Thursday, September 6, 2012

When to Ask "Why?"

A parent and child are in a living room covered with Lego bricks and miniature hair brushes.  The parent tries desperately to strap some shoes onto the child's flexed feet while the following conversation unfolds:

Adult: We need to put your shoes on.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we're going to the store.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we need to get food.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we have to make dinner.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because we have to eat.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because God made us that way.
Child: Why?
Adult: Because he's God.
Child: Why?

Sound familiar?  If it does, then most likely you've been around a child at that magical age when he or she discovers "why" and subsequently creates an existential crisis for every adult within earshot.

"Why" is easily one of the most powerful words we have.  When we use it in the form of a question, not only are we more likely to win Jeopardy but also to make some of the greatest discoveries in history: from science and medicine, to art and spirituality, and everything in between.

But "why" can also be distracting. Asking it too much can lead us around in circles, forever returning us to a starting point without the satisfaction of crossing a finish line.

Which is why I believe this three-letter word is one that only gets more complicated as we get older.  What starts out as a gateway to empowerment when we're little can grow to feel more like a waste of time as we gain both knowledge and experience.  It becomes easy to start wondering, "When is 'why?' worth asking?"

As a teenager, my little community was rocked pretty hard when a close friend of mine was killed from injuries in a car accident.  I remember the Sunday following his death, I was sitting in a church meeting with other teenage guys sharing thoughts about why his life had been cut so short.  With the most faithful of intentions, we talked about him being "called to another purpose" and proposed it was "just his time."

At that point, our ecclesiastical leader spoke up and bluntly stated that maybe the reason he died was because he didn't wear a seatbelt.  I was initially a little offended by the harshness of his words.  Where was the comfort to be found in that?  All these years later, though, I think I understand what he was saying.

Sometimes we ask "Why?" in our lives, not to find an answer, but more specifically to find an answer that makes us feel better.  And sometimes when looking too hard for it, we miss the opportunity to learn a lesson (The power of choice, for example, when you choose not to wear a seatbelt).

So maybe "Why?" is only worth asking when we're ready for an answer and not just a hug.  It's worth asking when it won't distract us as much as not asking.

Living by faith doesn't mean we're entitled to an answer simply because we trust it exists; it means we trust it exists despite not knowing it yet.  Only then can we truly be prepared to learn a lesson.  Otherwise, we'll find ourselves searching for the "why's" of our past more than the "what's" of our present.  And in the face of that much distraction, there's only one thing to ask...

Yep. You got it. J

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