I never got a real answer for why my second wife left me, which, as you might imagine, amplified the heartbreak quite a bit. Likewise, nearly 10 years ago in a freak family-hiking accident I slipped, slid, and fell 30 feet off a cliff onto a boulder headfirst. I SHOULD have died, but didn’t, YET many others with much less severe injuries do die. Why? While it seems life and God aren’t very concerned with telling us WHY bad things happen, it’s almost the Divine’s job description to gift us with WHAT to do with it. Accepting this (mostly 🙂 has radically changed my life, and since I love to spread goodness around I figured I’d share some thoughts on the topic with you here. 🙂
We are storied creatures. Humans make meaning. A big part of being a person is making sense of things. This is GREAT and SUPER helpful … and sometimes we also need to let the “sense” be it makes NO sense, the meaning to be a mystery, and the story to be a paradox. This is especially true when it comes to bad things happening to us beyond our control. I’ve literally been sitting here thinking of what to write next because I can think of SO MANY caveats and exceptions here, but hopefully you get the gist of what I’m saying, and I think moving on and telling some of my story may help us out here. 🙂
I certainly played a role in the demise of my second marriage. On good days I do NOT fault my ex-wife (Carla), and truthfully in retrospect I’m thankful she left me, partially because I now see the dysfunction I didn’t see then, but primarily because I’ve since discovered what BIG and magical love looks like with my wife Lisa. As Carla and I were going through the stormy times leading up to the divorce, I loved her as best I could and did everything in my power to help our marriage not only survive, but flourish. In the process, nearly every time she talked about divorce she gave a different reason. My point is she never gave a why. Life didn’t tell me why Carla divorced me, and in all my tearful, heartbroken pleading with God I never got a why either.
With the help of self-reflection, friends, family, and the Spirit, though, I received an abundance of what’s. My therapist encouraged me to do things I love, yet hadn’t done much of while married. In short she said: You haven’t been loving and caring for yourself by being YOU, so BE you again, so you can more healthily and richly love others. I LOVE music and concerts, so declared the year after my divorce “My Year of Concerts.” This brought me so much energy and joy, thus fueling my care for others it’s ridiculous.
An invitation of the Spirit during the process of the divorce was for me to empathize more fully with Carla, her “side” of things, and her story. So, I dove deep into understanding how her life, especially her losses and hurts, had shaped her. Just as learning to BE more authentically myself helps me care better for others today, so too did learning Carla was doing the best she could with what she was given help me realize the same is true for everyone else.
A third “what” from my divorce ties in with the story of my hiking accident. A primary injury from it was Severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). To make a really long story short, in many ways I had to relearn how to be an adult. The combo of this and Carla having a wonderfully strong personality, led to me having not much of a “voice”. So, in many ways God and life let me know an important “what” from the divorce was to rediscover my voice. The most beautiful part of this was, in the reinvention of “me”, my voice didn’t only reemerge, it did so with FAR more kindness, understanding, and encouragement/affirmation.
While the why of the divorce would have been “nice”, it would have been little more than a “good to know”. Conversely, the WHATs have been life changing and transformative in the most AMAZING ways. It seems to me God and the nature of life our Creator has shaped are SUPER wise here. I think the key is to be cool with not knowing why, while receiving the what(s) as a precious gift.
I could write SO MUCH on the accident. In fact, I have, as I wrote a rough draft of a book I plan to get back to soon and hope to have published in the not too distant future. That said, I’ll boil the what vs. why of it down to one point so we can land this “plane” in a timely fashion. 🙂 Quite possibly the BIGGEST question when it comes to whether a person believes in God or not is the problem of evil. Tons of people are atheists because they ask: How could a good God who is all-powerful allow (or even cause) evil, suffering, and harm to exist? I don’t know a ton about other traditions, but the interesting thing is in the Judeo-Christian tradition’s sacred text, the Bible, God essentially NEVER gives an answer to this question. As much as we all desire to know why bad things happen to good people, like my freakish fall off the cliff (apparently it looked like something invisible pushed me), often our Creator and life simply don’t give us an answer.
It occurs to me overly wrestling with, obsessing about, and needing to know the why here is a lot like being a hamster spinning on a hamster wheel. It gets us NOWHERE. The HUGE what for me in all this has been a gift mindset. While I don’t know why I almost died but didn’t, or why others die from less severe injuries, what my new lease on life has given me is the ability to see my life as a gift, friends as delights, family as precious, sunsets as miracles, every act of love as magic, all the beauty in nature as artistic masterpieces, and so on.
God, and thus the flow and fabric of life, don’t seem particularly interested in providing us with why bad things happen. YET, the Divine economy is rigged in our favor, Life is on our side, and it seems a significant part of our Creator’s job description is to transform the bad stuff in life into goodness. While this isn’t instantaneous and often takes time, it’s literally happened every time in my life, and I have a hunch the same could be true for you too. The key for me has been to let go of my need to know why and, with arms wide-open embrace not only does God and life give us an overabundance of what’s, but What > Why. What are your thoughts on this?
Grace and peace,