Everything happens for a reason….
It’s one of those phrases we use when we don’t know what else to say, when someone we care about or we ourselves have landed in an enormous pile of trouble with no apparent way out of it.
And we don’t mean it in terms of “You had that heart-attack because you’ve eaten nothing but cheeseburgers for the past twenty years and you smoke like a fiend.” We mean it in terms of “The Universe/The Baby Jesus/That Which We Cannot Name But Which We Fervently Hope Has Some Kind of Influence Over What’s Happening Down Here” will be sending something nice your way any minute now. Head tilt. Smile.
We say it when someone loses their job and on their way home from picking up their final paycheque and paperwork finds a lost kitten to bring home and love. See? Head tilt. Smile. Everything happens for a reason. Because, of course, if you hadn’t lost your job, someone else would have found the kitten and you’d still have a job and doesn’t The Universe work in mysterious ways?
The problem I have with this is that it’s so passive. Craps happens, but if you just sit back and hope, well, the baby Jesus will be fixing you up in no time.
It’s passive and it gives no credit to people for the enormous effort they put in to turning a bad situation around and making something decent of their lives. For instance, (to choose a purely random, yet deeply personal example) Alan and I wanted, but were not able to have children. Bit of a set-back, that. But through the years, we looked around for what else we could do. We accepted challenges and adventures that came our way. We deepened our relationships with each other, with our friends and with our nieces and nephews (who are the best bunch of people you’d ever want to meet).
So people look at our lives as it is now, compared to how we thought it would be and say, “Seeeeee? Everything happens for a reason!” Head tilt. Smile.
When I was really little, I thought that trees made the wind. It was an easy mistake to make. I’d feel a breeze, look up to see the trees moving and confuse cause and effect. My parents kindly chose to call me whimsical.
And I think the Everything Happens for a Reason belief is the same confusing of cause and effect. People work and struggle and make something great out of adversity. And we mistakenly think it was the adversity that caused the greatness, when in reality, it was the person all along.
So what’s a better thing to say? Well, when someone’s in the midst of their difficulties, a heart-felt “I’m so sorry!” lets them know you care.
And when they finally triumph, as you knew all along they would a simple “Good for you! I knew you could do it” will do nicely, possibly accompanied by a bottle of champagne.
You can skip the head tilt entirely.