My two older children are very concerned whether people do things on purpose or not. We have had many conversations about the distinction between thinking about doing something, and doing something we didn’t think about. Just this morning my son accidentally hit his older sister with an empty container and she reacted as if it were a premeditated offense. He maintained his innocence, and I heard myself say to my daughter, “He didn’t mean to hit you, sweetie, not everything happens on purpose.”
I wish adults were better at adopting that idea- that some things happen and don’t necessarily have a purpose. And even more, that sometimes the horrific things that occur in this world (even those acts that have been done intentionally) don’t serve as part of a bigger plan, but are merely a product of someone’s awful choices, and nothing more. I’m convinced that’s why evil, and the chaos that comes from it, feels so terrible; because it’s often senseless.
Suffering can be uncomfortable. Tragedy can be uncomfortable. At times in my life, I’ve had no idea how to just sit in discomfort, so instead I’ve worked to assign blame, make sense of why something has happened, and/or give what happened any kind of meaning so I can put it in its right place in my brain. Make it tidy and clean. In the past five to ten years, though, I’ve learned better, and have accepted that there are times where there is no explanation or specific reason why something has happened other than humans have the ability to make choices, good or bad, and those choices impact people.
My life was turned upside a few years ago when my marriage ended. Those closest to me understand the complexities of what has brought me to the present and the impact specific events have had on me, and they don’t try to explain away the agony I’ve felt some days, weeks, and months. Other very well-meaning people on the periphery of my life, have offered words like, “Well, maybe those three kids needed to be on this earth for some reason and that was the purpose of your marriage,” or “That happened so you could have the beautiful life you have now,” in order to make sense of what I had just been through. I know those sentiments were shared with kindness, but they made me feel misunderstood more than anything else, and that my kids and I were just pawns in the universe’s schemes.
The truth is, I don’t believe there is a blueprint for this life, but rather that we are all at the mercy of other people’s decisions, while being fully responsible for our own. For that reason, pointless evil and pain happen. The meaning in what we face often comes from our response, not a preordained plan. Yes, I feel like my life is beautiful in ways it wasn’t in my past life, but you know why? It’s because I’ve worked my ass off to respond to that explosion in ways that I believed would give me ultimate health, and have people in my life who have chosen to support me in those choices. Not because some cosmic plan had that in the cards for me.
Evil, pain, and suffering don’t always have a purpose, and that’s why they hurt so badly. The futility of some of the things we experience personally, and see happening in the world, are deeply painful because there is no redemptive thread infused in their design. It’s just plain awful. When a pat answer is offered, it communicates to the one hurting that how they feel in the moment is invalid. There’s an unintended sense of arrogance in those comments too, that someone knows the purpose of your suffering more than you know the reality of what you’re experiencing. Lastly, if God (or any other higher being someone could ascribe to) predestines all happenings, then I need to rethink who/what I believe in. I refuse to accept as true that an all-loving being who created the cosmos, lacks such creativity and empathy that he/she resorts to causing suffering to accomplish grander purposes. I’d rather believe there were no God than to believe that the one who exists chooses to cause us suffering in order for his/her plans to come to pass.
I’ve become alright not knowing why things happen at times, and have even found sitting in the doubt and uncertainty to be quite liberating. Sure, I ask questions still, but where my younger self would have needed those questions to land on a particular answer, my present self can (usually) throw a question up in the air and be fine if it just stays there without ever coming back down. Learning to relent on finding certainty or specific answers to some questions has allowed me to define what’s actually important to me in the present, and to live more honestly intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually- something I’ve come to highly value in my life and in the lives of those around me. So instead of saying, “everything happens for a reason,” I now say, “I don’t know,” and I’m mostly at peace with that.