Chag Sameach, Joyful Holiday. Tonight is the first night of Chanukah. In looking for a video about the festival for a friend I came across something really interesting, to me at least. Chanukah is about miracles, specifically the oil in the temple that was meant for one night lasting eight. This allowed the Jews to survive long enough to conquer and outlast the threat against them. Neis is the Hebrew word I have always heard for miracle. It is the first of the four letters on the dreidel which is used to symbolize the holiday and is central to its celebration. I have never heard it used any other way.
However, as I was reading earlier, I learned an alternative translation for neis. It can also mean test. At first this seemed very contradictory to me. And without a long conversation with a friend yesterday I might have dismissed the thought and moved on, but today it stuck with me. The contradiction I realized is not in the meaning but in the perception of any occurrence and where we choose to look related to it. Is our focus on the journey or is it on the destination? Which we choose to highlight not only determines how we see an event looking back it it, but more importantly it also dictates what we take away from the experience. Have we grown from the getting there or only the arrival experienced the ending?
I am a huge believer that everything in life (good, bad or otherwise) happens for a reason. I have written about that before. With that said, I will also admit I struggle often with whether I believe the path we are on, especially the things that mold us and that are meant to happen to us, are rooted in faith (a deity of some type), human collective energy or something we are not able to comprehend. I know things are more than coincidence but I often change my opinion on how they come to us. My older brother, who is a pastor, has told me more than once it doesn’t matter the answer. That we can believe any of them. What matters is that we they came from somewhere and we use them to make us a better human being. In his teachings knowing the perfect answer to how/why is not important. Anyone who knows me knows I need more than that. At least some days. So I continue to search for the how. But I got it on the why. Everything brings us to the current place we are meant to be at.
I haven’t always had that realization, especially growing up and in my early 20’s when I was so sick. And exactly how the shift came has never been easy to explain when I am asked. But this double meaning of the word neis brings the answer a lot more into focus. At some point I stopped basing my happiness on whether I got the miraculous outcome I wanted and began to focus on realizing that even if I hated the conclusion, I had not only survived but had conquered the test.
Think about the last time something tough (good or bad, but tough) went on in your life. Where did you learn? Where did you grow? For a cancer survivor, is the miracle really in the 30 seconds of a doctor saying it’s over or is it in the having been strong enough to get through the months or years of treatments? When we struggle with losing a loved one it is no different, is the growth in the day you no longer cry around the clock or is it in the metamorphosis you went through in the days of heartache and tears? For me I at some point realized that when we weather a storm, our victory is not from the sun coming out but in having stayed afloat during the flooding and the darkness and that while we rejoice at the miracle the true purpose of the lesson may not be in the final exam but in the learning.
I read the book “When Good Things Happen to Bad People” years ago. It was life altering for me (I blogged about it some time ago). One of the key questions the author ponders is ‘why me’. Why is my child ill? What did I do to deserve this? If we transpose that thought into focusing on the miraculousness of the test instead of the hoped for outcome the question of why becomes much clearer and the challenge easier to face. Instead of what did I do to deserve this (or the other side of that which is what do I need to do to get to my miracle and have it vanish) the thought becomes what am I to gain from this? What is the purpose of this challenge in my life and why was I blessed with this chance to grow? I have always despised the phrase “god would never give you anything you weren’t strong enough to handle”. It frankly feels like a punishment to the strong, but maybe a better wording is “you will never be given anything that won’t help you grow”. That I cannot only live with but embrace. This mindset allows us to see hardship as less of a weight that we have been cursed to shoulder and begin to see it as a blessing that is intended to make us better. And I get it, oh do I get it that is a really hard thing to do, especially when the challenge is tragic or painful, but I have never been able to see growth as anything but a positive.
There are many many tales, I think we have each have one in our lives, where we struggled for a long time. With an illness, a problem, a relationship, a change and no matter what we did it didn’t get better or end. Then one day out of no where it’s solved. We call it a miracle (or mourn we didn’t get our miracle) but maybe, just maybe, that end point is our diploma for finally allowing the studying to be fully absorbed.
In this season of neis take a look around your life. Are you open to the lessons life is trying to teach you or are you fighting the studying and hoping for a miracle?