Rabbi Rami: “How Can I Forgive Myself for my Failed Marriage?”
Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual traveler
After years of therapy, my husband and I are finally divorcing. I’m the cause, and while my husband has forgiven me, I’m unable to forgive myself or make peace with him. Please help me with this.
Rabbi Rami: Self-forgiveness may be overrated. Use your guilt over the past to make yourself more kind in the present. Use your memory of mistakes to avoid making the same mistakes. We are all defined by the baggage we carry. Learn to drop baggage that no longer serves you in your quest to be your best self. When your arms are no longer holding what you don’t need, you may find them ready to embrace what you do need, and, perhaps, your ex as well.
My friend is forever asking Jesus to protect her family from tragedy, but the more she prays, the more paranoid she becomes. What is she doing wrong?
Your friend’s problem isn’t with prayer but with the notion that she and those she loves can avoid tragedy and deserve special treatment from God in order to do so. Neither notion is true. Ecclesiastes reminds us that both the wise and the foolish die (Ecclesiastes 2:16), and Jesus teaches that “God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Things just happen—good things and bad things—and they happen to all of us. The only prayer I pray in this regard is this: “May I cultivate the capacity to be present to what is, and to engage what is—however it is—justly, kindly, and with tranquility.” While I doubt my prayer will satisfy your friend, I suspect it is nevertheless more effective.
My brother says God can heal any illness if our faith is strong enough, and that my son died from cancer last month because my faith is weak. Can my baby’s death be my fault?
No. Our ideas about God tell us little about God and lots about ourselves. Your brother would rather blame you than challenge his belief in an all-powerful deity who could have healed your son—but chose not to. God is the source of all reality, the good as well as the bad (Isaiah 45:7), and knowing this allows us to accept reality as it is: both good and bad (Job 2:10). Let your son’s death open your heart to all who suffer, not shut it down in some heartless defense of an indefensible theology.
What if I know I’m dying but don’t want to die? Does that mean I’m spiritually weak? How can spirituality help me die in peace?
Not wanting to die isn’t a sign of spiritual weakness, any more than wanting to die is a sign of spiritual strength. Spiritual practice helps us accept the fact of dying, but that’s different from actually wanting to die. Many spiritual practices lead to a momentary death of self. The Sufis call this “dying before you die,” and the more familiar we become with the loss of self in life, the less fearful we are of losing self through death. To learn about the spirituality of dying well read Sushila Blackman’s Graceful Exits: How Great Beings Die, and Plato’s narrative of the death of Socrates in Phaedo.
I have knee-jerk negative reactions and feel an internal tightening regarding certain religions or ethnicities. What can I do about this?
Lucky you! Most of us rationalize such reactions and therefore remain trapped in them. The fact that you are challenging your prejudices puts you ahead of the game. When I tighten up like that, I’m usually defending an opinion rather than the truth. When you find yourself tightening up and falling into your knee-jerk negativity, discern what opinion you are defending and ask yourself whether you need defend it at all. When I do this, opinions cease to hold me and I cease to hold them.
My neighbor says if I’m not willing to pit my beliefs against her beliefs, I’m dishonoring both of us. While I have very strong beliefs that are in direct conflict with hers, I feel no need to debate her. How can I avoid talking with her about belief?
Why avoid it? I’m fascinated by people’s beliefs, though I agree that debate is rarely the way to learn about them. Cultivate curiosity, and find out not only what your neighbor believes but also why she believes it. What happened in her life that led her to her beliefs? How does she think they help her live a more kind and just life? Use your differing beliefs to frame questions (not arguments) that broaden your understanding of her beliefs. You have nothing to prove and no debate to win. And as you ply your neighbor with questions, you may find openings to share your beliefs and why you believe them as well.
When Life Feels Meaningless
Is life random and meaningless? Do people even matter?
Nothing is random—if by random you mean without cause. Everything happens the way it does because everything else happens the way it does. For example, X number of people will die in car accidents this year, and while these people aren’t fated to die, the accident itself isn’t random: there are causes—slick roads, intoxicated drivers, distracted drivers, storms, heart attacks, etc.
Causation, however, doesn’t equal meaning. Meaning is made, and on this planet, humans make it. Life isn’t meaningful because it creates humans; life becomes meaningful through the creative meaning-making of humans. You see this each time someone turns a tragedy into an opportunity to be of service to others. Life isn’t random or meaningless. And because it isn’t, don’t forget to buckle your seatbelt.
One For The Road
In the U.S., corporations are people with the right to free speech and, as the Supreme Court may soon rule, the right to freedom of religion as well. I’m graduating from college and entering the job market in a few months, and while I know potential employers can’t ask me about my religion, should I ask them about theirs? Share your response in the comments section below.
This spring, writer and teacher Rabbi Rami Shapiro will lead a series of “Holy Rascal” tent revival meetings across the country, promoting the search for wisdom among the spiritually independent.