“Don’t worry, I’m fine,” I answer with the knowing smile of a veteran mother. This is my response to almost everyone who walks into our house these days and comments on how quiet it is.
If I weren’t “fine,” I would somehow allow myself to be sad that our youngest two children have simultaneously “left the nest,” and I refuse to allow that. Maybe it’s because I was blessed to have children in what was considered an “advanced maternal age,” so chronologically, I’m old to be an empty-nester. Maybe it’s because I know that my husband and I never “planned” our family, so I have no regrets about not having more children. And maybe it’s because our daughter Elkie was just here from California for a week with her family, helping me to remember how joyfully challenging it was to raise all those kids. (Just to give you an idea, the garage door repairman came once, the plumber had to come twice.)
Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because my relationship with God has taught me something deeper about happiness — as He wants me to pursue it.
So, here are three good things I’ve learned about God:
1) God is real
I wish I could remember the first time I heard about a deity, but I don’t. I do remember the “aha!” moment when I petitioned the all-powerful One in the sky; I was on my way home from summer camp and I prayed that my mother bought brownies for me. I will never forget the magical feeling when I saw the neatly-tied box on the kitchen counter. Then again, I also prayed for Him to punish a girl I didn’t like and something terrible actually happened to her. I feel awful about that to this day. But, ultimately, the idea that He could answer my prayers like that was terrifying to me. I didn’t do much of anything for Him, why was He listening to me and doing what I wanted, especially if I wanted Him to hurt someone else? What was I supposed to ask of Him?
I’ve learned a lot about God since I was young. Chassidic teachings elucidate the many concepts that describe how all of creation comes into existence and stays in existence. I try to understand these concepts (I’m never quite sure that I do), but this learning affects my soul, revealing what it inherently knows: God is real. He may be non-corporeal but He is alive and eternal and constantly invested in everything that happens in the world. So what am I supposed to ask of Him? For health, family and sustenance, of course, but only because when these are in order, I can focus more on changing my inner world to better feel His presence in it. The pursuit of this relationship with God leads to simcha, true spiritual happiness.
2) God is good
If God is good, why is this world filled with so much pain and suffering, not to mention, the unspeakable suffering of His beloved “chosen” people? It’s a question worth pondering. I’ve learned that this world is not the “true” world, but is instead a test. It’s fairly straightforward: how can we show our love for God when it’s so difficult to perceive Him, when His goodness is so often hidden from us? I’ve learned that everything in life is an opportunity to reveal His presence, to overcome or transform the apparent obstacles that conceal the truth of His existence (this is supposed to be work, in case you were wondering).
Fortunately, this is a cumulative test for all humanity and our collective results have accrued. God also assures us the test is only for a limited time, six millennia to be exact, and we’re closing in on that time. Which means we’re almost ready to enter a new era. Which means that everything I do for Him, especially in the realm of learning Torah and doing mitzvos, brings this era closer. The spiritual signposts are clear that this time, the time of Moshiach, is imminent. I can’t imagine what the world will be like when God’s energy is openly revealed to everyone’s physical eyes, but that’s because I’ve never experienced it. But I do know it’s going to be good and it’s going to be soon. But it can’t be soon enough. I’ve learned that God wants me to hasten this process however I can. I’m happy to try, knowing that my one small act of kindness could transform the world into a place that will be all good, all God, all the time.
3) God performs miracles
In the meantime, Chassidic wisdom encourages every Jew to live with bitachon, trust in God. “Think good and it will be good,” is the aphorism that teaches what I can experience by having a deep and sincere trust in God’s goodness: miracles. Of course, I’m supposed to operate through the natural channels of life, but I do that only because He wants me to. When I truly trust that He will provide me open and revealed good, He contravenes the natural order to do so. It has nothing to do with my “deserving” this goodness; it is simply a matter of trusting in God to provide it. As I see it, when I have bitachon, we’re both happy. God gets what He wants most from me: that I truly trust that everything comes from Him. And I get to see miracles that come from Him in the way of open and revealed good.