There are so many things that we have no control over. We have no say about what family we are born into or where we grow up. We cannot know whether we’ll be rich or poor, healthy or sickly, tall or short. There is no way for us to control what kinds of mentors we get when we are young or what kind of food we happen to be allergic to.
As we grow older, we start to believe that we can control the world around us. People tell us that if we study/practice really hard, we’ll get into a good school and have a good career. If we date a lot of people, we’ll eventually figure out what kind of person we want to be with, and then that person will come into our lives. If we take care of our health, our health won’t fail us. If we bring up our kids well, they won’t give us heartache. If we invest wisely, we won’t have financial problems.
Often, life rewards us for these efforts. Studying well often does equal getting good marks, but we all know that mistakes can happen, teachers can be biased, and politics that have nothing to do with us can result in not getting the results we feel we deserve. We’re all aware that “knowing what we want” when looking for a life partner does not mean that person will suddenly appear in our lives. Generally, a healthy lifestyle does equal better overall health, but this is not always the case. We may try to be good parents, but our kids don’t always go in the directions that we hope. And spending smartly does usually equal less financial problems, unless a bank goes bankrupt or the stock market crashes.
So why is this? If 1 + 1 = 2, why don’t our efforts always yield consistent results?
Many of us like to be in control. I know I do. I like to know why things are happening in a certain way and what I should do about it. However, life has shown me over and over again how little control I have over the things and people that surround me.
I’ve realized that 1 + 1 does not always equal 2. Sometimes it equals 1 (marriage). Sometimes it equals 0 (when the two parts nullify each other). Sometimes the 1s stay separate, because they are nothing alike and can’t bond. And other times, the answer is infinite, because of the ripple effect that happens as a result of the two forces coming together.
We are faced with a constant balancing act in life. Of course we must want, we must do, we must hope, we must set goals and strive for them. We can’t simply accept everything that happens to us. We must protest that which is unjust and move towards change. On the other hand, we must also accept how little control we have over how things actually turn out. We must accept that what we want is not always what we need. And we must figure out a way live a peaceful life even with these opposite truths battling often painfully within us.
You know how little control you had over things when you were a kid? How you couldn’t choose what kind of life you were brought into?
It’s a funny thing. Our sages say that believe it or not, we chose all of this!
We all have work to do in this life to complete our tikkun (spiritual potential). Many of us return again and again in different forms in order to work on bringing our individual light into this world. Our sages say that our souls SPECIFICALLY chose this life that we have right now in order to help us work on ourselves. This includes everything from our parents to our hair colour. Before coming into this world, our souls knew what kind of life we were to be given, and we chose it because we knew it would be the best possible thing for us.
Interesting, isn’t it?
This reminds me of something I heard shortly after my mom died. I had a good friend at school whose father also passed away and we were talking about it. I remember her saying, “You know, this might sound crazy, but I really feel that I’m lucky that this happened to me and not someone else, because someone else might not have been able to handle it. And I know one day I’ll be able to make the world a better place because of it..”
Little did she know that she had already started. That statement has stuck with me, and of course she was completely right. We are given this life not only because we can handle it, but because we thrive best as a result of everything that happens to us!
So what do we have control over while we’re here?
In my first year in Jerusalem, I spoke to the director of my school, overwhelmed by how much I wanted to do and how I hadn’t yet been able to develop adequate tools in order to actualize any of it yet.
She told me something amazing:
“Andrea, you have no control over any outside forces. But internally (spiritually) you have control over everything. You don’t have to answer for your childhood or even the things that have happened to you up until now. The infinite only wants one thing from you: to do your best with everything that you’re given. That’s it. Be honest with yourself about who you are and why you’re living this way. Go to sleep at night with today’s questions answered, and new ones for tomorrow. Always, always, do your best. Nothing less. This is the only thing that you have control over. And it is everything.”
May we all continue to give life everything that we have and be more today than we were yesterday.
Sending you all my best, Andrea