The phrase "everything happens for a reason" is a phrase I don't really like. Perhaps there is truth in the phrase, but if there is, it is a very poor way to express it. It is often spoken by someone who has experienced pain, but with the benefit of hindsight can see how that pain pushed them to learn other important lessons. The only problem is, not everyone learns those lessons in the face of pain. Some people are crushed by their tragedies and never recover. For them, using this phrase to comfort them can be offensive.
I prefer "there can be meaning in all things". The difference is subtle, but it is important. It places the onus of finding meaning on the individual. You are the only one who decides if something people would label as "terrible" in life has meaning or not. You are the only one that decides if tragedy will lead you to triumph of some kind. No one else can do it for you.
Every now and then I stumble across a news story or a book from someone showing just how far the depths of this truth can go, and how accessible this truth is to Every. Single. Human. Being. Viktor Frankl is one of my favorites....he shows how a human being can be stripped of everything in a concentration camp, and yet still find meaning and peace and love. He wrote a book about it; I think it should be required reading for every human being.
A few months ago I came across another story, and another set of words that moved me.
Kayla Mueller was a humanitarian worker who was taken captive in Syria in 2013. Stories report that she was forced to marry ISIS leader al-Baghdadi and served as his sex-slave. There were other teenage sex slaves who escaped the same compound she was held in. They spoke of her bravery and strength. When given an opportunity to escape with them, she chose to stay back. She was concerned that her "foreign appearance would put them in danger while on the run."
She was eventually killed in what appears to be an airstrike against ISIS. Sometime before that, she was allowed to send a letter to her family. In that letter she recorded these touching words:
“I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else….+ by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.”
She added, “I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful. I have come to see that there is good in every situation, sometimes we just have to look for it. I pray each each day that if nothing else, you have felt a certain closeness + surrender to God as well + have formed a bond of love + support amongst one another.”Powerful words for all of us to consider. Who among us doesn't feel constrained to a prison of some kind? Our job, our finances, our relationships or lack thereof, our health, our inability to have kids, or the fact that we have them and that too is difficult. If this woman could learn freedom IN her circumstances (very different than freedom FROM circumstances) in such a dire place and under such terrible conditions...can we not each learn how to do the same in some degree in our own lives?
There truly can be good in all things. But that "good" is always in the eye of the beholder. It is a personal decision, one that almost always involves some kind of surrender, and an acknowledgement that the peace we are looking for is ALWAYS found within. True transformation and deliverance is expressed and cultivated from the inside-out, not the other way around. Because of that, it can be found "even in prison".
I'm grateful Kayla's family felt it appropriate to share her words. For me, they cause me to redouble my commitment to pursuing meaning in all things, to allow even the bad in life to push me to develop this kind of inner peace in the face of all things. When pain is used to discover this inner-self that is capable of experiencing peace, freedom, and light in the midst of it all, then truly we learn that there can be meaning in all things.
Have you ever experienced peace IN difficult circumstances? Help inspire someone else! Share in the comment section so that others can see just what areas of life peace and meaning can touch when circumstances fail. What helped you find meaning and purpose?
Photo taken by our Brooklyn friend, Martin Harwood, on his way home from work. You can spot Lady Liberty in the distance.