Our job is not to hunt down perfection and live within it. It is to take whatever broken pieces we have found and sew them together as best we can.
—the Rebbe’s response to a girl who wanted to leave her school for what she thought to be a better one.
as related by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Oh, duh! No, that’s not my Homer Simpson imitation, it’s my “light dawns on marble head” moment and the reason I’m writing this “extra meditation.” I’m going to use the above quoted phrase for tomorrow’s “morning meditation,” but as I was doing one of my obsessive reviews of tomorrow’s blog, trying to find all the typos I will invariably miss, it hit me.
Life isn’t perfect.
I suppose that’s obvious to you and really, it’s obvious to me too, but I spontaneously applied it to something specific in my own context and everything suddenly made sense. Let me explain.
I periodically kvetch about how hard it is to find other people who see things in the world of faith that are even remotely similar to how I see them (although my “morning meditation” for today has attracted some very nice comments). I also complain about my desire for a sense of community, particularly with my wife, and how frustrated I am that what I planned (boy, God must be having a good chuckle right now) doesn’t seem to be working out.
But what did I expect?
It’s not so much the statement that the Rebbe made above (as related by Rabbi Freeman), it’s the circumstances around the statement that made something “click” inside of me.
…the Rebbe’s response to a girl who wanted to leave her school for what she thought to be a better one.
I’ve probably said some variation of this a thousand times to relatives and friends when they’ve told me how life isn’t perfect for them, either. I just find it funny that God chose here and now to give me my “light bulb moment.”
It should have come sooner but I wasn’t paying attention.
I was having a conversation with the Missus the other day, again talking about the possibility of taking a class or two with her at one of the synagogues here in town. Somehow, we got on the topic of intermarried couples and, since she knows I’m reading Rabbi Boteach’s book Kosher Jesus, we talked about the very distinct differences in how Christians and Jews see the world, the Bible, the Messiah, and God. As we were talking, I was reflecting to myself on how one of the reasons I left the “Messianic” movement, at least in terms of physical worship and self-identification, was because I perceived it as a barrier to my joining her in a Jewish worship and study context.
I mentioned to her in our conversation, that I know there are plenty of intermarried couples in both the Reform shul and Chabad communities, and then she said something that stopped me cold. She said those couples were all comprised of one Jewish spouse and one non-religious (specifically non-Christian) spouse. They’re all Jew/Gentile intermarried, but not “mixed-religious couples”.
I suddenly realized where the barrier is located in my wife getting comfortable including me in her Jewish community. It’s located squarely at the intersection of “Jesus Street” and “Christian Avenue”. In other words (taking my tongue out of my cheek), she really doesn’t want to take her Christian husband into a Jewish synagogue to interact with her Jewish community. The real problem wasn’t just the negative perception many Jews have about Messianics. That’s why my leaving the Messianic community didn’t produce the desired result. My being a Christian is the real problem.
Did you ever play “Battleship” when you were a kid? Ever have your fleet sunk? Mine ended up soundly torpedoed and sent swiftly to the bottom of the cold, cold Atlantic.
I was pretty grumpy about it initially. In fact, I’ve been pretty grumpy about it until about thirty minutes ago (as I write this). Then I re-read the Rebbe’s words and the context in which he said them, and realized that if I thought I was going to get my way, I was sadly mistaken. I won’t even say that “life’s not fair,” because I don’t think fairness has anything to do with it. It’s not like I have some sort of “right” here. It was more of a desire to join with my wife at the level of worship and perhaps to take my meager level of Jewish learning up a notch.
That’s not going to happen now. Of course, it’s not like it was owed to me or something. Sure, it would have been nice, but it’s not my right to enter into someone else’s world if I don’t belong there. It’s not so much that I wanted in the Jewish world. I wanted in the Jewish world so I could share my wife’s world with her.
But life’s not perfect. In fact, life has never been perfect, even among those who have served God with outstanding faithfulness, which doesn’t exactly describe me. No perfect life. No perfect people.
The king’s primary function is to dispense justice and righteousness in Israel. Second Samuel 8:15 tells us, “David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people.” The Psalmist says, “The strength of the King loves justice; You have established equity; You have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” (Psalm 99:4) When Israel practiced justice and righteousness, she was blessed, but when she strayed from justice and righteousness under the influence of wicked kings, the prophets rebuked her. “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the level,” (Isaiah 28:17) the LORD declares through the prophet Isaiah. The Psalmist prays for the Davidic King, saying, “Give the king Your judgments (mishpatim), O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice.” (Psalm 72:1-2)
Israel was the only nation specifically established by God, and given a personal and corporate set of laws and ordinances by which the Hebrews were supposed to obey their Creator as a people. If any country was to have operated with flawless perfection, it should have been Israel, and yet even a casual reading of the Tanakh (Old Testament) tells us that they experienced dramatic swings, from amazing prosperity to bitter and total defeat…and back again. Life wasn’t perfect for the Children of Israel and it isn’t perfect for the Jewish people today. Life isn’t perfect for the church, and certainly it hasn’t been perfect over the past 2,000 years of Christian history.
Why should even this one thing that I ask for be perfect for me? There’s no reason it should be.
Oh, I know the Christian platitudes: “Go bathe it in prayer” and such, but frankly, I’ve seen some of the most faithful people I know end up disappointed in so many ways and still maintain their faith and trust.
I’m not going to “win” this one, but I guess I can’t say that I mind all that much (well, I mind a little). There’s so much else that is going right. My wife and I are together after almost 29 years of marriage. We both are reasonably healthy, we have three children and one grandson. We are fed, and clothed, and housed. We are gainfully employed and are able to meet our needs and a number of our wants. Life isn’t perfect, but it isn’t horrible, either.
Most of all, both my wife and I are relating to God, each in our own way and in our own manner, as Jew and Christian. I’m a really unconventional Christian and she’s not always the typical Jew, but we get by.
Now that this realization has happened, I don’t know what comes next. I don’t have “a plan” anymore. Maybe I’ll finish out my year long experiment here and then “sink” this blog along with my hopes or maybe I won’t. I’ll have to wait and see if God decides to fill in the blanks in my life with something I haven’t anticipated, or if He’ll just let me have blanks in my life for a day, or a week, or a month, or a year or ten.
Right now, I guess I’ll take the Rebbe’s advice, try to find whatever broken pieces of my aspirations that God has left lying around and see if I can patch them together into something that makes some sort of sense.
I’ll let you know how it goes.