- My son has gone off the rails.
- Our marriage is imploding.
- I can’t get my ex to stop spreading lies about me.
- Why are my parents so cruel to me?
These are just a few of the stories that show up in my counseling office. I hear these stories from people who are working hard to do the right thing by their children, their marriages, their parents, even their exes. Every single person who shares these stories with me loves Jesus. Yet, their challenges are ongoing.
If you’re human, you can’t help but wonder: “Why doesn’t God just fix it?”
Why doesn’t God just heal my child who is suffering with crippling anxiety?
Why doesn’t God make my marriage work again?
Why doesn’t God bring toxic people to their knees in humility and repentance?
I wonder these things, too.
But, what I’ve found as I’ve worked with people in some of the hardest of situations is that God doesn’t tend to “fix things” in the way that we want him to.
Sometimes you get that miraculous healing. But, more often, the way that God chooses to “fix things,” is to partner with you in finding a way through.
The question of “why?” is endlessly fascinating. Volumes of books have been written on the problem of suffering, such as “The Problem of Pain,” a wonderful book by C.S. Lewis. Philosophers, theologians and Biblical scholars have worked for centuries to understand God’s role in suffering in a study of what’s known as “theodicy.”
But, as a psychologist, I have found that the question of “why” doesn’t tend to move the needle very far toward practical solutions. Don’t get me wrong: it’s an important question, and one that is worth discussing with a Christian counselor, pastor or trusted spiritual adviser.
It’s also a question that I find almost impossible to answer satisfactorily. In fact, when people do try to answer this question, they inevitably end up sounding like the friends of Job—the very ones God reprimanded. They tend to give you answers such as these:
- It’s all happening for a reason!
- Some sin must have brought this upon you.
- If you had more faith, this wouldn’t be happening to you.
- God does not give you more than you can handle.
These answers tend to leave you feeling worse than you did before. The problem is that when you reach the point of asking the question, “Why doesn’t God fix this?” you are almost always in pain.
You aren’t looking for a platitude, you are looking for hope, genuine help, or some wisdom to sustain you.
So, instead of focusing on the question of “why,” I have found it helpful to shift the question all together.
Start with the question of “what.”
The Power of “What”. . .
In medicine, doctors help you heal by first seeking to understand what is ailing you. They might ask you a series of questions to help you get to the root of what is hurting you and remedies you’ve already tried. It can be painful to answer these questions. However, what’s worse is when no one will come alongside of you and take what you’re going through seriously.
The same is true when it comes to painful relationship problems.
Getting to the root of what’s happening isn’t always pleasant. We don’t always like what we find. But if you aren’t willing to look at what’s actually happening, it’s really hard to navigate a path toward healing.
Here are some questions you might start asking yourself:
- What is true about my situation?
- What has worked in the past?
- What hasn’t worked?
- What are some resources I haven’t tried yet?
- What do I know to be true of God’s character?
- What do I feel about what’s happening?
- What am I telling myself about this situation?
- What am I telling myself about God’s role in this situation?
- What do I feel about God right now?
Facing what’s true—whether what’s factually true or what is emotionally true—helps you gain clarity.
Once you understand better what is happening, you can move toward acceptance and care, and create a path toward healing. You can start asking the next big “What” question:
What do I have control over?
This powerful “what” question is the crux of the serenity prayer, written by Reinhold Niebuhr. The serenity prayer goes like this:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Learning to determine what you can control vs. what you can’t control is key to finding a way through a hard situation.
For example, consider the following things you might have control over:
- how much money you give to your adult son.
- how you respond when he picks a fight.
- what you tell other people about your ex.
- how much you interact with you mom.
Here are some things you do not have control over:
- what your son does with the money you give him.
- how he responds when you walk away from a fight.
- what your ex tells other people about you.
- what your mom thinks about you.
It’s painful to realize that there are many things over which we do not have control. We want God to fix these things, typically. And, it’s OK to ask God to pray for change in other people.
However, what’s even more powerful is to identify and focus on what you actually have control over.
That’s when you can begin to forge a path through your hard situation, one small step at a time, with God’s help.
God doesn’t always fix what is hard in our lives. And, it’s hard to understand why that is.
But, we can take charge of how we respond to what’s hard. We can choose to turn toward God and turn toward caring for ourselves, regardless of what’s happening.
Questions of “what” help you get curious about this process of finding your way through. A “what” question might not solve your problem of “why,” but it will open up new possibilities.