Everything Happens for a Purpose—Or Is It a Reason?
by Michael Maciel
We've all been there. We finally get our lives in order, we're focused, on track, and ready for that new challenge, and then things start to break down. It can be as minor as the refrigerator going out just as we're leaving for vacation, or something major like making the downpayment on a new house and then losing our job. Setback, breakdown, bad luck—call it what you want. It makes us ask, "Why me, why now?"
If your answer is "It was meant to be," or "God must have other plans for me," then this article is written especially for you. While it might be true that God has something better in store, it could be that the "something better" is the very thing that seems to be slipping away. It could be that the setback is only the natural response to the sudden increase of energy in our life.
We hold our world together like miniature solar systems; as long as everything is orbiting in its proper place, problems are manageable. But when a major shift occurs in the system (a new resolve, a new relationship, or anything that propels us out of orbit) the gravitational links start to break. It's not that they were meant to break, but that they were bound to break. The influx of spiritual energy was just too much for them to withstand. Mary gets engaged, and her sister's husband files for divorce. John gets a raise, and the air conditioner in his house goes out. We make a special effort to get to an important meeting on time, and our car gets a flat tire. Is God telling us not to go to the meeting, or was our personal solar system simply stressed beyond its limits?
When I was a teenager, I wanted to put a racing camshaft in my motorcycle. My mechanic warned me that I should also install better bearings in the piston connecting rods, because the increased power from the new cams could cause the rods to fail. I didn't listen to him and (as he predicted) I lost the lower half of my engine. I could have said to myself that God was telling me to get rid of the bike or that God was punishing me for doing something bad. Or, I could have simply acknowledged that my mechanic was right—don't beef up one part of an engine without beefing up the others.
We can't just assume when something doesn't turn out right that "it wasn't meant to be." Sometimes it means that we've left something out or that we've skipped a step in the process. So we shouldn't get discouraged if our prayers aren't answered right away or think that God is saying, "No." We need to go back and make sure that we've filled out the form properly, that all the *required fields are filled in, and that we haven't placed any obstacles in front of our prayers.
In military jargon, there's a saying: "Stay tied in with your flanks." It means don't get too far ahead of the troops to the left and right of you, or they'll think you're the enemy and shoot you. In the early days of the Iraq war, former Army general and then Secretary of State Colin Powell was reprimanded by the Secretary of Defense for critical statements he made about the war. Powell later told the press that he hadn't stayed "tied in with his flanks," that he had gotten too far out ahead of his team, and that even if he was right he was wrong because of it (a remarkable example of humility on his part). Metaphysically, our "troops" are the different elements of our life; as long as they're organized and coordinated, they will help us reach our goals. If not, the different elements will start to fight each other and our circumstances will get chaotic.
While it is comforting to believe that God is watching our every move, opening doors here and closing them there, it is far more likely that no one is "watching", at least not in a human sense. Probably, our doors open and close automatically and inexorably as a response to our choices and our movements. The higher wisdom that we think is governing our fortunes could simply be the laws of dynamics that keep our "planets" in their orbits. Just like our physical body, the universe has its autonomic systems running silently and invisibly in the background, keeping everything operating smoothly. If we try to interfere with that, they can kick back with a vengeance.
The ancients anthropomorphically called this automatic reaction the "wrath of God," which was an adequate explanation for their time and place. Now we know better: God is not only an all-wise, supremely intelligent, and sentient Being, God also has automatic functions just like we do. After all, we are created in God's image—as above, so below. If we willfully upset the system and disregard the principles of harmony and balance, we will suffer—not because we made God angry but because imbalance and disharmony inevitably cause suffering.
So, when things start to go south just as you thought the future was looking bright, don't jump to the conclusion that God is putting the brakes on or that your sudden misfortune is for a "higher purpose." It might be for a "reason." Understanding this distinction could make all the difference in how you make your life-decisions and how you respond to the normal resistance that always follows on the heels of our attempts to change.