There are a lot of cemeteries in the world. It’s a statistical certainty that we will end up in one (or a crematorium). I’ve been in a lot of cemeteries, primarily because they are sort of photogenic in the Old World. They might even put a bench there for someone to sit and ponder life. Even though European cemeteries are a little more picturesque, it doesn’t mean I am particularly comfortable in one. Pensive, but not comfortable.
It was a hard weekend. My son had an allergic reaction and was up most of Saturday night with a croup type of cough. Very disconcerting and anxiety producing for this here daddy. Sunday morning we woke to the news of the shooting in an Orlando night club that claimed 50 lives. But we heard helicopters flying in the sky by 5 a.m. because we live blocks away from Pulse Night Club. So I knew something big was going on. And on Monday I photographed a memorial service for a marvelous person who we celebrated because she lived her life well. A lot of thoughts are going through my mind. So many thoughts surrounding life, and death, and the meaning of it all. But lots of questions too.
This weekend was full of emotion. Anxiety, desperation, fear, sadness, anger, uncertainty, numbness, exhausted, glimpses of happiness because my kids just cause smiles, and in spite of all the difficult emotions, still there was hope and encouragement. A whirlwind of a weekend. A lot of the this stems from one thought: I don’t like death. My child is sick and I fear for his life and I get anxious. A shooting near my house and I fear for the safety of my family. The reason for the shooting is clearly hate, but the subtext is more clearly disregard for life. How could one person destroy so much? I’m so angry about that. Right here is my backyard, 2 miles from my house. I’m just so pissed.
When things are difficult that it is so easy to question God…to question everything. But God seems to be the easy target. Why would He allow this? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is this happening to me God? Or even just simply, why me? It’s natural to question.
Death is an uncomfortable subject for most. We don’t like talking about it. But it is a natural part of life. But like I heard today at the memorial service, “Death is the only thing in life that we all get to experience but never get to practice.” (Jim Myers) So the questions of death, the causes of it, the aftermath, the feelings attached, the loneliness afterward…they all bring those difficult and heated questions to the forefront. Because in the middle of suffering we all ask why?
A man who I deeply respect has spoken about this numerous times, and each time I hear it, it strikes me profoundly. “We always need to ask ‘why’, especially about the suffering we experience. Don’t just ask ‘why?’ but ask ‘why this?'” So simply said, so difficult to do. He says there is a wrong question—Why me? Why is that the wrong question? Well, we all experience suffering. We all have kids who get sick, or parents who die, or car accidents, or financial difficulty, or relational challenges, or our own health issues. WE ALL SUFFER. And none of us like it. We want it to end. We can’t stand to endure it. We hate the waiting. We hate the emotions in the middle of it. And while dealing with the emotions in the middle we are left feeling alone and questioning why. Why me!
The right question…why this? Why is that the right question? It’s the question of discernment. Why this? helps us determine if this trial is one of correction (instigated by our sin), or if it is a trial of refinement (instigated by God who wants to grow us). I happen to think that everything happens for a reason. I also happen to believe that a God who loves us is the cause behind the reason. So if this is a trial of correction, then what may I have done to contribute to my suffering situation? If this trial is one of refinement, then what does God want me to learn about myself, life, or my purpose in this world?
Is really just as simple as that? Well, yes and no. We have the amazing ability to make things more complex just by the questions we ask. And there truly is such thing as constructive questions and erosive questions. Constructive questions actually get us somewhere by allowing us to honestly evaluate how we come to find ourselves in the middle of this emotional gauntlet. Erosive questions don’t help us get anywhere because they focus only on our own glass-bottom assumptions that we are the only factor in our suffering. They stall on the why questions and never get to the how questions. We are a factor in our suffering, but there is always something bigger in the equation.
When something happens like it did in Orlando on Sunday morning, it muddies up the equation because the biggest factor in the cause of suffering was an external, maniacal, evil source. I’m so sorry to all those who lost someone they love. There are no easy answers when you lose someone, especially this way. I hate what went down in every possible way.
So my hard weekend with my sick child, sleep-deprived anxiety-filled Sunday, and local hate crime murder spree leaves me reeling and questioning. I can get marooned on questions stemming from why me? Or I can make it personal and make movement from that spot by asking why this? When I build constructive questions on top of bedrock belief that God is good despite circumstances and that suffering does indeed serve a purpose, then I can find meaning to the suffering.
“My dear child, don’t shrug off God’s discipline, but don’t be crushed by it either. It’s the child He loves that He disciplines; the child He embraces, He also corrects. God is educating you; that’s why you must never drop out. He’s treating you as dear children. This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children.“¹
The meaning—if you can endure through the emotion and constructive questions—is the maturity, growth, perseverance, and peace that develops in a heart that see the trials as growth opportunities. Learning to ask the right questions makes all the difference. The Father treats His dear children with love when He disciplines us. The training is proof of His love. But we have to choose to see it that way.
I think I will still be angry and sad about what happened in Orlando for a while. But when the emotion produces questions that then lead me to what can I do to help others or how can I display the goodness of God, then I think the trial is accomplishing something useful. But I couldn’t get to actually helping others until I ask constructive questions like why this? that help me step out of merely asking why to asking how…and then doing something about it.
¹ Hebrews 12:6-8, The Message