Talking to G-d has a funny way of giving you answers that you weren’t expecting.
Since most of us are human, that means that we often have an ulterior motive when we start talking to G-d. The other day, I must admit I was pretty miffed with Hashem after a particularly tough morning. And since we’re being honest with each other, I’ll let you know that I’m failing on a daily basis to be the kind of person that I’d like to be. I start to wonder if it’s ever going to be possible for me to really change. Of course, there’s lots of holy advice out there to stop me from really going over the edge, thank G-d, not to mention my own pride – which comes in handy when it’s not busy trying to destroy me. But I digress.
So there I was, trying to do my best to follow Rabbi Nachman’s advice that Hashem loves to be “beaten” by His children with a good argument. Well, that’s how I justify myself when what I really want to do is have a good moan. So it went something like this:
“Hashem,” I started, “honestly, less than a percent of a percent of us are actually, truly overcoming our faults in a significant way. That’s why we are so inspired and in awe when we read stories about regular people who overcome seemingly insurmountable problems. I’m not even going to mention tzaddikim!”
“The rest of us?” I continued, brazenly, “either we keep trying, trying, stumbling, failing, trying….. and then most of us aren’t even really trying! So it seems to me that this whole world, our whole mission, all this talk about emunah, reward and punishment, connection, not to mention mitzvoth and torah observance …..” I paused for effect, –
“IT’S JUST NOT FAIR!!!!! IT’S AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK!!!! Why do we have to suffer so much? How do you expect us to succeed when all the odds are stacked against us?! The chance for real spiritual progress is statistically so low!…. And I just wrote an article about simple faith? Oy….” (This is the part where I broke down in tears. Just give me a moment to collect myself….)
By the way, if you are wondering about my “suffering”, I have just had my third child in less than 3 years, and moved house. I’m more than a little overwhelmed (not to mention hormonal) despite the fact that Hashem has visibly shown me His love for me with countless incidents of unexpected help to cushion my post-partum period: from parental help to extra home help, babysitters appearing out of the blue for the entirety of the summer holidays, my mother-in law surprising us to take care of the (6) kids so I can take a break…. The list goes on, and I thank Hashem regularly, profusely, intensely for it all. However…. (there’s a however?!)
As you know, when we are tried and tested, it is tailor made in Heaven for our personal limits, so what we intellectually understand is actually quite minor in the scheme of things, is custom-made to punch all our emotional buttons at once. But I digress once again.
So there I was, crying copiously, when I said it:
“I mean, Hashem, it’s like me asking my seven-year-old to cook the entire Shabbat meal from scratch by himself, AND clean up afterwards, only to punish him for not doing the job properly! Who would ask their child to do such a thing that was way beyond their normal capacity, and then punish them for not carrying it out to perfection?!”
And then it was suddenly clear.
“Oh, I get it. Thanks, Hashem. You know You’ve given me a difficult task. You don’t expect me to get it right all at once, but to grow into it. You would never punish me for doing something ineptly that I wasn’t yet fully capable of doing. You just want me to try the best I can, at the level I’m at, and be happy to do it. I get it. But the ‘happy’ part might be a problem sometimes, you know…” I trailed off.
But I wasn’t crying anymore.
“So what You’re saying is, just as a parent sometimes gives their child a difficult job to do with low expectations of the outcome, just for the sake of the child’s growth and opportunity to feel positive about being trusted with a complicated task : that’s what You’re doing with us? So You don’t have such high expectations of outcome, as much as of our willingness to participate? OH, that’s a relief. So You’re basically telling me that right now I’m like a seven-year-old? Or at least, that’s how I see myself in the scheme of things. I’m only in teshuva for little over four years, as it is. So I’m really like a four year old, spiritually speaking.“
I laughed wryly at myself. Good one.
“And as we get more experienced, You expect a little more of us? How will I know when that is? Oh, it doesn’t matter? That’s true. I’ll just think about today. Today I might fail, but at least I tried….”
So here’s what I learned the day I complained.
I learned that Hashem was still listening, even though I was complaining.
I learned that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, because Hashem isn’t.
I learned (I hope) that the most Hashem really expects of me is my sincere effort, according to the tools He has given me. According to my level. So all those amazing people I read about are certainly role models: but I should not compare myself to them. That is a recipe for potential emotional disaster.
And I learned, yet again, of the valuable commodity that is simple emuna. Yes, it often flies out the window in the face of adversity, but let’s face it: Speaking to Hashem is the most simple and actual manifestation of simple faith there is.
Most importantly: I need to remember to judge myself favorably. Rabbi Nachman teaches that it’s impossible to judge others favorably if one can’t judge oneself in the same fashion. It simply doesn’t ring true.
Judging myself favorably does not mean justifying my bad behaviour (I’m angry because my mother/teacher/dog was angry): it means that when I’m self-flagellating I should switch gears and start thinking about all the good things I have done, any small mitzvah, good thought or deed; a juicy story not spread, a moment of patience yesterday, a minute of compassion this morning.
The tears were now dry. The complaints had all dried up, too. All that was left were a few crumpled tissues, a cold cup of coffee, and Hashem’s comforting presence.
Not a bad morning after all.