When someone says, “Everything happens for a reason,” I bristle. It’s involuntary and visceral. I used to say it myself. We employ this phrase as though it is a comfort. We trot it out because we don’t know what else to say, which makes us uncomfortable. It fills the painful, quiet space that one experiences when sitting with a friend who has just suffered loss or trauma. As though believing that your four-year-old’s death “happened for a reason,” would bring you any measure of solace. It offends me.
When my 43-year-old, sister-in-law died from aggressive breast cancer, leaving behind a husband, family, and friends who adored her as well as two young children, ages 6 and 4, it shook the core of me. The combination of my father-in-law’s death from ALS in his late 60’s four months earlier, followed so quickly by the loss of my sister-in-law caused me to really look at my faith in practice in the most difficult of times. There was a dissonance between the beliefs I had adopted, through extensive involvement in bible studies, women’s ministry, and regular church attendance over years, and the experience we were having as we lost and grieved.
Not long after we returned from my sister-in-law’s funeral and burial, I was on the phone, crying for her children to a friend who said, “Everything happens for a reason, you know?”
“No. I don’t know.”
“No, I call bullshit. You cannot come up with any good reason for taking this wonderful mom and wife away from her family. There’s no good reason my father-in-law died from ALS so soon after retiring.” I was pretty passionate in my response.
I do believe in a higher power, God, our creator, benevolent, forgiving and loving. I do not believe he’s a gray-haired, old man sitting over a chessboard, moving us around, his pieces. I do believe love can find a way to take even the most horrible events and find a way to shine light into the darkness, if only through the tiniest crack at first.
For these same reasons, I cringe when someone says something like,”Oh, we were all praying, and our prayers have been answered!” or “Praise God! He’s answered your prayers.” How does it make the person feel whose prayers weren’t answered and their child died. Think of all the people who pray for the health and healing of loved ones, and then lose them anyway. Were their prayers not worthy to be answered with a “yes”? So when someone says, “Your prayers were answered!”, I think, “And whose weren’t and why”
I don’t accept that God is micromanaging the individual comings and goings of 7.8 billion people, although capable. If he was, there would be no such thing as free will. I believe we are provided spiritual comfort and love during excruciatingly painful times through prayer, meditation, time with friends and family, rites of passage, and celebrations of life. Many people are inspired to do something positive in honor of a loved one, and that is a beautiful thing – but it’s not the reason God took the life of someone’s son. Or the reason a family man was paralyzed from the neck down after putting his own life at risk to push a child he didn’t know out of the way of a sled barreling down, unseen, behind him. Or my husband’s sister developing breast cancer and ALS in her 40’s, dying at 50.
Everything does not happen for a reason. It’s our responsibility to find even a sliver of love somewhere in the pain and try to make something positive rise from the ashes.