“Why did God let that happen??”
We have all had the experience of pondering why something bad or disappointing happened to us. It is even more frustrating when our plans do not come to fruition despite the goal being good and worthy and our best efforts being put forth. If the disappointment concerns something trivial, we rationalize that it “simply wasn’t meant to be” and move on with our daily activities. When the disappointment is of a greater magnitude, however, we can be left wondering how God’s will fits in to our experience. Did we discern incorrectly the will of God in that decision? Should our efforts or planning have been applied differently? In some moments of dejection, perhaps we even question whether God really all-loving.
Instead of being caught in an endless, and ultimately unanswerable queries, of what might have been, these experiences what we ought to do is look for the blessings in our moments of disappointment. In seeking God in the experiences of disappointment, we may find God’s silver-lining and offer us a greater joy and peace.
A Case In Point: Snow vs. Wade
This point was brought to the forefront this January. Our Archdiocese was set to take 41 bus-loads of youth to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. With the forecasted blizzard, the decision was made to cancel the pilgrimage several hours before we were set to leave. Though it was undoubtedly the right decision given the risks involved, there was, not too surprisingly, great disappointment from the teens. We heard from high school seniors, upset they couldn’t attend the March for Life one final time, and teens who felt that we were wrong to let some snow stop us from being pro-life witnesses.
Even teens who appreciated the wisdom of the decision still wondered why, of all weekends and all places, a blizzard needed to strike when and where we were set to travel. The youth were not alone in wondering why God chose this particular time to allow a blizzard to strike in the place the March for Life was happening. After all, so many people wanted to do a good and noble thing: to offer a public witness that life begins at a conception and all human life is worthy of respect. Yet, they were thwarted by Mother Nature.
Did I share their frustrations? Absolutely. After all, our staff had spent nearly a year putting together the travel logistics, evening programming, and inviting teens to attend.
Quickly, what emerged, however, was a blessing in our cancellation. The most obvious was, of course, not being potentially stranded in D.C. with thousands of teenagers. Even though we were thankful not to be stranded on the Pennsylvania turnpike for nearly 24 hours like others were, there were blessings for those pilgrims as well, such as the beautiful faith witness of hundreds of youth celebrating Mass in the snow.
There were even greater blessings locally. We were able to help the youth realize that the March for Life was just one way to be pro-life; there are countless opportunities around us, in our schools and communities. We were able to offer a public pro-life witness in our town the day after the March for Life with over 1000 youth participating in a Rosary procession to the only Planned Parenthood in our state still performing abortions.
We had more interest from local media outlets about the cancellation than we have when the pilgrimage proceeds as plans. News stations were quick to cover pro-life events that were offered for youth who couldn’t travel to D.C. The pro-life message was able to be shared with a different audience in unexpected ways.
Finding Jesus in Disappointment
The point here is not to say that God’s desire was for people not to be able to attend the March for Life. Likewise, it is not possible to say that God’s will was that some people were killed or injured as a result of the blizzard. Such musings are beyond what we can adequately understand in this life; we simply lack the perspective to comprehend the full picture of the event in our limited view of time. The German Jesuit priest and theologian Karl Rahner was right in saying that the incomprehensibility of suffering is part of the incomprehensibility of God.
Instead, of trying to comprehend the mystery of why something happened, the better approach is to look for Christ in the experience for He is there in all of the pain and disappointment. Not only is He content to be simply present: He wants to share in it with us. God became man in Jesus Christ to share our sufferings. He desires to be with us in those experiences.
It is natural to feel disappointed and frustrated when things don’t work out how we intend. These feelings, however, can become an anchor which sinks us into ourselves if we cling too tightly to them. Evil is not so much something, but rather the absence of something; it is an absence of God.
We must, therefore, focus not on the absence of what we desired to happen, but focus instead on finding God in that experience. If we let go and allow God to reveal to us where He is in the situation, then we allow God to turn the disappointment into a blessing. It enables God to reveal to us how He is present to us in our suffering and how, perhaps, we are being called to serve and glorify Him through the experience.
The magnificent thing about God is that he is infinitely mightier than the devil. God can bring good even out of even terrible atrocities. “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” (Romans 8:28) We, however, must have the faith and trust to seek the Lord in all of our life experiences.