When Bad Things Happen to Good People

6. God helps those who stop hurting themselves [pages 87-112]

"One of the worst things that happens to a person who has been hurt by life is that he tends to compound the damage by hurting himself a second time. Not only is he the victim of rejection, bereavement, injury, or bad luck; he often feels the need to see himself as a bad person who had this coming to him, and because of that drives away people who try to come close to him and help him. Too often, in our pain and confusion, we instinctively do the wrong thing. We don't feel we deserve to be helped, so we let guilt, anger, jealousy, and self-imposed loneliness make a bad situation even worse. Too often we inadvertently find ourselves saying to people who have been hurt that they, in some way, deserved it. And when we do that, we feed into their latent sense of guilt, the suspicion that maybe this happened to them because they did somehow have it coming." [pages 87-88]

"It is hard to know what to say to a person who has been struck by tragedy, but it is easier to know what not to say. Anything critical of the mourner ('don't take it so hard,' 'try to hold back your tears, you're upsetting people') is wrong. Anything which tries to minimize the mourner's pain ('it's probably for the best,' 'it could be a lot worse,' 'she's better off now') is likely to be misguided and unappreciated. Anything which asks the mourner to disguise or reject his feelings ('we have no right to question God,' 'God must love you to have selected you for this burden') is wrong as well." [page 89]

"Job's friends did do at least two things right, though. First of all, they came. And secondly, they listened." [page 90]

"When things don't turn out as we would like them to, it is very tempting to assume that had we done things differently, the story would have had a happier ending. There seem to be two elements involved in our readiness to feel guilt. The first is our strenuous need to believe that the world makes sense, that there is a cause for every effect and a reason for everything that happens. The second element is the notion that we are the cause of what happens, especially the bad things that happen. It seems to be a short step from believing that every event has a cause to believing that every disaster is our fault." [page 92]

"Even more than adults, children tend to see themselves as the center of their world, and to believe that their acts make things happen. They need a lot of reassurance that when a parent dies, they did not cause it. Children need to be assured that the parent who died did not reject them or choose to leave them. To try to make a child feel better by telling him how beautiful it is in heaven and how happy his father is to be with God is another way of depriving him of the chance to grieve. When we do that, we ask a child to deny and mistrust his own feelings, to be happy when he really wants to be sad even as all of us around him are sad. The child's right to feel upset and angry, and the appropriateness of her being angry at the situation (not at the deceased parent or at God) should be recognized at a time like this." [pages 97-98]

"I said to Barry, as I feel religious people should say to those who have been hurt by life, 'This was not your fault. You are a good, decent person who deserves better. I can understand that you feel hurt, confused, angry at what happened, but there is no reason why you should feel guilty. As a man of faith, I have come to you in God's name, not to judge you, but to help you. Will you let me help you?'" [page 104]

"What do we do with our anger when we have been hurt? The goal, if we can achieve it, would be to be angry at the situation, rather than at ourselves, or at those who might have prevented it or are close to us trying to help us, or at God who let it happen. Getting angry at ourselves makes us depressed. Being angry at other people scares them away and makes it harder for them to help us. Being angry at God erects a barrier between us and all the sustaining, comforting resources of religion that are there to help us at such times. But being angry at the situation, recognizing it as something rotten, unfair, and totally undeserved, shouting about it, denouncing it crying over it, permits us to discharge the anger which is a part of being hurt, without making it harder for us to be helped." [pages108-109]

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