The Three Questions and The Art of Now


I’m a book lover, and I especially love children’s books.   My favorite class in college was Children’s Literature, now called KidLit.  Class assignments “required” me to reread many of my favorite classics from childhood, and then some!  Whose idea of work was this?  My love for kidlit continued to grow throughout a teaching career in early childhood ed, and of course spilled over into motherhood.  I’ve used children’s books at workshops, parent meetings, and when leading devotionals. I’m convinced that the best lessons in life lesson are taught through children’s book.

The Three Questions, written and illustrated by Jon Muth, is one such book.  Muth’s deceptively deep book is based on a short story by Leo Tolstoy, one of Russia’s greatest novelists, moral philosophers, and social reformers. In The Three Questions, a boy named Nikolai struggles to find the answers to three of life’s hardest questions:

When is the best time to do things?

Who is the most important one?

What is the right thing to do?

The story describes Nikolai’s quest to find the answers from animal friends, and the help that finally comes from the wise old turtle, Leo.

It was as I entered the stage in life which some people call the empty nest stage that I first came across this book. When the student is ready, the teacher shows up.   At the time, I was doing a fair amount of peering into the rear view mirror.  Nostalgia — a yearning for what’s past.  The good ‘ole days before my children had the audacity to grow up and leave, and our home still pulsed with family life.

This in itself is ironic because when my kids were little I often looked to the future:  thinking about dinner, next week’s ballgames, music lessons and orthodontic appointments – all those necessary things which keep a family going.  Come to think of it, I could have learned something from The Three Questions then too!

Back to the book and the simple answers Nikolai found to his complex questions.

When is the best time to do things?
The best time to do things in now.

Who is the most important one?
The most important one is the one you’re with.

What is the right thing to do?
The right thing to do is to do good for the one standing by your side.

It dawned on me as I read this book that if I spend too much time looking backwards, I’m likely to miss the opportunities of today.  The opportunity to help someone, or to share laughter and new adventures with whoever happens to cross my path.  Likewise, when I strain to see what’s around the bend, as has often been the case, I miss noticing and appreciating the beauty of life that surrounds me in the present.

It all boils down to living in the now.  It comes as no surprise that those who make it a practice to live in the moment are happier people.  In a Psychology Today article titled “The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment” Jay Dixit writes that we are more exuberant, more empathetic, and more secure when we live in the moment.  He goes on to say that “anchoring awareness in the here and now reduces the kinds of impulsivity and reactivity that underlie depression, binge eating, and attention problems.”

One of my favorite movies is Shadowlands because it’s based on the life of one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis.  In this scene, Lewis (Anthony Hopkins) has this to say about happiness:

“I don’t want to be somewhere else anymore.  Not waiting for anything new to happen.  Not looking around the next corner, the next hill.  Here now.  That’s enough.”

And Joy (Debra Winger) says this in return:

“That’s your kind of happy, isn’t it?”

The Three Questions helped me reach the kind of happy that living in the now brings, and I keep finding reminders of this truth when I slow down and pay attention.  Should I ever forget this or other life lessons, I’ll simply pick up a children’s book and do a little “required” reading.


3 responses »

  1. Pingback: The Three Questions Book Review « TouchstoneZ

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