In 1981, the book, When Bad Things Happen to Good People, was released. It chronicled Rabbi Harold Kushner’s journey of doubt and fear that arose when his three-year old son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that would dramatically reduce the length of his life. The following year, my marriage to my high school sweetheart abruptly ended, throwing me into a downward spiral of anguish, grief, fear, despair, and anger. In many ways, I felt deeply connected to the Rabbi.
While each of us faces our own life struggles, many people react to ostensible unfairness by querying, “Why me?” Even as a child, that question never entered my mind when things would go wrong. In fact, I always thought, “Why not me? Bad things happen to everyone. I’m not the privileged one, immune to life’s injustices.” (Well, I actually am but I don’t want to sound arrogant. Just kidding!) As I grew spiritually, I found myself responding to these unexpected hardships with “Lord, what do you want me to do with this?” I discovered that each event appeared for a reason and that God wanted me to use it for a higher good. If I was able to decipher the meaning, then the pain and hardship I endured would make sense. It was sort of like eating vegetables when you were a kid: they tasted really bad but you knew they would make you grow up to be healthy. So you learned to eat them as fast as possible, swallowing them whole if you could, simply to avoid having them linger on your taste buds long enough to savor the full impact of their “veggi-ness”. Whether vegetables or life, we rush to reach the other side of unpleasantness, eager to restore our sense of well-being and happiness.
As I continued my evolution to a higher level of spirituality, my understanding of life’s injustice, unfairness, and hardships, and the inevitable suffering that accompanies them, also began to undergo a deep transformation. What I came to realize was that events are neither good nor bad – they simply are. It is only when we assign value to them that they acquire a positive (good) or negative (bad) position in our lives. It’s like rain on your wedding day: one can complain that it ruined the most special day of their life or experience the exhilaration of Gene Kelly’s infamous dance routine to “Singing in the Rain” and simply have fun with it.
My husband customizes vehicles for the handicapped. One of his clients is a young man in his 20’s. To the vast majority of people, being in an accident that causes one to become a quadriplegic is a bad thing. To this young man, however, it has been a God-send. “I was headed down a very dark path when I had my accident. The choices I was making would have lead to me being killed. This actually saved my life and I am grateful to be alive.”
I can prevent bad things from happening to me not by controlling life or by stopping any event from occurring but rather by my choice of how I define and label my experience. Remember, events simply are. They have no particular worth other than what I assign them.
Here are five “R” points to practice – Replace, Remove, Remain, Relabel, and Remember:
1. Replace the phrase “to me” with “for me”. Things don’t happen to you, they happen for you. Every experience is a gift if you allow it to be.
2. Remove all expectations of yourself, others, and of life. Allow each to unfold naturally, exactly as they are meant to, rather than trying to force them to fit your demands.
3. Remain unattached to people, possessions, and events. Be in this world, not of this world. Be an observer without judgment. Let “It is what it is” be your mantra.
4. Relabel the events in your life. They only have the value you assign them. Make certain each has a beneficial classification.
5. Remember that every experience is ultimately meant to bring you closer to God, to help you to know Him in a deeper more intimate way, to establish an unbreakable bond of oneness with the Divine. In this regard, each and every experience is a blessing.
Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, the diagnosis of a life-altering medical condition, financial ruin, or anything else, pay close attention to the value that you assign each event. You alone determine their significance. When you choose to view each as a critical step in your spiritual journey to oneness with the Divine then situations will continue to happen but they will not longer wear the label of “bad”. In essence, they will emerge as the blessings they were Divinely preordained to be.
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