Giving up on Why – Leanne Penny

When I think of Leanne Penny, two words come to mind: generous-hearted, and tenacious. Her tenacity comes from walking a path of multiple tragedies, and fighting her way through to a more hopeful destination. She shares of herself and her wisdom with great generosity, and I am privileged to call her my friend. I am so excited that she is kicking off this season of God and Suffering posts – I could not think of a better person to do so.

via Leanne Penny

via Leanne Penny

This past spring, my husband graduated from Seminary after a seven-year, marathon journey of taking classes when we could afford it, both time-wise and financially. He started on campus, and finished up with intensive courses and online.
To celebrate, we made the seven-hour trip down to Kentucky for the commencement ceremonies. As I took my seat after checking our two children into child-care a single, paralyzing thought occurred to me.
I am here alone.
I was surrounded by a gymnasium of people, clustered together to celebrate their graduates. Some had signs and balloons, most chatted happily as they waited for the ceremony to begin and there I was, literally alone in a crowd.
I started to cry, and masked it by flipping through the program, hoping no one would notice the lonely woman bawling.
Let me fill you in on a little of the backstory as to why I found myself alone that afternoon.
Shortly before I met him, my husband’s father died from two, rare types of brain cancer. The beginning of our relationship was steeped in his grief. His birth mother died a week earlier and, although he hadn’t had contact with her for fifteen years, her death was a hard blow as, with it, all hopes of reconciliation were shattered.
A year and a half later, I received a phone call from my Mother: my father had passed away overnight in his office chair after a sudden heart attack at the age of 49.

Five years after that, another phone call: my mother had taken her own life on the train tracks of our hometown.

So that afternoon I sat at seminary graduation alone, feeling the weight of our collective losses. It wasn’t the first time I felt the holes left behind by our parents, but this time it was particularly sharp.
So many people who should have been there beside me…
As the graduates received their diplomas the people who had gathered to honor them stood to cheer. A few names in, a paralyzing thought occurred to me: “I will be the only one who stands and cheers for him; he deserves so much more than just my lonely voice.”
God why did you have to take them all?
It wasn’t the first time I’d asked this question. I’ve asked it on holidays, birthdays, death days and Christmases.
God, why so much suffering and loss for one family, one couple? Don’t my children deserve at least one grandparent? Aren’t you supposed to spread these things out a bit?
Why is both an unhelpful and completely normal response to suffering. Every time Jesus was asked why God allowed suffering he side-stepped it, and gave a better answer that generally centered around God’s redemption of our pain.
Yet this question has threatened my relationship with God above all others: What hand does God have in my suffering, and how do I turn to him in my season of deepest hurt when it seems as though he may be behind it all, or at least could have prevented it?
I cannot deny that God gives and that He takes away but I have no idea how this goes down on His side. I know it has to do with a broken world and the gap between heaven and earth, but I generally cannot make heads or tails of it: some people receive miracles, some attend another funeral. It makes no sense.
I have stopped trying, really trying to answer this question. Don’t get me wrong, I still ask it from time to time but I don’t really seek out an answer.
So, I’ve told you my tough story and I’ve told you that I don’t have answers to your hardest questions.
But what do I know about God’s role in suffering? What would I tell you in the throes of grief and suffering that wouldn’t sound cliché or cause you to throw things and chase me out the door?
I would tell you that God’s story for your life is always bigger than your most painful chapter, or even the one you are in right now. Just because you’ve suffered incredible loss does not mean that your story is over; in fact it probably means that your upcoming chapters will be all the sweeter for the pain.
This does not make you thankful for your loss, but it shapes you into one who breathes the deepest gratitude for life’s great joy. For you know what it is like to wear sackcloth and ashes.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the sun, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant a time to uproot.” Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

In this life we are not guaranteed comfort, stability or security. I’m sorry, I agree it would be easier if we were, if following Christ and walking this earth came with better guarantees. Instead, we are promised seasons of birth and death, giving and losing. This is the story of humanity, and into your life these seasons will come, and it will hurt unspeakable. But you can go on, I promise. You will find yourself a new, scarred, beautifully broken person, but you will go on.
You will be sustained in ways you never knew possible and you will go on to sustain others in ways that you never knew you had in you.
I would also tell you that God is passionately obsessed with turning your pain into beauty, redeeming your worst moments for his glory. Again, I have no idea why he allows pain or stays miracles but I truly believe that he wastes none of it.
And yes, I have often wished he could have done his redemptive storytelling elsewhere, but I always land somewhere that looks like a resigned sigh.
“Okay God, it’s your story to tell. Please keep my seeking your truth and fighting bitterness and cynicism, for I’m beginning to believe that they are the enemies of redemption.”

Leanne Penny

Leanne Penny

Leanne Penny is a mother, writer, wife and wavering hope ambassador who is passionate about partnering with God on the business of redemption. She lives with her husband and two, almost three, children in West Michigan and loves yarn, wine, the big lake and staying up too late watching British Telly. Leanne blogs at



[tweetit]”God’s story for your life is always bigger than your most painful chapter” – @leannepenny’s God and Suffering Story [/tweetit]
[tweetit] How do I turn to God in my season of deepest hurt when it seems as though he may be behind it all? – @leannepenny [/tweetit]
[tweetit] God, why so much suffering and loss for one family? – @leannepenny asks the hard questions (God & Suffering Story): [/tweetit]
[tweetit] God is passionately obsessed with turning your pain into beauty – @leannepenny’s God and Suffering Story: [/tweetit]


Over to you:

  • What’s been your relationship with the ‘why’ question?

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15 Responses to Giving up on Why – Leanne Penny

  1. Diana Trautwein 17th September, 2014 at 7:01 pm #

    Beautifully said, Leanne. Over the course of my life, I have learned (the hard way) that ‘why?’ is not really a very helpful question. There are no answers that satisfy. So I try to ask differently when I’m in the throes of despondency and pain. Like: “How?” How will God work through this unholy mess for good? or “What?” What can I do to help me move through this season – grieve? lament? turn round to praise? take a walk? talk to a friend? Somehow the other questions help me to deal and then to move through. ‘Why’ doesn’t seem to help much at all. With you, I wish there were more answers. But I am willing to sit in the mystery and try to let God do the work that God wishes to do in me and in the situation. I am sorry for your losses, and we absolutely never get to the place of being ‘grateful’ that someone we’ve lost suddenly or too soon is gone. You are learning wisdom at a tender age, my friend. And you’re sharing it beautifully. Thank you.

  2. Chris 17th September, 2014 at 12:50 am #

    I understand it’s not easy out there. The mysteries (the whys) are in His hand. I wrote this not long ago. I hope it brings you comfort:

    The Battlefield

    I seek peace.
    I find strife, struggle and stress.
    The battlefield is real.

    The Commander goes ahead of me.
    He intervenes on my behalf.
    He guides, leads and holds me close.
    The battlefield is real.

    He sees the blows before they come.
    His shield rises before I’m torn to pieces.
    He fights for me.
    The battlefield is near.

    He draws near.
    His love surrounds me.
    He is victorious.
    In the battlefield I will not fear.

    I seek peace.
    I have found the Prince of Peace.
    I’ve found Him in the middle of the battlefield.

    The Lord will fight for you: you need only to be still. Exodus

    • Leanne Penny 17th September, 2014 at 11:13 am #

      Thank you so much for encouraging by sharing your words with me like this, such a vivid word picture of how life can feel at times.

  3. Rebecka 16th September, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    Thank you, Leanne, this was beautiful and gave me a lot to think about!
    “Okay God, it’s your story to tell. Please keep my seeking your truth and fighting bitterness and cynicism, for I’m beginning to believe that they are the enemies of redemption.” I’m going to try to remember this when the why’s start creeping up on me.

    • Leanne Penny 17th September, 2014 at 11:15 am #

      Absolutely Rebecka and thanks for graciously not mentioning the typo in that quote 😉

  4. Teresa 16th September, 2014 at 8:00 pm #

    Wonderful insights, Leanne – we are prone to ask why, aren’t we? I try to find comfort in the fact that God sees things I don’t – he sees the whole picture and I see in part. So in my humanness I would do things my way, but God in his infinite wisdom does things his way, which is always best. He is always in the midst of our suffering offering comfort and guidance. He gives strength for the journey. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Shona 16th September, 2014 at 4:27 pm #

    “This does not make you thankful for your loss, but it shapes you into one who breathes the deepest gratitude for life’s great joy.” I love how you put this. We can never be thankful for our loss(es) but the re-shaping of us can bring beauty into our sight again.

    • Leanne Penny 17th September, 2014 at 11:18 am #

      Absolutely. And the ability to see beauty in the reality of where we are is a practice of gratitude that saves lives.

  6. Mark Allman 16th September, 2014 at 2:01 pm #


    As always I’m moved by what you write. I have decided if God did answer my whys then I would not be satisfied and those answers would just result in me developing more whys and I’d never be done. Sometimes I think as well that maybe I really do not want to know why that I just need to trust and when it’s all said and done I can find out and rejoice then.

    I do know life is tough and I wish at times I had answers for the ones I love more than for myself for I want them also to trust regardless of where we find ourselves. For I so believe that life is not the circumstances we are in but life is the relationships we are in and we need to cling to them no matter great joy or great sadness for we will have them both most likely in abundance.

    I do think our deepest desires will be found in our relationships not in our things nor our circumstances. We need to pour ourselves deeply into our relationship with God and with those we love for that is where our heart will find rest and joy.

    • Leanne Penny 17th September, 2014 at 11:19 am #

      Relationships over Circumstances. I really love the way that you put that Mark, I think I need to find a post-it 😉


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