Everything Happens for a Reason . . . or Not . . .

When the question was put to me, my first reaction was that there is indeed a reason for everything and every event. End of discussion, or so I had hoped. The question was posed days ago, yet I am still pondering the answer. You see, short, quick, tidy, pat answers have never worked for me. Life would be so much simpler if I could accept “short and sweet” but I can’t. The question is still sitting on my brain and begging for a more thoughtful answer.

As soon as I hear the phrase “everything happens for a reason,” I think of those events in life that defy reason: apartheid, the Shoah, loss of a child, ethnic cleansing, starvation in a world of plenty, slavery, etc. Or, why does evil seem to prevail over goodness? Why does an unethical or immoral person prosper at the expense of honesty and integrity? What are the reasons for these inequities?

In my estimation, “meaning can be wrought from everything that happens” is a more accurate statement than “everything happens for a reason.” Stories abound of people who have suffered the unimaginable but have gone on to imbue their lives with meaning and purpose. When the random, senseless tragedy occurs, one gets to choose their attitude, beliefs, reactions and pro-actions regarding the accident.

Viktor Frankl
Some of you may be familiar with Viktor Frankl (if not, I urge you to familiarize yourself with his writings.) His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, profoundly affected my outlook on life. Frankl, an established psychiatrist, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and Dachau during World War II. He lost his parents, wife, all but one sibling, aunts and uncles, friends and colleagues in the gas chambers, and all of his worldly possessions and writings, too. While in the camps, Frankl suffered unspeakable brutality, and anticipated being sent to the death chambers any and every moment of his imprisonment. Yet, it was while he was in the midst of this hellish nightmare that Frankl had his epiphany, and recognized that the thing that could never ever be taken from him was his will-to-meaning, his attitude toward any circumstance, the creative will to remain human in an inhuman environment. Through this experience, Frankl developed what came to be known as “logotherapy,” based on the belief that people can survive anything in life, and even thrive as long as they can find/create meaning for their existence.

The efficacy of Frankl’s existential theory is proven time and again in the lives of those who embrace the will-to-meaning, whether they are familiar with Frankl’s theory or not. Listed below are a few links to the stories of individuals whose lives were challenged with senseless tragedies. Each person experienced intense suffering, yet each found the will to live because they chose meaning over meaningless-ness. So, does everything have a reason? No, but in everything there can be found or created a meaningful existence.

http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=1&TopicID=129

http://joniearecksontadastory.com/
http://inspirationmanifestation.com/218/no-arms-no-legs-no-worries-nick-vujicic/
http://blog.tonic.com/man-with-no-arms-or-legs-swam-in-4-4-mile-race/
http://bethanyhamilton.com/about/bio/
http://www.afb.org/Section.asp?SectionID=1&TopicID=129
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/07/0730_030730_everest.html
http://www.specialolympics.org/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Frankl

If you have other links you would like to add, let me know. I don’t mind making this a very long list! I apologize that these links don’t work. I tried. You will have to copy and paste, but the sites are well worth the effort.

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27 thoughts on “Everything Happens for a Reason . . . or Not . . .

  1. Thought provoking post! Most people would shy away from asking these very good questions. “Why does evil seem to prevail over goodness? Why does an unethical or immoral person prosper at the expense of honesty and integrity? What are the reasons for these inequities?” Thank you.
    I’m off to check out the links. -Theresa

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read this post, and for leaving a comment. I wish the links worked–would be so much easier to check them out, but for whatever reason (or no reason at all — 🙂 ) I am unable to “link” them to the web sites. Copy and paste if you have the patience. They are well worth viewing.

      1. I visited all the links and found them very inspiring. Thank you. I agree with Frankl in that: lack of meaning is the paramount existential stress. -Theresa

        1. I’m glad you found them inspiring. I thought so, too. When I get discouraged, all I have to do is search the internet for people who have overcome enormous hardship, suffering and struggle, and I am motivated to keep pushing forward. I see you know Frankl’s work, too. He had a profound impact on my life. As usual, thanks for stopping by.

  2. I pondered this question as well, but I did not come up with an answer. Your reply is extremely good and I thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us.
    Because of where I live and how I get my internet connection I cannot go directly to the links you gave but I have written some down and will have a read.
    Thank you once again
    love P

    1. For some reason I cannot get the links to work. You will have to copy and paste the urls to go to the pages. I hope you will at least view a few of them. They are all inspiring. Thanks for taking the time to read, and for leaving a comment. Have a wonderful day.

    1. I wasn’t aware you have a MA in theology. I have studied a bit of theology myself. Frankl’s work is all the more powerful when one is aware of his story and the fact that his theory is tried and tested in his own life. I have to agree with you re: explaining unmerited suffering, at least how to make meaning of it.

      1. Almost entered Presbyterian seminary in Louisville, Kentucky or Edinburgh, Scotland 35 years ago. Was then too unclean of heart and habits of Miami’s “partying ” ways to be a hypocrite. I pray the Lord considers my 33 years as a high school teacher a form of ministry and service. I did the best I could. Alcoholism was a problem but with God’s grace am clean and sober 9 years +.

        1. Congrats on your sobriety! And yes, teaching is definitely a form of ministry! (But I’m not the Lord, so I’m not sure my opinion counts 🙂 ) Also lived in Louisville, KY for a while. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Have a great day!

  3. I agree with you, Cecelia ~ “meaning can be wrought from everything that happens.”

    It’s not what happens to us that defines us . . . but how we DEFINE what happens to us that matters. Viktor Frankl took what happened to him and turned it into a possitive by the meaning he applied to the experience and to his existence.

    Thanks for a terrific post. 😀

    1. Thank YOU for stopping by and adding to the comments. And I love your statement “it’s not what happens to us that defines us. . . but how we DEFINE what happens to us that matters.” THAT is worth remembering. Glad you liked the post.

  4. You raise lots of good points… Frankl is one of my favorite authors and like you, I believe, we have destinies to follow and our actions lead us from point A to B.. for a reason… sometimes unknown.
    E

    1. Let me know what you think. Everyone I know who read the book was profoundly moved by it. As a “psychotherapist-in-training” I plan to use an existential approach to counseling, based in large part on Frankl’s work. Enjoy.

  5. I read this article twice because it gave me a fresh perspective on this subject matter. It does make more sense to say that not everything happens for a reason but we can draw meaning and possibly lessons from everything we experience good or bad. I appreciate this blog entry very much Cecelia. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, ramoncito. Glad this was meaningful for you. Thank you for taking time to read this post and for commenting. May your day be full of meaning and purpose! 🙂

  6. I had been looking forward to reading this post from the moment it appeared on my subs. Other things got in the way and as a result I have only just had the chance. This is an excellent thought provoking post. In the face of adversity many species (not just Humans) are able to devise a survival strategy to combat the likelyhood of extinction. I suspect that this question goes way beyond just what we humans choose to do to each other. Thanks Cecelia… Thin I might have to write something on this myself soon 🙂

    1. thanks Martin. Every once in a while I tend to think a little deeper, to ponder life’s mysteries, whatever. Glad you liked the post, and glad you paused long enough to leave a comment. Have a wonderful weekend. . .and I’ll be looking for your posts, too.

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