For the past few months I have been running up a huge learning curve. Actually, it isn’t even a curve. It has just been a straight line pointing “up” and it doesn’t show signs of sloping downward any time soon. However, I feel as though I’ve hashed through enough lately that I’m gaining some kind of clarity.
I’m notorious for asking questions. Even if I don’t voice these questions, they are definitely there, percolating in my mind, swirling around as I toss them up and try to cut in at every angle in an attempt to gain a more whole picture. I admit that sometimes a question presents itself in my mind and it nags until I take up the line to pursue it. It is almost an obsession to know. I have to know.
The most common question that rises in my mind is why. I’ve grown cold toward this word because it always leads me to the edge of a cliff and leaves me stranded. Why is tricky, sometimes unanswerable, and always frustrating. Why questions run like a broken record in my mind, spinning out and leading me to dead ends all over the place.
A few weeks ago I was praying and getting to that desperate place that I so often find myself in; a place where I feel restless and undone and claustrophobic. I had been feeling random anxiety and I was sitting there asking God why. “Why do I feel this way? Why here? Why now?” Then I fell silent and a clear thought rang in my mind:
There are more questions than why.
When a doctor or a journalist or a counsellor wants to know something, they ask more questions than just why.
This may seem so simple, but it was a paradigm shift for me. Why questions can be bookends. They might initiate an exploration or prompt a reflection, but the journey to the answer often looks more gritty or colourful than the dead-end why.
So rather than asking why I am feeling anxiety and waiting for a banner in the sky to wave an answer from heaven, I begin to pray through different questions:
Where was I when I started to feel anxious?
Who was around me?
When did it happen?
What was I thinking about?
How was I acting?
With these questions I come in at different angles and loosen the tight locks of the situation so it can breathe a little. This is just one, very simple, example, but I’m finding that more often than not, why is the wrong question to end with. Why is a signal to look deeper, whether that is running myself through new questions, or whether that is intentionally paying attention to what God might be speaking to me or noticing different patterns that arise in my life. The more I ask new questions and pay attention to the answers, the less stuck I become. If I’m asking the question why, it probably means that I don’t know the answer. If I’m asking God why all the time, there is probably a reason that I don’t know. I may be learning something, my vision might be too narrow, it might be too much for me to handle; God knows the situation and He knows all of the answers. He also knows me better than I do.
There are times, though, when why is a call to action. An answer might not be sufficient; I might just need to grieve or apologize or take a new risk. It might be time to stop analyzing the past or worrying about the future or making excuses for the present. I might feel stuck in why because I am stuck. I’m not moving foreword and I need to. The time is now.
So, rather than staying in the dead-end, why has become a signpost to me. It has become a kind of code language for wait or watch or you’re still learning. Sometimes it means go or do or rest. It prompts me to ask different questions and it asks me to be patient.
I still don’t get answers very quickly, but sometimes the best remedies come slowly. They assemble quietly as I follow my string of questions and gather up bits and pieces of answer along the way. Then, one day, I might find myself standing at the end of a chapter or a page and see that the response I wanted so quickly grew up slowly and, in the end, it bloomed in a more unexpected and more beautiful (yet sometimes more painful) way than I wanted it to.
Somehow, though, it is still good.
There are more questions than why. There is more than one way to answer.