Everything Might Not Happen For A Reason

Okay so we’ve all heard this phrase before right? “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s usually said at a time of tragedy, intended to comfort and console by asserting that no matter how devastating, how wildly random, how out of control whatever happened was, there was purpose to it .

I’ve seen the phrase have opposite effects. For some people, it makes them feel as though they are connected to something greater than themselves, there is relief in the idea that God or the Universe or whatever they’ve deemed that Bigger Thing to be, has instilled purpose into everything no matter how obscure. For others, this phrase hardens their hearts, makes them bitter towards God or the Universe or whatever they’ve deemed that Bigger Thing to be. They ask, “What kind of God would do this?” Great question, I honestly don’t know.

When I was first introduced to this saying, the initial feeling was relief. As with any new idea, I remained skeptical, recalling it for analysis every now and then, looking to see if it could remain congruent with events in my life. And because humans are able to draw meaning from almost literally anything, for a while it seemed like it did. As I lived long enough to see things that once devastated me bring some new perspective or growth, I was tempted to ascribe it to this idiom. “Well everything must happen for a reason, if I hadn’t gone through that awful thing in my life, I wouldn’t have this wonderful thing in my life!” That’s how it works right?

Still, something didn’t feel right. Sure I could argue for myself the opportunities for growth that came from some very terrible circumstances, but I could not argue death tolls and property damage in natural disasters. I could not argue the trauma inflicted by predators like Brock Turner. I could not in good faith walk up to any of the parents affected by the Sandy Hook massacre and say “everything happens for a reason”. That phrase felt like something that might be true, but was wayyyyyy too dismissive and insensitive to be so.  

Then I read Brenè Brown’s book and she fixed everything. (Okay I’m not done reading it but I’m pretty sure she’s gonna fix everything.)

She has a chapter on logic and faith, and she notes that what gets in the way of having faith most often is our need for certainty. Though “everything happens for a reason” sounds like the kind of wisdom birthed from a deep well of faith, she points out that it actually instead attempts to provide definition to something incomprehensible. We literally can’t know if something has happened for a reason. That is a judgement call that we do not have the scope or breadth of Time to make. Furthermore, perhaps you can say for yourself “everything happens for a reason” (though I’d still argue that’s faulty but do you girl), but it seems to me impossible to be able to lay that claim to someone else’s life. It’s not your story to draw from, it’s theirs.

“Everything happens for a reason” portends to leave mystery while in reality snuggling us in a safety blanket of security and clear lines. And of course, at times security blankets are needed — you’re talking to a woman whose favorite coping mechanism is denial, I get it. But if we want to live “Wholeheartedly” as Brenè calls it, we’re required to live in the tension of uncertainty — a PARTICULARLY hard task in the midst of tragedy because knowing the “why” sometimes eases part of the pain (probably why this phrase gained popularity in the first place). Maybe we can’t have any control over what happens to us, but if we can ascribe some purpose to it, some bigger meaning, then maybe we can shortcut some of our grief.

However as we all know (I hope) there’s no way to successfully shortcut grief. There is no going around, only through, and feeling every moment, every out of control moment until we reach the other side. I know the people who say “everything happens for a reason” have good intentions. We all want to catalyze the healing process. But the truth is that sometimes things don’t happen for a reason, at least not any that we can see well enough to make a claim. And the human part is to live in that, and to realize that even though you don’t know, at least you’re not alone in the dark.


Thumbnail photo by Vincentiu Solomon on Unsplash