Donkey Kong, Secret Agent Man and Not Feeling God’s Love.
Four reframes for the times you feel very distant from God.
Have you ever had days when you felt like your life had become a stumbling cha-cha of “two steps forward and one step back”? (Or worse yet, one step forward and two steps back?)
When you felt like your every moment was a furious but futile attempt to scramble up the down escalator in hope of arriving at a sustained position on higher ground? When it felt as though every careful, diligent effort you made was rewarded with unexpected and daunting setbacks and tribulations?
At times like these, perceiving and internalizing that God loves us can be a great challenge. If He loves me, how come it feels like nothing I do works? Why are my best efforts rewarded with loss, crisis, and what seems like a bed of hot coals?
If God loves me, how come it feels like nothing I do works?
What do we do when we’re just not feeling God’s love, even during the month of Elul, when it’s the opportune time to get closer to Him? What if, at the moment, God is not quite so beloved by us?
What do we do when instead of being able to close the gap between ourselves and God, we’ve fallen into it?
In my better moments when I’ve experienced this challenge, I have found that reframing can be one helpful way to bridge the gap between my feelings of wounded pique and alienation and my deep desire to warmly reconcile in spite of it all.
Reframing is about shifting our perspective so that we can see and relate to events differently, and more beneficially, than we did previously.
A good first step in resolving alienation is in candidly allowing that while you are distanced due to pain, you are also pained by the distance.
And next is to realize that even beneath the darkest shadows of our pained relationship with God, our teshuva – our reconciliation – can take flight. (We may at first alight only in a small, rickety propeller plane, but we can raise ourselves up off the ground nonetheless.)
It is written (in the Midrash and Zohar) that God says regarding reconciliation, “Open for me an entrance as tiny as a needle's point, and (then) I will open for you an entrance as wide as the opening of a hall.”
In a similar vein, in the world of psychotherapy, sometimes when people are hurting it’s not about choosing the definitive intervention, it’s about choosing any that will allow the person in distress a foot-in-the-door to a better place – even if only slightly better than their current place. Big changes begin with making small inroads.
For anyone who may occasionally feel a chasm between himself and God, here are four reframes that might help you take that first step forward in reconciling with God.
1. Donkey Kong & Secret Agent Man
There have been times in my life when I have felt like setbacks and trials were arriving at such a pronounced volume, pace, or magnitude that it felt overwhelming and incomprehensible. I’d no sooner get past one obstacle and pause to catch my breath and regroup, only to glance ahead and discover that there was another threat or crisis hurtling my way.
I felt like I had been catapulted into a real-life version of Donkey Kong and there I was, Rivka “Mario” Starck, doggedly dodging an unending succession of flying barrels and fiendish fireballs with no letup in sight.
Desperate to layer a positive spin and meaning onto events that left me feeling besieged and absent any identifiable purpose, I tried conjuring up a scenario in which this type of predicament could possibly be viewed favorably.
Who else has to at times endure and navigate hardship, threats and struggle – and without necessarily knowing the specific end purpose?
Why, Secret Agent Man, of course! There he or she is, engaged in derring-do at great risk to life and limb, all in service of his or her country or the greater good of humanity. Sure it’s tough-going. But he’s Secret Agent Man! – and proud of it. This is what he signed up for. And he’s secure in the knowledge that it’s worth all the risk and angst – because it’s for “the greater good.”
I’d tell myself, “Rivka, you’d have to be one pretty cool dudette if you were a secret agent working for the Mossad.” So how much more so if God has chosen to run me through a bunch of perturbations in service of His universe-wide mission. Surely I’d be up to the task and take some satisfaction in the challenge.
(Does this reframe always work for me? No. But there are times it has certainly helped me get by.)
2. Relapse Happens – Have Realistic Expectations
There are holidays of closeness to God (Rosh Hashanah) and those of distance from Him (Tisha B’Av). In all relationships, there is an ebb and flow in our emotional connection. At those times when we have grown more distant due to the challenges God has sent our way, if we can muster the clarity and discipline to remember that today’s emotions may well give way with time to warmer and more receptive ones, then we might be able to prevail on ourselves to approach God “on credit”.
In all relationships, there is an ebb and flow in our emotional connection.
We can approach God and make a small down payment, a good-faith demonstration that even though we don’t have a lot to give right now, our heart is in the right place and we are sure that more will follow as we become better situated.
3. Use Your Resources
Sometimes when we are in the throes of a debilitating situation and are overtaken with dark emotion, disillusionment and confusion directed at God, we forget that we have access to resources which we can use as a lifesaver to reel ourselves back onto stable ground. Available resources may include family, friends, neighbors, support groups, social services, trusted advisors (teachers, rabbis, rebbetzins, etc.), Torah classes, soothing or centering activities, etc. If we can right ourselves long enough to take full and considered stock of what’s available to us, we might discover that God has supplied us with paths for return.
4. Look for Alternative Perspectives
One of my favorite antidotes to clouded perspective is the drawing below.
What do you see when you look at it?
Look again. Is that still what you see?
Did you see the old woman or the young woman? If you only saw one or the other, look again.
Maybe you saw both. But, were you able to see them both at the same time? Unlikely.
I love this drawing because it’s a great reminder that our perspective is limited and that when we are locked into one viewpoint, alternative ways of understanding or making sense of things may be temporarily closed off to us.
We think we see all that there is to see. But we don't. And in large part, what we see and the meaning we make is a reflection of what part of the picture we choose to focus on.
In those moments when you find yourself feeling distanced from God, use reframes like these to bridge that distance, to answer God’s beckoning call to reconciliation.
May we all be gifted during these Days of Awe to connect with God and enjoy a new year feeling the warm embrace of His love.