choosing hope

Choose Hope Today

At each moment of every day, you choose your thoughts, words, and actions. You even choose your feelings by choosing your thoughts, words, and actions. So say, “Just choose wisely now.”

The more frequently you choose wisely, the more this choice will become second nature. You probably know what happens to a person who keeps making wise choices of thoughts, feelings, words, and actions. They live their life much more wisely.

“But what if I don’t always recognize the wisest choice?” Just saying, “Just choose wisely now,” won’t guarantee that you will always choose the wisest choices. But it will still be much better than saying, “Choose the stupidest choice!”

(from Rabbi Zelig Pliskin’s book: “Conversations With Yourself”, p.139) [Artscroll.com])

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift #185: Just Choose Wisely Now
Aish.com

As I’ve mentioned before, the path of repentance, forgiveness, and redemption is not a straight line where one walks along each day making steady progress. I’ve used metaphors to describe this process such as birds and ladders but it can also be a lot like one step forward and two steps back, or maybe like running on a string of spaghetti all curled and twisted in a bowl…in the dark. Sometimes you can’t even make heads or tails of where you are or how you’re doing. You just know you’re running (and sometimes, running scared).

But every step you take whether straight and narrow or to the left or right requires a choice, even if it doesn’t seem that way. As Rabbi Pliskin writes in the above quoted set of paragraphs, you may have made bad choices in the past but you can make a wise choice now. That doesn’t erase the past, but nothing can do that. You can’t change what has happened but you can change the future by acting in the present.

But it’s not easy. It is said (supposedly by Samuel L.Clemens [Mark Twain]) that “the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” This is true up to a point but it doesn’t acknowledge the possibility of change. It’s easy to tell yourself that your future will be what your past has been. But if that’s the case, is there hope?

“In whatever way a person chooses, therein is he led” (Makkos 10b).

We tend to disown those thoughts, feelings, and actions that we dislike. Something we saw, read, or heard upset us, we like to think, and caused us to think, feel, or act in a certain way. We forget that we have considerable say in what we choose to see or hear.

Psychiatry and psychology have contributed to this abdication of responsibility. Their emphasis on the impact of early-life events on our emotions has been taken to mean that these factors determine our psyche, and that we are but helpless victims of our past.

We forget that if someone puts trash on our doorstep, we do not have to take it in; even if it was put into the house and filled it with an odor, we have the option to throw it out and clean up. Similarly, even if early-life experiences have an impact, the effects are not cast in stone; we can take steps to overcome them.

A man once complained to his rabbi that alien thoughts were interfering with his prayer and meditation. The rabbi shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know why you refer to them as alien,” he said. “They are your own.”

If we stop disowning feelings and actions, we may be able to do something about them.

Today I shall…

…try to avoid exposing myself to those influences that are likely to stimulate feelings and behavior that I think are wrong.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
Growing Each Day for Kislev 13
Aish.com

I guess that means the first step in the journey is to own up to the thoughts, feelings, and actions that resulted in our current situation and need for repentance. We can’t very well take out the trash if we don’t admit that we created it in the first place. Well, I guess we could, but we’d always by “mystified” by the fact that no matter how often we take out “someone else’s” garbage, more shows up in our trash can.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

So connecting what Rabbi Twersky said to the statement made by Rabbi Pliskin, we need to make different choices, first by admitting that our prior choices are our own, and then changing the choices we make now, eliminating “those influences that are likely to stimulate feelings and behavior that” we think are wrong.

And if not now, then when? (Ethics of the Fathers 1:14).

Hillel’s famous statement is a bit enigmatic. The simple answer is, “Later.” Why can’t we take care of whatever it is some other time? Granted that procrastination is not a virtue, why does Hillel imply that if not now, then it will never be?

The Rabbi of Gur explained that if I do something later, it may indeed get done, but I will have missed the current “now.” The present “now” has but a momentary existence, and whether used or not, it will never return. Later will be a different “now.”

King Solomon dedicates seven famous verses of Ecclesiastes to his principle that everything has its specific time. His point comes across clearly: I can put off doing a good deed for someone until tomorrow, but will that deed, done exactly as I would have done it today, carry the same impact?

The wisdom that I learn at this moment belongs to this moment. The good deed that I do at this moment belongs to this moment. Of course I can do them later, but they will belong to the later moments. What I can do that belongs to this moment is only that which I do now.

Today I shall…

…try to value each moment. I must realize that my mission is not only to get something done, but to get things done in their proper time, and the proper time may be now.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
Growing Each Day for Kislev 14
Aish.com

You’ve probably heard the saying, “There’s no time like the present,” attributed to Georgia Byng and that seems to be what both of these esteemed Ravs are telling us. Once you’ve recognized that you are the one making decisions in your life, that they are bad decisions, and that they are causing harm, the next step is to determine what good decisions are and start making them right now.

Jeff stood before the Wall, and made up an atheist’s prayer. He looked at the stones and said:

“God, I don’t believe in You. As far as I know, You don’t exist. But I do feel something. So if I’m making a mistake, I want You to know, God, I have no quarrel against You. It’s just that I don’t know that You exist. But God, just in case You’re really there and I’m making a mistake, get me an introduction.”

Jeff finished his prayer, and one of the yeshiva students who happened to be at the Wall, saw Jeff and thought, “Perhaps he’d be interested in learning some Torah.”

He tapped Jeff on the shoulder, startling him so much that he jumped three feet in the air. Jeff whirled around and shouted,

“What in the blankety-blank-dash-bang do you want?!”

“I’m sorry. I just want to know if you’d like to learn about God.”

That question hit Jeff like a 2-by-4 right between the eyes. He had just finished asking God for an introduction, and immediately someone was offering to introduce him to God.

“Prayer of an Atheist”
from the Ask the Rabbi column
Aish.com

I encourage you to click the link above to get the full context of the article, but I included this quote to illustrate just how powerful prayer, even one uttered by an atheist, can be to remediate a person’s life.

The young Jewish fellow in question studied Torah in Jerusalem for the next six weeks following his encounter at the Kotel, continued his studies and coming to faith after returning to his home in the United States, and eventually married a devout Jewish woman.

But up until he prayed that one prayer at the Kotel, his life was heading in a very different direction.

Of course Jeff’s decision to pray at that moment wasn’t random:

Jeff had been in Norway, visiting his Norwegian fiancée. And he decided it was now or never: either he is going to come to Israel or he’ll never make it.

So he headed for Jerusalem and the Western Wall. He figured he would stop by the Wall to see some old stones. Yet upon his arrival he was amazed. He felt something heavy. He was moved.

Jeff stood before the Wall, and made up an atheist’s prayer. He looked at the stones and said…

white-pigeon-kotelSomething about being a Jew in Jerusalem and at the Kotel got through to Jeff. More accurately put, God got through to Jeff using the holiness of Jerusalem as a catalyst.

God uses all manner of events and circumstances to motivate human beings, Jews and everyone else. Although I’ve been quoting from Jewish sources throughout this blog post, the advice is just as applicable to the rest of us. If the Jewish people are supposed to be a light to the nations, then this is one way they are accomplishing their mission.

Jesus (Yeshua) said that he was the light of the world (John 8:12), which I take to mean that he is the living embodiment of Israel’s mission to the nations, the best personal example of Israel shining a light on the path allowing the people of the nations to find God. But he also said to his disciples that they were the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16) indicating that they were to assume his mission and continue to shine the light for the rest of us to follow. Eventually, we Gentiles become that light as well, but only once we have achieved a level of spiritual achievement and discipline to live a life worthy of that light.

It all comes down to the choices we make. It also means that even if we make bad choices, they don’t have to determine the course of the rest of our lives. We have free will. We can make different choices. We can choose differently now, today, this morning.

I always like the “I’ll be back” line because it is a great philosophy for life. Life isn’t all successes, it is also defeats. But you can always be back. No matter what, just like the Terminator. You’re not a loser when you fall. You’re only a loser if you don’t get up. Winners get up and come back.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Get this straight: The secret behind success is knowing how to fail. Failures are people who fail once. Successes are people who fail thousands of times—and pick themselves back up each time. Like little kids learning to walk. Like Babe Ruth, who held the world record for home runs—and also held the record for strike-outs.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman

For more on this topic, please read On Choosing God.

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3 thoughts on “Choose Hope Today”

  1. An excellent meditation, James. I like having hope. In the beginning of the day, when I have the better part of the day to enjoy, I am in pleasant expectation of good things. I do not look at all that I cannot do, or don’t have, but I do seem to have the idea that the day should be good.

    If aggravations come, and they usually do, I see them as brief interruptions to the day that should be good. If enough of aggravations happen, they can wear out my hope for the day, and leave me exhausted, wondering what happened to my nice little day that held a little promise in it.

    Yesterday began as a good day, without much to go wrong in it…a Shabbat day of pleasantness, or learning, but as the day wore on, I listened to some lectures that seemed to drive the hope from the day, and just exhaust me, leaving me tired and confused, and making no sense when I talked to myself, or to G-d.

    The lectures were not of themselves bad…just an unnecessary focus on speculation of where the Ark of the Covenant might be, and new discoveries made, or envisioned, or created, and a survey of the state of Creation Science, and then somehow into a place of speculations on speculations for the sake of speculations. It was interesting, but not enlightening, and gave nothing to my spirit. My choice…I didn’t have to watch the initial 3 hour You-Tube presentation, but I found it led me to more of the same after it, until I finally realized many hours later that I was listing to speculations on conspiracy theories, and wondering how I got there.

    I got there by making choices. I had no particular plan of study for the day, but instead of beginning as usual with a good lecture or two from one of my regular teachers, I went to a less useful, and less edifying place in the spiritual sense. I still learned valuable things, at least in the initial presentation, but then that damned yetzer hara entered into the mix, and off I was bouncing from idea to idea in wrong directions until I saw that many hours had been wasted, and that I was so exhausted from contemplating it all, that I felt without hope of a way to get out of the mess I was in.

    So, I went to bed, prayed and sang worship until I fell asleep, and woke to another day of hope, and expectation of a good day. And I have already laid out the remainder of my hours today with some better choices than I made yesterday for the use of my time, or if not choices of what to do, at least choices of things to avoid doing, so that the day goes merrily along, and I will live in my hope and expectations of good things, and attempt to go from one hopeful choice to another.

  2. I guess that means the first step in the journey is to own up to the thoughts, feelings, and actions that resulted in our current situation and need for repentance. We can’t very well take out the trash if we don’t admit that we created it in the first place. Well, I guess we could, but we’d always by “mystified” by the fact that no matter how often we take out “someone else’s” garbage, more shows up in our trash can.

    I saw a quote recently that reminded me of this:

    “When you think everything is someone else’s fault, you will suffer a lot.” – Dalai Llama

    Is it even really possible to lie to ourselves? I suppose that is why the first step in any twelve step program is to admit you have a problem. It is the beginning of the healing process.

  3. @Questor: Hope is usually the last tool in our toolbox to help us face great difficulty. Without it, what do we have left?

    @Terry: People lie to themselves all the time, even without always realizing it. It’s called “denial”. I agree about the first step and it’s usually the hardest.

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