Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason

English: Nyamata Memorial Site, skulls. Nyamat...

It’s called a cognitive distortion. We all have heard it, probably most of us believe it. We aren’t sure where it came from. It’s in the bible somewhere or the Dali Lama said it. Everything does happen for a reason.

Tell that to the six million jews who died in World War Two. Or the twenty-five million Russians who perished fighting the Nazis. Tell that to the children born in Mogadishu, or in starvation conditions in Africa. Tell that to the Tutsi’s hacked to death in Rwanda, or the genocide victims in The Congo.

“Everything happens for a reason” is a western, affluent, construct. It is a convenient and heartening way to explain away pain and suffering but it is, unfortunately, not based on any legitimate philosophy and it hurts people. It reminds me of my friend who was told, after his child died, that “God must have wanted another child in heaven”. Such a god would be a masochist and a bastard. The sentiment sounds good on paper but is destructive and hurtful in reality.

I no longer believe that everything happens for a reason. What I do experience, however, is a shocking realization that life is not fair. There really is no payback for every bad deed, at least not in this life. Sometimes the rich are in fact very happy exploiting the poor and have a much better life. Sometimes that bully does not get his comeuppance. Sometimes crap happens. Sometimes life sucks. Some people do get an easy ride while others seem to constantly suffer. There is often no justice for the poor african/american who is condemned to death row because he cannot afford an affluent lawyer. When my good friends lost their baby girl recently there was no “reason” that could even remotely justify or sanctify their loss.

If you are going through a difficult time right now you may not find wonderful redemption at the end of the rainbow, and that is an unfortunate fact. Believing your sexual or physical abuse will someday be worth leaves you open to bitterness and disillusionment. Healing begins when we accept the truth of our brokenness without trying to justify or condone it. Waiting for the good witch Glinda to make everything better keeps us mired in our distortions and unwilling to let go of what is haunting us.

The second half of the Serenity Prayer, the part no one knows, has really helped me come to terms with this. You know the first part: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

Here’s the profound part: Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

I think in AA they call that “life on life’s terms”.

16 thoughts on “Everything Does Not Happen For A Reason

  1. Thank goodness for you Scott Williams !!!!! Just discovered your blog after a a dear Canadian fb friend sent me your link. I keep telling people about this lie & I’m met with strange looks. Now I can quote this particular story. Love your stuff here in Australia.

  2. In recovery, I have found many cliches that are meant only to distance ourselves from the pain of others. This is one of them. While my mother was dying of lung cancer, I went to church one Sunday and they were in process of bringing members up on stage to share their testimonials on how God had worked a miracle in their lives. Three of the four individuals who stepped up to the plate, shared about a relative in which God performed a miracle and they were cured of cancer. This happened because they prayed and truly believed that God would pull through for their loved one. I don’t doubt their faith, but this was a real mind blower for a few sitting in those pews that day who would not, or have not, experienced those same miracles. How INVALIDATING this felt. Was God not listening to me? Was I banished from the ‘answered prayer/miracle’ list? What did I do, or my mother do that SHE didn’t receive this miracle? I prayed a lot. I asked others to pray. Was her life less important than those that were saved?

    The truth is that there WERE NOT any answers. Funny how when a ‘miracle’ happens, this is, without question, THE answer, however when there isn’t a miracle, there isn’t an answer?

    I often feel that God is an excuse not to act, or is excused as a reason something did or did not happen. We are not in control of everything. I’ve long since learned that bad shit happens and yes, people get away with it, people will die, people will get sick and people will suffer. I have countless past abusers to prove that. I don’t sit around thinking about whether or not they will get their ‘karma’, but rather that life is really shitty sometimes and that perhaps the notion of hell is living on earth, the time we are here. So what can I do to help ease the emotional burden of others who have, or are going through the same? I find meaning in giving back.

    I think it’s important to find MEANING through pain, through what are shitty circumstances. I’ve suffered MUCH in my life. When I’ve shared my story, people wonder A. whether or not it’s true because it’s so horrifying or B. why the suffering still continues. I don’t know WHY, I just know that it is. I have a great deal of trouble with not feeling downright angry at the injustices I’ve suffered and the consequences of that suffering (abuse). Finding some meaning in it all, is to have hope. Without hope, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to go on, hence why there are so many suicides. People lose hope.

    Your post is so great because it sheds a realistic light on the idea that positive thinking or cliches during true suffering, will resolve everything. I think it’s so important to stay engaged in the present moment, knowing not what tomorrow will bring and to know that yea, life is very shitty at times, if not a lot of times, but being honest about it helps me to cope. You’ve given me a great idea for a post too.

    Life is one big question. I still don’t have the answer.

  3. I don’t know. I need to feel this – it keeps me motivated rather than feeling stuck. Although, I had a co-worker who’s daughter died of cancer a year ago. It was so tragic and sudden. I really feel for that family. And I would never say “it’s ok, everything happens for a reason!” cause, really, I just don’t see how it would apply in this case. Perhaps people can look back at how strong this child was and how she inspired people in her life with her courage and positivity. but I would never try to tell the family God has a plan.
    As far as my personal life, I have to believe that God is preparing me for something bigger that I just can’t see at this time, and I need to hold onto that “one day at a time”.

  4. I love the serenity prayer in it’s complete state… I only discovered it recently (this year) when my counsellor (who doesn’t suck) suggested I use the first half as a means to help me establish realistic boundaries…

    And I agree “everything happens for a reason” is a cop-out people use when they can’t explain, accept or understand something tragic that has happened to those they care about and they are unable to offer any real comfort or hope… sadly I have used this cop-out myself (and had people use it towards me and things in my life)… and it is counter productive… there is already enough hurt in this world, we don’t need to add to it just because we feel useless…

  5. I agree. “Everything happens for a reason” is one of the New Age concepts I have difficulty getting behind, despite being a woo-woo and positive-thinking person in general. I think there are many things in our lives that we CAN control, and should do our best to do so, but believing we can control everything only causes anxiety and guilt in the many cases when we cannot. And it belittles the suffering of people who endure hardships beyond their control.

    Bad things do happen to good people, as you said, and the only thing we can control is our reaction to those situations, which I refer to as “Crappenstance.” Keep your eyes facing forward and your affairs in good order, and something rotten does happen, hopefully you be ready for it. Sometimes that’s all you can do.

  6. Reblogged this on Continuing with Life! and commented:
    When I initially read this blog post, I didn’t consider “reblogging” it. However, I found myself reading it again. The more I thought I about it, the more I realized how much the chronic pain community needs to hear this. In Scott Williams’ blog post, he talks about the phrase “Everything happens for a reason,” and how nonsensical and unhelpful it is. For the chronic pain community, in my opinion, that phrase is absolutely ridiculous. Doctors, even after a couple thousand years of studying the human body, still don’t understand what exactly happens in the nervous system when a person experiences chronic pain. They can’t tell you what causes chronic pain or where in the nervous system is the problem. They can’t even give you an exact time line on how long rehabilitation will take. Then we start questioning ourselves. Right? Why me? Why now? All you end up with is mascara running down your face and your hair in a matted mess. Or, we jump on that depreciating Merry-Go-Round ride of the “Could’ve-Should’ve-Would’ve,” and at the end, the only thing we can do is to keep ourselves from puking. So, do we just give up on life? Throw the towel in. Should we throw on our favorite sweats & t-shirt, grab some Cool Ranch Doritos, and morph into a couch potato? I hope you already know the answer to this, but I will say it anyways: NO! I will repeat myself: NO! So, what are we to do? A couple years back, I was very, very sick with chronic pain and also quite depressed. I was angry and bitter with God, myself, my parents, life, everything, and anything. It was at that point I realized that I could either wallow in pain and misery and end up making things worse, or I could take the time to address these issues and come to terms with my situation. I humbly realized that no good would come out of continuing to deny reality or defining the chronic pain as something other than it really was. Mind you this was not flippant process but was a several month process. However, that period was healing for me, more emotionally and spiritually than physically. I still have unanswered questions, even more than a couple years ago. But the anger and bitterness is gone and is replaced by hope, joy, and peace. As some of you already know, life with chronic pain is an endless roller coaster with highs and lows, twists and turns. I have more blue days than I care to admit. But I choose to put a smile on my face everyday and keep a positive, hopeful attitude. I know in this life I will not have all the answers, and I’m learning to accept that. So, I encourage you to read the following blog post and take an honest look at your circumstances, accept reality, and walk confidently with me into the future.

  7. Excellent post, thank you. My heartfelt condolences to your friends who lost their daughter. I have just written about my similar loss and realization that “life is not fair” in my most recent post.

  8. As always Scott you say it like it is. I have been to hell and back and life is better, and yeah I learned some stuff along the way but I could have easily done without the lessons. I think we struggle through life best we can, make the best of the cards we are dealt and try to be a good person. There are assholes in the world who are just waiting to screw up your day but there are generous loving people who make life worth living.

  9. Thank you! I hate that saying. I hear it all the time in regards to my traumatic divorce and it makes me want to scream (although I usually just nod and change the subject). It just feels so passive to me, as though “it” happened and if I just wait long enough, the reason will become apparent. Uhmmm..no. “It” happened. “It” almost destroyed me. It’s up to me to find the reasons to heal and move forward.

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