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What Am I Supposed to Learn?

October 7, 2011

Lately I’ve been struggling with something. There is something I’m supposed to learn. A lesson I’m being taught. Yet I’m struggling because I don’t know what I need to learn.

It began the other night when I was lamenting to myself about three “problems” that have occurred of late. First there was the theft of my Honda Civic. Then our television broke so we’re now using a very small box that was in the garage. Not the worst thing in the world, I know. Then my duvet cover (the one I blogged about as part of my safe spot) suddenly had a series of rips in it and is no longer usable.

What do these things have in common? For one, they are things. They all cost money and they (theoretically) need to be replaced.

I know there are certainly much worse things in life to worry about. And I shouldn’t spend my time concerned with material objects. But it just seemed that these things were happening — one after the other — and all of them had some meaning to me in my life. All I could think was, “Can I get a break here? What’s going on?”

So as I was basking in my pity party, I began thinking about the parable of the man who lived by the river and missed his three signals from God that were designed to save him from tragedy. You’ve probably heard this story in some form or another. For me, this prose was made famous by the brilliant writing of Aaron Sorkin in one of my favorite West Wing episodes, Take This Sabbath Day. If you haven’t watched this scene, you MUST. It’s beautifully written, with dialogue that goes so succinctly with the background music of the Hashkiveinu (a Jewish prayer to help one have peace at night and to return to life the following day).

I’ve always been drawn to that story since I first heard it more than ten years ago on The West Wing. I’ve always wanted to write about it, but wasn’t sure how it applied to me. That is until the other night when I thought of these things — the duvet cover, the car, the TV. And then I realized that I’m supposed to learn something from this. These are my three signals. I’m being told something. I can’t see it yet; but I know it’s there.

Is it a coincidence this is happening around the Days of Awe — the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — where the sole purpose of this time is to examine and reflect upon one’s life and choices? No, I don’t think it’s a coincidence at all.

I don’t yet know what I’m supposed to learn. I don’t know what God is telling me. But I do know it’s up to me to figure out. I know I’m being sent the signals — the same way God sent them to the man on the river and how Aaron Sorkin gave the signs to President Bartlett. I am confident the answers will come, perhaps when I’m least expecting them. I just need to listen and understand.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation like this? What have you learned when you least expected it?

46 Comments leave one →
  1. October 7, 2011 3:41 am

    Nice post, gets me thinking.

  2. October 7, 2011 6:01 am

    Thanks for taking me back to West Wing, probably my favorite TV show ever. It always made me think and it didn’t take the easy way out. Off the top of my head I can’t name a specific incident, but I know what you are talking about. There are so many times when a situation presents itself (good and bad) and I ask “What am I SUPPOSED to do with this?” or after I did something I had tried to avoid and then something else benefits me, then I say “As much as I tried to avoid, this is confirmation that I was SUPPOSED to do what I knew was right.” The hard part to learn is that although my God answers my prayers, sometimes the answer is “No” or “I gave you brains and a sense of right and wrong. You figure it out.”

    • October 10, 2011 9:34 pm

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Julie. I agree that the “I gave you brains and a sense of right and wrong” is definitely something I feel l am getting.

  3. October 7, 2011 7:20 am

    Great scene! Love West Wing — especially early West Wing. Aaron Sorkin is a genius. That story is so powerful. I often struggle with prayer, communicating with G-d, “signals”, etc. I’m never really sure what’s “supposed” to be happening so I don’t pray a lot and don’t look for learning a lot. But your post is something that really gets me thinking. There is one quote that I really like from a prayerbook at a recent service I attended: “Pray as if everything depended on G-d. Act as if everything depended on you.” I know that’s not exactly what you wrote about, but it’s something that has stuck with me. Wishing you an easy fast (if you fast)!

    • October 10, 2011 9:35 pm

      Yes, I loved early West Wing too! The first few seasons were the best. Wow, I really like that quote and it resonates with me too. I like that it has you put faith in G-d, but know that you are still responsible for your actions. Thanks for sharing!

  4. October 7, 2011 7:51 am

    I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason as well. The night of our party last week, Mike’s car was broken into out in front of our house and he had expensive GPS equipment and a camera stolen. Waiting for our message for that one – perhaps not to forget to lock your car at your own house anymore. We had it open cuz we were lugging things back and forth for the party. When you learn your lesson, let us know.

    • October 10, 2011 9:36 pm

      Thanks, Susan. I believe everything happens for a reason as well. And I’m so sorry about Mike’s car! What a bummer. But you’re right — there’s probably a lesson there somewhere.

  5. October 7, 2011 8:54 am

    I can’t watch the clip right now, as my 2.5 year old is around, but this is what came to mind after reading your post:

    Yes, they are things, and we are certainly grateful to have health, jobs, and in general, material comforts. However, losing those things is still a challenge, and, more to the point, it is your specific challenge. Even though it is definitely good to have perspective of “things could be worse,” it’s also good to recognize that our individualized tests are hard, and that it’s fine to be frustrated or to feel like “I want a break.”

    That we can take these frustrating moments and choose to grow from them is a uniquely human opportunity. Wishing you luck in deciphering your signals, and a gmar chasima tovah.

    • October 10, 2011 9:37 pm

      Thanks for your very insightful comments, Rivki. I think, as you said, choosing to grow from those frustrating moments is what will distinguish us. Hope you had a meaningful fast.

  6. October 7, 2011 10:04 am

    Thank you for this beautiful post. I have spent this week trying to decipher some signals that seem to be pointing in polar opposite directions, I haven’t figured it out yet, but I certainly am paying attention. And, concerning our attachments to material things, I recently meditated with a man who is considered to be an enlightened being. He said these attachments are normal, and not negative as long as we are motivated by love and not fear, fear being something like “What will my neighbors think if they see our TV is a tiny old box? I’d better run out and get a good looking big screen so they don’t laugh at me”.

    • October 10, 2011 9:39 pm

      Thanks, Elizabeth, for your thoughtful comments. And I really appreciate you sharing about the feelings of loss for the things coming from love and not fear. I definitely don’t have an attachment for those things based in fear. I don’t care who thinks my TV is small. In fact, I’m proud that we didn’t go out and make that the first thing we bought. So the distinction is very helpful. I wish you luck discovering what you are seeking as well.

  7. October 7, 2011 11:19 am

    Love that you are paying attention. As always I enjoy your post. It is great to see some of your process. I hope you will share what gifts are revealed to you so that we may benefit as well!

    • October 10, 2011 9:40 pm

      Thanks, Kim. It was nice seeing you the other night too. Sorry we weren’t able to chat more.

  8. October 7, 2011 12:38 pm

    That feeling always makes me uncomfortable… the nagging thought that I’ve missed something important and if only I could figure it out, everything would make sense.

    I’ve had a few challenges in my life lately and talking with a good friend (waving at Kim) helped me be more philosophical. I couldn’t find a reason for the chaos, but when I sought to learn from the situation, I was able to soothe my anxiety simply by accepting it and acknowledging that it wouldn’t last.

    I hope you find the answers you’re looking for.

    • October 10, 2011 9:40 pm

      Thanks, Shary. It’s nice to know that good friends (like Kim and all these wonderful comments) can help us through tough times like this. I appreciate your kind words.

  9. October 7, 2011 2:58 pm

    I absolutely believe that God speaks through the everyday things that happen to us. The interpretation often arrives when we are least expecting it, but resounds so truly and deeply within us, there is no doubt it is a pivotal or defining moment.

  10. October 7, 2011 3:26 pm

    I recently read a quote and I think it’s perfect for your post. ” G-d gives us people to love and things to use, not things to love and people to use” . So don’t pay to much attention to whatever happened to your things as long as you have people who love you, you are in the good place.

    • October 10, 2011 9:41 pm

      Wow, Ariana, I love that quote! And I think that’s really something. As long as you’re not using things and objects to replace the love of people, you’re probably doing something right. Thanks for sharing!

  11. October 7, 2011 3:38 pm

    Great post. I understand what you mean. I wish you the best on figuring out the message. Wishing you a pleasant weekend. 🙂

    • October 10, 2011 9:42 pm

      Thanks! I’ll let you know what I learn.

  12. October 7, 2011 6:22 pm

    Very interesting. I hope you sort it all out. Me? I usually miss signs until it’s too late. Good luck! I have faith you’ll know what to do.

    • October 10, 2011 9:42 pm

      Thanks, Monica! Hopefully I will know the answers soon.

  13. October 7, 2011 8:20 pm

    Wow….what a beautiful post! I agree, they are just things – but in the Days of Awe to try to figure out the lesson – amazing.

    • October 10, 2011 9:43 pm

      Thanks, Ann. And yeah, I have to think that this all occurring to me and happening in the Days of Awe has to mean something. It’s a powerful lesson, that’s for sure.

  14. October 8, 2011 5:45 am

    How very astute of you to notice this as more than bad luck or coincidence. It does seem like things are lining up for something, the question is what. A long string of seriously unfortunate circumstances have led to the position I’m in now where I have to quit my job and move. Even though I have no alternatives for those situations I’m realizing I actually WANT to quit my job and I do WANT to move, but I don’t know if I could’ve gotten to those conclusions on my own. And I definitely don’t know why these things had to happen and what is waiting for me in my new beginning. Point being, my things and your things are the same in that they are signs and the best we can do is listen and be open to possibilities.

    • October 10, 2011 9:44 pm

      Thanks, Sara. I had no idea you were leaving your job and moving. Where to? But I’m struck with what you said about how you really do want to leave your job and move. I do think sometimes we’re handed situations to help remove ourselves from bad circumstances. I hope that’s what it is for you.

  15. October 8, 2011 7:12 am

    I think lessons are around us all the time and one rule that I follow is when I am unsure of what’s next I remain still. If I stop moving, stop talking, stop … the answers come to me. You are wise to pay attention to those 3 warnings. I will be interested to know what answer is revealed!!

    • October 10, 2011 9:44 pm

      Thanks, MJ. I’ll be sure to share with you what I learn.

  16. October 8, 2011 11:37 am

    Stop and listen, not with your ears, but with your heart. You are wise to be thinking on the metaphysical level about these things, and not as you say, just basking in pity, but rather openly aware and waiting, knowing that there is a message here for you.
    Let us know what you learn, Leah!

    • October 10, 2011 9:45 pm

      Thanks, Cynthia. Yes, listening with your heart is what is really needed. I feel myself wanting quiet and alone time to reflect and listen to my inner voice. I’ll let you know what it reveals.

  17. October 8, 2011 9:51 pm

    I love that story, but didn’t remember that they’d used it in The West Wing.

    My pastor once said that we get tested in the area of our attachments. Anything that we would not lay down for God is something that we are treating as an idol. It was surprising to me to make a list of the things that I would prefer that God not ask me to lay down. It’s a pretty long list! When I read the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, I get chills. I definitely struggle with attachments.

    • October 10, 2011 9:46 pm

      I thought about that same story of Abraham and the sacrifice of Isaac when I wrote this post. I almost included that as well because I think it’s all inclusive of the things I’m learning. Thanks for sharing.

  18. October 8, 2011 11:44 pm

    I think that was good of you to recognize that maybe God was trying to teach you something and to look at this situation as the ‘glass is half full’ instead of just pitying yourself. What can I learn from the situation I find myself in is a good attitude to take when we find ourselves in the midst of trials. Best wishes to you!

    • October 10, 2011 9:47 pm

      Thanks, Caren. I really do try to stay positive and look at these things as lessons to learn and not problems. I know it’s tough, but it’s all that works for me. I’m reminded of that thing Oprah used to say about God speaks in whispers, then punches, and then hits you with a brick over the head. I don’t want to be hit with a brick, so I’m trying to pay attention to the whispers.

  19. October 9, 2011 3:59 pm

    I loved “The West Wing” … such great writing! And who knew it could have a spiritual lesson!?! Keep your eyes and ears open … God will not stay silent!

    Thanks for visiting Snapshots!

    • October 10, 2011 9:48 pm

      Thanks, Morgan. It’s amazing how much spirituality is in The West Wing. I love that the show was so deep on so many levels. I still miss watching it today.

  20. October 10, 2011 9:17 am


    Send me/email me your mailing address so I can send you The Wednesday Sisters. selfexpressionevents at yahoo dot com

  21. October 10, 2011 12:39 pm

    We all know that bad things happen to good people, but it doesn’t always make it easier to swallow when it’s happening to us or to someone we love. I greatly admire your positive attitude, Leah, and I do know that you will learn something from all of this. Please share once you do! Hugs!

    • October 10, 2011 9:49 pm

      Thanks, Jolina. I really do try to stay positive rather than negative. Otherwise it gets so difficult to see past the negativity. I’ll let you know what I learn.

  22. October 11, 2011 8:16 pm

    Just discovered your lovely blog. I was first drawn to it because my daughter’s name is Leah! Then, I was drawn to it because of your wonderful writing–especially your message of having a positive attitude (something I certainly try to live by, although it’s not often that easy!) I’ve discovered that everything in life is a lesson, and we just have to be in tune to the message.

    • October 13, 2011 10:17 pm

      Thank you so much for your nice words. Yes, everything is a lesson. It’s up to use to figure it out.

  23. October 12, 2011 9:57 am

    I’ve always loved that Midrash too. The lesson in it (I think) is that sometimes the signs and/or help was already there all along (kind of Wizard of Oz-esque . . . “the magic was always with you” and what not.) Because the guy whose house is flooding and he’s about to drown too is so busy waiting for God to save him that he misses the three methods of getting away. Anyway, not sure how that will help with your three material things . . . but I agree—there is SOMETHING there. Hmmm . . . Let us know when you figure it out! 😉

    • October 13, 2011 10:18 pm

      Thanks, Nina. I will keep you all posted.

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