I know this is a fairly common tactic--one of those reflexive things we say to others who are struggling. I guess the premise behind offering this...let's call it wisdom...is to try to help the listener to make sense of her suffering. And I suppose it is comforting to some people in some situations to imagine that there is some plan that is being played out and that perhaps whatever the mysterious reason is will make the rough times all worth it in the end.
Here's the thing, though, in the case of this acquaintance of mine, the spectacularly crappy week she was having was a direct result of her own behavior. What was going on was not some divine play in which this woman was performing a starring role--what was going on was the consequence of her own poor decisions. By saying, "Everything happens for a reason," her mother let her off the hook.
The desire to "get off the hook" or let those closest to us off the hook--whether by justifying behavior or acting as though certain events are divinely ordained rather than the predictable results of poor decisions--is perfectly natural. But to place blame or look for explanations beyond our own behavior when our own behavior is almost always a contributing factor to the circumstances we find ourselves in is to give up the only true power we have in this life.
If you think that everything that happens to you happens for a reason and you don't recognize that you are almost always at least part of the reason, you are preventing yourself from gaining insight into your own weaknesses and failings. You are making yourself powerless to change your circumstances. Taking responsibility for your decisions and the consequences from them may seem like a burden, but it is actually one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves.
This has become one of my stock speeches at the halfway house--and also inside my own head because goodness knows I can use the reminder.
R is for Responsibility