Recently, I led a group in which I gave each person a clear glass stone. As we walked outside in the sunshine and breeze toward our meeting spot, I asked the group to consider why I had given them the stone. After a time of reflection, each person shared his or her insight: “It’s a symbol of our higher power.” “You want us to use it as a grounding tool and a way to be present.” “We can associate it with our regrets and fears and then throw it in the pond.”
Each answer offered a profound angle on the reasons behind holding a simple objet.
We then talked about the question of “why,” verbalizing some of the deeper whys we have held deep within us during our lives: Why was I abused as a child? Why do my children have to suffer from my addiction? Why did my mom kill herself? Why did I get cancer? Why am I an alcoholic? Why me?”
Questions of “why” are normal for those of us navigating pain and loss. It’s the cry of our soul to make sense of defeat and difficulty and injustice.
The question of why needs expression. We need to give voice to the nagging uncertainty and exhausting fears buried in the deep pockets of our hearts. We are not alone in our questions of why. Spirituality has always made room for these questions:
“Why have you forsaken me, God? Why have you left me alone to suffer? Why am I being torn down and crushed?” Coming to God with our whys is the kind of authentic expression our spiritual connection is made of.
But “why” questions can become consuming, sending us into hopelessness and paralyzing despair. They can wrap around our souls, blinding us to hope and light. If we focus on the “why,” the “when” or the “what if,” we quickly lose sight of the present moment where healing is taking place.
The world and well-meaning friends and family want to offer cheap answers to make us feel better: “It was her time to go.” “Your addiction was given to you to help you grow stronger.” “You were abused so you could help someone else.”
The answers are offered in an effort to quiet a staggering pain that doesn’t go away with shallow clichés. Quick answers are often dismissive of our real feelings.
We seek to find answers to why things have happened out of a need for meaning and control. If I know my pain has a deeper purpose, then I can make sense of it. If I believe that everything happens for a reason, it will bring comfort now.
And THEN I can heal.
But sometimes we don’t know why.
We may have insightful theories, but we can’t always be 100% certain of why loss, addiction and pain are a part of our story.
Instead of focusing on knowing why, the group began to see the endless possibilities of healing, change and connection now that the stone was in their hands. Their initial “why” answers offered insight regarding how the stone could bring life. The group didn’t need the “why” answered in order to see the stone as a connecting point with a higher power. The stone offered help in staying present and aiding in emotional processing, regardless of why the stone ended up in their hands.
After we give voice to the “why”, we can choose to ask a better question: “What can I do now that this is a part of my story? Who can I share my feelings with? How can I let go and heal?”
One group member had lost his dad to suicide and was able to be present for another man with a similar story. Regarding the “why,” he said this: “My dad didn’t kill himself so I could relate to someone else’s pain, but because it happened, I had the opportunity to comfort my friend.”
Our “why” questions may be answered in time. It may be farther in our journey of healing that we see, not that the pain or loss was “good”, but how pain and loss don’t have the last word.
Share your raw, frustrating “why” questions while also knowing that healing can happen without definitive answers. Spirituality is an experience, not an informational exchange. So grieve, rest and recover, knowing that even when we don’t understand, we can still experience peace.
-Chris Gibson, MDiv
For so long, the majority of us have suffered from deep thirst—the kind of soul-thirst that longs for real peace. But in our desperation to change the way we feel, we’ve often been willing to take whatever love and happiness we can get.
There’s an ancient Jewish story that tells of a group of people who acknowledged God with their mouths, but who lived lives of hate. The rich and powerful were terrorizing the poor. The people as a whole had moved away from their code of love and had become self-absorbed, greedy and cold, executing horrible acts of violence and oppression.
Although their God was outraged by their countless crimes of hate and murderous cruelty, this God also saw that the crimes sprang from a deeper foundational issue. The crimes were intolerable, requiring correction and accountability, but in order to get to the root of the problem, the Divine presence initially dealt with the crimes of their hearts.
They’d become disconnected from their true identity and instead were consumed by self-reliant attempts to get their needs met while rejecting the love of the Divine.
“My people have committed two crimes: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and they have made for themselves jars—broken jars that can hold no water.”
These people had previously experienced life-giving relationships and freedom through connection with the Divine. In relying on God, they had the opportunity to find contentment, joy and security. However, as these people moved away from God, they took matters into their hands, attempting to control, harm and use people to gain the power and security they wanted. They rejected the fountain of provision, instead trying recklessly to make jars—broken jars that couldn’t bring enough soul-provision to offer any kind of peace and joy.
They rejected peace and were drowning in destructive attempts to gain what could never bring peace.
I’ve spent most of my life searching for ways to change the way I feel. I’ve used my gifts, personality, insecurities and intelligence to try and get what I thought I needed.
And I’ve made countless broken jars.
Even when the broken jars failed, I kept relying on myself, trying harder to achieve lasting happiness. It was my hope that if I could only be good enough or sober enough or smart enough that the jar would do what I wanted it to do.
But the solution isn’t found in learning how to make better jars—the solution comes as we admit we are powerless and cannot take care of ourselves. We were made to receive. We weren’t made to make jars—we were made to be jars—jars that receive the acceptance and love of a Power greater than ourselves.
As we turn our lives and wills over to the God of our understanding, we will be met with an unending supply of the hope, new beginnings, forgiveness and strength that we need—we can receive from the fountain that which brings life.
This divine love and guidance is available whether or not we feel we deserve it or even when we feel broken beyond repair.
Even when we try to escape, even when we’ve exchanged real love and acceptance for counterfeit and temporary relief, the spring of water is still there.
Broken jars have sharp edges. I’ve caused myself significant pain by holding on to pottery shards. I’ve not only rejected healing and real acceptance, I’ve also endured unnecessary grief.
The pain I’ve tried to avoid has only increased. The shame I’ve tried to fight has only grown. The rejection from which I ran has become suffocating.
Broken jars don’t work.
Our hands need healing. Our shattered hearts, skewed perspectives and hurting souls need the provision that comes through frequent encounters with a God of our understanding.
Self-reliance doesn’t work because it wasn’t made to work. Instead, our Higher Power invites us to turn over our lives and wills. We can experience peace as we allow ourselves to be filled. We can experience guidance, comfort and love as we connect to the spring that never stops giving.
Chris Gibson, MDiv