By Carolyn Lueders Burica
“God has a plan for you…”
“When God closes a door, he opens a window”
“It was God’s will…”
“Don’t be sad, he (she) is with God now…”
I have always cringed when someone spoke any of the above phrases to me. I haven’t been able to figure out why until recently when I had to grit my teeth and, with clenched jaws, hear them spoken again and again coming from people who were too happy to witness my world start to crumble down around me. They just didn’t sound authentic to me. And honestly, all these smarmy phrases did was just make me angrier and more depressed.
The above phrases are known as platitudes. According to Merriam, one of the definitions of platitude is “a banal, stale remark.” And this definition fits perfectly here. Every one of the smarmy, schmaltzy, syrupy sweet sayings about God and his particular role in my life feels like an ice pick to the brain. While I understand and accept that people tend not to know what to say in uncomfortable situations, I also feel that remarks such as those only add fuel to the fire. God has a plan for me? So then I should just sit back and wait until that plan reveals itself? I don’t call that God’s plan, I call that being lazy.
I’ve learned a lot about myself lately, too. And the one thing that I keep coming back to is: it was believing in God and his “plans” that have made me feel like absolute shit about myself. Being brought up in an organized religion didn’t improve the quality of my life – here I am at 50, unemployed and certainly not ready to retire to a life of luxury and leisure. And the biblical scripture that discusses suffering on earth: “For your rewards will be great in Heaven” certainly doesn’t help to pay off my student loans now, does it?
Religious doctrine also ruined my ability to think for myself and make my own conscious decisions. I wasn’t taught to question the existence of God, I was taught that there is no question – He exists, and if “you don’t do what he says, you’re going to end up in Hell, where you belong, because he doesn’t want you with him in paradise.” The use of God’s existence to invoke proper behavior out of children is just another form of emotional invalidation and abuse.
If one were to consider the thousands of orphaned and poor Irish Catholic children who were sent to the industrial (read: church run) schools in Ireland who were repeatedly sexually, physically and emotionally abused, one would quickly figure out that the abuse was meted out by religious people who would spew outdated biblical scripture and warped religious doctrine at them in an effort to get little Johnny or Janey to understand that “I must abuse you, repeatedly, because God wants you to know you are always to be under the control of adults who are bigger, scarier and holier than you are.” What a sick, perverted line of thinking to use on a young, developing mind. All in the name of religion.
I believe it is a safe bet to say that all religions come with their own set of smarmy sayings and platitudes created to help the speaker feel less uncomfortable around the person who is suffering from whatever trauma has occurred in their lives. I know talking about job loss, divorce, and death can be awkward. But, for those of us who choose not to believe that there is a magical sky fairy looking over us, and manipulating us like puppets on a string, those platitudes come across as empty, hollow and, at times, highly offensive.
Perhaps the best thing to say when put into an uncomfortable position is, “I’m sorry to hear this. I hope things get better for you soon,” then just let the person talk, if they need to talk. That’s all I wanted from those around me. That was really all I needed to hear.