Why Not Why?

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.ย  ~ Henri Nouwen

Six simple sentence starters: who, what, when, where, how and why. They’re great if you’re writing a news report, doing research or initiating a police investigation. The 5 W’s (and one H) are considered the gold standard for information-gathering.

The problem begins when we apply interrogation techniques to our interpersonal interactions. These fact-finding questions are well suited for a courtroom or a lab or a room with a two-way window, but they don’t give us a glimpse of the interior of someone’s pain.

Of all the words listed above, we would be particularly wise to erase Why from the list altogether. It’s almost impossible to divorce Why from the realm of accusation.

Why did you?

Why didn’t you?

Why don’t you?

It’s rare ask someone to tell you why (in terms of their behavior/attitude – not the mechanics of a clock) and not raise their defenses. We’re insecure souls by nature and weary of justifying our choices.

I wonder if it’s so different with God? When we persist in asking Why? – isn’t it often an accusation or complaint or an expression of our disagreement, couched as a question?

God, unlike us, isn’t the least bit insecure and certainly wants our whole hearts poured out before Him. I do wonder though, if He, too, doesn’t get a little weary of why (Job 38-42)?

If we have any hope of truly sharing and carrying the load together, we’re better served by would questions. Would you like to talk, to be alone; would you like me to stay with you, to pray with you; would you like some space, some coffee?

To be a friend who cares beyond curiosity (because that really is often why we ask, isn’t it?), we have to practice tolerating not knowing, not healing, not curing…ย 

And with God, real rest comes before the question, being confident that if it were necessary to know, we would, and finding contentment in the not knowing.

Author: Debbie

A former counselor and public speaker, I'm grateful for many, many things - God's grace most of all!

36 thoughts on “Why Not Why?”

    1. Dear Linda –
      There are some pretty sharp people reading here, aren’t there?
      I love it when people really get engaged. It’s a joy to just sit back and listen!
      ~ Debbie

  1. Great points in these Debbie. Though I still ask WHY it is not with those same “God give me an answer” expectations. Often WHAT comes to mind in “What do I need to learn or do.” HOW has been coming up in “HOW are you feeling” and “HOW can we/I help” but I love your WOULD. More comforting and caring than any of the others.

    1. Hello dear Judi!
      How works just fine for me, too.

      The reason I sometimes pick would over how is that when I ask, ‘How can I help?’ – most will say ‘Just pray for me.’ or ‘I’m fine.’

      If I ask ‘Would it be OK if I … bring over a meal; just sit with you a while; take the kids to the park.. people seem more willing to accept it. And if I’ve missed the mark, let me know, they already have tons of casseroles, would rather be alone etc..) I think How and Would work together well. ๐Ÿ˜€

      Thanks for your thoughtful response – so like you!
      ~ Debbie

    1. melis – I’m not sure how much more of me folks can stand.
      I’ll head over to your place and find out what this one is all about. I love you for always thinking of me in such kind terms, even if I am an award slacker! ๐Ÿ˜€
      ~ Debbie

  2. Debbie, this is a particularly thought-provoking piece. I guess I love the end best–that our strength of faith may be measured in our level/depth of “Confidence” in God who has the answers, including the “whether or not” we need to know the answers. And I so love your suggestion that we phrase our caring questions with “would”, rather than why–I’m going to try very hard to remember that!

    Not to be making excuses, but perhaps it is many years of therapy and my analytic mind, which cause me to ask “why” a lot–however, I’m pretty sure I phrase it as “I wonder why…” such and such–meaning that I wonder what is behind someone’s attitude, choices, behavior. Perhaps in that light, it is not accusatory and potentially judgmental. But I am certainly not absolving myself 100% of the time–as I’ve been known to shriek, “Why would somebody do that?!” (Usually when watching a horrific news story)

    God bless you big–love and prayers from sis Caddo, S.G.

    1. Caddo S.G. –
      You have an inquiring mind! That’s part of what makes you such an interesting writer! ๐Ÿ˜€
      There’s quite a difference between wondering and cross examining.
      I’m a psych major – I always wonder about things. ๐Ÿ˜€
      I just try to rein it in in conversation so that my words are seasoned with grace, not Texas Tabasco!
      love and prayers, right back at y’all! (that is properly used in the single tense here – I don’t know why) ๐Ÿ˜‰
      ~ Debbie

      1. Debbie–I can’t leave the “y’all” question alone: recently I saw a Christian stand-up comedy hour. Hilarious! One guy was talking about his sister-in-law, a Texan. He told us she says “y’all”, meaning everyone–and then “all y’all”, which means everyone–and everyone else. I don’t care what y’say, ‘at’s funny!

    1. Cath – and I love the face that you read all of them! Thank you! You add so much here! Did you see I already quoted you on this one? ๐Ÿ˜€
      love and grace to you, dear friend,
      ~ Debbie

  3. Simply beautiful. This touched my heart. I learned by what people did to me when I grieved, to never do those things to someone else. Your post really says it all as to what I was looking for at the time. If only more people understood this simple concept. Thank you.

    1. Hello Lori –
      I don’t like being ‘taught’ by questions, kind of in the same way that I don’t like to be lectured in a prayer (do you know what I mean?).
      If someone has something to say, I’d rather they just say it. Well maybe not. I might sometimes prefer it be left unsaid. But if they’re going to say it, I don’t like the feeling of being ‘reeled-in’.
      Thanks for thoughts from your own pain. That makes it so much more real.
      ~ Debbie

  4. I’ve asked why of other people all my life and have found very little satisfaction in the answers that I usually get. For a few years now, I’ve NOT been asking that question and it has freed me up to focus on my part of the relationship. Why they do what they do is not my business. It smacks of control issues.

    What I do is my business and not theirs, just as well.

    The other part of this for me is that I don’t answer ‘why’ very often. I find that, just like you stated, it’s an accusation. I don’t bite… I just reflect. If they ask why I did something I answer by saying, “You don’t seem happy with my choice…etc” That’s often the real issue anyway and then they get to say so. If I’d answered why they would just turn around and argue with my logic. (Who can blame them? Sometimes I argue with it!)

    As for asking God why, it’s just not how I think. I believe He’s good, He loves me and He is in charge. For me, to ask why would be to doubt one of these.

    1. Heidi –
      YES! That’s it exactly!

      “I donโ€™t answer โ€˜whyโ€™ very often. I find that, just like you stated, itโ€™s an accusation. I donโ€™t biteโ€ฆ I just reflect. If they ask why I did something I answer by saying, โ€œYou donโ€™t seem happy with my choiceโ€ฆetcโ€ Thatโ€™s often the real issue anyway and then they get to say so. If Iโ€™d answered why they would just turn around and argue with my logic.”

      Perfectly said. Yes! You answer and they argue.

      I used to know someone who inevitably disagreed with most of my reasoning – even my emotions. If I said something hurt my feelings, this person would tell me that, no, I just felt guilty etc…
      I finally gave up talking altogether (in that relationship).
      Every conversation of any consequence felt like an interrogation.

      We’re on the same page with God: He’s good, He loves me and He’s in charge! That’s enough for me.
      Really helpful comments!
      Thanks, my friend,
      ~ Debbie

  5. Debbie,
    This is a post that sings to me. When a friend was diagnosed with cancer, there were so many questions I wanted to ask, but I knew that she would be so tired of answering these same questions from so many people. Tough times but loving silences.

    1. SueBE –
      That’s a particularly challenging situation and how tender and wise of you to realize your friend might be weary of repeating the same words over and over.
      What a rare gift you’re giving.
      I’ve found that I often end up pouring out my heart to the ones who ask less, but stay close.
      Then I’m talking because I need to, not because they need me to. Do you know what I mean?
      Thank you for being here, dear SueBE,
      ~ Debbie

  6. Marvelous message Debbie. I love your conclusion… ‘if we needed to know, we would… be content!’

    Carry the same principle into our relationships… Thanks friend and God bless.

    1. Hello mt!
      I’ve always figured that God works with me on a ‘need to know basis’ with faith covering the rest,

      Harder for me than not asking questions has been learning that just because someone asks, doesn’t mean that I have to answer.
      Some of my thoughts and life are public domain, here and at Fork.
      By the way, thanks for the ping! I’m truly honored and I love your title – may just have to use that one one of these days! ๐Ÿ˜€

      It’s taken me 50 years to learn that I can decide to politely decline the whys (‘I’m not comfortable talking about that’ etc…)
      It’s true that curious minds want to know, but they don’t always need to know, mine included!
      Thanks again, friend!
      ~ Debbie

      1. Re God working on a “need to know” basis–reminds me of a great Corrie Ten Boom story–did we already discuss that?

      2. Did we? Maybe? I’m getting old Caddo – I can’t always remember what I’ve said and what I’ve just been thinking. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Oh Deb, this fits a lot of life stuff. Oh, and i’m looking forward to Jen’s “would” post. I’m afraid if i drop the why there will be no answer for what mom did and didn’t do …

    OR, maybe there was no reason behind her … no why at all, just “it was what it was” … and it IS no more.

    TODAY, “would” is so beautiful. SO INCLUSIVE, loving … and it’s something we can do (especially our blog-pals) and day-to-day pals to offer comfort and feel connection to our human condition … and we all got that stuff up the wazoo!

    YOu know, we should set up a virtual coffee break and IM amongst us all. Wouldn’t that be kind of cool? Or not … just a fun thought.

    THANKS for walking with me, Jen, all our Debs ๐Ÿ™‚ and many many other moons ๐Ÿ™‚
    XO melis

    1. Melis,

      I like hearing your heart. You know, I finally learned that how anyone else has treated me is not about ME. It’s about them and where they are in life. Even though I learned shame really well growing up and had little to no wroteaffirmations, it wasn’t about me, it was about my parents and what they did or didnt feel about themselves and so on back up the line.
      As well how I treated others wasnt about them it was about ME. This was one of the most freeing things I’ve learned. I love it.

      The virtual coffee visit is a great idea but I would rather bring you a sweet bouquet of flowers and listen while we had coffee and a lemon tart.

      Bless you!


    2. melis –
      I like Cathy’s response here. When looking at someone else’s conduct she could say “it wasnโ€™t about me, it was about my parents” and when looking at her own: “how I treated others wasnt about them it was about ME”.
      And I’m the one that should be, and now officially am, thanking you and Jen and all our Debs for giving me so much encouragement and so much to think about!
      I’m up (all night) for an on-line coffee clatch! You call the meeting and I’ll be there! ๐Ÿ˜€
      love and grace to you, mel,
      ~ Debbie

  8. Wonderful! Great Nouwen quote because it’s so true. It’s hard the calm the desire to “fix” things. Mostly, all that’s needed is our presence. That’s what speaks the most. Like God’s presence for us. Much to reflect on here. That’s good.

    1. Debby –
      I think I originally went into counseling because I SO wanted to help find the solution, or be the solution, to everyone else’s problems.
      It took me about 6 months of 60 hour weeks as the counseling director of a crisis intervention center to know THAT wasn’t going to happen. And if I couldn’t do it professionally, what were the chances I was the designated personal fixer of all that’s broken?
      Slow learner that I am, I kept trying for years. Not so much anymore. I’m concentrating on being quieter – you can’t imagine how hard that is for me (or maybe you can)! ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Funny how much more clearly I hear when I’m not doing all the talking!
      ~ Debbie

      1. Boy, howdy–I don’t even wanna go there, not hearing folks much because I’m such a talker! Lord, change me–and put some hustle on it!

  9. Here I am, tracking the why thing with you yet! ๐Ÿ™‚ For some reason, this reminds me of Aub asking Jesus if there would be bubbles in heaven. She said He told her she’d have to wait and see. ๐Ÿ™‚ I might have to wait and see the answers to some of my why’s. Some of them He has answered many years after I asked or wondered. I don’t think I was ready or could’ve handled the reasons why at the time. He knew that.
    God bless you as you help us trust His grace for when not knowing is better. Love and prayers – the other deb

    1. Deb –
      How sweet that Aub wants bubbles in heaven. How discerning her heart is to hear Him say ‘you’ll have to wait and see’.
      Tell Aub I’m writing it down.
      “Debbie, you’ll have to wait and see.” works really well for me, too! ๐Ÿ˜€
      love and thanks to you and Aub!
      ~ Debbie

  10. Debbie!


    “If we have any hope of truly sharing and carrying the load together, weโ€™re better served by would questions. Would you like to talk, to be alone; would you like me to stay with you, to pray with you; would you like some space, some coffee?”

    THIS is the solution to all of our problems!

    I love this post. Tomorrow I am going to focus on Would!

    Love to you,


    1. Dear Jen –
      There are certainly a whole lot of words that wound and words that aid in the healing. I think would is one of the better ones.
      I also think asking is a good idea.
      Some say, don’t ask, just do.
      The problem with that is, what might bring me comfort, might not comfort you.
      I think we just keep asking until we get it right! ๐Ÿ˜€
      love and grace, dear Jen-
      ~ Debbie

  11. Hello Susie!
    I’m not thinking this one will be especially well received. I certainly didn’t write it to be antagonistic. I was hoping to elaborate a little more on the previous Why post.
    It was a pleasant surprise to start out with such warm enthusiasm!
    Thank you, my friend,
    ~ Debbie

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