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”.