Everything happens for a reason, people often say. When I lost my daughter, this became a most hated response to my grief. What reason was there for the pain I was feeling? What rationale could be applied to my grief when viewing her body in its tiny casket?
Everything happens for a reason isn't a balm to the mourning heart. It's a harsh truth which no one wants to acknowledge. It goes to the core of what each of us believe about theology. All humans wonder about the afterlife, and make a decision about what happens to our dead based on our intellectual reasoning. In that sense, we all can conceptualize that everything does indeed happen for a reason, no matter what our belief system. It's the deep philosophy behind this fact which causes us to avoid dwelling on it.
As my grief unfolded and rooted in deeply, during the second year of my bereavement, I found myself unable to rationalize much of anything. I was avoiding God. I was angry. I stopped attending church on a regular basis. I am Lutheran, and Lutherans are very big on music. Music is so soul stirring, and it was difficult for me to read the words in my hymnal and hear the voices around me sing out about God's truth. I didn't want to hear the truth, I wanted my baby back.
When I finally did begin attending church regularly again, I had moved and found a new Lutheran church close by. This church was very different than the church I had previously attended, which was a modern church with a praise band and sermons which were preached in a very motivational speaking style.
This new pastor's preaching style was old-fashioned, wordy and each sermon was rich with information I could bring home and mull over. There was an organ and a choir which sang only traditional hymns. The service was reverent, and when the institution of the sacrament began, the sanctuary was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. This was comforting to my broken heart. No matter the maelstrom in my heart, the constant "sameness" of each Sunday was healing. The order of service was the same one we had used in my childhood church, and coming back to this Lutheran liturgy was a type of coming home.
I became more involved in church. I became friends with members of the church, inviting them into my life in person and via social media.
Then it happened.
I posted an image which said, "not everything happens for a reason", on a social media platform.
I received a message from my new pastor explaining that all things do happen for a reason.
I fired off an angry response. That dreaded concept had reared its head in this place where I thought I had finally found some solace.
I didn't want to believe that everything happened for a reason. Because that would mean I had to accept my child's death on God's terms.
As the days went by, in which my pastor probably didn't think too deeply about this conversation (as I said, it was on social media), I dwelled on it. I wavered. I thought about leaving the church once again.
I wondered if I would ever be able to love church again. If I would ever be able to sing hymns without feeling such deep sorrow.
I loved the church so much, however, that everything happens for a reason began to work its way into my mind. It was either accept this as a truth, or lose my faith.
As I continued attending services, I watched colors and seasons change. Children were baptized, families buried their loved ones, and each Sunday our pastor was there preaching the Gospel. Never wavering in his convictions, quietly answering most of the questions in my heart during the sermons. In this church I began to comprehend that everything does happen for a reason. I have been a lifelong Lutheran (with a few forays into other Christian belief systems as a young woman), but I used to tell people I wasn't a Christian until I lost my daughter -- the concept of "every knee shall bow" comes to home when you hold your dead child in your arms. This was not the beginning of my Christianity, like I thought, but the beginning of my true understanding of the Law.
I suffered because I kept my entire focus on the Law. The despair of loss made me forget the promise of the Gospel -- the promise of life. I almost stopped at my suffering, validating the Law as the means of my salvation.
I understand now that my daughter's death did happen for a reason. This is a sinful, fallen world. Death is our evidence of this fact. We cannot escape it. It is a constant reminder of our failings as human beings. Yet because I have been so well taught, I have learned to focus not just on the Law, but on the Gospel as well. I understand that death is not the end, in a richer context which has allowed me to accept my child's death. This is a monumental admission. Very few families ever reach the point of acceptance. I see so many women suffering, and I grieve for their losses, not just of their children but of the faith they held so tenuously before their losses.
My baptism secured the Gospel promise for me. Regular attendance at church and weekly communion allow me to regularly receive God's gifts. Emphasis on liturgical worship and it's focus on different seasons reminds me of life changes we all go through; the liturgy reminds me that there will be times deep grief and times of great joy.
It has been almost six years since my daughter died. I am able to sing with my fellow worshippers, and instead of sorrow the hymns bring me comfort. I am so grateful for my church, which teaches me that bodily death is an inevitability but also teaches me that by the grace of God -- I have been baptized into new life.