I recently finished reading Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens For a Reason. In this thought-provoking, autobiographical work Bowler addresses, through humor and personal reflection, the age-old question of suffering. One of my favorite sections of the book holds a description of a conversation that Kate's husband had with a well-wisher at their front door. A casserole-bearing friend, in pursuit of comforting the husband whose wife had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, said something like, “Just remember everything happens for a reason.” To which Kate’s husband wittily replied “I’d love to hear it.” At this, the conversation ceased as the casserole exchanged hands.
So often when we face difficult times, we search for answers - especially those of us who understand that our world was created and is sustained by a sovereign God. Most of the time our answers fall well short of the right ones. I learned long ago, through trial and error and from wise counsel, that often the best answer to a person’s plea for the proverbial “why” is “I don’t know.” “I don’t know” is not a cop-out but rather an admission of one’s limited understanding of the way things work.
Not long ago, another pastor and I went to one of our local hospitals to visit a teenager who is dealing with ongoing health issues. We visited with him; we also visited with his mother. She taught me something that day. She taught me a better question to ask someone who is experiencing difficulty, sickness, or grief. She explained how much she appreciated the addition of one simple word to an often-asked question. Most of us, when trying to be kind with our words to those in a difficult situation ask, "How are you doing?” She advised that she, and I assume most of us, would much rather hear the question stated as such, “How are you doing today?” “Today” acknowledges that yesterday and tomorrow are unique, as are our emotions each day. Our physical, spiritual, and emotional temperature fluctuates at a rate keeping in time with a hummingbird’s wings. Therefore, we do well to recognize that fact and ask accordingly. The next time I visited her, we brought her a hot cup of coffee with a side of sweetener and a word – Today.
“I don’t know” and “today” have helped me in my ministry. In fact, they have helped me in my life. Not only do I have a better answer and question for others, but also for myself. When I go through difficulties, I remind myself that I don’t have to have the “right” answer nor do I have to feel the same everyday. Those are refreshing truths.