23 October 2010

The Thing About Asking Why

And I know you bore our sorrows
And I know you feel our pain
And I know it would not hurt any less
Even if it could be explained ...

Lyrics from "Hard to Get" by Rich Mullins

If this doesn't scream "It shouldn't be this way", then I don't know what does.

It's difficult sometimes not to ask why. But once upon a time, I learned not to.

It was the beginning of my junior year of college. I was in my first year as an RA and it was Labor Day weekend. The school year had just started and I had gone on a hike with some friends. When I returned that afternoon, I learned that my cousins Bryan and Mike, just 19 and 16 at the time, had been killed in a car wreck. They were passengers in a car that flipped off of a freeway overpass.

You know how you will sometimes see stories on the news about these tragic car wrecks and how you will see the flashing aid car and police car lights by the twisted wreckage and shards of glass in the middle of the night and you wonder how in the world the friends and family of those people are coping with the news? You know how people will leave crosses and flowers and pictures and balloons at the scene?

That was us. That was my family.

I asked why a lot. I cried a lot. I would wake up in the middle of the night sobbing and go into the hall so no one could hear me. God, why?

I never did get an answer. But I kept asking anyway. If I could just get an answer, if I could just understand, then maybe we could all get a handle on our grief. Maybe then it would hurt less.

When I heard the Rich Mullins song quoted above, it struck a chord, that whole part about it not hurting any less even if it could be explained. I rejected the thought at first -- of course it would hurt less if we knew why. If we could just understand why this happened, it would make sense. It wouldn't hurt so much if we could just understand -- if we could just see and know what good might come of it.

Somewhere along the line it clicked: Bryan and Mike were gone, and even if there were earthly language that could be used to explain to me all the reasons why this happened or even what good might come of it, and even if I could understand and embrace all those explanations, it would not make it hurt any less. It would not mitigate the loss we felt. It would not make it any easier to accept, and it could not take away the pain that comes from living in a world that, for all its Louis Armstrong "What a Wonderful World" moments, is entirely too screwed up and senseless at times.

I also realized that there were some subtle but important implications under girding my simple (and understandable) question of why. Implicit in my question was the assertion that I should somehow be exempt or saved from such suffering. Asking why demanded of God a justification for why He had permitted such a terrible thing to happen to us. If I claim to believe that God is who He says He is: that He is all good, that He is all loving, that He is all merciful, and that He can work all things together for good, then I really shouldn't have a problem with my own personal suffering. I should also understand that as good and loving as He is, He does not answer to me. The fact that I was asking why revealed my weakness, my doubt, and my lack of belief. When I took the time to consider it, I could not find a single good reason as to why I should get a pass on suffering when so many others bear up with it day after day after painful, torturous day.

Humbling, but true.

I was also forgetting about the redemptive and purifying nature of suffering. So often the prayers I would pray in the midst of my own personal pain would be for a miraculous way out of whatever it was that was wrong or uncomfortable about the world -- a way to be relieved of my discomfort instantaneously. We see this all the time in prayers to be healed of sickness and disease, prayers for the weak to be strengthened, requests for the maimed to be made whole. And while I know there is nothing wrong in praying for healing (I prayed many times daily that Ewan might be healed, after all), we can miss something bigger if we are too attached to that as the outcome of our pleas. The prayer Jesus taught His disciples asks "Thy will be done," and sometimes that means enduring the very things we would rather avoid, for ourselves or for those we love.

I thought about Paul's thorn in the flesh and how he begged for it to be taken away, but God's answer to him was that that His grace would be sufficient, that His power would be perfected in Paul's weakness. For all the nodding and assenting I did at the truth indicated in Paul's reality, the truth is I infinitely preferred the option in which I would not have to experience personally anything like Paul's thorn -- that I could skate by through life without the types of circumstances that had me on the floor in tears, begging for mercy.

In asking why, I was saying "no" to seeing God's power on display in any other way. I was only open to experiencing it in the way I wanted it: in restoring the wrongs in the universe, and giving a mother back her sons. I was not willing to embrace the idea that it could be at least as miraculous to witness God working unthinkable amounts of good out of such exceeding brokenness and excruciating pain as my aunt and uncle experienced in losing their sons.

It was tempting to ask why with Ewan a million different times and in a thousand different ways. But if I'm honest, there is not an answer out there that would satisfy me or anyone else who has suffered a similar loss. No string of words, no matter how carefully crafted and perfectly chosen, would make me any more accepting of Ewan's death. As painful as living without him is right now, belaboring the question of why only exacerbates the wound.

A number of words and phrases come through my tears when they come these days: I miss him. I want him back. Over and over and over. But the one-word question stopped rising to the surface awhile ago. And the reason is simple enough: God is good, and I am continuing to learn to trust Him -- even with this.

Lord, have mercy.


Tiffany said...


You're so great. Thank you for challenging my thinking.

I started reading your blogs this month because a friend told me about you because I'd recently had my second miscarriage. (Son, then miscarriage, then daughter, then miscarriage.) Your perspective is so on in this post. I've actually been struggling with wondering why God would take my babies when I so want them. And believe it or not, I think I felt betrayed that He would take them when I feel like I have a good theology of life - as if He should only take babies from people who think of them as "just a fetus" or a "bunch of cells" or, for older babies, "a nuisance." How messed up is it to think that God owes me a child simply because I value life? I just told a friend about this yesterday, and now here you are, telling me why my thinking (which I already knew to be wrong) is messed up. I needed that.

Kirsten (and is it KEERsten or KERRsten?), I do want you to know that I am so, so sorry for your loss. I've been grieving with and for you and praying for you, too. I hope I can be like you some day. Your faith moves me. Man, I just want God to heap blessings in your lap, showering wonderful things down upon you from Heaven, but I know that even that couldn't ease your pain right now. I'll continue to pray for you. I wish I could do more than that.


Your New Friend Tiffany

(PS - I'm reading through your Becoming Catholic posts on your other blog as my husband and I seem to be heading in that direction. I'm so glad to have an intelligent woman's perspective on converting from Protestantism - thanks for sharing!)

Lisa said...

May you indeed know His mercy fully, richly and deeply, and may it hold and surround you today, and in the days to come.

sending many hugs and prayers still

Alyssa the Ragamuffin said...

I am also a "new friend" who has been praying for you since the night Ewan went home (a friend posted a request on FB). Thank you for your words. I'm still praying daily for you and your husband.

This post is so true. All I can do is take comfort in the fact that God hated death long before I was even born, so it must be okay for us to feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you. Every word is truth. Thank you.

christianne said...

I love you, my friend. I love the way you share yourself continually through all of this.

You have such wisdom. God shines so brightly through you.

I had a thought tonight as I was reading through this. I hope it doesn't sound weird. But as you were sharing that no amount of answers could ever bring Mike or Bryan or Ewan back or satisfy that ache, I had a flash in my mind of what it would be like if God took Kirk from me through death. There is absolutely nothing that could be said to comfort me in that place. There are no answers -- straight from the truth of God or otherwise -- that would make it any better. It would just be heartache upon heartache and sadness upon sadness, and I would always, always miss him.

Even that small mental glimpse is helping me understand your feelings of loss a little more. I so want to understand as much as a friend is able to do so.

I love you.

PS: Tiffany, it's pronounced KERR-sten. :)

Ingrid's Organic Body Care said...

Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

after reading your post it is so encouraging to see that you are looking to Christ, and what a privalege that when we glory in our infirmities that the power of Christ rests upon us. we are thankful that His power is resting upon you. and, we continue to lift your need up to him. and, we continue to miss ewan.

thank you for sharing

Rebecca said...

You are, without a doubt, one of the deepest Christians I know. You have such a God-given wisdom (and an ability to express it).

Thank you for challenging my thinking and breaking my heart all at the same time.

I send this with my love and prayers.


Anonymous said...

You always leave me speechless...
Sarah V.

Kristin said...

What a profound and thought provoking post. Praying for you and thanking God for your desire to share the Truth with others.

Nadine said...

Love you!

Sarah said...

You know, as I've prayed and cried for you all and for Ewan, there have been times when I've wanted to ask, "Why?" But something has always stopped me, like a catch in my soul. I think it's God, telling me something similar to what you've written here.

Thank you, friend, for your wise, tender heart.

Joelle said...

To me the best part of Jesus--Emmanuel--is seeing God-with, incarnate in pain and suffering. You are accompanied, Brave Soul.

Tara said...

Your ability to express your God-given wisdom is beautiful, insightful and so inspiring...Wow.

Praying for you still, that peace and comfort continue to flow from the Almighty One.

Love and hugs!

Megan said...

You have every right to ask why. We will never fully understand why.

But God knows, and he loved Ewan so much that he took him home. Just as he did with my Savannah.
And you are right, when you say we just have to trust him. His plans for us are far greater than our own. Even though that doesn't always heal our pain!
Megan@ A story unfolding

Shay said...

Kirsten, your words are, as always, thought-provoking, open, honest, vulnerable, beautiful, precious...I love how you are able to express your thoughts, feelings, emotions, highs, and lows. I remember that day when your cousins passed away. I also remember how you used that time to minister to me later that year when my grandma passed away. You are a blessing to me and I treasure our friendship.

I think of you, James, and Ewan daily and am constantly praying for you. You are deeply loved! xoxo

terri said...

i was remembering the deaths of your cousins a few days ago and wondering about how this new loss was bringing up your old losses. so hard.

i've never been able to spend much time on the "why" questions. they never really lead anywhere and they never seem to help even when you find the answers.

love you girl. thinking of you an awful lot and praying for you.

Shannon said...

Your biblical knowledge is amazing! And your faith, wow. You are an incredible woman. God is shining right through you Kirsten, and you have such a way of sharing His word in ways that touch our hearts so deeply. Thank you.

When we first found out about Derrick's heart, I asked "why!?" far too many times. I couldn't understand why in the world God would give me baby that would suffer so much pain, when there were so many people who didn't even want their babies. Why was he doing this to us? I struggled with why on many levels. All selfish, but I guess it showed my lack of faith. Finally, I came to a point where the why's kind of dwindled away (without me realizing it), and I had more peace with the situation.

Our situations are very different, but I can connect so much with what you wrote. You really make me think, and I appreciate that a lot. I always look forward to reading your posts.

Praying for you ALWAYS!

Ingrid's Organic Body Care said...

praying for you
our friend lost her baby and she posted this: http://www.kerimae.com/2010/10/saying-see-ya-later-baby.html
thought i'd share, there is comfort in her words as well as yours, because, she too, extols the Savior.

Alison said...

I think of you daily and continue to pray for you.