What's the best question to ask yourself in the toughest times?

We often hear "everything happens for a reason." It's easy to believe this statement when things are going well. But, when the rug gets pulled out from underneath us, it's not so easy and causes a lot of confusion. 

To me, there could not be any good reason God let my son die in an accident. At this point, I just don't believe there is a good reason for Jacob not being here experiencing life with us. I know, it's my one sided human point of view. But, that's all I've got, and that's where I'm at. Call it a weak faith or whatever you like - Jacob's my son and I'm his Dad. Life was not supposed to turn out this way. And, I don't think God wanted it this way either. 

Soon after the accident, Brea and I would start our mornings by sitting on our front porch with friends and family drinking coffee. Then we would go sit and write in our journals. Most of my journaling was me writing out prayers. I would ask God question after question, with most of them starting with - why? My heart was broken and I felt like a loving God would want to give me answers that would provide some comfort and peace. Day after day, I would beg and plead but for whatever reason, I just didn't get what I was looking for. 

Frantically, I would read through the bible scouring scripture for something that would help make sense of our circumstance. Normally, in life I was able to find a verse that I could connect with or that would speak some peace into the situation. But, this darkness I was in was too big and deep to find any quick resolution. This was a pain that was unbearable and too profound. I couldn't find anything to ease it's intensity and my desperation. 

Photo Credit: R. Nial Bradshaw

One day I had outlined a number of my questions in my journal and I wanted to talk through them with one of our pastors at church, Bill Hill.  He had been coming over to visit us daily and I wanted to talk through how God's sovereignty and the presence of so much innocent suffering made no sense to me. Why would God let Jacob die at 3 years old in this horrific accident if he could have done something about it? And, why are people OK with responding to my questions with  - "You just have to trust God." Really? You think I'm going to trust a God who lets little children (let alone my son) die a senseless painful death? I would want to say, "switch places with me for a second, and see if you still feel the same way about that God."  

Along with a couple of friends, Bill and I sat on our back porch together on a 100 degree Texas evening. We sat outside pretending like it wasn't uncomfortable with plastic cups full of luke warm wine. That would be my first cup of many for the evening. For better or worse, this had become a way to self medicate myself to help numb reality just a bit. 

I got my journal out and started running through my questions with Bill. My thought was that if anyone was going to give me the answers I had about God, it was going to come from an experienced Pastor. BIll had also worked as a hospice chaplain for much of his life, so he's not new to grief or listening to a grieving person talk about their disappointments with God.

As I started going through my list with Bill, he sat back and listened. He didn't try to rebut my questions. He nodded in agreement and solidarity with my anger and disillusionment over what happened. After some time, I finally stopped talking and I waited in fervent anticipation to receive the answers I'd been hoping to find.

He sat up a little in his chair and said to me "Jason, these are all legitimate questions. These are hard questions and you have every right to ask them. But, "Why?" is not the right question. The only good question you can ask your self is this"

"Now that this has happened, what are you going to do about it?" 

I sat back in my chair and took it in. Honestly, I didn't like what he said at all. "That doesn't give me any answers?" I thought. "What about God? If there's a reason for this pain and for Jacob's death, and God is in control, then I want to know why." I felt like out of a sense of responsibility for Jacob and because I was his Dad that I needed to know why this happened? If I don't find out why, then I felt like I was letting Jacob down and that I was somehow letting God off the hook.  

For many more months, I continued to seek answers from a number of theologians, scholars, and others who had experienced the death of a child. I continued to come up empty handed with a good answer to the Why? question. Ultimately, I realized that Bill had already given me the best question I could ask. 

The question "What am I going to do now" requires action. This is very important because sometimes our circumstances can paralyze us. And, our inaction can cause us to sit and wallow in our sadness or despair which can lead to depression. By getting our minds and bodies in motion we at least begin to look outside of ourselves and take the focus off of our current state of pain and suffering. 

Also, by choosing to use your suffering and energy to do something good, you can redeem some of the circumstance you are in. Even at your lowest points, you can bring some meaning to your life and it will give you continued reason to get out of bed on those days it feels like you just want to give up. 

Bill had one last thing to say to me about my "Why?" questions that day. He said "Jason, is there any answer to your why question that would take away any of your pain or sadness?" Without hesitation, I said "Absolutely, not." There couldn't be an answer that would make me feel better at the time and there still wouldn't be one today. Even if I knew why - it wouldn't be a good enough answer to keep me from missing my son with every fiber of my being. 

There are no good answers to the Why question. Even though the truth of that question gave me reason to stop asking; a new level of grief set in because I now had to accept that I would begin a new struggle in having to live with unanswered questions the rest of my life. 

For most of our why questions we won't get answers. At least not answers that will satisfy. And, to be perfectly candid - I don't think there are always reasons to why things happen. Life is full of chaos and accidents, and sometimes the consequences of living in this world lead to really bad things happening to us. When those things happen, asking "Why?" will not help get you through it. The start of finding peace and healing again starts when you ask: What am I going to do about it? 

 

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