Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nourishing Yourself with Faith during Difficult Times: Part II

The fairness of life

If everyone experienced the same difficulties, we would not be as bothered by our challenges. It is our belief that others have it better off that adds salt to our wounds. We look enviously at their seemingly perfect lives and think, “That’s not fair! Why can’t my life be like theirs?”

Our lives have to be different than theirs, because our mission is different than theirs. Yes, we have struggles they do not have, but we also have blessings they lack. When comparing our lives to others, we have to look at the entire package, the sweet and the bitter. In terms of fairness, if we want what others have, we would have to take on every aspect of their lives, all their difficulties and weaknesses (many of which we are not aware of) and give up all the good in our lives.

Do we still want to trade places? Often, we will come to the realization, “Let them have what they have, I’m keeping what I have.” After all, God gives each one of us what is most suited for us.

At times, it appears that our lives are filled with more suffering than most, that we are not receiving our fair share of blessings. There is a precedent for this, of an entire tribe which did not receive their “fair share” of the land of Israel.

The Jewish people are divided into twelve tribes. When the Jews were in the desert, before entering the land of Israel, Moses spoke to them about the future conquest. He told them that while the land would be divided among the tribes, one tribe would not receive an equal portion – the tribe of Levi.

Perhaps some Levites questioned, “Why can’t our share be like theirs?” Moses addressed this point when he said (Deuteronomy 10:8), “…God set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the Ark of the Covenant of God, to stand before God to minister to Him, and to bless in His name…” Yes, they will have less land than the other tribes, but they gain so much more in return: They were elevated by God for an exalted mission.

So too us, when we suffer, we become like the Levites – elevated for an exalted mission. We are chosen by God to carry His ark – our faith in Him. We are to carry this faith regardless of the obstacles we face. We are to minister to God and bless in His name. We do this by inspiring others with our faith, praying to God for help, and by looking for the blessings even within our difficulties.

We need to embrace with pride the august mission for which God has selected us. Then, perhaps in the future, we too will be given an equal share among our brothers and sisters, of whatever blessing we currently lack.

Material vs. spiritual success

The Talmud (Bava Batra 10a) states that the Next World is the opposite of this world; those whom society considers second class in this world, generally speaking, are first class in the Next World and vs. versa. How are we to understand this?

The most sought after goal in this world is material success. The irony is that material success is not the reason God created this world and has no bearing on whether we earn eternal bliss in the next. Our level of bliss in the Next World will reflect our level of spiritual success in this world, i.e., the extent to which we succeeded in serving God and being of service to others.

Frequently, people spend their lives seeking the “good life,” one of ease and comfort. If they have financial, family or health issues, they may think their lives are heading in the wrong direction. In truth, challenges assist us in living a spiritually productive life. When our physical lives are not going as we intended, we are reminded that material success is not why we are here. By focusing us on spiritual development, challenges serve as stepping stones to earning the bliss of the Next World.

We learn from the Talmud that a life well lived is the opposite of the lifestyle society idolizes. When we internalize the principle that material success is not the goal of life, our distress over our material difficulties lessen. Those seeking material success as an end and not as a means to come closer to God, are the ones heading in the wrong direction. In contrast, those who struggle to grow spiritually amidst any challenge are on track and living life to the fullest.

No matter the magnitude of our difficulties, we still can experience a life well lived. In fact, the more challenges we have, the more our Creator has made such a life accessible to us.

The next time you feel overwhelmed by challenges or compare yourself to others, remind yourself to keep your eye on the goal – serving your Creator and earning eternal bliss in the Next World. Tell yourself that your challenges are there to best help you fulfill your unique purpose and merit your portion in the afterlife. Having your difficulties prematurely removed, would undermine a key reason God sent you to this world.

Any temporary trappings you may lack in this world, will pale in comparison and be totally irrelevant when you receive your hard-earned reward in the Next. When your thoughts drift to how difficult life is, focus on the present and ask, “Right now, what’s the most productive use of my time? What will bring me closer to fulfilling my potential to serve God and be of service to others?”

Guided hitbodedut

Deepening your personal relationship with God will help you draw strength and encouragement. Talk to Him about your problems and ask for His help, preferably out loud and in your native language. This form of prayer – frequently called Hitbodedut – was popularized by the 19th century Chassidic master, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. The following is a possible script to get started. After you ask God the questions below, notice if any answers come to mind – immediately or at a later date; they are not necessarily Divinely inspired, but they are worthy of consideration:

Please God, help me with___(say the issue). Lately, I’ve been feeling___(describe your emotions). I’m having difficulty because___(describe how you are affected). Please___(ask for what you want), so that I can___(give reasons why).

What is a reasonable effort I can make to improve my situation? Who might be able to advise or assist me?

What can I learn from this suffering? How can I use this challenge to strengthen my connection to You and unconditionally accept Your will? Which behaviors distance me from You? How can I use this suffering to more easily shed them?

No one in history has had this unique combination of difficulties and life circumstances. No one has had the chance to elevate this situation as an offering to You. Until now. This opportunity is Your gift to me. Into this moonless night – only I can carry my faith in You. Into this period of darkness – only I will shine Your glory. Doing that will be my gift to You.

A compelling reason we can give God to get rid of our problems is that doing so will enable us to fulfill our potential to come closer to Him. In reality, the way things are right now, is the optimal gateway – at least for the time being – to come closer to God. Our Father wants us to ask for His help and make reasonable efforts to improve our lives. At the same time, He wants us to willingly walk the path He has cleared just for us; a path that leads right to His throne.

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