> Spirituality > Personal Growth


May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Leiby Burnham

Shortcuts: the quick way to nowhere.

My in-laws have a summer home in a bungalow colony up in the Catskills. Their colony -- a 120-acre plot of land with 70 cottages, two pools and a tennis court -- is about 14 years old. When the 50 original families arrived, there was one big problem -- there weren't enough trees. So after three board meetings, a homeowners' vote, and a recount, the colony members decided to grow trees.

You probably have all heard the phrase: "A watched pot never boils." Well it's not true; I once watched a pot boil. But this phrase is true: "A watched tree never grows." (If you actually watched a tree grow, please email me, and then immediately pick up a different hobby like knitting or quilting, at least you'll be doing something constructive with your time!)

So what was the bungalow colony supposed to do? Even if they would immediately grow regular shade trees, like oak or elm, it would take 20-30 years until they reached maturation!

After checking with a local nursery, they bought a large number of trees that were specially designed to grow rapidly. They were told that within eight years they would reach towering heights and provide vast amounts of shade.

And surprisingly, they weren't lying. The trees actually grew as rapidly as promised, and they sure did provide lots of shade.

But there were two major problems. Firstly, the trees had very shallow roots, most of them above ground, and soon the thick roots started breaking up the sidewalks throughout the bungalow colony. Then a more serious problem became evident; in the midst of a thunderstorm last year, one of the trees toppled over, luckily only damaging someone's roof. That was when we found out that this "special" species of fast growing trees has a nickname: Topplers.

Topplers don't sound like that the kind of trees you want growing all over your bungalow colony.

Some names make you want to stay far away from something. For example, I can't see myself inviting over a guy named Ebola, Bubonic, or H5N1 for a neighborly game of bridge. Somehow, Topplers don't sound like that the kind of trees you want growing all over your bungalow colony.

Now they have to rip them all out, but the trees have spread their roots all over the surface of the ground, and Paul Bunyan is booked until the winter of '09, so it's going to be a tough and expensive job.

What can we learn from this? What my mother always taught me: "There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going."

You can't become a basketball star without spending hundreds of hours shooting practice shots (unless you are a 8-foot beanstalk who can dunk without jumping), you can't become a neurosurgeon without going through hundreds of years of schooling (unless you work in a clinic in Turmekistan and you are a nephew of the director), and you can't get quality shade in a mere eight years!

The problem is that all too often, when it comes to spirituality, we think that the system changes. We think that we can achieve a sustainable and real connection with God by just feeling close to Him in our hearts. We think there are shortcuts. But that simply isn't the case.

Ask anyone in a successful marriage how they built their relationship, and they'll tell you that it required more than the right feelings, it demanded hard work and positive actions. Although people may claim to put "family above everything else," their actions may indicate that watching sports, being a social butterfly, or advancing their career takes a priority. If you want to see what a person truly cares about, look at where he spends his time and money.

The more a person works toward a goal, the more important it becomes to him. If I leave work early to go buy my wife a card and flowers, I subconsciously imprint in my mind that my wife is more important than my job. When a Jew leaves his office in middle of the day to pray Mincha, the afternoon service, he ingrains in his soul the message that God is more important than his career. Why should we feel the formula for creating a relationship with God be any different than the formula for building success in any other arena?

Remember: Desire doesn't make perfect -- practice makes perfect, and practice takes time, commitment, and effort.

So the next time we find ourselves thinking, "Does God really care if I pray today? He just wants us to feel like a good Jew, and love Him," let's recognize the fallacy of that logic. Your spouse doesn't feel it's enough for you to love her/him in your heart -- he/she wants to see you to show it through words and actions. God also wants a working relationship with you, one in which you show your love for Him through hard work and effort.

"There are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going," and a relationship with your Creator is definitely somewhere worth going.

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