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Does everything really happen for a reason?

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 HANNAH

I'm a writer, author, and online educator who loves helping others build intentional lives through the power of habit and meaningful routines.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote a letter to the Monday Club about what it looks like to walk with someone in the midst of a hard season. 

I made a suggestion that saying “everything happens for a reason” to someone who is going through the messy is oftentimes not the best thing to say. 

I got an email back from a reader asking me, “Why not? Don’t you believe everything does happen for a reason with God?” 

And, to be quite honest, that question really stumped me. I’ve sat with it for at least two months. 

I’ve gone back and forth.

I’ve read articles.

I’ve prayed and asked.

I’ve asked friends for their opinions. 

I don’t know that I fully have an answer but I am willing to tell you what I learned in the search for the meaning behind this phrase: everything happens for a reason. Insert question mark.

A bandaid. 

In my own life, I used that phrase as a bandaid for a really long time. 

It’s a way for me to say: I’m uncomfortable and I want to be able to make sense of this.

It’s a way for me to say: I don’t really know where God is in this but we’ll know the meaning of all of this one day.

Step one: Someone is going through something horrific. 

Step two: I don’t know how to process their pain or say anything that truly helps. 

Step three: So I say, “Everything happens for a reason” and I wonder if I am a liar. 

It’s just that though: I’ve been raised to believe there is a reason behind things. I’ve been told, in some of my hardest heartbreaks, that I will understand one day because “everything happens for a reason.”

I’ve seen this statement plastered on coffee cups and tucked into books I’m reading. It’s a go-to phrase. Something that seems to do the trick to help us sleep better at night.

But as I grow older and witness more unspeakable tragedies, senseless loss, and real, unquenchable pain, I don’t know that I should use this bandaid anymore. 

Maybe some wounds need open air for a while.

Maybe we don’t need to fill the atmosphere up with all the right words.

Maybe we don’t have to believe in a reason we can’t see this side of heaven. 

Maybe God isn’t asking us to be all that buttoned up.

Maybe God is big enough to take just as we are: 

Confused. 

Scared. 

Angry. 

More confused. 

Even more scared. 

Unbearably angry.

What if God is that big?

“Everything happens for a reason.”

I’ve said it so many times and I’ve heard it uttered to me through more instances than I can count.

And you know what’s hard about that phrase for me now, with more years of life under my belt?

Every time someone said that to me– that this hard thing was happening for a reason– I felt this immense pressure to look for the reason. To seek it out and know it so I could retrieve the lesson and shove it in people’s faces and say, “Look, look! I have the reason now!” 

It made me believe that if I just looked hard enough, I would get the nugget of wisdom. I’d get to the pot at the end of the rainbow.

And maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll never know the reason. Maybe there is no reason because that would mean God cares more about teaching us a lesson than loving us through the excruciating heartbreak. I think we can always assign meaning to things that happen to us– that is in our control– but a concrete reason? No, I don’t think we’ll always have that.

As someone who is a recovering “there’s a life lesson for everything” junkie, the search for a reason in everything was exhausting. It meant I was constantly taking my eyes off God in the storm because I thought it was my job to make sense of the storm. To make the storm pretty. To make the storm make sense.

I think if we could make sense of everything then there would be no yearning for a place like Heaven.

I think some storms don’t make much sense but they make us see how small we really are and just how much we need Someone bigger to scoop us up and carry us.

In the midst of your grief, you are not called to find anything. That is not your job description. No one is asking you to tie things up in a pretty bow so the world can learn from you. Not now. Not that. 

You don’t even need to “find” God in this midst of your pain because He is right here. Like Waldo, but in plain view this time. He is already right here. 

You might not always feel Him but you can begin to repeat to yourself the truth, “I know you are with me. Even though I don’t feel you, I know you are. I will following the knowing instead of waiting for the feeling.”

My faith is encapsulated in a single word. Gospel. It means “good news.” And that good news I possess is that God is here. 

He is not some dictator of the heavens. 

He is not a school teacher waiting for me to pluck the lesson from the narrative.

He is not some distant inanimate object. 

He is the God who chose flesh– to wear it himself like a garment– so that He could walk with us, talk with us, relate to us, and stand with us in the hard and the holy storms.

The good news is not that life is void of tragedy.

The good news is not that I am immune from heartbreak.

The good news is not that everything happens for a reason…

The good news is that He is here. Living among us. Always near. Immanuel.

The good news is that we are loved to the bone by love itself and that is enough to carry us through.

I WANNA KNOW…

Do you think everything happens for a reason? I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer here. I’d just love to hear your thoughts.

LEAVE A LOVE NOTE +

  1. Julia says:

    Thank you for writing this. I’ve long been a person who believed everything happens for a reason, but a family tragedy happened a couple years ago that really shook that belief and I’ve been trying to articulate why it feels wrong ever since. This put words to everything I’ve been feeling and gives a much more helpful (and less exhausting!) answer

    • Wow- thank you for sharing that with me. I think God wants to be close to us in the questions and doubts. Everything happens for a reason can often be a bandage but I want deep healing and intimacy with God in the tragedies of life.

  2. Diane says:

    I agree that saying "there’s a reason for everything" is the worst comment that can be made to someone facing great grief. I would rather hear that someone is offering prayers that someday I will find peace knowing God is with me through this and I may not understand until eternity.

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Hi, I'm Hannah

I love writing about all things faith, mental health, discipline + and motherhood. Let's be penpals!

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