach. I hope that through this exercise I modelled an approach whereby asking questions is as valuable as any answers. In this case, talking about God was also a time of listening.

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