If we have learned anything recently, it is that we are unprepared. When we conscientiously, happily, and even prayerfully created our schedules and detailed our short- and long-range goals for 2020, we could never have imagined the world during a pandemic.
I remember going to a prenatal doctor’s appointment with my daughter on a crisp Thursday in March. We strolled through the mall and saw some sweet baby clothing.
“We’ll get them on Sunday,” I blithely said. On Sunday, the stores were closed, and we were locked down in our homes. It wasn’t until after her baby was born that we were able to get the clothing, and then just barely. I learned, once again, not to put off until tomorrow what I can do today.
We have discussed Mussar in the past, and for those who might not be familiar with it, I will briefly explain the concept. We all come into the world with a type of spiritual curriculum unique to our souls. Some may need to learn patience. Others may have a great measure of generosity but lack discernment. What comes easily to me may be very difficult for you and vice versa. We are all unique, “fearfully and wonderfully made” with corresponding strengths and weaknesses.
The practice of Mussar provides a systematic framework and method of focusing on a particular soul trait for a week at a time. Through meditation, prayer, and deliberate and intentional acts, we may arrive at a higher level of mastery of this trait.
Since our goal is to become more like Yeshua by developing the fruit of the Spirit, Mussar is a lovely and effective way to increase our awareness significantly and grow closer to God and our true selves.
So, with this in mind, how might we prepare for the High Holy Days that will soon be upon us? I propose focusing on several traits that we will discuss in greater depth: patience and trust, frugality, and lovingkindness.
Someone has said that coronavirus is like a bad Netflix series. Just when you think it is over, there is another season. Who could have imagined such a thing? Certainly, having to stay at home and fill the time with meaningful activities required patience. Perhaps staying at home with young children and a depressed spouse also required patience. I linked patience with trust because it is possible to be patient only when one believes there is an end in sight. I don’t know of anyone who has never asked, “How long”? From the time we are children, we want to know how long it will be until we “get there.” It almost doesn’t matter where. We simply need to “get there,” and then we can start having fun. When we get older, we set goals. We must get through school, get a job, get married, have children, get a bigger house, and achieve the next milestone.
But what if the journey is equally as important as the destination? What if God is simply asking us to let him do the driving so that we might enjoy the scenery along the way? What if “when” we arrive is not as important as “how” we arrive and “what” we have learned and experienced along the way?
Our lives are a journey on which everything usually takes longer than we would have hoped. So, trust and patience go hand in hand, and slowing down our frenetic pace can have lasting and beneficial results.
I meditate on the phrase, “the journey is the goal,” and “the steps of the righteous are ordered by God.” I also intentionally try not to multitask. I do one thing, and then the next. Perhaps you will find verses and intentional actions that speak to you.
This brings us to the next soul trait of frugality. During the lockdown, I was amazed to see how little we actually needed and how little we spent. To be sure, rent had to be paid, and food had to be purchased and cooked. I was glad to have books to read, yarn with which to knit and crochet, and a warm house.
Yet, the car sat unused in the garage. No clothing was bought. No plays were seen, and we couldn’t go to restaurants or malls. We found, to our amazement, like the children of Israel who wandered for forty years in the desert, that we had all we needed. We had our “manna” from heaven, and with nowhere to go and nothing to do, we gloriously didn’t spend! Now that we can move around a bit more, we still try to be very conscious about what we spend and how we spend it. A meditation for this trait is a very familiar but comforting one: “My God shall supply all your needs, according to His riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19). Another statement to ponder is, “Do I need it, or do I want it?” My intentional act is to make a list before I shop and try not to deviate from it.
Our final trait is lovingkindness. I want to bring this most important trait into the year 5781 and increase this in my life in a significant way. After we understood the reality and the severity of the pandemic, it became apparent that some were significantly less fortunate than us. There were single parents, those with small children at home, and elderly people with preexisting medical conditions that made them more vulnerable. We organized a “calling chain” in our congregation to ensure that everyone had what they needed. We initiated shopping runs, and medicines were brought to those who couldn’t go out. It was heartwarming to see all the grass-roots initiatives that sprang up to help the needy. People were simply and quietly helping each other. Neighbors exchanged books, and one neighbor even brought me fresh lemons from her tree in exchange for books I had lent to her.
These simple acts of lovingkindness helped us to feel less isolated and less alone. I began each day by asking the Lord, “Who needs a call and/or a virtual visit today?”
The verse I used was, “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10.
As we prepare for the coming year with its challenges and joys, its uncertainties and frailty, its hope and glory, its opportunities and frustrations, let us be mindful of bringing the attributes of patience and trust, frugality and lovingkindness with us. In so doing, we will find that the year may be a bit more sane, safe, and sanctified. We will grow a little more in being like our Master.
Happy New Year.