It was a perfect September evening in Central Park, with an occasional leaf drifting down on the crowd at SummerStage. I was in New York City with my daughter on an impromptu adventure, an opportunity that had presented itself less than three weeks earlier.
As we had lined up our travels, things fell into place. A friend I had met at a writing conference was more than willing to host us at her apartment in Queens. My cousin and his wife who lived on Long Island made themselves available to spend some time with us. Even the arrangements we had to make for a three-day absence from our normal lives came together smoothly.
While we visited museums, figured out the subway system, and hit a couple of iconic eating spots, there was a question that never came up.
I never asked “Why us, God?”
I enjoyed the time with my daughter, my cousin, and my friend. I took in the sights and enjoyed a fun show. Flights worked seamlessly, with no luggage issues. And I accepted it all as a matter of course - as if I was entitled to it.
Yes, I was grateful to be there. With each new experience and each picture I took, I was breathed a “thank you” to God. But never once did I ask God about his purposes in granting this special get-away. Until afterwards, it didn’t occur to me to puzzle over the way he had lavished such a gift on me.
As I thought about this, I was reminded of King David. After God promised to establish his family line forever (a promise ultimately fulfilled through Jesus), David spoke a humble prayer of thankfulness to God. His first words were, “Who am I God, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (I Chron 17:11-16)
In other words, “How can you be so good to me? Why are you so good to me?”
David was moved by gratitude to think about God’s character and motives. Sadly, the occasions that lead to my questions about God reveal a very different attitude.
I’ve been known to mutter, “of course” or “just my luck” at the frustrating inconveniences like having to make a call about a bill I know I already paid, or construction adding 30 minutes to the drive when I go to visit one of my kids. If we have a flat tire while on a family trip, unexpected medical expenses come in, or a relationship challenge fails to resolve, I am quick to pose the “why” question.
In other words, I expect everything to go well. It is as if I assume that it is God’s job to pave the way for my agenda to flow smoothly each day, that my life should be like a private Disney resort. I take for granted that I should have good health, material comfort, happy relationships, and fulfilling work.
When I ask God questions it’s not really about needing answers, but about demanding my way.
Like a spoiled child, I become increasingly hard to please. I miss all that God has given and done, because I am so fixated on what it seems he hasn’t done.
What would happen if I turned the “Why?” question on its head? Instead of a whiny, bitter accusation about ways I think God is holding out on me, what if it became awestruck adoration for his extravagant kindness?
My new questions go something like this…
‘Why am I waking up in a sturdy house near the woods and fields my Iowa spirit craves?’ rather than ‘Why don’t we have a master bathroom?’
‘Why am I waking up next to a flesh-and-blood man who has been lovingly living “I Do” with me for 31 years?’ instead of ‘Why doesn’t our life look like a rom-com movie?’
‘Why do I have so many fulfilling and valuable things to do in your service?’ in place of ‘Why am I so busy and tired?’
‘Why do I have the privilege of raising five active and involved young people?’ rather than ‘Why is our house always so messy and loud?’
As I ask these revised questions, life begins to look different. I am reminded of the ways God’s love has been with me in good times and in bad. I am struck again by his undeserved mercy in sending Jesus for me, and for you.
And I echo the prayer of the man after God’s heart, “Who am I God, that you have brought me this far?”
Life doesn’t always meet our expectations. But I would suspect it might be the expectations that cause our unhappiness, as much as the actual circumstances. If you find yourself in a weary, resigned frame of mind right now, or even a bitter one, I understand. I’m often there too. Dear friend, can I offer a possible remedy? The next time your life seems unfair, try offering up the new-and-improved version of “Why, God?”, and see what happens.