Friday, August 20, 2010

Good luck, bad luck. Friday, August 20, 2010.

“Luck is believing you're lucky.” - Tennessee Williams

A couple of days ago, I was walking down a hallway at work and I spied a penny. I started to pick it up, but then I noticed it was tails-up. I remembered my mother’s warnings never to pick up an upside-down penny, lest I bring bad luck upon myself. Of course, I’m already feeling pretty vulnerable these days. So I decided to walk past the penny.

Do you believe some people are just lucky, and others unlucky? When I was much younger and much more naïve, I believed that everyone had about the same amount of luck (or unluck) – it was just a matter of timing, and everything in peoples’ lives would even out.

I don’t believe that anymore. While it’s true that all people have some joy and some sorrow in their lives, it really does seem like some people are golden, while others suffer trials upon tribulations upon traumas. Why is Suzanne born to loving parents in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where she gets to be prom queen and goes on to be a happy mother of two and a concert pianist, while Aamina – the little girl I sponsor in Ethiopia – is born to an impoverished mother, only to lose her father and two siblings to AIDS, and to live in a tribal society that commits atrocities on women and children? How fair is that?

Even if you argue that everyone in developed nations, especially America, is “spoiled” because we don’t live in huts, there are plenty of people who live lives full of suffering – like those children who go from foster home to foster home only to be abused and neglected in each one. Why can’t they catch a break? Are they just unlucky?

A friend of mine, Renee, seems to have been born under a rainbow. Every job, every apartment, every situation has come through for her. Even things that appeared to be bad news for a moment quickly turned into good news. Every time she spoke to me, she had more good news to report. It got to the point where it no longer felt like sharing, it felt like bragging – and I found myself pulling away from her, because it seemed she had no interest in other people, only in her own perfect life.

My breaking point came when Renee exclaimed to me – a couple of days after the Haiti earthquake – “You know, everything always turns out for me. God must REALLY love me!” I almost responded, “What, so God hates everyone in Port-au-Prince??” Because that’s what logically follows. If God loves you – in particular – and that is the reason you are lucky, then it follows that God does not love other people, and he causes bad things to happen to them.

I don’t believe that God makes bad things happen (though I will confess to often jumping to the conclusion that God hates me when things go poorly – a belief I have to let go of if I’m to grow in faith). And I don’t believe that “everything happens for a reason.” For me to believe that means that I have to accept that babies starve in Niger to serve some greater purpose. And I can’t accept that.

No, I’m coming to believe that some things just happen. This is not to say that I don’t believe there is a Higher Power at work in it all, because I most certainly do. Nor am I being nihilistic and saying life has no meaning, because it certainly does. I just don’t believe the world is a giant chess board, with God playing and creating winners and losers.

I don’t believe God is up there flipping a coin to decide whether someone gets heads or tails today.

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