As my friend anxiously typed another Google search into her iPhone, she became increasingly frustrated when an answer failed to appear. She frequently references Google in her quest to find answers. Most of the time she easily finds an answer and moves on. Yet today was different and it left her feeling unsettled. She threw her hands in the air and said, “I just need to know the answer!”

Have you ever wanted to know something? I mean really know something – the answer to a question that is unanswerable, the solution to a complex problem yet to be solved or the explanation for a friend’s life-changing decision that seemed out of character.

I am a curious person who is always searching – wondering, observing, exploring, analyzing and asking questions.

During this process, I frequently find myself on a quest for answers. This pursuit often entails resolving issues, solving problems, exploring options, analyzing data, assessing situations or acquiring new information.

Regardless of the process, the answers we seek are not always revealed to us. At some point, we may even be required to radically accept that a question is unanswerable. And yet, if we pause to reflect, we may find the answer is within the question itself.

In my own recent struggle to radically accept an unanswerable question, an exceptional young woman shared this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke:

“… Try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rilke wrote this in 1903 in response to a letter from a friend. He begins his reply by sharing he left the letter unanswered for a long time – not because he forgot – but because it was the type of letter you read again and again recognizing the person as if he were nearby. He is touched by his friend’s “beautiful anxiety about life.”

Why do we become so anxious if we don’t have an answer? Most of us can identify with this in some way or at some level. Asking questions, particularly asking why, is often a matter of the heart. It is a theological question at its core as we are often seeking understanding, explanation or comfort.

If we don’t have an answer, it leaves us, like my friend, feeling unsettled. This may cause us to pause on our spiritual path or set out on a new journey as we experience deep questions about life. During these times of anguish, loss, pain or suffering, we ask if God exists and what role God plays.

Theology is defined as faith seeking understanding. As we seek understanding, we often invest in finding answers and finding them immediately. Yet if answers are not easily found, there is an opportunity to connect the human and the divine story. This is the unfolding of faith – belief and doubt.

Belief and doubt are central to faith; they provide knowledge and understanding. Doubt is at the heart of belief yet they can be difficult to connect. While questions may emerge from doubt, faith allows us to accept these questions as gifts.

These gifts open up possibilities and shift our thinking to reimagine the present moment. This is how we begin to live the questions. By focusing on the questions, we can let go of the answers and slowly live our way into deeper understanding.

Using my friend’s approach, I Google search the words question and answer. A question is about inquiry, uncertainty and doubt. An answer invariably provides a resolution, explanation or justification. We can understand why the absence of an answer to a question leaves us feeling anxious.

Yet if are open to Rilke’s point of view, to live the question, we may live our way into the answer. While it may not be immediate, our gradual living with the question, without even noticing, may help us to realize the answer is often in the mind that’s asking the question.

Teresa Nizza is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached at: [email protected] blog: mainespiritus.com.