“There are no coincidences, only God-incidences.”
That line, uttered by the priest at a church I visited while on vacation, has become transformative in my life.
Not that I was a believer in coincidence, anyway. I knew God was in control of our lives even in the small things. But, over the past year, this message has been sent to me over and over again, and it’s taken me a very long time to accept it and understand it and finally love it.
First, a story!
Last June, like in many prior years, I attended the IHM national Catholic homeschooling conference in Fredericksburg, Maryland.
This is the conference I look forward to all year – there are always great speakers, mostly talking about homeschooling, but also about family life, living the faith, and other great topics. The viewpoint is solidly Catholic – a lot of the speakers are priests; one of my favorite talks from a prior year was by a nun talking about love in marriage. There is confession available, and I always think of it as much as a mini-retreat as teacher education.
But the 2016 conference was different for me – I found myself hearing the same thing again and again from different speakers. They were all talking about different topics (I think one was even about sports), but they all managed to include this line in there. They even quoted saints to make this point, and they were all different saints. It got to a point where I was like “Ok, God, I get it! This is the message you wanted me to hear.” Clearly, He didn’t think I had heard it enough, because it kept coming up, in other contexts, for several months after that conference.
“So, what’s the message already?”
Everything that happens is God’s will.
No, let me say it again more clearly:
EVERYTHING that happens is God’s will.
Not just the good things, not just the background things like the weather, but everything. If something happened, then God either caused it to happen, or allowed it to happen. Because He’s God! He’s all powerful; so if He wanted to prevent it from happening, he certainly could have. That He didn’t means that He has a reason for letting it happen. And because He is all-good, and all-loving, we know that the reason must be for our good.
There’s a verse I’ve always liked, but only recently properly understood:
In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. 1Thess 5:18
For the longest time, I thought this verse only meant that God’s will for you was to give thanks in all circumstances, good or bad. Which is true, but less extreme than what St. Paul is really advocating. By that interpretation, if you get cut off in traffic, you should thank God because Jesus wants you to give thanks. So, “Jesus, I thank you despite getting cut off.”
I only recently realized that what the word “this” refers to in that verse is not “give thanks in everything,” but just “everything!” Or rather, “everything that happens- good, bad, or neutral; confusing, infuriating, scary; or even terrible, horrible, no-good, and very bad.” In other words, give thanks for getting cut off on the highway, because getting cut off at that time is God’s will for you. “Thank you Jesus that I got cut off just now, becausse I know you wanted that to happen to me at this time.” Which is a much more radical acceptance of the situation.
So, everything that happens is tehcnically a God-incidence. But I like to reserve that term for those synchronicities that just make me spontaneously praise Him for the wonder with which He takes care of me.
Like, for example, the other day, my daughter brought a piece of cheese in the car as her snack. She ended up not eating it and it got thrown away into one of the trash bags we keep in the car for the kids to use. Well, we didn’t use the car for a couple of days and when we did, the air was, ahem… redolent with the smell of 3 day old Gouda.
When we start driving to Church, my husband rolls his window down to mitigate the stench, and because of this, notices an odd sound the car is making. It turns out we had a flat tire, and of course, the free air compressor at the Sheetz near our house is broken. So we turn around, go back home, and he starts to work on fixing the tire.
Meanwhile, I realize it’s too late to make the Mass at our Church, so I decide to take the other car and the two kids who will fit in it to a different Church whose Mass is later.
And not only is the Mass an absolute joy (hymns I love, accompanied by a fabulous award-winning pianist, a homily that made me think, and one I was acutally able to pay attention to because the little two kids weren’t there to distract me), but one of their announcements is that their reading group is going to be discussing Chesterton this fall. Just the previous morning, I had been kicking around the idea in my head of starting a Chesterton reading group of my own, so just hearing this announcement was like God giving me a present. If I can make the timing work out so I can actually attend the group, that will be icing on the cake!
Anyway, so why did I tell you the story about God hammering that message into me? And why my insistence that “in everything give thanks,” specifically includes the bad things? Because that conference began the year that was both the best and worst year of my spiritual life, and that recurrent message saw me through both the good and the bad. I’ll tell you more about it sometime soon.