Yesterday, my granddaughter Izzy tried on my glasses again. She looked so cute, but I doubt she could see much of anything through the lenses. Many of us are like my Izzy. We tend to try on the wrong glasses, especially when navigating the Straits. Thus, our vision and outlook tend to get distorted when we need clarity the most.
Wrong Glasses Set the Wrong Mood
It is easy to fall into the kvetching and complaining mode when the focus is off. Wearing the wrong glasses does set an undesirable mood, which generally affects the attitude. It is so much easier to give in to fear and ingratitude rather than see the bright side or the silver lining. It is also easy to stumble, make missteps, and even fall when we cannot see the path ahead.
A Change of Perspective
It is unrealistic to think that we can be upbeat and cheerful all the time. After all, as King Solomon wrote in Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), there is a time and a season for everything. However, it is difficult to be thankful when the walls are closing in or when we get bogged down in the mire of worries and cares.
The patriarch Joseph endured unique troubles and trials. Twenty-two years after his brothers sold him into slavery, he finally reunited with the very ones who had caused him so much pain. At that first meeting, Joseph realized that all the suffering of the past two decades served a greater purpose than all his dreams of his brothers prostrating themselves before him. Suddenly, he began to see things in a brand new, beautiful light.
Joseph’s story is indeed one of the greatest success stories of all time. His journey from the pit to the palace reads like an epic drama full of romance, mystery, and loads of inspiration. When the brothers went to Egypt for supplies, they saw his majesty but none of the marks of the betrayed brother or the suffering slave and ex-prisoner. They were wearing the wrong glasses.
Wearing the wrong spectacles is something we commonly do when we are in the Straits. However, a change of perspective can make all the difference. Joseph had a standard that kept him from falling into the various sinkholes of the Yetzer Hara – the evil inclination. Hashem, the G-d of his father, Jacob, was his Standard.
Like Joseph’s story, true success is ours as long as we hold on to Hashem and His Torah as our Standard and anchor. We may need to switch glasses and do away with the bad habits we developed to compensate for the distorted vision. One of the bad habits I am working to change is complaining.
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
There is no instance that I can think of when kvetching ever leads to anything good. Anytime I have complained about something, it has always made things worse. Complaining means that we have lost sight of reality and have become subject to our baser drives and instincts rather than to reason, logic, truth, and emunah (faith). In other words, complaining moves us from the frying pan into the fire.
Two First-hand Experiences
A few years back, the oven of the stove in my apartment stopped working. The maintenance people tried to fix it but could not. They took an old stove out of storage and said that it was to be a temporary replacement, but they never replaced it. When things like the knobs and oven handle started to fall off, I requested a new stove, but to my chagrin, they simply replaced the broken parts.
I wanted my shiny new stove! I eventually moved out of that apartment, and that old stove was still there when I left.
Now there was one feature of that old stove that worked perfectly – the oven. Every week when I baked my challah in that old oven, it would come out perfectly every time.
I finally got my “new” stove when I moved into my husband’s apartment. He had been told that the stove was brand new when he moved into the apartment a couple of years previously. Sadly, I discovered a huge problem with my new stove – everything I baked in the oven burned. It turned out that the oven was running at least a hundred degrees hotter than it should. They came and replaced a part which fixed the problem somewhat but not completely. It still overheats, and one of the burners on the stovetop also overheats even when it is set on low.
What did complaining earn me in this instance? I am learning my lessons well. Even burnt challah is an opportunity to give thanks and acknowledge the greatness of Hashem.
Some lessons take a great deal more time to learn than others. Take, for example, doing the laundry. In my previous apartment complex, the laundry facility was in my building, and for some reason, I just hated to use it. That was a point of complaint; even though I only had to go down a flight and a half of stairs to get to the laundry room. I longed to own a washer and dryer, but there was no room for them in my apartment. Now I am living with my husband in his apartment complex, and I have to go to two other buildings to use the laundry facilities.
If only I remembered then that once upon a time when I lived on a small island, I did not even have plumbing in my simple home. I had to make trips to the public standpipes to get water in a bucket, and I had to do all my laundry by hand. If I had remembered those facts, I would have been more inclined to give thanks rather than to complain about so small a matter such as traveling down a flight and a half of stairs to do my laundry.
The Moral of the Story
I have shared these two life stories several times; because, I recognized a certain pattern. I was inspired to share them again due to a recent conversation with my daughter-in-law. During the conversation, she said, “I want a house so badly. If I had a house, I would be happy.” I knew what she was trying to say, but I also felt compelled to share with her the need to be thankful and content wherever we happen to be at that moment. It is not wrong to have hopes and dreams, but we do not want to sabotage those hopes and dreams through negativity. Remember, there is nothing constructive about complaining. Fear, anger, discontentment, and dissatisfaction are the bitter fruits produced by complaining.
There is an antidote for the poison of kvetching. That antidote is gratitude. Find something about the situation or circumstance for which to be thankful. Express that thanks, and before long, the feelings of gratitude will manifest. Make it a daily exercise to find something to be thankful for. Start small and launch out from there until you can be thankful for even the worst situation in which you may find yourself.
It is incredible how daily thanksgiving and gratitude can improve our outlook and bring insight, understanding, appreciation, and a sense of deep fulfillment. Here are a few preliminaries that can help you to get to the right point:
- Know and hold on to your Standard.
- Change your perspective – take off the bad glasses and put on the right ones.
- Focus on the bigger picture to unveil the true purpose.
- Be Joyful.
- Be Thankful
- Be Grateful.
We all have different Straits that we have to navigate. It could be a job we hate or a dysfunctional relationship that is causing us distress. The point is, we cannot successfully navigate if we are wearing someone else’s glasses. We have to wear the correct spectacles so we do not mess up our vision and go tripping over our feet due to a lack of proper depth perception. Wearing the wrong glasses can be costly, indeed.