Recently I swam at the Jordan YMCA on the north side of Indianapolis. I prefer the warmer temperatures in the pool compared to the Fishers Y where I usually swim. Whenever I am close to the Jordan Y, I pop in and enjoy my usual workout.
That day, when I entered the pool, the lap lanes were already full, so I tapped a lady on the head and asked if I could share the lane. There is etiquette for lap swimmers - asking to share rather than just jumping in is one of them. She removed her goggles and paused by the edge of the pool.
"Sure you can share. I'll take the left side." she said.
"I'll take the right," I replied.
"I had hip replacement surgery two months ago. A nerve in my leg was scratched, now my foot is numb. I should have been back at work in two weeks, but I can't do anything. The doctors can't figure out what went wrong. I guess everything happens for a reason," she sighed looking down at the water.
Pondering her words, I replied quickly, "I don't think we can say, 'things happen for a reason'. Things just happen. I believe we can learn and grow from what happens to us, but I don't think we need to spend time exploring why - especially in circumstances like yours where even doctors have no explanation."
Sitting on the edge of the pool, I donned my cap, goggles and hand paddles, preparing to swim.
"You are showing up to swim and exercise - that is helping your recovery. Sometimes things just happen and we don't know why!" I hoped my words would offer encouragement down her path of rehabilitation that has lasted way too long.
DO THINGS REALLY HAPPEN FOR A REASON?
What would happen if I said to my friend who was recently diagnosed with liver and gall bladder cancer --- "Well, you know, these things happen for a reason."
Or to my friend who husband died suddenly from an aortic dissection and left her a widow with two pre-school children -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."
Or to my former neighbor whose daughter was born full-term with a heart defect detected after birth, requiring surgery at three weeks -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."
Or to my friend who desperately wants to be a mother after losing four babies to miscarriage -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."
Or to my neighbor who went through a difficult divorce after twenty-four years of marriage, disrupting and destroying a family until that previously worked harmoniously -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."
Or to my friend who deals with the remnants of growing up in an abusive home -- "You know, these things happen for a reason."
What type of comfort would these words --"You know, these things happen for a reason" bring? What do all of these persons need, who are in the middle of heartbreak and confusion, who are struggling to stand upright as they deal with unexpected or ongoing events that disrupt their daily routine and wrench our hearts?
Emily McDowell has created a new line of cards to express support to others in difficult circumstances. Based on her experiences with stage three Hodgkin's lymphoma, diagnosed when she was twenty-four, empathy cards emerged. I heard Emily interviewed on National Public Radio and also read about her cards in the Huffington Post.
One card beautifully decorated with bright red flowers and teal leaves says:
Please let me be, the first person to punch
The next person who tells you
Everything happens for a reason -
I am sorry you're going through this.
Emily's honest, sensitive, and realistic messages speak to the core of how in our uncomfortableness we try to be present to those who suffer.
Searching for a reason when unfortunate, sad and life-changing circumstances come our way is natural. We want to know 'why'. Even when we can identify a reason that might pinpoint a cause, the underlying question, "Why did this happen or occur?" may never be known.
Trying to discover 'the reason' something happens can bring frustration and anger. Adding these emotions to limitations, grief, sadness, anxiety and despair that often come with unforeseen events adds another layer of struggle and suffering.
ANOTHER APPROACH - SECURE STRENGTH
Another approach might be, "Do we spend time looking for the reason for what happened or do we look for ways to secure strength to persevere through days that disrupt our normal routine and make us feel terrible?"
Shortly before I pushed away from the pool, I added to my initial remarks, "We can learn and grow from whatever comes our way without finding a reason."
My lane partner, who paused to adjust her cap and goggles looked at me and said, "That's a possibility I'll explore."
If we can identify a reason, does that make things bearable or offer security when our foundations are shattered?
After asking, "What is the reason for ______?" and no answer comes, consider these words, "What can I learn and how can I grow from _____?"
Invite God into your time of inquiry and desire. Ask God open your heart and reveal ways to grow and learn from what you are facing. Bring your emotions to God. God is eager to accept, welcome and hold all you are. As you explore ways to grow spiritually, emotionally and physically from events that happen, God may reveal areas of strength as you persevere through hard places, opening talents and abilities you have not discovered.
A few years ago when I was going through a rough patch, I read an activity in a self-help book that suggested writing a letter to yourself using your non-dominant hand. Although I write with my right hand, my mother mentioned that when I used my left hand as a toddler, she covered my hand with hers, forcing me to use my right hand.
As an adult, trying out this letter to myself, I started gingerly, with a pencil in my left hand, writing numbers, then the alphabet, then simple words and sentences. Working with my left hand for several weeks, I eventually discovered my left hand draws and writes. I believe I was created to be left-handed because of the ease with which these tasks came.
My handwriting is different with each hand. When I write blog posts I use paper, pencil to record my thoughts ....with my left hand. Although I struggled to get through what I was experiencing, discovering the insight and freedom that flows from my left hand, brought joy and companionship that is still with me today.
The lady who shared her lane with me finished before I did, leaving me with the luxury of swimming in my own lane. Through the cloudy view of my goggles, I watched her struggle to climb the stairs out of the pool. As she walked haltingly to the door leading to the locker room, I hope her heart felt my heartfelt prayers for her recovery and peace.
Prayer: God, things happen. That's the nature of life. We have the assurance that you are in all things, not causing them, but present in them. As we seek to pick ourselves up and keep going, let us also come to you, knowing you have encouragement and companionship to help us grow through our circumstances in your embrace and love. Amen.