Curiosity doesn’t have a recipe. It’s not like baking cookies. If it was, it wouldn’t be very curious, would it? Curiosity differs for everyone. Some people are finders and connectors. Some people are miners who go deep on a single subject and drill to great depths. Both need the other and benefit from their respective differences. For some people, curiosity is highly relational; for some it’s actionable, and for some it’s conceptual. Again, each is good and according to the gifts and propensities God has given them. The list that follows seeks to offer practical steps for curiosity of any cut, color, or kind.
If you believe the world is uninteresting it will be for you. And you will miss everything amazing going on around you. You will miss all the amazing people and ideas and natural occurrences and creation. To be interested is a decision because our natural inclination is to shrink life to something manageable, whereas being interested expands life dramatically. We must assume that God did not make a boring world. To assume He did would be to dishonor Him. And if He didn’t make a boring world, who are we to live as if it is not worth our attention? Make the decision to tune in.
Do not assume anyone or anything has nothing to offer you. If God made it then it has value, and if it is a person then he or she bears God’s imprint the same as you. It is arrogance to treat anyone or anything as valueless and uninteresting. If then all created things have value and hold interest, we should ask questions, and only humble people are free to do this. Asking questions is an admission of ignorance and a tacit statement of need. Pride abhors this stance. Proud people are embarrassed to ask questions and to look vulnerable. Pride kills curiosity quicker than anything. So foster humility by constantly looking at the expanse of God, His creation, and all you don’t yet know about it.
Looking is not the same as seeing. Seeing develops with time, like an infant learning to track a parent’s finger, then see a face, then see the room. Looking is the intentional exercise of doing just that—viewing the world, glancing about, seeing what there is to see. It is a habit of trying to see . . . something. You know it is there—whatever it is—because you know God made a complex, fascinating world and it never fails to offer something about which to be curious. Before you can notice you must be looking, so make a habit of it. Look at the people around you, the weather, the architecture of your city, the topography of your county, something. Try to notice something you’ve missed day in and day out on your commute to work or in your neighborhood. Until you begin looking and noticing things of little significance you’ll never be develop the ability to see more significant things.
Listening is looking with your ears. It is tuning in to the voices and the soundtrack and sound effects of your world. Every day you hear thousands of words and noises. You hear phrases that are funny, but you don’t notice them. You hear accents but you can’t place them or imitate them. You hear sirens but don’t know they’re from a fire engine or a police car. A snippet of information or an inspirational quote rolls right out of that podcast and past you because you tuned out. The old guy at the table next to you at the diner has the funniest figures of speech, but none that come to mind right now. A co-worker told a really funny story, like so funny your ribs hurt from laughing, about . . . something. Every morning you walk to your car and miss the song the dove is singing or the breeze is playing. You need to develop the habit of listening the same way you develop the habit of looking. Too much is happening around you not to notice and tune in.
We have terrible memories. How many times have you told yourself “I’ll take care of that when I get home from work” only to forget that you had anything to take care of, let alone what it was? How often do you walk into a room to do something, but what was it again? All the looking and listening will accomplish nothing at all unless we take note of it, or should I say take notes of it. Write down your observations. Use your phone or a notebook or a napkin or something. I use Evernote on my phone and computer or Apple’s Notes app. They are my preference because they’re easy and they sync between devices. In Bird by Bird Anne Lamott writes about always taking note cards with her to jot down things that catch her ear or eye—a scene, a phrase, a sound. Regardless of your method or the implements you use, just take notes.
Questions are the currency of curiosity. But unlike other currency there is no withdrawal limit and they multiply themselves. Spend liberally. Do not be embarrassed to ask; remember that asking someone an honest question shows respect to their expertise and their personal story. Asking someone a question honors them, so ask away. Ask individuals so you can hear their perspectives. Ask experts so you can hear the details and depth. Ask resources (books, Google, documentaries, etc.) to get facts. Ask yourself to see if you really understand and where your blind spots are. In any situation come with a few questions prepared.
Go and explore.
It takes a conscientious decision to step outside our lane, to get out of the wheel rut our life rolls down. But curiosity demands it. Otherwise our discoveries will be limited to our daily life and be relegated to mere ideas because we can do nothing about them. Exploring might mean crossing the street or it might mean crossing the ocean. What it must mean is stretching ourselves and likely getting uncomfortable. Some people will travel the world, but many people simply need to discover other neighborhoods in their own city. Going means saying yes to new opportunities—a job or position, a short term mission trip, white water rafting, a new Vietnamese restaurant, deep sea fishing, playing tennis for the first time.
Trying is like exploring but can be done much closer to home. It is less about geography and more about experiences. Try a new recipe for dinner every week or two, maybe something Indian or Vietnamese or otherwise outside your normal palate. Try conversing with neighbors you’ve waved to but never engaged. Try listening to a new band or reading a new genre of books. Try a new hobby. Commit to it; don’t just test it out once. Try until you learn or have an experience to record.
Books are a universe unto themselves. They transport readers to different times and places, to worlds that exist only in an imagination, to the life of another person altogether, to concepts and ideas. Books are information and stories and inspiration and instruction. I am preaching to the choir here since you, dear reader, are a reader. But I simply do not understand people who do not read (or listen if reading is a particular hardship). To not read is it to the mind as not eating is to the body. Try to read a few minutes a day, maybe ten or fifteen. You will find that you consume far more pages and books than you imagined possible. Don’t worry about people who write “The top fifty books I read last year” blog posts. Just compete with yourself, to improve, to absorb, to consume.
This is the one of the most important question of a curious mind. Always ask, “What else is there?” It is the mental equivalent of continuing to look and listen and explore and try. It keeps the door open for further discovery. And it acknowledges that God’s creations—human or otherwise—are always more complex and amazing than we initially see. Asking “What else?” allows us to find connections between people or ideas that we might have otherwise missed. It drives us deeper. “What else?” keeps curiosity moving.
Curiosity as a concept is overwhelming because it can point any direction and start seemingly anywhere. If someone is trying to develop curious habits the best place to do so is close to home. The best thing to do is to apply the previous habits in your own life, relationships, home, and family, and then work outward. You will find two significant benefits from this pattern. First is that it is more manageable and fits inside the life you already lead. You don’t have to dramatically change everything. The second major benefit is that it will bring growth and vibrancy to your world. You cannot change the other side of the world by becoming curious about it, but you can change the world of your family and friends and co-workers.
Always return to scripture.
Curiosity is about God and for God. It is an expression of worship and it honors Him by exploring the depths and breadth of His creation and nature. If we are to do something that honors God then we must know Him, and scripture is where He reveals Himself, where He tells what we need to know for a right and vibrant relationship with Him. For this reason scripture is where our curiosity should be directed first and most consistently, not as a book or a text or a resource but as a revelation of our Creator. We should apply every step—look, listen, record, ask, explore, try, and read—to it with rigor and constancy. Without scripture all our other curiosity is at great risk of pursuing falsehood. Scripture is our plumb line, our compass. Every discovery we make can be stacked up against it to gauge truth or falsehood. Of course scripture does not have explicit words on all things science, entertainment, and culture. But it tells us all we need to know of souls, attitudes, and God’s character to judge right from wrong and healthy from unhealthy. So we must, must, return to it time and again.
As I said at the beginning, this is not a recipe for curiosity. These are elements of curiosity, ingredients which can be mixed in various quantities with two exceptions: we must always be humble and we must always rely on scripture. Other than those two mix and match and sequence and build.
This is an excerpt from Barnabas Piper’s forthcoming book The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life (B&H), due to be released in early 2017.