Do you remember being followed around by a little child who is full of questions? At first you think the questions are important and you stop what you are doing and answer them as patiently and clearly as you can. But then the child persists with more questions and keeps on asking why and you find yourself becoming irritated. Finally you find yourself saying things like, “That ‘s just the way it is,” or, “Because I said so.”
Funny, isn’t it how questions can intrude into the safe place we all try to create for ourselves where things run smoothly and nothing ruffles our feathers?
A few days ago I sat with a patient whose Leukemia has relapsed and is now facing the reality that her time on this earth may be quickly coming to its end. As she invited me to sit down with her she said, “Why is this happening to me? I thought the treatments were going OK. I thought I had more time to get my affairs in order. Why does God allow this kind of suffering to come into my life? Why won’t He give me more time?” The questions came out of her mouth like bullets from a machine gun and I found myself wishing I had a bullet proof vest to deflect the impact of those questions. They made me uncomfortable because of the intensity of her feelings. They made me aware of how hard life’s struggles can be. They made me aware of how inadequate our own words can be in providing answers to some of life’s most perplexing situations.
As I sensed her fear and desperation I tried to slow down my own need to stop her flow of words. I let her questions pour out into the air and let them hang there where both of us could see them in with as much clarity as possible. When she finished speaking I picked a couple of her questions and we explored some of them together and that led to more questions. And as she continued to speak she revealed that she had always been a person with a great curiosity about life. She had always had questions about many things. She had often exasperated her friends with her questions to the point where they scolded her and told her to stop asking so many questions. It made me think of Jesus’ words, “Ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened unto you.”
I told her, ” I think that is part of your spirit. God created you with an inquiring mind. He wants you to use that mind. He encourages you to ask and seek and knock. If you are persistent, if you keep asking and seeking, you will find. It may not be what you thought you were seeking. But it will bring you to a deeper and a clearer place than the place where you are now.”
Our visit ended that day with prayer and with many questions still unanswered but with the promise that we would talk some more and struggle some more with the great questions of life.
On a later visit the patient said her clergyman had come and given her the anointing of the sick. He was having a busy day. He didn’t have much time to spend with her. He brushed aside her questions and assured her that God was with her and she had nothing to fear. The patient said she felt patronized by that visit. She felt that her concerns had been dismissed. She thanked me for recognizing who she was and for allowing her curious spirit to express itself.
As I listened to her I realized how our own need to get away from suffering and our own need to fix things and take away people’s pain can prevent people from dealing with what they must face. I thanked God for helping me to slow down when I wanted to run. I thanked him for helping me to remain sitting when I wanted to leave. I thanked him for helping me to see who the person was who was asking the questions.
May God guide all of you who read this post when you enter into the realm of someone who is suffering and asking a million questions. Don’t run away but sit down and remain until the air is silent and the last questions have been asked. Don’t utter quick answers but acknowledge the complexity of life’s biggest questions. When you leave promise to come again until you have provided all the support you have to give.