The first question tiny humans ask is “why” beginning at about age 3 with a vengeance. Even when the real question is how or what or who, they ask why. Parenting websites are full of advice on ways to handle the incessant questioning, I remembering conquering this stage with some redirection and answering the question I thought my children were actually asking. Still, isn’t it interesting that the question we ask first is the one we continue to ask of our God most throughout our lives? We rarely get the answer we want, yet we keep asking.
Why, God, did the fridge go out just as we were stating to get our bills caught up? Why Why why did our loved ones have to die so soon, before we were ready to let them go? Why do our children take that first drink, that first hit off of a pipe? Why won’t our kids answer our emails, texts, accept our apologies? Why is there such anger, hatred, divisiveness in our world? Why did my husband have his job taken away just after we bought a car, when we finally were starting to see some financial security? The questions go on and on, I am sure you have many of your own. In times of great pain and hardship and worry, the questions come faster and louder. Our faith holds us up as we shout our queries to the heavens. Why, God?
Anne Lamott says the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty. Asking why doesn’t mean we have little faith, it means we are human. It means we just don’t understand what we are to do next, how we are to cope. Like the 3 year old, our real question may be how. How do I go on? How do I survive this disaster and not fall into a pit of despair? Maybe the question is what. What is expected of me as a Christian in the face of this unthinkable pain? What am I to do when people are mean and I want take a time-out from Jesus walking and just punch them or lash out or tell the truth about them while they are sharing my secrets? Maybe the real ask is when. When is enough enough, when will my sorrow have reached the breaking point? When will real change come and I no longer have to be fearful? I wonder sometimes if the question isn’t who. Who are you God. During our most hurt and afraid times, we seek out the face of the One we need, like the child who wants mom even when mom just sent her to time-out. We want to see God, want comfort when we feel alone and scared and worried that we are in this messed up world making big choices all by ourselves. Ultimately, the question is can God handle our questioning? I think He welcomes them.
I remember when my kids first started asking their “whys.” When Plum’s began I was more than ready. The curiously about their world, the readiness to explore and discover meant we were about to have many conversations. It meant I was going to be challenged to be present, to give them my outmost attention. My words were going to count with them, I had a chance to make an impact, right then. Until the day we stopped talking, both of my children still came to me to help explain their worlds. Plum asks me questions everyday. I relish my role as information guru. Just last night mama called with a question as she and Plum were reading a book about space and Plum wonder where Heaven was in relation to outer space. Mama wanted to get the words right, thought maybe they better call in some back up. On speaker phone, I asked questions myself. “Plum, where is God?” Heaven. “Where else?” Everywhere. “Who made the sun, the stars, the moon, outer space?” God. Okay Gran, I get it, Heaven is where God is and heaven is everywhere. Goodbye. He quickly hung up, satisfied with his own answer, settling the query himself.
I know that teaching our children to ask the real questions and learn to find the answers for themselves is one of the most rewarding parts of parenting. Is it any less so for God? Maybe He gets a little weary of our asking in times of trouble, “Why me, God?”, when there are so many who are hurting more deeply. But like a patient parent, He shows up to listen and guides us to the answers. Not always the ones we want, maybe a little redirection is in order, but still, we get the answer we need. So as I rise each morning and ask God how much longer, I find something else to do while I wait. I find a woman who needs help filling out the paperwork to go visit her son her prison and then needs a ride to get there. I find that a friend recently diagnosed with cancer, a friend who has graced my door with meals so many times over the years, could use the efforts of my cooking ability today. I mumble how much longer and then I get busy writing up a newsletter article or agreeing to be an usher. God redirects my whining and moaning into worthwhile activity and I forget that I was asking a question. I remember that the world is also hurting and I have something to help heal a small piece of it. I figure out where God is and then I go see some of HIs people.
Why God? Why do You keep loving us when we make such a mess of things? Why do You stay so faithful when we stray? Why do You show such forgiveness when we just don’t? Really those are the why questions that matter. The only answer is grace. Let us all practice answering with extra grace whatever is asked of us. Those annoying angry bitter hurtful questions may just be hiding a real ask for comfort and grace. Can’t we offer that light today? Maybe figuring out where God is and showing up there, that will bring us all closer to the answers.