Christian pop-star Mandisa has a song called "Overcomer." As the name suggests, it’s a song about overcoming challenges, hopelessness, and the like. Note this lyric:
“Everybody's been down
Hit the bottom, hit the ground.”
What in the world does Christian motivational music, and this lyric in particular, have to do with the biblical Counting of the Omer (Sefirat Ha’Omer), the forty-nine-day count between Pesach and Shavu’ot?
One interesting perspective in Judaism suggests this period of counting the Omer carries with it an essential aspect of self-improvement. It is based on the idea that during the years of slavery in Egypt, Israel had descended into such a time of spiritual decline that, upon being freed and beginning the journey to Sinai, God ordained that this forty-nine-day trek would serve as a sort of purification or a readying for the significant event ahead of them. They would improve their spiritual condition over this time and arrive at Sinai ready to receive the Torah, having shed the weight of centuries of Egyptian influence and prepared for the better life awaiting them as the children of HaShem. So, they could have sung Mandisa’s lyric mentioned above, having “been down…hit the ground” in Egypt. They were low, but they were on the way up. For the next forty-nine days, they would be on the path to becoming…wait for it…Omer-comers!
Today, we’re not trekking across the desert on our way to the revelation at Sinai, but the value of taking inventory during this time, considering our failures, shortcomings, and our path to improving our spiritual health is still a valuable exercise. Jewish tradition offers a path to this spiritual growth in becoming an omer-comer. Each week, a different attribute of the human experience is considered, e.g., loving-kindness (chesed) in week one, and each day a particular component of the attribute is focused on and improved.
I’m a big fan of counting the Omer and this practice of cheshbon hanefesh (accounting of the soul) as I believe every day is an opportunity to improve, change, and grow ever closer—even if just a small step closer—to our Father in heaven.
I once read a great article (unfortunately I have forgotten where or who wrote it) based on Carol Dweck’s research from Stanford University. Ms. Dweck compared two possible mindsets for human beings—the fixed mindset or the growth mindset—and her work centers on how each affects our lives and happiness. From the title and content of this blog, I think you can assume which one I prefer!
With that in mind, I’ve departed a bit from the traditional categories that Judaism provides for this introspective period, to offer you seven areas of focus (one for each week of the Omer). These are my favorite suggestions for developing a growth vs. fixed mindset and achieving some practical, real-world spiritual growth that lead us on the road to “Omer-coming.”( I just love saying that!)
- “I can learn anything I want to” vs. “I’m either good at it, or I’m not (or I don’t need to know anything else).” It’s always important to begin this journey with the idea in mind that we have room for improvement in all aspects of our lives and, most importantly, that we’re capable of implementing the necessary steps to change.
- “When I’m frustrated I persevere” vs. “When I'm frustrated I give up.” I can tell you in advance that assessing our weak areas is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to be honest with yourself and push through the temptation to ignore or dismiss the areas God reveals to you.
- “I want to challenge myself” vs. “I don’t like to be challenged.” In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” That says it all!
- “When I fail I learn” vs. “When I fail, I’m no good.” I’m a graduate of the “school of hard knocks.” It’s a great and valuable degree program, but there is no room for excuses and self-deprecation. HaShem created you, and he made you capable of greatness. If you miss the mark in something and end up on the ground, there is always a lesson to learn if you’ll take a moment to look around and see what he’s showing you, then get up! Ramit Sethi once said, “It’s easier to make excuses than make progress.” To deny your potential, even in the face of failure, is the king of excuses.
- “I want constructive criticism” vs. “Who are you to tell me?” Proverbs 11:14 reminds us that where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety. For many people, if the counsel agrees with their opinion, it’s worth hearing. Some of the most instructive counsel we receive will deal with areas in which we could improve some aspect of our lives; in other words, maybe some things we don’t want to hear. An Omer-comer receives it with joy and moves on to implementation.
- “If you succeed, I’m inspired” vs. “If you succeed, I feel threatened.” Pastor Karl Vaters once said, “Comparison will kill you, either by pride or envy.” Everyone loves an encourager. It’s the less common person who loves to encourage, particularly when competing for something. Develop the ability, the NEED even, to encourage others. Not only will they love you for it, but also you’ll find new levels of inspiration in the process to achieve your successes.
- “My effort and attitude determine everything” vs. “My abilities determine everything.” The term “overnight success” is one of the biggest lies on this planet. Michael Jordan didn’t make his high school basketball team on his first try. Implementing Omer-comer rule #4 above, failure was a learning experience. He certainly had the ability, but he worked to get it. “You get out what you put in,” he said, “There’s no magic formula.” Effort and attitude are the keys. To blame it on lack of ability is just another excuse.
"Teach us to count our days; then we shall acquire a heart of wisdom" (Tehillim 90:12). A person who knows to count his days knows the value of each day and utilizes them to learn and bring wisdom. These days of the Omer count have proven particularly valuable for acquiring wisdom in many areas. My hope and prayer for you are that this season offers you new insights and inspirations on your way to…wait for it…Omer-coming!
Let’s make it “count.”