The Words We Shouldn’t Say

Oh, friend. This journey we’re on is hard. My particular path has been strewn with so many things that I never saw coming and never would have chosen. Though those stretches of the road were hard, I ultimately wouldn’t change them because they have brought me to where I am now. I hope that you can say the same about your travels, or at least are on the way to seeing God’s redemptive hand at work in them.

Our journeys are all different, but each of us travels a hard road. Some of us will hit the bumps of mental illness, while others run into marital infidelity, and still others of us will trudge through money issues that don’t seem to have a way out. The road is hard, no matter where we are on it, and while we aren’t guaranteed which particular roadblock we’ll hit, we are guaranteed that something unexpected and unbelievably hard will come across our paths.

And here’s the thing: when we hit those bumps, we need to be there for each other. Sometimes you’ll hit a bump when my road is smooth and sunny, and sometimes my road will crumble under my feet while your view is stunning. Sometimes we’ll both hit a rough patch at the same time. However it happens, whenever it happens, we must remember that we are all on this road together. Together. Not racing or competing or comparing, but walking side-by-side and hand-in-hand as we venture toward home.

While we walk, we’ll talk. We’ll share stories. We’ll laugh so hard we cry and can’t breathe, and we’ll talk about things so difficult we find it hard to take another step or see through our tears. We’ll cheer each other on as we conquer the challenges of the road, and sometimes – inevitably – we’ll struggle to find the words to help each other keep going.

Whether one of us is struggling or both of us, those times will be hard. When we walk alongside someone else and truly share in their journey, their pain becomes our pain. Their struggles become our struggles. This is the brutiful (brutal, and yet beautiful) part of community and traveling together. When we see our sister falling behind or facing a bump in her road, we’ll search for words to both help her and to bring peace to our own minds. We need reasons and explanation and answers for what we see in front of us.

That is natural, but it is also dangerous. Because at those times, we’ll want so badly to say the right thing…to make it better…to bring some sort of understanding to a world that makes no sense, that sometimes cheap words are all we can find.

We’ll dig deep into our memories for words that we’ve heard ourselves. Words that maybe we feel like should help, even though we don’t really know how. Words that sound good for a second, but that ultimately pierce so much more deeply than the stones we stumbled on to begin with.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

I know. I’ve said it. Maybe I’ve said it to you, as we’ve walked along and searched for meaning. You’ve probably said it at one point or another yourself, and the heart behind the words really is a good one. I know.

We want to remind each other that God is in control. That there is hope and that we’ll be okay. That something good is going to come from whatever horrors we’re facing. We want to remind ourselves of those same things, and that’s a good thing. Truth will carry us a long way on this road.

But those words – “everything happens for a reason” – aren’t necessarily the best way to convey those ideas. In fact, they too often convey something else altogether.

If, in a moment of compassionate panic, I tell you that everything happening to you is for a reason, I am speaking truth. There is a reason that whatever horrible thing you’re facing has happened. Something has caused this. Something made this come to be. But friend, it might not be what you think, and it’s not what you may have been told. Sometimes, yes, the situations we struggle through are simply the result of our own poor decisions, and our circumstances are just the natural consequences of sin. Those are not the situations I’m talking about.

When pain and heartache comes out of nowhere, as the result of someone else’s sin or with no apparent cause at all, the truth remains that you have hit your bad patch of road for a reason.

That reason, friend, is that the road we travel is through a rough, broken, sinful world. Period.

None of this is what God intended, and if we say to one another that everything that happens, happens for a reason, the implication is that the reason is God.

But friend, if you are suffering, God did not look at you from His place in the sky, ponder the best/worst thing He could do to get you where He wants you to be, and reach down to squash you like a bug under His omnipotent thumb. That is not why those bad things will happen to either of us on this road.

When God planned for us to take this journey, He originally gave us a well-groomed path through a beautiful, perfect Garden. He intended for our journey to be one of peace and wholeness and joy and an unwavering awareness of His love for us. We wandered from the path He made for us, though, so here we are, sojourners together through a wilderness for which we were not created. We chose to go our own way, and it’s not turning out to be as great a journey as we imagined.

And friend? It’s not what God intended for us.

This road is hard and this land is foreign because we’re trying to make our way back home. The trials we face and the speed bumps we hit are not what we were designed for. It’s hard for us to make sense of any of it, and when it gets complicated and bumpy we want to do anything we can to make the journey easier for all of us. We want an explanation, and I think it’s from those scary and uncertain places that those easy (and well-intentioned) words come: “Everything happens for a reason.”

But…can we agree not to say those words?

There is just so much we don’t know about the things of God and of heaven. The book of Job teaches us a lot about how things happen sometimes behind the scenes in the heavenly realms as we struggle, but we have no guarantee of how or why any particular struggle may be happening to any one of us. We simply cannot know.

We can’t know a lot of things, but what if – when one of us is struggling to put one foot in front of the other – we point each other toward all that we do know?

We do know that God loves us, and will do anything to come and rescue us.

We do know that He sees us in our pain, and His heart breaks when ours are aching.

We do know that His plans are for good, and that even when we see nothing good around us, God is working out a plan so good that we cannot imagine it.

We do know that God has already won, and that in Christ, sin and death are powerless over us.

We do know that the story isn’t over, but that its ending has already been decided.

We do know that God’s mercies are new every morning, and that no pain or heartache or struggle can separate from His ever-merciful love for us. We know that not even the cords of death can keep Him from us.

And so friend, if we want to say something to a friend in need, let’s just make sure that what we say can be backed up with Truth. But let’s also remember that there is value in silence, and that it’s not up to us to explain the situation or to heal the hurt. It’s not about us. It’s about God. This road and the bumps and the journey and the ultimate destination….it’s all about God, and if we want to make this road easier for all of us to travel, we’ll speak and think on only what we know to be true.

Yes, everything happens for a reason. Let’s just not forget that our God has made a way for us in spite of it.

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