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I remember when I asked my four-year old son who had disobeyed his aunt “why” he had done what he did. He told me that he did not know. I told him that I would give him a few minutes to think about my question, and then I expected a real answer. When I returned to him, he asked me what 8 x 8 is. Knowing that he was four, I figured he was attempting to distract me from some kind of consequence related to his behavior.
I wasn’t fooled by his easily transparent misdirection. I knew that trick; I’m married, I have friends, I’m a responsible citizen. I know how to practice distraction and misdirection. I’ve been doing it for years. I could answer “why” with all kinds of creative reasons. I rarely simply answer with, “It just seemed like a good idea at the time.” That one just never has seemed like reason enough. And even more rare is, “I felt hurt, so I said something mean.” That one, in all its shapes, never seemed like the best approach. Too simple, no matter how true.
Anyway, I answered my son with 64 to shoot down the low flying bird, so to speak, so we could get back to me creating a responsible citizen who could grow up to have friends and marry happily. After I answered his question, he fell into concentrated silence, and I told him that I needed an answer from him. After a few seconds, he said with some urgency, “Dad, what is 64 x 64?” I answered him quickly because the game was over. I never had fully mastered multiplication. How did he know how to play to my weak suit? He was winning. I was becoming distracted, after all. “I don’t know,” I said. He then let out a breath, and said, “I don’t either.”
Then, I got it. He told me the truth the first time I asked him the question starting with “why”. He did not know. And that precious child was working really hard in trusting and believing in my bigness and big love that I wouldn’t lead him somewhere that the truth wasn’t sufficient. So he attempted to find another way to get me to see. He asked until I didn’t know. He showed me mercy. He showed me grace and trust.
In no way am I saying that a child is like God, but I think God has to be very patient and kind to us about how seemingly justified we feel when we ask, “why” about all kinds of things, when we aren’t really asking for an answer. When we ask, “why” we are actually demanding an equation so we can understand and then have the control of “fixing” something. Why is for formulas and recipes. “Why did the capsule not dissolve at the boiling point?” or “Why did the cake fall flat while baking?”
The real questions of living and relationship are discovering what is in the heart of the matter, more than the thought or explanation of the matter. Those questions start with “what, how, when, where, how long, and will”. Those words begin questions that give us the answers to living in relationship with our selves, each other, and God. “Why” to a child will lead to “I don’t know” from a child—which is the truth, and “You wouldn’t understand if I told you” from God, which is the silence of the truth. But if we ask a child or God, “What are you doing?” and trust the love and mercy of the one who answer from the heart, we might receive a great deal more than our demands will ever give us.