You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

These two things are almost all I want, but unfortunately, neither one is my strong suit. I am very strong on blame, and wish this were one of God’s values, but trust, surrender? Letting go, forgiveness? Maybe just after a period of prayer, but then when the mood passes and real life rears its ugly head again? Not so much. I hate this, the fact that life is usually Chutes and Ladders, with no guaranteed gains.

I cannot will myself into having these qualities, so I have to pray for them more often, if I want to be happy. I have to create the habit, just as I had to do with daily writing, and flossing.

     Anne Lamott

Trust? Surrender? Letting go? Forgiveness?

None of these are easy.  None of them come naturally to us. 

All of them require practice to receive.  All of them take intention to accept.

What do we do with life’s uncertainties, life’s seemingly random events and misfortunes?  Our natural tendencies are to look for reasons, to seek out blame, to find the fault that caused the pain. 

What did I eat or not eat to cause this disease?  Why did he say what he said to cause this rift in our friendship?  What could I have done to prevent my daughter from taking this heartbreaking turn?

We question all the time and look for reasons for the hurt, the brokenness and the circumstances that bring distress to our lives. 

But there’s a story from the book of John that we like, a story that offers a different perspective on this issue:

Walking down the street Jesus saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked,

“Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?”

“Jesus said, you’re asking the wrong question.  You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause – effect – here.  Look instead for what God can do.” 

 In this story a man is born blind.  People want to know why; they want certainty, a reason.  They point fingers. 

It must have been because of his parents; they must have done something to cause and deserve this. 

Isn’t that all too common, all too familiar?

Yes.  There certainly are times when reasons can be known and causes can be understood for why something bad happens.  A lot of times, in fact.  A lot of times there are clear answers as to “why”.

But the truth of the matter is that there is simply so much in life that is also unexplainable:

  • an unexpected diagnosis
  • a sudden loss of life
  • a break in a relationship
  • a financial collapse
  • a natural disaster’s seemingly random devastation
  • a child born with a disability

It is our tendency to live in a state of blame that is the issue here.  So often we do not move on from disappointment, disaster and disease.  We get stuck in the habit of pointing fingers and finding fault, as if that will somehow give us a sense of clarity and peace.   As if assessing blame will change the fact of whatever bad thing has happened. 

We need to get to the place where we can let go of bitterness and blame.  We need to move to a place where we can trust.  We need to trust that even in the difficulty and uncertainty there will be others who will be present with us, walking beside us, upholding us, listening to us, caring about us, being gracious with us.

When after many months of doctor visits, many tests and procedures and many questions it became increasingly evident that our son Matthew was born with severe disabilities, my wife and I (Michael) were given a tremendous gift when he was a few months old.  Matthew’s pediatrician, after sharing with us yet more disheartening news about his condition, and us asking yet more questions about what may have gone wrong to cause it, looked straight at us and declared,

Don’t blame yourselves for this.  This is not your fault. 

Her simple statement immediately lifted the blame that we were trying to put on ourselves.  Her admonition gave us the permission we needed to stop agonizing over how his disabilities could have occured. 

So many people over the years have asked us if we have ever gotten reasons why Matthew is the way he is or if Kathy and I have ever been angry about his disabilities.  The answer is “no” to both.  Sure, it may be comforting to know the “why”.  But even that won’t change the circumstances.  And anger won’t help us to care for him.  So, what good would it do?

Wanting to always assess blame is often an unhelpful, even destructive, way to live.  Life sometimes is simply hard and much of it is totally unexplainable.  As much as we may desire certain answers, sometimes they will not come.  And always, when they cannot, we need to have the ability and the resources to accept that reality.  So, how do we do that?

It is in having others with whom we can share, vent, cry, express just how we feel, especially our frustration at not having answers – openly, honestly and freely – that can make all the difference.  It may not change the circumstances of the situation or the challenges we face in it.  But it can help to ease the pain, to calm our fears and to bring us comfort when we it most.   Perhaps, in that we can begin, as Reinhold Niebuhr has famously prayed:

… to accept the things I cannot change;
(have) courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

 

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