Accepting Divine Design

By Tziri Hershkowitz

Is there a more thrilling experience than the journey of life itself? Each breath, each moment is a gift yet unwrapped.
In spite of our recognition of Hashem as the Author of all things, on some level, it is human nature to pen our ideal scripts filled with happily-ever-afters. But in a life where we are given the opportunity to strive, to dream, to reach, there is also bound to be some disappointment.
Yet with the awareness that it’s all from Hashem, comes the ability to accept the pain with grace, and even gratitude. It’s a challenge requiring lots of grit and mindset shifts. A few inspiring individuals who have successfully risen to the challenge share with us.

Embracing Family

“My mother-in-law is an unhappy woman,” Elisheva* tells me. “I can point to her hard life and unfortunate circumstances she has had to put up with, but I know they’re just the excuses she uses for the fact that she’s chosen to find fault in everything and everyone around her. She’s alienated those who were predisposed to love her, and in turn, she surrounds herself with misery. For a long time, it bothered me. I thought I could fix the situation by pleasing her more and doing more. It finally came to the point where I realized that if I want to sustain my own happiness — my sanity, really — I just need to accept her for who she is. I recognize there is nothing I can do to change the situation and it isn’t my responsibility to try.

“Do I still sometimes attempt the impossible and find myself disappointed? Of course. Hope springs eternal, but my happiness depends on my recognizing and remembering that I can be responsible only for myself.

“I am responsible for my actions but not for the reactions I get. If it would have been a neighbor, there would have been the possibility of entirely ignoring her; if it would have been a workmate or boss, I might have changed jobs. But it isn’t. And so, I’ve learned that it’s something, someone, I must simply accept.”

Expecting Rejection

At times, people’s disappointments can seem petty to those who have dealt with greater tragedies in their lives, but that doesn’t minimize the challenge for the one encountering their new reality, nor does it negate the pain experienced. Be it getting a negative response on a shidduch, being passed over for a promotion or getting a rejection letter from the yeshivah or school of one’s choice, rejection is particularly painful.

“When my friend’s daughter was redt to us, we were hesitant.” Brocha relates. “They were nice people, and the girl was sweet enough, but our son had a stellar reputation and we had offers that were more in line with what we felt he deserved. We partly assumed the suggestion actually came from them, and after some urging on the shadchan’s part, we gave the go-ahead. She returned rather swiftly with the ‘no.’ We were stunned — and stung.

“‘They had rejected us?’ It became only more painful when the girl got engaged to the son of a different friend in our social circle. There was genuine hurt when they chose that boy, that family, over our own. I kept repeating to myself that Hashem runs the world and she was obviously not my son’s bashert. I’m not going to pretend it was easy, but I’ve come to a place of acceptance.”

Accepting Ourselves

While we might be ready to accept difficult circumstances and others’ shortcomings, we will not forgive our own as easily.

Sara shares, “I used to have a lot of anxiety about things like wanting to be the smartest person in the room. I had a lot of arrogance and insecurity, and a very hard time accepting when someone else (even one of my friends) was better at something than I was or knew more about a topic than I did.

“In a related vein, I used to feel a great deal of anxiety about the way I came across to people socially. But with time has come a little more maturity on that score, along with respect for other people’s expertise and gratitude for their support. Alongside increased self-awareness and self-respect, I have come to realize that people don’t notice half of what I am critical of about myself — and even if they do, they may not see it as weird or be bothered at all. More importantly, embarrassment will not kill me and the benefits of putting myself out there and risking embarrassment far exceed the safety and comfort of hiding away forever.” It is only once we accept ourselves, shortcomings and all, that we are given opportunities that would otherwise pass us by.

Challenge Accepted

Hindy’s acceptance of her circumstances required maturity and painful, grueling growth, but ultimately, the practice became habit and has enhanced every area of her life.

“It was early on in my marriage when I realized that my husband, with all his wonderful qualities, would never truly be my life partner,” Hindy now says. “It was only after marriage when I realized how drastically different his personality was from what I needed. It felt like the two of us could never have a relationship, let alone a positive one.

“‘You’re two perfectly nice individuals but you just don’t have anything to offer each other,’ was the professional opinion. ‘You need someone who can challenge, drive and inspire you. Someone who is ready to experience life with you, with passion and interest. He’ll be happiest with a docile, sweet wife who will let him be his quiet, introverted self.’

“I was urged to walk away ‘before it’s too late,’ by all and sundry. Well-meaning family, counselors and even Rabbanim opined that we were young enough to step away and start over. It felt overwhelming and scary. All of 19 years old, my future loomed large and uncertain. The only thing I knew for a fact, was that Hashem put me — and him — right here, together. I could throw in the towel, or toss the dice, and hope for a better second chance, or I could accept that this marriage was Divinely designed for me. I made the decision, probably the first time I genuinely made a decision regarding my marriage, that I was in it for the long haul.

“I’m not going to lie and pretend it became easy overnight, but it did become lighter immediately. Acceptance has a way of doing that.

“And then the magic started happening. The demure and insecure young man felt my acceptance — even admiration — and grew in confidence; his wit and sparkle broke through. Though our personalities will never be considered ‘a match,’ our relationship and the sentiments are richer and truer than most could hope for. And I know with certainty that it’s because I have (and eventually we have) decided to accept each other for who we are.

“Nowadays, I feel like I’ve flexed the muscles of emunah and acceptance and they’ve served me well in other areas.”

Swallowing and Wallowing

Yocheved* longs for the peace that comes with acceptance. “My husband has been in the chinuch sector for our entire marriage. After twenty years, it would be reasonable to assume that I’d gotten used to our financial situation and accepted our limitations. After all, I had signed up for this, and more than that, in principle, I admire it! But though I appreciate all that he is, all that he’s done and continues to do, there’s a part of me that has never fully accepted that I’ll never be able to afford what others take for granted. Will my life be happier as soon as I learn to accept our reality? Certainly. There are times when I am in a positive place and am proud of our family lifestyle, but when things are tough or when I’m emotionally spent, I gaze at the life I’m so intimately familiar with and resentment surfaces. I’m working on my emunah and acceptance and from a logical stance. I can rattle off exactly why my life is beautiful the way it is. But my heart hasn’t caught up with my head yet. I daven every day that it does, soon.”

Their Derech, My Life

Mrs. K.* is, baruch Hashem, blessed with much nachas from her vibrant and chashuve Chassidishe family. With a dozen children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren who are ehrliche bnei Torah, askanim and most of them wholly devoted to the world of chessed, one could point to the mother’s ehrlichkeit, devoted parenting and fervent tefillos as the source of all the good.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Hakadosh Baruch Hu for all of my children,” says Mrs. K. “They each have their own unique qualities. Sure, there were times when it wasn’t easy, but I have always loved and accepted them.” And then with a nod she adds, “Yes, all of them.”

She’s referring to her son and daughter who are unfortunately no longer religious; one left the fold as a teen and the other after a decade of marriage.

“Of course, there was pain. How could there not be? And yes, there were tears, and those tears still accompany all my tefillos. I will always daven for their return. But whereas there had been heartbreak and in a very real way the pain could be ongoing, (and for some in the family it is), I have come to a place of acceptance — an understanding that this is what Hashem willed for me and my family. Ultimately it is their lives and their choices.

“It’s technically my life too,” she adds introspectively. “But my choice is how I choose to deal with it. I’ve stopped seeing their behavior as a reflection of me.

When emunah plays such an integral role, how does one accept that the ultimate purpose, the truest happiness, isn’t a part of their children’s lives? “It’s a struggle,” she concedes. “And it demands even greater practice in emunah and bitachon, by more strongly connecting to Hashem and accepting His Will.”

Dealing with Disability

Growing up with a disability allows for acceptance dissimilar to a situation that appears more abruptly. Recognizing one’s own differences generally happens gradually, and as such, awareness and acceptance develop over time. Surely there might be resentment, but with proper preparation, it is often less of a blow and more of an acknowledgement of an unpleasant reality.

Sometimes a disability comes later in life. After having grown up with a full range of motion, becoming physically limited means adapting to a brand-new reality. Acceptance, suddenly, demands more. Such was Tova’s story.

“My baby was six months old when my knee started to hurt me,” Tova tells me, “I had a hard time bending down when diapering him, and though I assumed it wasn’t anything serious, as the pain got worse, I knew I had to check it out. At the first visit, the doctor’s reaction to the x-ray immediately indicated there may be cause for alarm. Shortly after arriving home, I received a call that I needed to come back immediately for further imaging. I then realized something was seriously amiss.”

The diagnosis was osteosarcoma, a rare cancer in her tibia (one of the two bones in the leg). Tova was immediately referred to the top doctors in the field and they conceived a much-preferred alternative to amputation. Surgery was followed by chemotherapy and then physical therapy.

“I’m baruch Hashem blessed to be healthy at this point. I can walk and for the most part can maneuver without major issues. I was further blessed in that the donor bone fused with my own. Sometimes the pain is severe, sometimes it’s absolutely debilitating, but usually, day to day, I function without too much difficulty.

“I asked my surgeon, ‘Will I ever be able to run again? Will I ever wear normal shoes?’ Apparently, the answer is ‘no,’ and that too requires acceptance. I need special shoes because otherwise my hips start hurting and my entire body goes off kilter… And so, I’ve resorted to wearing Crocs wherever I go. Even to weddings. I get the questioning looks, but I’ve learned to brush it off.

“Part of the reason I am accepting of my situation is because when I’ve gone back to the hospital, I’ve seen people with amputated legs and I’m grateful that I’m not one of them. I’ll concede, I’m in pain a lot and it keeps me from doing a lot of activities, especially with my kids. That is frustrating, but I am grateful that despite the dire prognosis at the time of treatment regarding the unlikelihood of ever having more children, I’ve since been blessed, multiple times. I still try to take them to the park, even though I can’t play with them in the same way a normal mother can. I also can’t have them play in front of the house, because I can’t chase them if they run into the street. There’s a strange flip side to this reality. Because I struggle with the everyday activities most people take for granted, I also get to experience gratitude through these very activities that most take as their due.”

A Special Form of Acceptance

In the world of special-needs children, the varying opportunities to practice acceptance and emunah are vast.

Chavala* is a mother of six young children, one with severe special needs. She’s had to accept not only her daughter’s limitations, but her own. “It took me time to get over my guilt for not getting her to experimental, additional therapies and doing extra exercises with her every day. I have a growing family of active little children who all need their mother. There was no way I was physically capable of adding those activities to my workday!

“I now remind myself that Hashem gave my child the parents she needs — parents who love and accept and care for her. As long as I look in the mirror and know I’m giving her all I can, I feel reassured. Hashem knows what we, her parents, are capable of. He wouldn’t give us more than we can handle. Along with learning to accept the situation, I also work on learning to accept myself.”

And then there are those who refuse to accept the limitations typically associated with a diagnosis, and provide hope and opportunity for others. Mrs. P.* was just such a parent. Whether it was denial or hope, she refused to accept her child’s lack of ability. She implemented an impactful and life-altering program from which hundreds of children with special needs have benefited. Tragically, her own child never progressed beyond his very limited state. She concedes that her pain was all-encompassing — until she learned to accept her child’s challenges and ultimately, his reality. But she now says, “My denial served a purpose. It created hope for so many other parents!”

Here Comes My Son                                           

Many parents combine acceptance with hishtadlus — with utmost emunah in Hashem’s Will and bitachon in His infinite capabilities. Their journey through acceptance is ongoing and inspiring.

“It was only after our son’s birth that we discovered there was something amiss,” Chaim* relates his 13-year-old memories. “Suddenly nine months of dreams were dashed against the rocks of a bitter reality. Apparently having suffered a prenatal stroke, the prognosis was that our precious firstborn would never walk or talk or even know us.

“When the social worker came to my wife’s room, I knew just what the conversation would be like. As a social worker myself, I’d been in her place countless times, advising parents of their painful choices. I knew her advice came from a good place but I also knew we would never give up our child.

“Amazingly, the love came easily. There was acceptance too, along with heavy bouts of tears, laced with emunah and hope for a better outcome.

“Acceptance is a strange word choice in this scenario. While we accepted our child and Hashem’s Will, we didn’t really accept the diagnosis. We heard, we understood, but we also knew that the human brain has an incredible capacity to heal and grow. We fully believed that with enough of our hishtadlus we might be able to get him far beyond anything the doctors ever envisioned.

“And we did! We researched every new approach, attempted every therapy, practiced and pushed and propelled him to heights no one imagined. We saw tremendous siyatta diShmaya. In that sense, the lack of subservient acceptance served us well.

“But with each success we had to recognize his limitations and the reality that he was drastically behind what our other children effortlessly achieved. Yet each time he succeeded we allowed ourselves to dream bigger. Naturally, dreaming bigger translates into greater disappointments. And so, with acceptance comes grieving for that which will never be.

“In the beginning, we struggled with where to draw the line between accepting reality and pushing for an ‘unrealistic’ outcome. We were then told that there’s always supposed to be hishtadlus even alongside the emunah and acceptance. Hishtadlus is a mitzvah, like keeping Shabbos and kashrus. We expend that effort not because we believe we’re in charge, but because it’s our obligation. Emunah and acceptance is knowing that Hashem made no mistake. I just have to accept that the outcome has nothing to do with our efforts.

“My son is going to be bar mitzvah next week. All these years, whether or not we were cognizant of the fact, this was the event we’d been working towards. As the big day is upon us, we know that considering the dire predictions, our child has surpassed expectation by leaps and bounds, but considering where we’d allowed ourselves to hope he would be, he is still far, far behind.

“Allowing myself to feel the pain is the hardest part. I feel guilty, as if I am not sufficiently grateful for all the progress — which of course I am! But we need to allow ourselves to cry over our crushed dreams in order to be able to then accept reality and keep pushing forward.

“Ultimately, our tafkid is to accept this nisayon as the challenge it was meant to be, and recognize how it is meant to stretch us, but then it’s also about learning to step back and accept Hashem’s Will with love.” 

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