Seeing the Light in Darkness
A rabbi whose wife had breast cancer shares his tools for developing trust in God.
The following article was written 10 days before the author's wife passed away, tragically, on August 8, 2001 (19 Av 5761). May the soul of Elana Golda bas Yisroel Mordechai be bound in the bond of eternal life.
As with all good things in life, trust in God does not just happen. You don't go to bed one night feeling that God is out to get you and wake up the next day confident that you can rely on Him – no matter what you take.
If you want to trust God, it is going to take conscious effort to develop and maintain the emotion.
My wife has metastatic breast cancer. If you are au fait with cancer jargon, you will know that the situation is pretty bad.
At the time she was first diagnosed, I realized that I had many options. I could hide in a corner and block out the world. I could pretend to myself that everything was okay. I could accept the 'inevitable' (as doctors would say) and enjoy the time we had left. Or I could develop a sense of trust in God and allow myself to feel that we are in very good hands.
The last option seemed the most appealing (and the most reasonable). So I set out to try to develop an emotion within myself that was, until that time, pretty dormant. I still have my bad moments. It's not so easy to trust in God when you get bad news after bad news after bad news. Not so easy, but equally not impossible. My pain is usually short-lived and I can quickly reactivate a confidence that God is here with me and I have nothing to fear. Each new development brings with it a test that I cannot be sure I will pass, but, so far so good. If anything, as the situation has worsened, my trust has been growing.
I want to share with you the lessons that I learned, from a number of wise people, in terms of how to develop a feeling of trust. I guarantee that if you put in the time and energy, it works. And it's worth it. You can put your time into fitness and be rewarded with a healthy body. You can put your time into business and be rewarded with material success. Put your time into trusting in God and you will be rewarded with tranquility of heart and mind for eternity.
So how do you do it?
Let's begin with two prerequisites.
Firstly, trust is a feeling. You can intellectualize all you want, but if you don't 'feel' confident that someone will catch you at the bottom, you aren't going to jump.
There is the old story of an atheist who falls off a 2,000-foot smooth cliff. He grabs onto the one twig there is 1,000 feet down. He looks up to Heaven and figures it's worth a shot.
'Is there anybody up there?' he asks.
'Yes, it's me, God,' comes the response.
'Thank God for that,' the atheist replies. 'Please God, help me. I'll do anything.'
'Of course, my son. But I have just one request to make.'
'Anything, God,' replies the atheist.
'I will save you, my child,' says God, 'but you have to trust me first. Let go of the twig and I will catch you.'
Trusting God emotionally is different than intellectually knowing He exists.
The atheist looks down at the rocks 1,000 feet below and looks up again.
'Is there anybody else up there?'
The point is clear. You can know there is a God intellectually, but that doesn't mean you will trust Him emotionally. A person can switch from being an atheist to one who knows there is a God in a moment – if he or she were to have a clear experience of God. But trusting in God is a very different matter.
Knowing God Exists
The second prerequisite is that if you want to trust God, you have to first know He exists and loves you. We have a dangerous ability to feel emotions that are intellectually unsupported and unsupportable. People can feel 'love' for a person who has none of the qualities required in order to love them. It's called infatuation. People can find deep meaning in something that is utterly meaningless (Timothy McVeigh felt it was deeply meaningful to kill over one hundred people in Oklahoma.) And people can have faith in something that, intellectually, is clearly false – the Moonies and other cults prey on this constantly.
So too, people can trust in God without being sure that He even exists. It's very possible, but dangerous and incorrect in Jewish thinking. It's dangerous because it's mindless. And wherever there is mindlessness, there is escape from Godliness. And where there is escape from Godliness, there cannot be deep-rooted trust.
Trust cannot be a crutch. It must start with the mind and spread through to the emotions. Otherwise, it is a castle built on sand.
So how do we go about feeling trust in God in a seemingly dark and lonely world? How do we get in touch with the fact that there is a God, whom we can rely on, when at times He seems so distant and impersonal?
The following steps are predicated on the intellectual belief in God's existence. If you've got that, then this is how you can go about getting yourself on the road to trusting Him.
According to the 10th Century classic, Chovot Halevavot, Duties of the Heart, there are seven elements involved in trust in God. If you feel all seven, you will feel trust. I am using an order put together by Rabbi Weinberg, the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish Hatorah. I will explain how I personally relate to each one in the context of my wife's illness in order to make them more practical and relatable.
(1) Tell yourself that: God loves me with a love that is deeper than any parent has ever loved any child. He loves me as a individual. I am his special, sweet little baby.
I personally try to imagine God holding me in His arms, smiling at me, as I do with my children, enveloping me with His love.
(2) God knows my every need, my every challenge, and my every problem. He knows what I feel, what I think, what concerns me, what worries me. He knows exactly what's on my mind and He knows it constantly. He doesn't forget about me, not even for a moment. Nothing slips past Him. He 'thinks' about me and my problems 24/7.God knows the location of every cancer cell in my wife's body.
He knows the location of every cancer cell in my wife's body. No rogue cell can slip by His notice and start growing on its own. He is fully aware and cognizant of all that is going on. He also knows what I am worried by. He knows exactly what I am feeling, exactly what I want. He hears every one of my prayers.
(3) God has the power to do anything. There is nothing that I need that he cannot provide. Nothing I am lacking that He cannot give me. He is able to solve all of my problems and solve them immediately. He is able to prevent any problem arising.
He is able to take away every cancer cell instantly. He can change the whole situation around in a moment. And it's not difficult for Him to do so. My wife could jump out of bed tomorrow, free of cancer, as though nothing had ever happened.
(4) Nothing else has any power. There is nothing that works independent of God. Nothing, no matter how small, can or does happen without His full approval. He does not give over His power to other forces. He remains in full control at all times.
There is no cancer; there is just God. There is no chemotherapy; there is just God. Cancer cells do not grow by themselves; God makes them grow. And there is not a single one that can grow without God's 'expressed' desire for it to do so. God and cancer are not adversaries. They are partners.
(5) God has done so much for me until now. He has given me life. He has given me freewill. He makes my heart beat. He makes the blood run round my body. He gives me air to breathe, food to eat. He provides warmth. You name it, He has done it. He has a track record of complete and utter goodness. Anything that I need or want is like asking my father for a dime to make a phone call. I have no doubt that He will give it to me because He has already given me so much. Anything I could possibly want is so small compared to His goodness to me so far.
Taking the cancer away is nothing compared to making my heart constantly pump just enough oxygen to my brain for the past 35 years. And He did that without my even asking.
(6) God's love is unconditional. It is not dependent on my actions or my way of life. Like a good parent, He loves me no matter what. Even when I stumble and make some very big mistakes, He still loves me. Even when I completely ignore Him, He still loves me. His love is with me no matter who I am or what I do. Despite all my imperfections, I can feel secure that God is still backing me.
Taking the cancer away is nothing compared to the good God has done for me.
God would like me to be great. His expectations for me are massive – because of what I can accomplish with the soul he has given me. Nevertheless, I could waste it all and he might still make my wife better, just because he loves me.
(7) Like any good parent, God will always give me just what I need. Life will not always be exactly what I want to it be. He might not give me what I think will be good for me. But He will always give me what is really good for me. No matter what I am going through, it is exactly what I need to be going through.
Whatever God might have in store for me, the road this illness is taking us down is a road we need to traverse. And wherever that road might lead, its destination is where we need to be.
For me, this final point creates the greatest sense of trust and security. No matter what I am going through – no matter how 'bad' or painful it may seem, I know that it is for my ultimate good.
Try feeling each of these elements a number of times a day. Don't spend too much time on each one – you may find that frustrating. Taking one minute to focus on these points a few times a day will make a significant impact.
Working on feeling these seven elements has been very powerful for me. It has brought a tremendous sense of security into my life. Spending a few minutes a day is a small price to pay for the dividends that you can reap from developing trust.
Only God knows what will be. But there is one thing I do know. God is giving us, and will give us, just what we need.
Heaven on Earth.
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