Everything happens for a reason. It’s a quote I’ve heard a million times, and one I’ve repeated quite often. It’s something I’ve always believed, and why not? If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, and He has a master plan for the world, then why wouldn’t it? Well, now I’m not so sure.
Today marks four months since Stephanie died. I try to use that “harsh” language of died because that’s the fact. Other ways of expressing it may be more comfortable to us, but they can confusing for kids, and what’s comfortable about it? We’re just trying to lessen the blow that someone we loved so dearly and cared so much about is gone. I miss her terribly every day. So back to the title. Over the last four months, I’ve received many items in the mail: cards, gifts for Sarah, letters, books, pictures. One of the books someone sent me (and I honestly can’t remember who, so if it was you, please let me know, and thank you) is called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold S Kushner. He’s a rabbi who’s son was diagnosed at the age of three with progeria, or “rapid aging”, and they were told he would not live past his teens. Throughout the book, he discusses and explains how he came to understand the universe, with God still at the center of it, and how he made sense of everything. I strongly recommend reading it, because it will be more thorough than my takeaways.
Anyway, I wanted to share my thoughts on the book. I was looking into the book in two ways: why did the bad thing of cancer and death happen to Stephanie, and why did the bad thing of losing a spouse at such a young age with a young child happen to me? “It’s all a part of God’s plan” is something Stephanie and I talked about often, but it just doesn’t make sense. With a loving and forgiving God, it just doesn’t make sense that His plan is to cause pain and suffering and to take us away from our loved ones causing more hurt and pain. If it was, then we’d be justified to be angry at God when something like that happens instead of wanting to turn to Him in our suffering. He compared coming to the realization that misfortunes don’t come from God to when we were kids and believed our parents knew all and could make everything better, then we grew up and realized that wasn’t the case. Instead of blaming God and asking “Why did you do this to me?” we can instead turn to Him saying “God, see what is happening to me. Can you help me?” (Kushner 51) That let’s us turn to Him for comfort and strength instead of in anger.
For me personally, it means a lot in regards to Stephanie. I’ve struggled throughout this journey trying to wrap my mind around how Stephanie being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and given 15 months to live with us in a wonderful marriage and with a precious little girl was in His plan. Just as humans are given free will to choose God or not, to walk or to run, and to perform violence on others or not, God is not going to interfere with nature to stop earthquakes or tornadoes or viruses. Kushner says “I don’t believe in a God who has a weekly quota of malignant tumors to distribute, and consults His computer to find out who deserves one the most or who could handle it best.” (69) And I have to agree, because that just doesn’t make sense of the God I believe in. It was easy to agree with it all being His plan until I was faced with a scenario like this, but now that’s challenged. So if it wasn’t His plan, does that mean that her suffering and pain was for not since it wasn’t all part of “His plan”?
Kushner would again say no. He proposes the idea that “the bad things that happen to us in our lives do not have a meaning when they happen to us. They do not happen for any good reason which would would cause us to accept them willingly. But we can give them a meaning. (…) A better question would be ‘Now that this has happened to me, what am I going to do about it?'” (149, emphasis added) So while Stephanie being diagnosed with cancer didn’t have a meaning, she gave it a meaning with how she handled the situation. Her attitude, the Faith, Hope, and Love that she spread despite the situation, that’s what had meaning. Instead of being down and feeling sorry for herself, she made a point to maintain a positive outlook, which I’ve been told has been an inspiration to many. Some people have shared with me how Stephanie affected them, and I hope there are many many more stories I haven’t and may not hear. But while it wasn’t God who gave her this suffering, Stephanie had the free will to choose to use it for good to praise God instead of turning against Him. And that choice that she made is what God wants from each of us every day, whether we have the best luck and circumstances in the world or the worst. God is on our side in our pain and suffering, and wants to help us if we let Him. And while it won’t necessarily be in the way we hope, because God won’t grant every person in the world a miracle when they ask, He is there for us for spiritual guidance, hope, and happiness. Stephanie could easily have gotten sour and pessimistic and self-wallowing. But instead, she chose to turn to God and probably lived some of her happiest days after her diagnosis.
The last point Kushner made I feel applies more to me, the one who suffered not from the ailment itself, but from having lost someone due to something that seemed unfair and undeserved. He says “the one crucial thing we can do for (those we loved and lost) after their death is to let them be witnesses for God and life, rather than, by our despair and loss of faith, making them ‘the devil’s martyrs.'” (152) Stephanie’s message and spirit in how she lived after her diagnosis is how we need to try to live ourselves if we are to honor Stephanie’s memory. She gave meaning to her disease and suffering in how she lived. Now we need to give meaning to her death by how we continue to live as she did.
Now that’s much easier to read and say and agree that “that sound’s good” than it is to actually do. I’m struggling on a daily basis to even be the happy person I was before this whole journey began. But I know it’s not something that can change overnight, and rather I’ll need little changes over long periods of time. I’ve previously posted about the novenas website that e-mails you prayers. The current one is to St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer, and someone who Stephanie and I asked to intercede for us daily in our rosaries together. Another way I’ve found to help improve my prayer life is to use a daily devotional that a friend shared with me, “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. It does a good job addressing someone going through difficult and challenging times, and it’s a quick daily read. You can read it in under a minute and then reflect on it for no time if you’re on the run or for hours. The bible verses at the bottom have helped me open a bible to read and gives me a place to start each day. I encourage each of you who are still reading this far in to take a genuine, hard look at how you’re living today versus four months ago and see if you’ve changed and how you’ve changed in your daily life to honor Stephanie’s memory, and then look to see what you can do to continue to grow to live the way Stephanie did.
We miss you every day, Stephanie. I love you.