Bad things have happened to you. I don’t even know who you are, as you read this, but I know that. And if other people knew about the bad things, odds are good that some of them tried to comfort you by telling you that everything happens for a reason. True, sometimes there is an obvious reason, often a mix of human failing and poor choices. But the claim that even truly bad things – the death of a loved one, a crippling accident, a terminal illness – are all part of some cosmic plan to make you a better person… sorry, I just don’t buy it. My brothers didn’t die to help my personal growth, and my mother-in-law didn’t succumb to cancer as part of my wife’s spiritual path.
And honestly, telling someone that something happened for a reason, or is part of God’s plan, isn’t just not comforting – it’s actively harmful. I mean, if God has decided that your whole family should die in a car wreck, who are you to complain? Shouldn’t you be rejoicing that everything is going as planned? So shouldn’t you just, you know, suck it up and carry on until it’s your turn to die to make somebody else a better person?
Except that’s a horrible thing to do to a person, especially when they’re suffering. Because I don’t care how much you might believe a tragedy is part of the grand plan, when it happens to you, you will be hurting. You don’t need to have the salt of guilt over your pain poured on to the open wound.
We need to grieve. Grief is how we move forward in the face of horrible things that just can’t be fixed. Some pains never go away, but they can be borne. We can heal. But we have to be willing – and allowed – to feel the grief that accompanies loss to get to a place where we know that is possible.
So, if somebody tells you, in the face of your suffering, that it is happening for a reason, ignore them. Feel your pain and your grief. You can survive it, and you will be able to bear it. It just really, really sucks.
And if you are the person present as another is suffering, don’t offer up platitudes. Tell them you know they are in pain. Tell them you love them. Tell them you are there with them. And then just be there with them. You can’t fix their pain, but you can bear witness to it. You can sit with them so they are not alone in the darkness, and act as a silent reminder that the light still exists.