Imagine you are on a road trip. You’ve been told that your destination is amazing: lush and fertile land, flowing rivers; the land of milk and honey. It sounds like paradise but you’ve never seen a picture and though it should only take 11 days to arrive at your destination, the tour you’ve signed up for takes a scenic route—a journey that ends up lasting 40 years. Along the way, you and your travel companions experience numerous trials and hardships, including an incident where the earth swallows up a large group of your friends... sound like your dream vacation?
How would you respond in this situation? How would most of the people you know respond?
When the going gets rough, it’s easy to bemoan the situation, blame others, and sink into negativity. Kabbalah teaches us that obstacles are never placed on our path accidentally; they are meant for us to tackle so we can continue on a little wiser for the wear. Karen Berg explains, “Any challenge you encounter in life is part of a design whose intent is to help you grow and change. The more arduous the difficulty, the greater the opportunity it affords you to mend your ways in order to connect to the Light. This is true even of the worst situations.”
In the biblical chapter, Devarim, Moses recounts the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land, giving the tribes time to reflect. They are about to finally enter the land of Israel. Forty years wandering in the desert has given them time to transform. The truth is, change didn’t come gracefully for them. But we can learn from their experience. In his book, Becoming Like God, Michael Berg elaborates,
“The journey to God is an ejection seat from the comfort zone. If the signpost reads DISCOMFORT, we know we’re on the right road. When we go against our human nature, we’re on the right road. When someone bruises our ego and instead of walking out indignantly as is customary, we stay and study the pain, we welcome the bruising, and we feel gratitude to the insulters, to those who’ve given us this opportunity to bring more Light and less comfort into our lives, then we’re on the right road.”
Here are three points to help the road feel a little less rocky.
We cannot control events as they occur around us. What we can control are our responses to these events and how we react to the people involved. Taking a calm approach promotes peace in relationships and within yourself. When things don’t go as planned, give yourself time to pause and think before you act. Psychologist, Russell Grieger, Ph.D., says, “If we learn to gracefully accept life’s vicissitudes as part of our collective experience, without protesting or catastrophizing, we can proactively act toward creating happiness, despite the difficulties we face in this world.” The power to transition gracefully through turbulent times lies in our hands. We can stomp our feet and pout along the way. Or we can take a deep breath and smell the proverbial roses.
Embrace the Lesson
Knowing that there is a lesson hidden in every negative encounter can be the key to shifting perspective. Think of your journey ahead as the syllabus that God has designed specifically for you. He has drafted the curriculum carefully, hitting every important point that it is necessary for you to cover in this lifetime. They don’t always appear relevant. It is our job to trust the Creator and make His priorities our priorities.
Every road comes to an end eventually. Rabbi Jennifer Krause, author of The Answer: Making Sense of Life, One Question at a Time, hits on this point, “Tough times may seem like marathons, but the important thing to remember is that they do come to an end... Get out of bed and your comfort zone, build a new dream, have a short cry and a good laugh with a friend.”
In Devarim Moses reminds the Israelites that during the trials they encountered they lost faith, and yet the Creator came through for them. It was a challenging 40 years. But challenges hold the highest potential for growth and discovery. Moses encourages them to take ownership of their history. History is not about what has happened to you, it's about how you have journeyed through events in your life and come out stronger in the end. We have all been called to a unique journey; how we get through it is up to us.