“We’re all one phone call from our knees.” ~ Mat Kearney, Closer To Love
All of us have asked ourselves, “Why did such a terrible thing happen?” We begin to doubt our humanity, we doubt our faith, we doubt everything we thought we knew about fairness, about what’s right and wrong, and even our capacity to continue in the face of terrible events.
As I consider those times when life sent me to my knees I ask myself this question again and walked myself backward to see what I may have missed. Here’s what I discovered about why bad things happen to good people.
1. Bad things happen to wake you out of your drunken stupor, that unconscious, robotic state you find yourself in on a daily basis where you medicate yourself with alcohol, sex, accolades, drugs, shopping and a host of other addictions. Your busy life doesn’t lend itself to reflection and a conscious examination of what matters. Suddenly something happens and your world falls apart.
That’s your wake-up call. Loud and clear. Don’t miss it.
2. Because you suddenly wake up to the realization that everything is NOT how you thought it was, you become crystal clear on what belongs to you and what doesn’t. That could be the relationship you’re in, the job you hate or the friends who are never there when you need them. You realize they don’t belong in your life and maybe haven’t for some time.
“If my life is for rent and I don’t want to buy, well I deserve nothing more than I get. ‘Cuz nothing I have is truly mine.” ~ Dido. Life for Rent
3. You realize that this life you have doesn’t belong to you, not really. It’s a force that is moving like a river, sometimes calm and sometimes turbulent. You cannot control it but you can learn to flow with it.
Bad things happen to teach you how to go with the current without smashing your head on the rocks (most of the time).
4. Unexpected events point to other forces at work. News Flash: you are not the master of the universe. Something else is going on that is beyond your comprehension. Some call it divine intervention, dharma, karma and destiny. I’m not sure what it is. What I do know is that something beyond me is at work here that is not obvious, concrete or physical. Best to respect that unknowable force.
5. Are you living your life in alignment with your values and priorities? When shit happens it gets pretty clear. Suddenly all the energy and time you spend on so many non-essential, non-life-giving things seems like a waste. You focus on what truly matters. When the World Trade Center towers came down, no one said, “I need to get back to work so I can get that promotion.” They said, “I need to find my family, hug my kids, tell my wife I love her.” That doesn’t mean a promotion or your career don’t matter. What it means is that it shouldn’t be at the exclusion of other important things in your life.
6. Clarity is the greatest gift of bad events. It focuses you on what matters and it becomes easier to release what depletes you. Every day matters. Where are you wasting time and energy? Let go of that.
7. Bad things happen to show us that you have what you need to be braver, better and more powerful than you imagined you could be.
No one volunteers for trouble and tragedy. It happens.
And when it does, you step up, tapping into that well of courage you didn’t even know existed within you. You learn that you can handle things you never thought you would be able to handle.
“You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” ~ Winnie the Pooh
8. Bad things show you who your real friends are, who your true family is and who the people are that take from and deplete you. You discover the truth of your friendships when they can stand beside you in your greatest moment of pain. They will be there for you. The others will watch from the sidelines “sending prayers”.
9. Bad things force you to question if you are really on your true path or if something has to change for you to bring yourself in alignment with what’s true for you. It may be a shift or a huge recalibration, a new direction or a total rebirth. You’ll know if you’re courageously present to what’s in front of you.
10. Bad things teach you to trust yourself, to trust life and to trust God (however you define God). Looking in the rear-view mirror you’ll see how past events made you stronger and you’ll see light even in the darkest moments.
This is how you evolve. This is how you awaken.
None of this is easy or comfortable. Sometimes it just hurts so much you think you’ll die from the pain. In some ways, you do.
After that comes the rebirth.
You can get to the other side understanding that bad things happen to make you a better, truer, amplified version of yourself. You’ll discover you are more than what you’ve ever been before, more than what you imagined you could be capable of becoming.
You become crystal clear on who you are becoming and what really matters.
And… you’ll eventually go back to sleep again.
And… eventually something will happen to wake you from your stupor…
“…nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. If we run a hundred miles an hour to the other end of the continent in order to get away from the obstacle, we find the very same problem waiting for us when we arrive. it just keeps returning with new names, forms, manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us…”
Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times
Why do bad things keep happening?
Because life is a universal movement that moves iteratively, always returning in different forms so you learn the lessons you chose to skip or you haven’t yet fully learned. Those are the lessons you refused to learn because you were afraid or it just wasn’t time for you to engage that particular lesson.
Final lesson: You can transform tragedy into a gift that allows you to rise above, to be more than what you ever thought you were capable of.
It’s in you. It’s in all of us.
Remember this when bad things happen.