It's Not All or Nothing.
We all make mistakes. Don't let one slip derail you.
I’ve been making some poor choices lately – not robbing a bank or gambling away our life’s savings kind of poor choices – but poor choices none the less. I haven’t been the person I wanted to be. I had such lofty aspirations during the High Holidays – exciting and uplifting visions of the new me to come. But in my eagerness to return to “normal” life after a (wonderful) month of holidays (and a lot of eating!), I rushed forward too hastily. I was too caught up in the pleasure of routine to remember my goals, to stop and really focus.
I let myself down. The good news is that all is not lost. In fact, not even close. Although Yom Kippur is a special and time for repentance and return, this gift from the Almighty is not for a limited time only. We can change whenever and wherever we like. We don’t have to wait; in fact, we shouldn’t.
I have a tendency to catastrophize. Back in the olden days when my kids were young and we took family trips, if one thing went wrong (including some fighting in the back seat which was inevitable) I would say “this trip is ruined”. My husband taught me to adjust that thinking. The whole trip isn’t ruined because of one (or two or three or…) moment of fighting, because of one wrong turn, because of a delayed start. Life is full of wonderful moments and plenty of challenges and we can’t judge our experiences or expectations based on the challenges alone or how we meet them.
Some people may be inspired anew to read the Torah portion every week. What if the first portion, Genesis, came and went and you already missed that opportunity? Or, what if you’re like me and you got part-way through and distracted, and the next thing you knew…it was the following week! Is the whole project to read the weekly Torah portion now a disaster? Should we just give up? That’s probably the first thought that comes to mind, but the more rational – and Jewish – approach is to just say, “Okay, I’ll start now.”
This damaging philosophy often happens in more mundane areas as well. Let’s imagine that we recognize that certain lifestyle changes might help promote our spiritual growth. For example, we make a commitment to go off sugar. At first we're holding strong, and then someone offers us a homemade cookie or we meet a friend for coffee at a really good bakery or…whatever the reason, we indulge. Our initial counterproductive response is to immediately tell ourselves that we’ve blown our diet (or any lifestyle change) and continue to indulge for the rest of the day.
The more productive reaction, the one more consistent with the it's-not-all-or-nothing Jewish approach is to try to avoid sugar for the rest of the day. And then the next day. And so on. One mistake does not ruin it all.
Even if we make a mistake, we can get back on track and keep moving forward.
So, whatever our goals, spiritual or physical or some combination, the important realization is that even if we make a mistake, we can get back on track. Don't let one slip derail the whole project. We're all works in progress. We go forward at times and then slide back. The important thing is to pick ourselves up and to keep moving forward. To never give up.
And remember to ask the Almighty for help – to give us the strength, determination, focus and energy. He’s rooting for us and wants to help us move forward. We only have to ask.