It’s hard enough to change one’s life, to start being different from family and friends, and to re-build your ideals/morals/perspectives. All of these things can be unstabling to the most stable of people. For someone who doesn’t have a deep-rooted and inner-focused self-image it can be a constant struggle. You feel pushed and pulled and stretched in all sorts of directions. So many things in life are new and so much time is taken up by this all-encompassing and all-engulfing new world of Judaism.
What’s the solution? Where does one find stability? I’m no Rabbi, but here’s a few ideas that I’ve come across from myself and others in my own baal teshuva journey.
- Find a Rabbi who understands you – they will (hopefully) be able to pick you up when you’re down.
- Get involved in a community – choose a community that you are excited to be part of and be part of it. Be active – give back. The families will provide inspiration and show you what Judaism is about in practice, not just in theory.
- If it’s becoming too much, don’t take on more mitzvas, just try to focus on what you’ve already taken on and do that well.
- Don’t look at others! This is a major one! We tend to compare ourselves to others in the community. Most of the time we have NO IDEA what is going on in their lives, as much as we think we do. Every single person has their own mission and their own challenges so it’s impossible to compare. Focus on trying to figure out what Hashem wants from you. Personal growth is much more about how far you’ve grown compared to where you started than about reaching some undefined communal goal.
- Don’t stop asking WHY! At the start of the baal teshuva journey we ask a lot of questions head on. When we stop doing this (consciously or unconsciously) we are no longer being honest with ourselves. As much as a person needs to let go to trust in Hashem, you should never let go of your curiosity and interest in the deeper roots of what it is that you’re doing.
- You’ll find that as you take on more mitzvas you’ll have less time to do the things you use to love and care about. You might hear that these things aren’t congruent with Judaism. Don’t feel guilty by your past. Guilt has no place in Judaism. Build yourself up before you start taking away things you use to love and associate with. You may give up those things in the future, you may not. You don’t know the future so don’t guess – just be the best you can right now, with the skills and knowledge that you have currently.
- Realise that change takes a lifetime and you will have ups and downs. That is called being human! If you’re down seek others’ support, be honest with where you are at and strengthen your emuna (belief that everything happens for a reason & is ultimately for the best).
- Read inspirational stories about other people’s challenges and growth through and past those challenges. Whether it’s survival stories from wars, overcoming illnesses or poverty, or victories, you’ll see the divine providence within all those stories.
- Think about Pesach. It’s the ultimate story of needing to go through difficult times in order to reach redemption. Matzah is both the bread of affliction and the bread of salvation. It’s 2 sides of the same coin. You can’t grow without challenges, and therefore the challenges are actually blessings because they create the growth. The other perspective on Pesach is that redemption comes quickly, hence the ‘no time to let the bread rise’. So don’t sit around worried/confused/uncertain/upset – be ready for the positive opportunities that are coming – be prepared to see them because they come quickly and suddenly.
- Pray. This can be really hard (I know), but when you speak to Hashem one on one you get inner strength and support. Remember that only Hashem can grant your requests and only He can change nature. Also, by thanking Him for all the good things in your life you realise that you don’t have it so bad. Take notice of the little things we take for granted, that aren’t so little, like having vision, touch, taste, sound, sunshine, ladybugs, flowers, colour, laughter of children, wisdom, electricity, free flowing water, etc etc etc. Be thankful for what you have and you’ll see that the things you don’t have are (in perspective) not that many.
If you have any more tips on how to get some stability in our challenging baal teshuva lives, please leave your comments.