Thursday, August 13, 2009

Book review: Everything Happens for a Reason

wind-damaged-treeI haven’t done a book review for a while even though I have been a reading fiend in recent months. Starting today I will move back to posting an occasional book review as space permits and where the book is a good fit in the theme here.

Everything Happens for a Reason by Mira Kirshenbaum (Harmony Books, 2004) was not a book I went looking for but rather it was one of those books on a library shelf where the title was so intriguing I could not leave it on the shelf. I was in the middle of a divorce that I was struggling to make sense of because I feared it meant that 35 years of my life had been a meaningless waste*. I had trouble believing that was true but I did not know how to find out what it did mean or what it gave me.

For those who are not familiar with Kirshenbaum or her background, she was born to Holocaust survivors to a Jewish family shuffled across Europe and Asia until they finally were settled in New York. Most of her extended family did not survive the invasion of Poland or the Holocaust.

A professional psychologist and researcher Kirshenbaum struggled herself to find the meaning for the Holocaust and the things that happened to her own family. She actually gave up for a long time and adopted a posture that it didn’t mean anything, that today was all that counted. Then one day her work with a client reopened this issue of meanings in a new way she had not considered.

Previously she had tried to make direct correlations between the bad event and what the person got from the event. In this client’s case, the thing he realized he needed to see about himself had nothing to do with the bad event; the bad event just put him in a position to see that he needed work in a particular area of his personal development.

This renewed vision that things happen for a reason in our lives launched Kirshenbaum on a quest for people who had discovered reasons for the things that happened in their lives happened. She discovered that people often find a reason why they went through what happened to them; and the reason or reasons tend to relate to one or more of ten categories like fear, strength, hidden talent, personal mission and others.

In my own situation I found more than one category applied and that it was a mix of things hidden and things needing work. The three strong areas that the assessment questions revealed were likely reasons for things happening had to do with fear and letting it go, strengthening my core qualities, and accepting myself unconditionally.

Many reading this have strong religious connections especially in the conservative evangelical Christian doctrinal lines. My own background is rooted in Christianity and I write from my experience of faith even if I do not quote chapter and verse. Probably some reading this wonder why I would read a book written by a non-Christian when I could find an answer to my question in the Bible. The short answer is that sometimes a fresh perspective can help us see things better. Kirshenbaum’s book is not a substitute for the Bible or any religious text and for me her points would not have been as insightful if I had not had a strong foundation of faith.

Kirshenbaum seems to take pains to be faith-neutral in her language, although her term “cosmic kindergarten” might raise issues with those who avoid anything to do with the New Age Movement. I made a choice to step over the language issue and hear her heart intent which I interpret as helping people get unstuck from a bad event, embrace the reason, and live the full live they are given. I can find no conflict with the Bible on that score and there are numerous examples of Jesus meeting people with a similar message.

The most important lesson Kirshenbaum writes that she learned through her research was that bad events do not have only bad meanings. We may talk about silver linings, or point out that Joseph saw his brothers’ bad plans for him were actually part of God’s good plan for him. But the bulk of what gets emphasized in faith circles when something bad happens is all the bad things that will be the fallout from it. It was refreshing to hear someone say that silver linings are part of the plan not just happy accidents if we’re lucky. That point alone reinforces my hope for my own future as I move forward.

The book is a fast read if you just read it. It is, however, a workbook of sorts. In each chapter of part two she introduces one of the categories with an example, then gives the assessment questions, and then follows up with suggestions for those who find that category relates to their situation. I should mention that Kirshenbaum points out that just because your example matches one in the book it does not indicate your meaning will be the same.

Mira Kirshenbaum has written a number of books to help people make sense of the events in their lives. You can check out her titles and her work at the Chestnut Hill Institute online.


To clarify what might be taken incorrectly, I do not consider my nearly 35 years of marriage a waste nor do I consider it a failure because it ended in divorce. Life is more complicated than we might wish it to be, so suffice it to say that I have many meaningful memories from my marriage and family; and I would not be the person I am today writing here if it had not been for those years.


chelle said...

Sounds like a deep read. I try to focus on the silver linings and being grateful for who I am. Without the crap I wouldn't be me.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this book review because I am currently going through the very same thing. I have been married for 32 years. Alot of things happened during our lives, some of them good and some of them bad. Basically I fell out of love with my husband over time. It's complicated...but it's something that happened. This article made me realize that I'm definitely not alone. Thanks so much!

Deb said...

@Anonymous - I wish there were some way to write you directly but know that there are others who understand and are pulling for you as you struggle to get on your feet and move forward.

I highly recommend Pat Hudson's "You Can Get Over Divorce" and the support groups offered locally by Divorce Care (you can Google them and check your zip code for a group near you).