It seems that we are endlessly confronted with realities that confound, enrage, and incense. We sift through their rubble for the smallest shard of meaning. We search for clues, breadcrumbs, anything that will put our tired minds and broken hearts at rest. And for all of this striving, it is rarely with measurable result.

We are always left with more questions than answers.

Rainer Maria Rilke offers us well-known words on the subject:

Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. 

Easier said than done.We know the value of living the questions. We also know the discomfort inherent in not having (and offering) answers. 

A case in point: When we are with someone who is grieving we know to not speak a single platitude (e.g., “God has a plan.” “Everything happens for a reason.” “God’s ways are higher than our ways.”). We know to not try to make sense of what has happened. We know to not talk about our own feelings. We know to not offer answers to questions that cannot be answered.

I know this . . . and . . . in my discomfort over others’ discomfort, I have rushed to possible explanations, to next steps, even to hope many, many times. As recently as last week, I SO wanted to offer some explanation for life’s unfathomable cruelty (even though I don’t have any). I resisted, but barely.

In truth, it’s no different internally than it is externally. If I don’t catch it quickly enough, I slip into a sort-of frantic motion both within and without. I get more busy. I run through a Rolodex of memorized stories in search of logic, affinity, and sense-making. I think and think and think instead of feel. I talk and process and talk some more (even if only to myself). I work and wrestle. I write and write and write. And at the very same time (maybe inherent in these very things), I avoid and dissociate.

Bottom line: I am in search of and in demand of answers all the time! It’s exhausting.

I want to believe there is a gift in unanswerable questions, that there is grace to be found in the midst and the mess of it all.

Here’s what I know, in spite of myself: 

  • Unanswerable questions invite me to remember that I am not in control, that life is impermanent, that *just* being here is worth it – for myself and for others.
  • Unanswerable questions call me “further up and further in” to what and who truly matters.
  • Unanswerable questions require that I sit still instead of run, allow instead of demand, let go instead of grip.
  • Unanswerable questions are not a “pass” from action and agency; rather, they are incentive to stay awake to the need and pain and deserved advocacy that is all around me, all of the time.
  • Unanswerable questions invite me to stay. Stay present. Stay here. Stay put. Stay with.

This all sounds right. I’m sure it is. And yet again, easier said than done.

A confession: 
I’ve deleted almost everything I’ve written today. Paragraphs and paragraphs that have been an attempt to land on something that feels complete, tied up with a bow, hopeful . . . My attempt to provide answers, really.

I know, it’s ironic. And not all that surprising.

So, just this remains:

 . . . there is a gift in unanswerable questions; there is grace to be found in the midst and the mess of it all. 

Though I don’t know how, I still say, “May it be so.”