Have you ever heard the expression, “everything happens for a reason?” How about, “God is in control?” Maybe the proponents of maxims such as these have good intent. In fact, maybe that is why they are spread so far and wide without a resounding outcry. Dollars to doughnuts, if you are a person in pain for any reason, your heart will at first balk and then swallow this bitter pill. I say you will “swallow it” because (especially if you have caused your own pain, as we all do, many times!) this formula will make shame arise like a Phoenix. Otherwise, it will scream guilt. Guilt that you do not have the fortitude to power through the afflictions of life without making them visible to others. On the heels of that guilt will come the heinous notion that if you were better at handling pain, it wouldn’t actually hurt so much. It reminds me of the mind games we play in the face of fear and anxieties. I used to have trouble traveling far distances from my young children. On the day I realized that I had a fear of something “bad” happening to them if I was too far away, I could face the abject ridiculousness of trying to use an outward circumstance to control my fear! God doesn’t have the problem with being controlling, we do.
I hate these fucking sayings with the fire of a thousand suns. They deny the obvious realities of life. Some shit hurts. Abuse is rampant. Accidents happen. Sickness is painful. Injuries come. Human DNA is irregular. Everyone dies.
It is the strangest dichotomy, but in order to make suffering bearable it has to be accepted first. In no way, at any time is there a need to like it. Maybe that is where the phrases start to choke me, in the place where they seem to be saying that I should like it. I wouldn’t say that acceptance is an encouragement to give up either. Acceptance gives us knowledge to fight the good fights as they come our way, not give up and let them rule our lives. Another thing that makes these phrases rub me the wrong way, is that they seem to require a time limit on the difficulty of acceptance. It sounds like, “stop that hurting girl.” That’s right, lessening that suffering by accepting it is no easy task, to the point that many times it feels out of the realm of possibility.
I wager that a person in pain is …altered. That her normal weirdness is ramped up a few pegs, depending on the circumstances. And those that have a genetic condition that can only be managed not cured? Or parents that have lost a child or a grandchild? The reality of pain is a lifetime companion for some. For those souls fortunate enough to have a relatively average existence, pain will still be part and parcel of our journey. Why must we deny it?
I don’t know about reasons, there are definitely catalysts. The French writer, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, in Flight to Arras states, “Life always bursts the boundaries of formulas. Defeat may prove to have been the only path to resurrection, despite its ugliness. I take it for granted that to create a tree I condemn a seed to rot, if the first act of resistance comes too late it is doomed to defeat. But it is, nevertheless, the awakening of resistance. Life may grow from it as from a seed.” He says “may.” He’s not suggesting that defeat is the only way to eventual contentment.
There is another reality that is wise to accept, and maybe that is the true heart purpose of those that continue using the abhorred expressions, which is the reality that pain is a teacher. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “Every calamity is a spur and a valuable hint.” Pain is also a softener. The truly dark nights of the soul, when accepted and fought through, reap a harvest of tremendous personal growth. They can expand the heart into a compassionate view of life that can then bleed over and be an agent of healing in the lives of others. What is compassion but an outgrowth of a learned humility and vulnerability? I like how G.K. Chesterton puts it, “Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peaks.” I don’t believe it is a call to stay in any valley either. Humility is not staying “low” as in perpetual pain, but rather developing gentleness, to ourselves first. There will be a natural outflow towards others because one cannot walk through these realities without letting go of harsh judgments towards ourselves. Once we let that go, judging others becomes a lost art. Thank God.
Psalm 126:5 “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy.”