Do you believe that things happen for a reason?
During my childhood and teenage years, I clung to God’s will like it was a life-raft, and I was trapped in the middle of the ocean with a hurricane raging around me. When I would lie in bed at night wondering why my mother and father got divorced, I would say well there must be a reason.
I would cry about why I couldn’t live with my mom, and why she chose drugs and stripping over taking care of me. I thought it was beyond unfair that I was living with my abusive Grandma. Well-meaning people would tell me that there was a reason.
After years of being separated from my mom (because she entered witness protection), we were briefly reunited when I started college. I moved in with her near the end of July. On the third day of December, she died in a car accident. I moved out of her house and into the dorm with a friend.
Several weeks after the accident, I was hysterically asking another 18-year-old child to impart life’s wisdom and tell me why these things kept happening to me. My roommate commented about how “Some things we don’t understand until we die and go to heaven.”
I mentioned that I wanted to go there and find the answers; then I locked myself in a room alone. Someone called the cops, and I wound up in the psych ward. That was the first time I began questioning who I was and what I believed to be accurate.
I am Italian (and a small percentage Belgian) and was raised in the Roman Catholic Church. I went to Sunday School and had Wednesday classes too. I had a First Communion and Confirmation. We didn’t go to church every Sunday, though, after achieving those requirements, because my Grandma wasn’t all that into religion.
One of the central premises of Christianity is that God has a plan. Nothing happens that isn’t a part of his grand design for your life. Catholicism will really drive that point home. Good Catholic children do not question this and inquire why they seem to get the short end of the stick.
Life continued to hit me with tragedies, and it wasn’t long until I questioned, “do these things happen for a reason?” It gets very disconcerting to believe that any loving entity would continue to pile these types of things upon anyone on purpose. I drifted away from the church, and a therapist would later tell me that term for this is “a crisis of faith.”
So why do terrible things happen?
Ralph Lewis, M.D. says, “In my psychiatric practice, I have observed that the belief that life events are somehow intended can have powerful effects on motivation, both positive and negative. This belief is a double-edged sword: it can be reassuring and comforting but can also lead to disillusionment, anguish, and feelings of abandonment by God, under conditions of cruel adversity.”
I was feeling the whole “abandoned by God” thing.. My mother and father had abandoned me, why not add God to the list. I thought, good or bad, things just happen at random.
Our brains dislike randomness, and we are continually searching for patterns, or reasons, even if they do not exist. Adam Hinterthuer, a contributor for Scientific American, says, “When we feel like we don’t have command of our own fate, our brains often invent patterns that offer a sense of self-control. Some folks knock on wood or step over cracks in the sidewalk. Scientists call this illusory pattern perception.”
Fate or illusory pattern perception?
I am a big believer in the fact that, while maybe it is not God’s plan, the universe sends you “signs.” Nineteen years ago, my boyfriend, at the time, moved back to Hawaii from Montana. I ended up moving to New York to seek out the father I had no contact with since age five. I wouldn’t have done this at this time had I not been all alone in a strange state following my mom’s death.
I went out to N.Y. and met my dad, stepmom, and siblings. I battled severe depression for a few months, and just when it seemed like I had turned a corner, that boyfriend wanted me to move to Hawaii with him. I was uncertain of what I should do, and I went to work at Toys R Us that day to clear my mind.
The first task of the day: build a “Lilo and Stitch” display. I remember thinking that was a strange coincidence. For hours, I painstakingly stacked figurines with Hawaiian themes into a giant tower.
Before I knew it, it was lunchtime, and I headed to the break room. I was bored, so I grabbed a magazine and opened it. Right there, on the first page I opened, was an advertisement about winning a trip to Hawaii.
My brain latched onto the fact that this was a sign that I was meant to go, but then I told myself that I was crazy. My break ended, and I walked back out onto the sales floor. As I walked up to the front to clock in, I passed the pillar of toys I had built — just as a little boy smashed into it. Lilo and Stitch toys went flying everywhere, landing at my feet.
I moved to Hawaii within the week, and that boy and I have been married for almost 18 years. Destiny? God’s will? Fate? Science says it is an illusory pattern of perception. My father passed away a few years later, leaving me orphaned at 26, and I was glad I had gotten to know him and build a relationship with the other side of my family.
“Humans are not rational beings; they’re rationalizing beings.” — Unknown
People are usually at a loss of words when someone is dealing with trauma and will try to use the “things happen for a reason” card to rationalize the traumatic experiences that some people have.
I had a friend read a story I wrote once about my childhood abuse and abandonment. She said that I was meant to live the life I had so I could write about it and help others. I understood her sentiment, but surely there had to be an easier way.
“Destiny is something we’ve invented because we can’t stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.” — Albert Schweitzer
I think people don’t realize that many trauma survivors make something positive happen as our way of coping. There are so many others who break under the strain of constant pain.
My trauma was not a gift from the universe so that it could turn me into a writer. Instead, writing allowed me to survive my life. The words of pain and unanswered questions transformed themselves into notebooks full of poetry and stories. I could, NOT write or the words would consume me instead.
I had an editor tell me once that I had the advantage of having a story to tell. Did my childhood happen so I could be the writer I am? Or did I become the writer I am because I made something happen with hard work and even more tears?
What makes another door open when one closes?
Accidents. Randomness. Response. You might lose your job, which leaves you with two choices. The first of which is to doubt yourself and focus on the negative. The second choice is to believe that you lost this job so you could do or find something even better.
Begin to look for opportunities; make something happen. It is like that old joke about a man praying to win the lottery, and when he dies, he asks God why he never won. God answers that you have to buy a ticket. Buy your ticket. Take your shot.
“The way you SEE your life SHAPES your life. How you define life determines your destiny. Your perspective will influence how you invest your time, spend your money, use your talents, and value your relationships.” — Rick Warren
There is a lesson to be learned from everything that happens, but I do not think that bad things happen to us because we need them to. We all have it within our power to make our stories count for something. To assign them a higher purpose, that helps other people. For me, that is writing my story and sharing it.
What does that look like for you? Do you think that things happen for a reason, or are you trying to train your brain to embrace the randomness that is life? Leave your comments in the comment section below.