This post originally appeared here on Illumination.
Stop Telling Me Everything Happens For A Reason
I've been crying a lot lately. Now, don’t judge. Worse yet, don’t pity. Stuff happens. It could happen to anybody. The thing is, whenever bad things happen, well-meaning human beings, bless their hearts, always come up with the overused, insincere, flat-out meaningless phrase that everything happens for a reason. Really? I have to blink back more tears when I hear that.
The utterers of that pointless and perfunctory platitude come across as ignorant because those who say it don’t understand it. What they are implying is there’s nothing much I can do about my situation. Just sit tight and hope for something good to come out of this. In the meantime, if I need to, I can cry myself a river but try not to drown in it.
It did not comfort me in the least.
In his excellent piece linked here under the part “Acceptance and the perspective of life is short,” Marcus included a snippet from page 417 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that beautifully sums up what acceptance means in 109 words:
I may not yet know the grand-scheme-of-things purpose, but what I do now understand is pain exists so that I can learn and gain spiritual advancement and the concomitant material benefits.
And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in [the universe] by mistake …unless I accept life on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.
It’s a failure-filled and paralyzing attempt to focus on why things happen — I can leave that for the purposeless, procrastinating, prognosticating philosophers and their self-righteous dogmatic religious cohorts whom I have rejected. Rather how I choose to respond to what happened does matter. Destiny exists to test my free will, not to silence it.
Just like everyone else, I take things too seriously. Sometimes my expectations are way too unrealistic for my good. When unpleasant things happen and my life flips, I will question. I want to know why. I’ll have to sit through that uncomfortable situation to deal with whatever emotions are going on inside me.
When someone says everything happens for a reason, and then expect me to passively cross my arms and wait for the reason to show up so that I can find my bigger purpose in all of this, they are making light of the pain I’m experiencing — and their justification defeats the purpose. I may not yet know the grand-scheme-of-things purpose, but what I do now understand is pain exists so that I can learn and gain spiritual advancement and the concomitant material benefits.
I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for what happened to me. But I need to make sure that I’ll survive this ordeal and possibly keep it from happening again.
Now doesn’t that sounds like the put-on-your-big-boy-pants-and-get-your-act-together accountability? Good, it should. As opposed to relieving me or anyone else caught in an unpleasant situation, of any and every responsibility that is within our control. When somnambulists say it tells us that we can pass the buck to some unseen forces that will take care of us. I am now awakening and aware that discomfort presents an opportunity for me to take action towards my own earthly and spiritual achievement.
If I’m not in a place to accept that whatever happens, happens, then I can easily get caught up in the victim mentality, which makes it harder to get back on my feet.
Failure and disappointments can quickly send us plummeting into the dragon’s gullet when we refuse to let go of our fixed plans and ideas about how our whole life should unfold. We spiral into a crash and before we know it, everything becomes worse. That reason we are after keeps us from attempting any change to improve the state of our lives because we mistakenly see it as a preordained script devoid of free will.
When life didn’t turn out as expected, it’s more convenient to look outside ourselves for reasons, but most of the factors that prevent us from getting where we want to go are outcomes of individual choices and behaviors.
When something goes unexpectedly wrong, I often theorize about what happened. But asking ‘why me’ won’t help. Terrible, even horrendous events happen and they suck. There is no point in being stubborn and insisting on identifying a reason. Life can still turn out meaningful despite unpleasant accidents. Undesirable events do happen and I need to deal with them instead of getting stuck thinking that a certain answer or reason somewhere could be my gateway to salvation.
Identifying the cause can be helpful if it’s relevant but I may or may not associate myself with the outcome. If I’m not in a place to accept that whatever happens, happens, then I can easily get caught up in the victim mentality, which makes it harder to get back on my feet.
I have discerned another, related meaning to the phrase [‘it is what it is’]. I live life on life’s terms, play the cards I am dealt, and I do not bitch anymore in the delusion of life not being fair. Life just is what it is.
Regardless of the odds that seem to stack against me, I need to stop acting like a grown-up baby and start making my way through the long and winding passages of life’s labyrinth.
At one point, I had latched on to this phrase and had used it as a crutch to avoid any attempt to deal with my issues. I’ve explained away my need to take responsibility and the best I did was sit and mourn in darkness, feeling sorry for myself until hopefully, some bright light would miraculously shine on me.
Now I take action.
It took me a while to realize that I’m in charge of who I am, in whatever situation I’m in. I get to decide how much space this problem occupies in my mind and if it’s worthy for me to put it on the pedestal. The problem should not receive more recognition than it deserves.
I accept many things can happen that are beyond my control. And even if the reasons are obvious, it does not offer me complete or more control over future events. Things will happen when they happen. It’s important to be mindful and aware so I can seize promising opportunities for evaluating my strengths and weaknesses, recognizing what I can gain control over at the moment, acknowledging my mistakes if necessary, and move through the process.
We can’t fully explain the logic behind suffering as much as we want. Suffering just is. Unpleasant situations happen and we have to deal with them in healthy ways, get past them and move on. It’s up to us to create meaning out of life’s disappointments, instead of finding reasons to justify every event.
If there’s truly a reason behind something that has happened, I will traverse desert sands to find out why because I’m accountable at least to myself, for how I must deal and grow through the situation, knowing that I’m not at the mercy of some master puppeteer.
Terrible things can and do happen for reasons we can’t understand or even explain. But that does not and should not make us a victim of our circumstances.
Regardless of what it looks like, we can navigate our way through any challenges. We have a part to play. Our choices will determine how our future turns out from here onwards.
The inability to accept anything less than perfect will guarantee a lifetime of stress and preoccupation with the unachievable, and that’s nowhere near where I want to be.
I’m not hoping for anything, but perhaps you may be experiencing challenging times right now. It may even be a colossal pain in the arse. Whatever you’re going through, the important question to ask is not Why, but what are you going to do about it?