Little kids ask why and big kids ask why too. Typically little kids ask why for two reasons. They are either genuinely inquisitive because they have a hunger to learn or they are deceptively inquisitive because they don’t like what they are hearing. With the latter, they are looking for a good reason, or convincing argument as to why they should or shouldn’t do something. Their parents hesitate to answer because they may not want to discuss it, may not have the time to explain it or engage in a conversation about it. Parents know when their children’s why question is simply a ploy to delay obedience and slow down what they consider an inevitable process. It’s time to go, the car is running, we have an appointment to keep and your reluctance to cooperate, and put your shoes and jacket on, is holding us up. No discussion, except maybe an insistent “because” and the kid with an unzipped jacket and untied shoes is tucked under the arm and carried out the door.
It is much more complicated for big kids. Although some why questioning may still be foot dragging, big kids begin to wrestle with bigger issues that carry bigger consequences and beg for new levels of understanding. But what happens when the answer to a critical why question is not forthcoming?
That juncture in a person’s life, when cosmic whys no longer have answers that flow from an ordered universe is part of the rite of passage into adulthood. Having jettisoned beyond the orbit of parental influence into the vastness of space a person has to face for the first time the realization of truly being on their own. It is a lonely and confusing time, having slipped the protective bounds of predictable and reasoned explanations from parents, teachers, pastors and other wise counselors. The silence is unfamiliar, it is haunting and it only deepens in stark contrast to sporadic cries for understanding.
My first encounter with cosmic silence was near the end of my freshman year in college. Late one night, under a starry sky, I found myself alone in the middle of the football practice field, pacing and staring heavenward, tormented by unanswered whys. Why are humans on this planet? If there is a God why isn’t He more concerned about the mess we are in down here? Is there any rhyme or reason to my life? Why am I here? It was a defining moment for me, although no answers came. And yes the silence was deafening and frustrating. I can still remember walking back to the dorm with an eerie sense of peace and feeling embraced by the warmth of the light in the lobby as I came through the front door. That’s all I remember. No revelations. No understanding. Not a clue.