So You Don't Feel God in Your Life?
I was berating myself, feeling down and useless. Little did I know that God was listening to my pain.
All I could see was blackness.
Sure, I was alive in a beautiful world. I was healthy. I did not have COVID-19. My family was safe. Thank God, all was well.
But this awareness was all intellectual; it wasn't something I felt.
I was down, feeling flat, useless. In spite of my best efforts, I had lost my job due to company issues and financial market fluctuations. And now corona hit; I didn't see any way forward. No job, no money coming in.
All these years I had talked myself into accepting that I wasn't working at anything I was really passionate about or that made me spring up out of bed in the morning with purpose and a sense of mission, but I comforted myself by saying that at least I was making a decent living to support my family. Now that too was gone.
What did I have to show for my 50+ years? What purpose did I have?
All those Aish webinars and video clips with the snappy language, cool rabbis and pulsating upbeat music, pushing for a sense of mission were taking their toll. I couldn't even begin to answer the questions: What were my dreams? What were my goals? What did I want to accomplish on this earth?
I would berate myself. How dare you complain with all the abundance that you have? Are you in a hospital bed? Are you getting chemo treatments? Can you talk? Can you hear? Can you see? You godless ingrate. You don't deserve what you have. The beating up on myself was endless. The problem (no job) and the solution (try to see the good you have) just morphed into turning myself into one big punching bag. You are no good. You are ungrateful. You have so much to be thankful for. You do not appreciate. You are worthless. Don’t you think God will take the good away from you if you don’t value it enough? Over and over. It was a broken record in my head that gave me no respite.
I wasn't one of those workaholics who had to learn that my family was my priority. My family was my priority. I knew that. Sure I worked hard. I was not one to cut corners at work; I was meticulous and conscientious. But I always knew that my children were the most important thing to me.
When I realized years ago that I could not get both myself and my kids out the door in the morning without being stressed, I adjusted my schedule so that I could be fully (read, perky!) there for my kids in the morning. Unhurriedly, I sent them off with carefully packed lunches, completed homework assignments (carefully labeled; no dog-eaten, crumpled half-baked paperwork for these kids!) and caressing goodbyes, replete with little loving notes of positivity tucked into their backpacks, and private chauffeuring to school if a bus was missed. Only after sending them off in cheerful Donna Reed-like fashion did I wend my way to work, making up the lost work-time in the wee hours of the morning, after everyone was fed, bathed, story-timed and tucked into bed, giving up regularly on sleep or "me-time" for years.
When the guests we constantly had at our Shabbos table due to my husband's work in outreach and adult education (now there was the sense of purpose and mission that my family could tap into), started to infringe on my kids sense of self, we cut back, ensuring that at least one meal was exclusively family time. We understood that healthy boundaries were called for and that as parents, we had to respond to our children's need to be seen and heard, front and center.
So, part of me was surprised when not all of those children stayed religious. That some of them are struggling with their relationship with the Almighty. I was sure that we were handing down the Jewish tradition faithfully, with just the right amount of old-fashioned responsibility to the past, link in the chain message, and a healthy dose of inject your own strengths, inform your faith with your own personality, talk. We felt we were real parents, authentic about our vulnerabilities, open to questions, caring and giving. Where did we go wrong?
The other part is not surprised. We cannot micromanage our children's journey. They came up against challenges and demons we had never encountered, both close to home and in the greater world. Their 21st century realities are a far cry from the bubble of conservatism we Baby Boomers experienced. We didn't know what they faced until it hit us in the face. We were not prepared.
And so, here we are – a fragile nuclear family, hanging on to each other, trying to understand and be there for each other, with compassion and love. Encircling us, at a far distance, is a fractured, somewhat estranged larger family, with bad guys and broken dreams, trampled hopes, derailed lives, tarnished souls, and cowardice. I know clearly with whom my loyalties lie – my husband and children. That is absolute. And yet, I feel such pain at the betrayals and losses in my life.
It all comes out, unleashed in a torrent of tears and fury. My friend listens quietly, interjecting here and there in that sensitive, understanding way of hers.
I find myself in my friend's garden, sitting socially distant-appropriate meters away, pouring out my heart about the losses and pain, the estrangement from the larger family, the no job and no purpose, the senseless misery, the feeling of abandonment, of being an orphan with no parents, the sense of aloneness and failure. It all comes out, unleashed in a torrent of tears and fury. My friend listens quietly, interjecting here and there in that sensitive, understanding way of hers. I finally finish. I am spent.
"So you don't feel God in your life?" she asks. I nod miserably. "You feel your father died and left so much undone and is not here to help and hug?" I nod again. "Your pain at your larger family is justified, your estrangement from them is self-protecting; they hurt you and your family, but still there is a gaping hole, in the place where relationship once was. That is not phantom pain. That is real. But know that God is with you." I nod mutely. Sure.
I wasn't prepared for the email I received the very next day. It was from one of my estranged family members, someone I had not spoken with for years. I had not been ready for any kind of relationship with her. And the email went as follows: "I received the following note from someone I was corresponding with. Apparently that person knew your father. I found it meaningful. I hope you will also."
The story related in the email went as follows:
"I knew your relative quite well. I will take the liberty of writing a personal story that he shared with me about himself. [He had asked me what I was learning and I told him I was learning Tractate Yevamos which is quite complicated and difficult.] He said that after the war was over he was a skeleton of himself physically and emotionally and he was not sure he was sane. At the first opportunity that he had he got hold of a volume of the Talmud and it happened to be Yevamos. He opened it and began learning. When he saw that he could follow and, in his words in Yiddish, 'Ich hob zich gekent reorientirin [I was able to reorient myself]' he knew he was sane."
I held the iPhone in my shaking hands, tears rolling down my cheeks. Just yesterday in a quiet garden in the middle of nowhere, I had cried about my estranged family member, my need to get healing from a father who died too young and my sense of distance from God. These were the people/beings in my life I was missing.
And today, I received a message from each of them.
Is God in my life? You bet He is. And with all that is going on in this crazy world of ours, He takes the time to listen to our pain and send us sweet messages that He is there all along.