Everything Happens for A Reason: Avoiding Cliches in The Face of Tough Stuff

AUTHOR: | POSTED: January 24, 2013 | COMMENTS: 14 Comments

Carolyn Savage

Every once in awhile I’ll get a call from a stranger.

Sometimes the caller starts with…

Hi.  I got your number from (insert friend’s name) and he/she thought I should talk to you.”

Other times they start with…

Hi.  Is this the Carolyn Savage that got pregnant with the wrong baby?

Regardless of how the call starts, they always commence into a story, and it’s never the average, “Hey, you’re not going to believe what happened to me the other day” kind of story.  Nope.  They are always, “First, allow me to tell you I’m not crazy, but the story I’m about to tell you is going to make me sound that way.  Something told me I should call you.  That you might understand.  Please don’t hang up.

I never hang up.  I’m wired to listen.

These stories are always painful.  There’s always a thread of personal loss commonly weaved throughout the tale.  A few times there’s been a happen ending, but usually the story teller is still struggling, trying to fight their way to a place of resolution.

By the time the story is over, I’ve usually stopped myself at least a hundred times from interrupting with a question.  That’s a skill I learned from a mentor during my principal years.

Listening is better done without speaking.  Listening is best done without conjecturing.  Just absorb what the story-teller is saying and wait until they’re finished.  Then choose your words carefully and tap fully into empathy.

Wise advice.


Choose your words carefully.

Such a small thing, but in the face of personal loss and emotional upheaval, choosing words can be a daunting task.

The fear of saying the wrong thing;  making things worse; or causing further pain can temporarily cripple a normally eloquent person.

Sometimes, to cope, listeners fall back on a cliche.  I’ve been guilty of that.  If you’ve read Inconceivable, you know there are few cliches I detest.  I told our friends and family that  I knew they weren’t going to know what to say to us.  What do you say to someone who’s pregnant with the wrong baby?  It’s an “out of the box kind of problem” and those out-of-the-box problems that can be extra sticky to respond to.  Instead, I expressed a few things that I wasn’t, at the time, finding helpful.  Like…

Everything happens for a reason“.

I hate hearing that sentiment.  I especially hated it during and in the immediate aftermath of my pregnancy.  I think one of the reasons it stung was because I thought that cliche insinuated my pain; my loss; my out-of-the-box journey served an undefined but completely divine purpose, and me, and my family, were merely collateral damage.

Even fifteen months after “L” was born, and we learned of Jennifer’s pregnancy, and the miracle of our twins, I still balked at the “everything happens for a reason” sentiment.  In the face of a miraculous resolution, there was part of me that scoffed.  “Those ‘everything happens for a reason’ people are going to think that the twins are proof of their ill-conceived (albeit well-intended) philosophy.”  It irritated me that our happy ending could bolster what I considered a bullish*t way of making sense of personal pain.

Yet…here we sit.  Almost four years from the original mistake, and all of the pain, confusion, struggle, and just plain sh*tty days where I couldn’t stop myself from being so damn sad, I live in a pretty peaceful place.  A place that is happier than ever.  It would be easy to think that my mistaken pregnancy happened for a reason.   I’ve admitted that if the mistake hadn’t happened, I don’t think we’d have the family we have today.

Do I think there was divine intervention?  You bet.

Do I think God orchestrated the entire ordeal to get us to the place we stand now.  Hell no.

I also don’t believe tragedy “happens for a reason”.  I think bad stuff just happens.  Then its up to us to choose whether or not to claw our way out of it to a better, more peaceful place.


So, I listen to the caller.  I empathize with their pain and I try like hell to choose my words carefully.

What can I do for you?  How can I help?  Can I point you in a certain direction?  Can I give you a shred of hope that you aren’t always going to feel like this?

Sometimes I can send someone in the direction of something that helped me cope: a counselor; a doctor; an attorney; a trusted journalist. It depends on why the story teller reached out to me.

Most of the time, however, I think the most helpful thing I can do is listen with empathy.

and then..

…try like hell to choose my words carefully.


In the face of tough times, are there any cliches that have made you feel worse?  Or words of wisdom that have comforted.  Please share.

14 Comments on “ Everything Happens for A Reason: Avoiding Cliches in The Face of Tough Stuff ”

  • Kathy | January 24th, 2013 11:18 am

    Preach on Carolyn! I could have written this post word for word if you replace L with M and I was never a principal. But I have come to very similar conclusions about listening and trying to support people during difficult and uncertain times in their lives. I am pretty sure we have discussed before how much I dislike the expression “everything happens for a reason,” even though I used to believe that whole-heartedly. What always helps me the most when I am struggling is to know how much my loved ones care about me, but not to hear cliches or what they think I should do or how they think they can fix me or my situation. Thanks again for this awesome post C! 🙂

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  • Allie | January 24th, 2013 11:43 am

    This is such a great post! I love it! Listening is so important and such a great trait in friends and also in marriage!

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  • Erin | January 24th, 2013 12:36 pm

    This was a great post thank you for sharing! No words have caused so much pain, confusion & anger for me as “everything happens for a reason.” They still cut so deep.

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  • Caryl | January 24th, 2013 1:37 pm

    Right up there with “everything happens for a reason” is “that’s nature’s way of telling you something was terribly wrong.” I had 5 miscarriages, all but one of them were past the 12 week mark, and all because of an issue that was caused by a drug my mother was given when she was pregnant with me. I felt bad enough, without someone telling me — incorrectly, I might add — that it was because my baby was deformed and nature was taking care of the problem for me. I realize that people just don’t know what to say, and they are trying to be kind. But you are so right Carolyn — all I really needed was someone to listen, and to let me cry. Even now, 30 years later, I still remember how much those words hurt.

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  • Rebecca | January 24th, 2013 1:54 pm

    Wonderful post…I often struggle with what to say when someone is hurting. I always remind myself that being there and erring on saying the wrong thing is better than avoiding the person/situation altogether. If you truly listen to the person who is suffering they will often help you come up with the words that they need to hear.

    The one cliche I do not care for is “It can always be worse”. While that is true, when you are really suffering, you are not ready to hear this. It takes some time and distance before you can appreciate that yes, things could be worse. Just don’t tell me that when I am hurting!

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  • Robbin | January 24th, 2013 2:19 pm

    Couldn’t agree more with your post. Listening is a learned quality. I’m comforted by “God doesn’t give us what we can handle; God helps us handle what we are given.” I’m still in awe that strangers call you for advice or want to over-share. You’re the better person…I’m afraid I would have to hang up!

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  • Justine | January 24th, 2013 9:03 pm

    Listening is the most difficult thing to learn, I think. We are uncomfortable with our own silence; we surround ourselves with noise. And yet, sometimes that is the best thing we can offer. In general, I think the dismissive cliches are the worst. The best things, in my experience, are affirming that whatever we are feeling is OK, and that we are loved, and held, and that someone is abiding with us.

    Great post.

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  • Kim | January 24th, 2013 9:58 pm

    This is a great post! I agree completely. There are so many well meaning people who just say the completely wrong thing.

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  • Lori Lavender Luz | January 24th, 2013 11:23 pm

    I have found you to be a very present and appropriately responsive listener 🙂

    You nailed it with this particular cliche with the collateral damage notion.

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  • Teri | January 25th, 2013 10:54 am

    I’ve never been one to believe that “God never gives us more than we can handle”. That irritates me to no end. Just like the “Footprints in the Sand” saying. I do believe in God and I do believe that everything does happen for a reason, reasons for which we may not fully understand. But I don’t believe that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle. I think we get through things and it makes us stronger, but I don’t believe God carries us, I believe our faith and determination are what get us through.

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  • Mary Schanberger Hennessy (Manually Imported from Facebook Comment) | January 28th, 2013 12:49 pm

    I always hate it when people say, “just try to remember the good times”. Yeah, right! And that started quite quickly after my loss. Good luck with that…

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  • Four Plus an Angel (Manually Imported from Facebook Comment) | January 28th, 2013 12:50 pm

    Couldn’t agree more, thanks so much for sharing this Carolyn.

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  • Wendy Ristau Haudrich (Manually Imported from Facebook Comment) | January 28th, 2013 12:50 pm

    So true Carolyn! God doesn’t cause the bad things to happen, they just happen, and He is there to hold our hand.

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  • Tina | January 29th, 2013 3:35 pm

    “God is in control”. I absolutely hate that phrase. It’s not that I don’t believe it, as a Christian, but too often it comes off as a spiritual brush-off, a way of saying, “I can’t handle your pain, or your doubts, or your questions, but I need to say something that sounds spiritual.”

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