Our family has a calendar on a dry erase whiteboard by the garage door. It’s sort of a command and control station where each family member has a line and a color with all the activities for the week. With four kids and two working parents, you can only imagine how busy it is! My wife, Sarah, writes it up every Sunday night after the kids go to bed at our weekly “family meeting.” It’s never an easy conversation. Between my pastoral appointments, staff meetings, speaking tours and teaching my kids sports and school schedules, my wife’s schedule with her work, there is just so much to balance. We are always on the move.
Why is it that there’s all this activity and running around yet it feels like we never get anything done? Have you ever asked yourself that?
The world we live in today is faster than ever. With instant communication, we have instant expectations. When speaking with my congregants one of the feelings that come to surface is the most is this feeling of being “put upon.” It’s this feeling where everything is a burden. We are yoked to our obligations like an ox to a cart. Loaded up with one more class, one performance, one required form, one more lunch to be made. One more of this and one more of that and it all leads up to what exactly?
Time for a shift.
Positive psychology tells us that our busy lives leads us on a straight path to depression and disease. When we become the beasts of burden to our own lives, our sense of well-being droops like the neck under the yoke. The goal of positive psychology is to make a shift.
We can shift from the depressive and anxiety-producing mindset that comes from checking off lists only to start over again in favor something more positive. A shift that attunes our souls to actively seek out moments of gratitude and meaning — to find happiness and holiness — in as much of life as possible. We do this by attaching ourselves to grandeur, embedding ourselves with other people, and filling our lives with gratitude.
That is the shift.
Positive psychology is new, but the shift is ancient, and it’s found in the heart of this week’s Torah portion, Lech Lecha. Our story begins with the character of Abram, (his name does not change to Abraham until later). We find Abram dwelling in a place called Haran with his wife Sarai (her name also changes later to Sarah), his nephew Lot, and their family servants. Abram has just buried his father Terah and is now in a moment of great transition when suddenly, God’s voice rings out saying, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you.” (Gen.12:1-2)
When reading this line, I’m struck with a question. What was Abram busy doing with his life before this moment?
The rabbis answer this question in a number of ways, but none of it really satisfying or making sense. For example, there is the old tale of Abram in his father’s idol shop, breaking apart the stone and wood statues to show that they are nothing. Or the lesser known story of Abram’s confrontation a king named Nimrod in which they have a philosophical discussion about the nature of reality. (Gen. Rabba 38:13)
These are wonderful stories for children, but they seem to make Abram less human than the Torah actually does. In my mind, Abram is a normal guy who lies an entire life. He is wealthy and busy with work. He probably has some time for leisure. He lived long enough to bury his father. Abram is just like you or me, busy in the traffic jam of life, balancing everything. He had help from his wife and household. It’s clear that Abram had privilege, but did he have a meaningful life? After a lifetime of work, career building and homesteading, what did this life add up to?
God helps Abram make the shift.
Out of nowhere God’s voice commands him change course. God tells Abram that he must move on from his old way of doing things and into the new. A life attached to God, to posterity, and blessing. In other words, a life filled with grandeur, relationships, and gratitude.
A blessed life, is one that knows the difference between simply being busy, and living vividly. This precious moment of Lech Lecha is a moment we can all experience. It is a moment when Abram is finally in a place to look at the world and ask what it means to live totally, with purpose, meaning and blessing. His new life is not perfect, it’s filled with many tragedies and trials along the way, but he develops resiliency. Abram is strong and can whether the storm of life’s difficulties. He is always on the move, but at the end of his life he feels thoroughly blessed because his life has deep meaning.
Don’t think Abram is the main character of the story. The main character of the Torah is you. It’s stories and laws are meant for you live by, even more than characters we find in them. By telling Abram he has to change his mindset, God is speaking to all of us. Take a moment and really look at your calendar. Ask yourself, of all the activities you feel burdened by, which ones give you meaning? Which activities help you grow? Which ones give your life of blessing? And if they don’t, how can you quiet your mind to the Divine voice that tries so hard to help us make the shift — to a new way of living life. A life of purpose and flow. A life that pauses for moments of reflection. A life that brings an uncontrollable smile to corners of your mouth. A life that exposes to the world the blessing that you already are.