Tag Archives: expectations

32 Days: The Rock Moved

One night, a man was sleeping in his cabin when suddenly his room was filled with the light and the Creator appeared.

The Creator told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Creator explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might.

The man did the same, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain…

Since the man was showing signs of discouragement, the Adversary decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the man’s weary mind:

“You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn’t budged. Why kill yourself over this? You can never move it,” thus, giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure. These thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man. “Why kill myself over this?” he thought. “I’ll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort; and that will be good enough.” And that is what he planned to do, until one day he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to the Creator. “Creator,” he said, “I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?”

The Creator responded compassionately, “My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.” “Now you come to me with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But is that really so?

Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back is sinewy and brown, your hands are callused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much, and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven’t moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith in My wisdom. This you have done. I, my friend, will now move the rock.” At times, when we hear a word from the Creator, we tend to use our own intellect to decipher what He wants, when actually what the Creator wants is just obedience and faith in Him…. By all means, exercise the faith that moves mountains, but know that it is still the Creator who moves the mountains.

Story found at
Morning Story and Dilbert

The end of the story reminds everyone to “push” or to “pray-until-something-happens” as an act of faith, but frankly, that seemed a little too “cute” the way it was expressed, so I truncated the original text into the quote above.

That said, I know exactly how it feels like to push and push against an immovable object and see absolutely no result. I have often felt as if making a difference is impossible and that my life is a failure.

Just watching the latest situation in Israel and how the world press and most of the nations on our planet are castigating Israel for defending itself against bloodthirsty terrorists…um, excuse me, “courageous freedom fighters battling their oppressors,” is enormously frustrating. And yet there’s not one single thing I can do about it. Every time I speak out, usually in some social networking venue, in support of Israel, only a few like-minded “religious nuts” are supportive. The rest of the world is either strangely silent or venomously outspoken against Israel and against anyone who would support her and the Jewish people.

It’s the same in so many other areas of my life. As a self-avowed Christian, I’m used to taking plenty of “heat” from atheists who believe all manner of terrible things about me because of my faith. However, I also recently witnessed an online conversation taking Christians to task for our history of supersessionism against Jews. Granted, this is a valid observation, but to the speaker, it didn’t seem to make a difference who the Christian was or if they had renounced supersessionism. Further, the Jewish person in question is “Messianic” or a believer in Jesus (Yeshua) as the Messiah. While most Messianic Jews I know are friendly toward “Judaically-aware” Christians or “Post-supersessionistic” Christians, apparently there are some who aren’t particularly tolerant of anyone who is a non-Jewish believer.

There’s not a darn thing I can do about that, either.

I skipped going to church last Sunday for a number of reasons not the least of which was my concern over how I would be received again at Sunday school class given my being particularly outspoken (and embarrassing myself in the process) the previous week. It’s now Thursday and Sunday morning is just a few days away. In trying to project myself into the weeks and months ahead, unless something dramatic happens one way or the other, I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to “install” myself as an accepted participant in church, either.

The rock is the rock, after all. It’s big and it’s heavy, and in all the time I’ve been pushing against it…years and years and years, it hasn’t budged an inch.

But according to the anonymous storyteller, it doesn’t have to. My job is to push, or rather, to pray, without necessarily expecting or receiving a response or a result. The “push” acronym says “pray until something happens.” But what if nothing happens?

OK, clearly something recently happened but I wasn’t particularly praying about it or even thinking in that direction. It was just one of those “out of a clear blue sky” events. On the other hand, I’ve also recently said that there are miracles that only happen when we cooperate with God and actively participate in the miracle. That means do something. It also means that one day, I may push against the rock and feel it miraculously move!

Frankly, that kind of scares me. I live in a world of expectations. I expect the Sun to rise in the east and set in the west. I expect to go to sleep at night and wake up in the morning. I expect a particular routine for my days. Pushing the rock and not having it move, frustrating as it may be, is also expected. If it moves, suddenly, I’m out of control and off-balance; likely to fall on my face (not like that hasn’t happened before). I don’t know what to pray for more, that the rock moves or that it doesn’t move.

Strange, I know, but remember, I don’t like change…even when it’s beneficial and necessary.

But God makes changes according to His will and not my will and my only job is to push against the rock. If it doesn’t move, I push at the start of the day and stop at the end. The rock is just the rock and it doesn’t move. If I push and it does move, then it moves, I lose my balance and fall on my face. Embarrassing to be sure, but assuming it doesn’t hurt too much, the worse that happens is that my face gets dirty and I have to get up again and figure out what happened. What did God change and why? What do I have to do with it and what should I do now? Once I figure out what I’m supposed to do, will I have the courage to do it?

Strange, I know, but remember, I don’t like change.

Even when I ask for it.

He is my God, my living redeemer.
Rock of my affliction in time of trouble…

-from Adon Olam

So the rock has moved. I need to move too.



Rabbi Yisrael Reisman describes on a tape entitled “Great Expectations” his recollections of an incident that occurred when he was yet a young Yeshiva student. He had positioned himself in his dorm room so his bed would be adjacent to the sink for some strategic purpose. The sink, he soon discovered, had a constant drip which he promptly reported to the powers that be. Understanding that it was just a matter of a washer or some such nickel or dime item he assumed it would be taken care of pronto. The next few nights he lay awake tossing and turning to the dripping faucet becoming more upset, frustrated and resentful.

Finally after a couple of days, the janitor arrived. It was a loose washer. The whole thing took a few moments and cost next to nothing. The dripping was finally was over. That very evening there was huge rain storm and as he lay there in bed ready for a good night’s sleep he became aware of the dripping from the roof to the window sill below- the same constant drip- drip and it didn’t bother him a bit.

He wondered why one drip sound stirred him so and the other had zero effect. He concluded that the dripping sound was not what was actually annoying him. The proof is that the water from the rain didn’t wrinkle his psyche at all. What bothered him about the sink? The answer is that he assumed somebody would do something about it, it would be done right away, that his request would be fulfilled and honored swiftly etc. And it wasn’t…it wasn’t true!

I once heard from Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner ztl two words that he called “the secret to happiness”. Admittedly, at the time I felt it sounded rather negative. Over many years, though, I have grown in appreciation for the wisdom of his insight. I share it often with my children and myself too. It’s a hard pill, “Expect Nothing!”

-Rabbi Label Lam
“Expect Nothing!”
Parashas Mishpatim

It is true that expectations can lead to unhappiness, especially if those expectations are unrealistic or simply mistaken. A few days ago, I commented on my own expectations in a blog post called Nothing’s Perfect. Over the past year or two, I set a series of actions into motion based, in part, on what I felt was the right thing to do and what I expected should happen as a result of those actions. What I did was rather dramatic in the sense that, after many years at one congregation, serving on the board of elders and doing some writing and teaching, I gave my resignation, not only from my formal leadership position, but from membership within the congregation.

This horrified just about everyone, including my wife (her response kind of surprised me), since I was generally well-regarded in the congregation and many in the community of faith felt that difficult things would happen to me if I had no fellowship among the body of believers.

Needless to say, I felt I had compelling reasons to make such a decision and still believe my reasoning was sound. I also had expectations about what was to happen next, maybe not in the immediate sense, but over a period of weeks and months.

Guess what?

My expectations did not pan out. Like young Yisrael Reisman enduring the dripping faucet, I had an expectation about what was supposed to happen after a while. He expected someone to come fairly quickly and to fix the leak. I expected a certain response from my spouse and from God. Both of us didn’t get what we wanted in the way or the time frame that we expected.

But Rabbi Lam’s story (actually, Rabbi Reisman’s) story missed something. Here’s a clue.

Understanding that it was just a matter of a washer or some such nickel or dime item he assumed it would be taken care of pronto.

Rabbi Reisman, as a young Yeshiva student, knew the problem with the faucet could probably be fixed by replacing a cheap washer. All he needed to do, if he was tired of waiting, was to purchase this inexpensive item and repair the faucet himself. Maybe he was concerned that he shouldn’t perform this task it was supposed to be done by the janitor, but it was within his abilities (apparently) to fix the drip if he really wanted to do so.

What about me?

Fulfilling my expectation isn’t that simple, but it isn’t that difficult either, at least in principle. It depends on how I choose to look at my situation. If I feel that I have the ability to fix my own “dripping faucet,” I can choose to seek fellowship within a community of faith. It would be a matter of generating the effort to seek one out (which might involve visiting a fair number of Christian communities) and begin attending. This isn’t without its problems, as I’ve already stated in another of my “meditations,” Why I Don’t Go to Church. Nevertheless, it’s not like I am without options.

On the other hand, I could choose to look at my situation as Rabbi Reisman did when the rain started falling and dripping noises came from the window sill of his room. I can decide that there is nothing to be done. The rain is the rain and it makes all sorts of sounds, some of which are quite soothing. I could simply follow Rabbi Reisman’s example, allow the situation to be what it is, and do nothing. Here though, Rabbi Reisman did not explain the whole story. It won’t rain forever. True, we never really know how long a rain storm will last, (barring a report from the weatherman) but we know it will end at some point. We also know that God knows when the rain will end.

When Rabbi Kirzner advises “expect nothing,” it is true that if you expect nothing, you will be disappointed by nothing that happens or doesn’t happen. On the other hand, it’s difficult for most people to plan out even a trip to the grocery store without some small set of expectations. If such is true for a small task like shopping, how much more so should we have expectations when we plan out our walk on a lifelong path of faith?

It is unreasonable expectations and inflexible expectations that often get us in trouble one way or another. We expect a raise so we can afford to go on vacation, and we don’t get it. We expect our spouse to cook dinner one night and she decides to go out to see a friend instead. The result of these inflexible expectations is usually feeling resentment toward the person who disappointed us. Rabbi Reisman felt resentful toward the janitor for taking so long to fix his faucet. There are people who are very resentful of God for also not meeting expectations.

But it’s not like we can’t expect to depend on God. If we could not rely on God for our daily food, our shelter, our livelihood, and our comfort in distress, we would truly feel lost in a chaotic and random world. Fortunately, such is not the case.

He is my God, my living Redeemer,
Rock of my pain in time of distress.
He is my banner, a refuge for me,
the portion in my cup on the day I call.
Into His hand I shall entrust my spirit
when I go to sleep — and I shall awaken!
With my spirit shall my body remain.
HASHEM is with me, I shall not fear.

-from Adon Olam

Adon Olam or “Master of the Universe” is a blessing sung in synagogues all over the world on every Shabbat. It is also the last blessing recited during the bedtime Shema by a Jew right before he retires. It is an expectation that when he goes to sleep and in some small sense, enters the realm of “death,” that he will awaken the next morning, with his spirit returned to him by God. It is true that some people go to sleep and do not awaken and ultimately, as mortal beings, that awaits us all. However, we rely on God and depend on Him to preserve us and to protect us. This is why, upon awakening, a Jew recites Modeh Ani.

I gratefully thank You,
living and existing King,
for returning my soul to me with compassion;
abundant is Your faithfulness.

While I have no idea what will actually happen after I go to sleep or what each day will bring when I first wake up, I expect that God will be there during my sleeping and waking. Near the end of his life, David composed a final Psalm in which he expects that the work he has left unfinished as King will be continued by his son Solomon. It could also be read as a prophesy of the Messiah’s coming and how he will finish the work of tikkun olam; repairing our broken world.

My his name endure forever, may his name connote mastery as long as the sun endures; and all the nations will bless themselves by him; they will praise him. Blessed is Hashem, God, the God of Israel, Who alone does wondrous things. Blessed is His glorious Name forever; and may all the earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen.

Psalm 72:17-19 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

I don’t know what is going to happen, today, tomorrow, or next week, but I do know that whatever happens, God will be present in my life. If I were to expect nothing, I would have no reason to be disappointed, but I would also have nothing to hope for, and without hope, what is life? The future is a great mystery to human beings but it is not an entirely dark unknown. I know that God is there, my rock and my redeemer and regardless of the direction my path of faith takes, around each bend, at the bottom of each ravine, and at the top of each height, I expect God.