When we don’t know why… maybe we should ask a different question

“I have to admit, Lord, I don’t really understand what You are doing here.”

I walked around my neighborhood, praying as I took in some fresh air. Praying for my husband, my children, some dear friends… and I realized I had been praying some of these same prayers over and over for months. I stopped in my tracks as I felt an actual heaviness start to descend on my chest and shoulders.

Have you ever felt that? Did you know that emotional hurt can carry physical weight? It’s something I have learned all too well in the last few years. When unmet expectations and unexpected circumstances get to be too much, we can feel it in our bodies. Your chest might ache, your shoulders tense, your stomach twists.

I think many of us are carrying around these aches and pains right now. For some, it is the weight of bad news—loss of a job, loss of a loved one, even the burden of suddenly homeschooling. For others, it is the overall uncertainty of when we will feel a sense of normalcy again. We want to go to the store without avoiding other customers, we want to gather with friends and family without worrying about catching or spreading sickness. We just want to take a deep breath again.

At times like these, we find ourselves asking, “Why, Lord?” But may I suggest that we might be asking the wrong question? Here is what I think we should be asking instead.

Who is in control?

When we approach God, we should always begin by reminding ourselves of who He is. That’s one of the reasons I love the ACTS acronym for prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. By the time we bring our requests to Him, we have already spent time reflecting on His power, majesty, and provision—and contrasting that with our own fallenness.

Spending time in praise also reminds us that God is trustworthy. Opinions abound right now about how government leaders and medical professionals are handling this pandemic. Are the restrictions too much? Not enough? Just right? Ultimately our opinions tend to be a reflection of our level of trust. The more we trust the person making the call, the more likely we are to comply without complaint—or at least, with less complaining. And when it comes to human leadership of any kind, we know we are dealing with imperfect people who are going to make imperfect decisions, so it can be difficult to trust completely. God, however, is fully good.

As I prayed that day and began to feel the weight of my as-yet-unanswered prayers, another thought entered my mind: “God is faithful. You can trust Him.” As I thought about Pastor Tim’s words, I reflected on the trials throughout my life and the way God always led me through. I repeated my earlier prayer, “I have to admit, Lord, I don’t really understand what You are doing here.” This time, though, I said it with a chuckle. Because I realized that I don’t need to understand—God understands exactly what He is doing, and I trust Him. My job is just to walk obediently, which brings me to the second question we should be asking…

What does God want me to do?

I don’t mean to imply at all that we shouldn’t ask God why. He knows what is on our hearts, and His shoulders are big enough to take our questions. I worry, though, that when we become too focused on wanting to know why something is happening, we become paralyzed. We tend to think we just have to get through our circumstance. We think we can start to serve God again when we come out on the other side. God, though, doesn’t want us to just wait out our hard times. He has a purpose and a plan for us right now in the messy middle.

What might that look like? Maybe it is an opportunity for us to develop greater dependence on Him, to spend more time in prayer and studying His Word. Maybe it means we use this time to intentionally build relationships. Maybe we will have the chance to meet and serve neighbors we have never met.

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not here to pile on guilt or tell everyone you need to be doing more. God may be calling some of us to greater action and others to rest. What He isn’t calling anyone to, though, is waste. He wants to use this time in your life for good, and by asking this question, we make sure we are ready to listen for and see Him at work.

We know that the Christian life—that any life in our broken world—is not meant to be free from struggle. And when trials come, it is natural for us to ask hard questions. But by changing what questions we ask, we are able to shift our focus away from our circumstances and onto God. After all, He is the one who has control and who has a divine plan, purpose, and timetable.