The Question of Why
Recently, I led a group in which I gave each person a clear glass stone. As we walked outside in the sunshine and breeze toward our meeting spot, I asked the group to consider why I had given them the stone. After a time of reflection, each person shared his or her insight: “It’s a symbol of our higher power.” “You want us to use it as a grounding tool and a way to be present.” “We can associate it with our regrets and fears and then throw it in the pond.”
Each answer offered a profound angle on the reasons behind holding a simple objet.
We then talked about the question of “why,” verbalizing some of the deeper whys we have held deep within us during our lives: Why was I abused as a child? Why do my children have to suffer from my addiction? Why did my mom kill herself? Why did I get cancer? Why am I an alcoholic? Why me?”
Questions of “why” are normal for those of us navigating pain and loss. It’s the cry of our soul to make sense of defeat and difficulty and injustice.
The question of why needs expression. We need to give voice to the nagging uncertainty and exhausting fears buried in the deep pockets of our hearts. We are not alone in our questions of why. Spirituality has always made room for these questions:
“Why have you forsaken me, God? Why have you left me alone to suffer? Why am I being torn down and crushed?” Coming to God with our whys is the kind of authentic expression our spiritual connection is made of.
But “why” questions can become consuming, sending us into hopelessness and paralyzing despair. They can wrap around our souls, blinding us to hope and light. If we focus on the “why,” the “when” or the “what if,” we quickly lose sight of the present moment where healing is taking place.
The world and well-meaning friends and family want to offer cheap answers to make us feel better: “It was her time to go.” “Your addiction was given to you to help you grow stronger.” “You were abused so you could help someone else.”
The answers are offered in an effort to quiet a staggering pain that doesn’t go away with shallow clichés. Quick answers are often dismissive of our real feelings.
We seek to find answers to why things have happened out of a need for meaning and control. If I know my pain has a deeper purpose, then I can make sense of it. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, it will bring comfort now.
And THEN I can heal.
But sometimes we don’t know why.
We may have insightful theories, but we can’t always be 100% certain of why loss, addiction and pain are a part of our story.
Instead of focusing on knowing why, the group began to see the endless possibilities of healing, change and connection now that the stone was in their hands. Their initial “why” answers offered insight regarding how the stone could bring life. The group didn’t need the “why” answered in order to see the stone as a connecting point with a higher power. The stone offered help in staying present and aiding in emotional processing, regardless of why the stone ended up in their hands.
After we give voice to the “why”, we can choose to ask a better question: “What can I do now that this is a part of my story? Who can I share my feelings with? How can I let go and heal?”
One group member had lost his dad to suicide and was able to be present for another man with a similar story. Regarding the “why,” he said this: “My dad didn’t kill himself so I could relate to someone else’s pain, but because it happened, I had the opportunity to comfort my friend.”
Our “why” questions may be answered in time. It may be farther in our journey of healing that we see, not that the pain or loss was “good”, but how pain and loss don’t have the last word.
Share your raw, frustrating “why” questions while also knowing that healing can happen without definitive answers. Spirituality is an experience, not an informational exchange. So grieve, rest and recover, knowing that even when we don’t understand, we can still experience peace.
-Chris Gibson, MDiv