In one glittery episode of Sex and the City, Charlotte consoles Carrie over a disastrous date, perkily declaring she shouldn’t worry because “everything happens for a reason.”
Watching the episode, it was easy for me to grant Charlotte and her stilettos as much wisdom as the Dalai Lama. “Everything happens for a reason” is a comforting thought. It renders every stumble as a necessary compass guiding our life’s path. Like most of us, I was well-acquainted with struggle, but most of my tougher life experiences fell under the milder categories of that’s too bad or such a shame but none were truly tragic or traumatic. I had only known the sting of secondary sorrow but had never actually endured it first-hand. Justifying such events by some sort of divine or cosmic reasoning seemed simple and wise.
I cringe now at how I tried to use that “wisdom” to console friends who were grieving. Even when distant, senseless tragedies skated around the outskirts of my life, I clung to the notion that there really is a reason those things would be happening, we just don’t know it yet. It’s easy to say this when you’re not clutched in the iron fist of grief, wrestling with that hardest question of all: Why?
Until you are.
For me, realizing the shortcomings of “everything happens for a reason” was as vivid as the autumn leaves on October 29th, 2018, on what should have been the happy day of glimpsing our third child during the first ultrasound appointment. But when we should have heard a heartbeat, there was only a deafening silence; the stillness of the little form was dizzying.
In the fog that followed, I tried to lean on that old Sex and the City wisdom to illuminate my own understanding of why this happened. Answers are comforting and uncertainty is agonizing. If I could figure out the why, I could prevent this from happening again. I could be back in control. But doctors weren’t able to give an answer as to why this had happened, other than saying that sometimes, it just can.
Sometimes cells that we want to thrive don’t, and we’re faced with the term miscarriage.
Sometimes cells that we don’t want to thrive do, and we’re faced with the term cancer.
Sometimes minds blessed with the ability to think freely and choose love decide to follow a dark path instead, which can intersect terribly with innocent lives.
Sometimes, there just isn’t a reason for suffering, and saying there is only makes the question of why louder: “Am I being punished for something?”; “Why does the loss of my loved one’s precious life need to be the reminder for others to cherish theirs?”; “What if I did something differently that day?”
The two syllables and six letters that comprise “what if” perhaps hold more damaging power than any other words.
When we are bombarded by despair, the wake of destruction left behind can feel too sprawling to ever fully restore. But as the skies clear and the dust settles, a lone structure remains towering over the mountains of rubble, perhaps weathered and smoldering but still standing nonetheless. This structure is not man-made, but created by God, and it can never be demolished no matter how many times anguish attacks. It’s a pillar of hope, illuminating the haze.
This hope reminds us of God’s deep love and care. He cradles us in the darkness and lights the path as we stumble forward. It’s hope that His promise of “plans for a hope and a future,” applies to us and we aren’t forgotten; that His powerful hands are still delicate enough to sculpt beauty from ashes. Jesus’s words “I am with you always” means we are not treading against a tearful current alone; He is crying with us because He fully knows and understands sorrow and pain. The Holy Spirit is granting us the strength and grace we need to press on when we don’t feel like we can, so we can smile and laugh and feel joy again.
There is hope that those who mourn are indeed blessed, those who fall are indeed carried and those who are sick are indeed healed, on earth or in Heaven. It’s a hope that we will see our loved ones again in a joyous, eternal reunion, and a hope that says while our life’s pages may be dog-eared and tattered, our story only begins on earth. Meanwhile, the divine epilogue is better than we could have ever written ourselves.