Acknowledging a higher power is one of the greatest skills, talents, and resources we have in building our homes.
As we work to build the sturdy structure of our home, it is essential to look to the ceiling above us, and all it represents. The ceilings of our homes are our protection against the elements, affixed firmly above us, guarding us from any menacing elements that the sky – and life – may send our way.
Previously, I’ve shared some of the wisdom we can learn from the Hebrew letter, beit (ב). Our sages teach us that the letter beit sounds like bayit, the Hebrew word for house or home. It also looks like one, with a wall, ceiling, open door, and floor. Today, we arrive at the top stroke of the beit; the ceiling above us.
Even as we strengthen the ceiling of our bayit, it reminds us to lift our eyes and anchor up into the fact that there is something bigger than all our strivings; a benevolent force infusing our lives with purpose and reason well beyond what we can fathom.
My Way or the High Way
Parenting is a paradoxical task. On one hand, we must do everything in our ability to shape reality for our children. We work and teach and convince and push and sweat to the absolute limit of our human capacity to improve our lives and theirs. And yet, there is only so much we can do. Eventually, despite our fiercest efforts, we hit the ceiling. The next step of the work is, paradoxically, to surrender. Do all that is within your power and then give in to a higher power.
We all know the good old parental phrase,“My way or the highway.” Try reading it instead as, “My way and the high way.” First I try my way, then I give it up to the high way. The high way reassures us, “Relax. Release into the knowing that there is something above you – a higher power that is taking care of you.”
Albert Einstein aptly sums up the metaphor of the bayit ceiling, saying:
“I think the most important question facing humanity is, ‘Is the universe a friendly place?’ This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves… If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially ‘playing dice with the universe,’ then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning….God does not play dice with the universe.”
Believing that the universe is friendly is an act of faith. It is not simply a religious faith, it is also deeply psychological. As a psychotherapist, it is remarkable to see the difference between clients who believe that the universe is a friendly place and clients who don’t. To put it simply, there is a softening that comes with a sense of faith. Faith is a stress-relief valve, a natural antidepressant, stronger than most any pharmacological remedy I can recommend. Faith is medicinal.
The Hebrew word emunah translates to faith. But that definition is somewhat reductive. Rabbi Doniel Katz gives us a fuller definition: “Emunah is an intuitive state of consciousness that recognizes truths which transcend the physical, sensory world. Emunah reveals to us a higher, more accurate perception of reality than reason alone… More than just a ‘religious thing’ for religious people, it is core to all human success.”
The Hebrew word emunah shares its root with the word emun, meaning to practice or to train. When we surrender to faith, it is not passive. It is active. Emunah is a skill that we can practice and strengthen. When we raise our eyes upward, it is an exercise – a type of Jewish yoga, if you will. It is a muscle that makes us stronger as we battle life’s inevitable challenges.
Getting an Eye Lift
Psalm 121 tells us what happens when we look up. A common translation goes something like this: “I lift up my eyes to the heights. Where will my help come from? My help comes directly from the Divine, the very Creator of heaven and earth… It won’t let me stumble. It doesn’t slumber. It is my guard.” The opening verses of this Psalm are not just descriptive. They can be interpreted as prescriptive. When you raise your eyes, then the help comes pouring in. When we lift our eyes, we shift our consciousness upward, and that very act allows us access to an unlimited source of assistance.
Emunah is not an attitude based on experience, but one that creates experience. In another translation of the Psalms, we read: “Many are the sorrows of those who don’t believe; but she who experiences trust in God – then loving-kindness surrounds her.” (Psalms 32:10). Without a belief in something higher, we become mired in lowly concerns, and it is sorrowful indeed. Conversely, when we choose to trust in something higher, we will find ourselves surrounded by the kindness of a supremely friendly universe. Looking up, we are able to regard our circumstances and our challenges with a sense of the divine rhythm behind it all.
Parenting with a Sense of Ceiling
In Maya Angelou’s seminal autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she tells the harrowing tale of her own childhood. At age eight, Maya was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. He is put on trial and found guilty, but after the trial he is murdered, presumably by Maya’s own uncles. The trauma was, understandably, too much for Maya. She went mute, and sought haven in reading rather than speaking. Secluding herself in a library, little Maya read through the entire corpus of Western classic literature.
We know that Maya Angelou grew up to become a world-class author, civil rights activist, and poet laureate of the United States of America. But can you imagine being the mother of eight-year-old Maya? Your beautiful baby, holed up in the library, scared and alone, traumatized beyond speaking. Despite your Herculean efforts to raise your child in a bubble of love and support, the world has reached her, and left her utterly scarred.
In that moment, you have no choice but to raise your eyes upward. To look to the ceiling and beyond it to a higher power and ask, why did this happen? Did I not do everything to protect her? Will this experience destroy her, or will she survive to find strength that I cannot teach her? Will she be able to move on, to not be defined by this? Someday, will she use what has happened to her to change the world for the better?
We know now that Maya did. But as parents, we don’t know what will happen to our children in the unseeable future. Our calling is to usher our children’s souls forward into the unknown to the very best of our ability. We are escorts, not pilots. The goal is to embrace our children’s unique souls, with their perfect and particular amalgam of gifts and limitations, and guide them as best we can.
But we are not alone – our parenting is also partnering. It is a partnership with the divine. In the moments when our way is exhausted, we surrender, knowing the pains and limits our children may experience have been ordained from on high.
Beautifully, the word emunah shares its first two letters with the word for mother – em. Being in a state of emunah allows us to experience reality as a caring, motherly embrace. The universe is not just friendly, it loves us like only a mother can. What’s more, the shared Hebrew root of the words teaches us that, as mothers, we have special access to this expansive awareness. When we bring a sense of faith into our homes, we transform our lowly worldly domain into something more elevated and Godly.
Now, from that place of deep emunah, how do you parent?
Exercise: My Way & the High Way
On a piece of paper, write down a conflict or challenge that has recently emerged in your home.
Step 1 – My Way
Remember that, as parents, our work is to do everything within our worldly power to support our children. List out the things that you have already done to remedy the situation. Honor and acknowledge your efforts.
Now, list out the things you still plan to do to remedy it. Recommit to doing all that you can.
Step 2 – The High Way
Once you reach the utmost ceiling of your abilities, give it up to something higher. Anchor in to your emunah.
Write down three reasons, from a higher perspective, why this conflict may be happening.
Remember: Emunah is connected to emun, practice. Practice reminding yourself that some things are out of your control and in the hands of something higher.
Next time you encounter a challenging situation, practice doing ‘reps’ like you would in a physical workout by repeating this statement: “It’s going to be okay. There is a higher reason for all of this.”
Step 3 – Pray
Our partnership with the divine is strengthened through prayer, the ancient and universal technology of asking for higher help. Find a moment of calm to actively formulate and express a prayer for the situation to be improved.
When we look back at Psalm 121, the Hebrew words hint at a deeper meaning. The text reads: “I raise up my eyes. From where will my help come?” In Hebrew, the phrase ‘from where’ is m’ayin, and it holds yet another layer of meaning. Ayin means ‘nothingness’. Thus the phrase follows: “My help comes from no-thing.” One aspect of the divine is that it is an expansive ‘no-thing.’ When we open up to that spacious sense of nothingness, we access the powerhouse of prayer.
Before you pray, breathe deeply, clear your mind and open up to a more spacious consciousness. Allow yourself to surrender into feeling held, protected, and guided by something infinitely higher and grander than you can imagine. Imagine and know that it is holding and protecting you like a mother.
From this place of being held, raise up your eyes and ask for assistance.
Allow yourself to believe that your prayers are being received. Soak in that knowledge. Remember that every home needs a ceiling, a firm reminder that there is something above us.
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