Why Ask Why?

What do I do with this?“Why, God? Why?” I sit at the funeral of a friend who died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Alive one day, gone the next.

“Why, God? Why?” Tornadoes flatten neighborhoods in the time a speeding train passes through a station. Lives turn to rubble.

“Why, God? Why?” Another day begins for an exhausted parent living an isolated existence of caring for a child with disabilities. The most basic of tasks—feeding, bathing, dressing—consume hours of effort.

Perhaps, as was suggested to me by the insightful Patrick Malone, SJ, the correct question to be asking is not, “Why, God?” but rather, “What do I do with this?”“Why?” demands answers, accountability, understanding, and a desire for control. It seeks a capacity to argue the premise, to reconfigure the situation in some way that will alter the current reality. It demands that an incomprehensible world be made sensible. By asking “Why?” I am stewing in my angst or frustration. I am ready for a fight.

But “What do I do with this?” looks forward, not back. It seeks direction more than clear understanding. It takes reality as it is, not as we wish it would be, and allows us to seek our call in the present moment. It offers a desire for faithful service, not control. With this question, I don’t stew but instead sit with the reality before me, holding it gently, experiencing Christ sitting right beside me—holding me gently too.

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Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly is a wife, mother, and Ignatian Associate living in Omaha, Nebraska. She works to help organizations integrate spirituality into their planning and systems. She and her husband, Tom, completed the 19th Annotation in 2005, just prior to spending two years living in the Dominican Republic with their three young children, supporting the work of the Jesuit Institute for Latin American Concern. Additionally they have lived in El Salvador and Bolivia for extended periods.


  1. Great Article. One hears it all the time”Why did God let this happen?” Since I have been an older adult and we don’t often hear a priest saying” It is God’s will” (My mother died of cancer when she was 42yrs , leaving a younger husband and 5 kids behind.) Now when I hear people saying WHY Her/him when something dreadful happens, I think WHY NOT?? that is just life. So “What do I do with this” , really gives me something new to work on. Thank you. My Dad lived his whole life by “Thy Will Not Mine Be Done O Lord” so I had it put on his tombstone. His Faith was plain and simple and never questioned God. I wish I had his Faith. I think sometimes I ask too many questions. Margaret. Thanks again!

  2. These past 4 years have been terrible for us. My son died unexpectedly from having minor surgery, both my husband and I have been laid off twice, and I just had a house fire which destroyed my home ….damaged both cars, we lost everything and two of our 4 cats. It’s awfully hard to retain your faith. My husband and I have been finding it hard to pray.
    I push through the prayers…I want to keep the faith…I love God…it’s just so hard.

    • Joanne, following a traumatic car accident, I confided in a friend that I was unable to pray, still felt numb, and she suggested this was a time to allow the Communion of Saints both on earth and in heaven, to pray for me. Just hang on, be gentle with yourself, don’t give up. You and your husband have been through a lot and need time to heal. I’m reminded of the passage in the Bible where we read that sometimes we don’t know how to pray, but the Holy Spirit prays and intercedes on our behalf. I am sorry for your many losses and will join my prayers to yours and remember you in my daily devotions.

  3. I’ve read we shouldn’t ask “why?” but accept “why not?”, however that hasn’t been very helpful for me. But “what do I do with this?” I’m going to hang onto and put it to use. There’s an assurance of hearing God’s instructions if we quieten ourselves. Thank you for this insight.

  4. I like this! As I am currently unemployed and seeking a new job, this is perfect! What do I do with this? Vs Why did this happen to me is perfect!
    Thanks for this. It is at the right time…


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