Develop an Attitude of Gratitude

[For parashat Chayei Sarah]

This parashah is a time of life transitions, filled with great emotion.  Life and death, grief and mourning, love and marriage, faith and healing. I share with you some of the messages that I took from it in this year’s reading:

 

Ride out the storms. (Genesis 23:1): “This was the life of Sarah, 100 years and 20 years and 7 years; the years of the life of Sarah.” Rashi notes that Sarah’s 127 years were written this way to indicate that she had different times and qualities in her life: innocent as a 7-year old, with the strength and idealism of a 20-year old and always possessing the wisdom of a 100-year-old.  Life has its calms and its storms; each segment has its time and place, and will come and go.  Live each stage to your greatest potential; keep the valuable qualities of each stage to bring with you to serve you in your next stage.

Death is part of life. (Genesis 23:2): “Sarah died in Kiryat Arba, that is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham proceeded to mourn for Sarah and to bewail her.” Our legacy in life is far more than an accumulation of the facts of our lives, but is rather about what we do in this life.  The English author, Samuel Johnson, writes, “It matters not how a person dies, but how they live.  The act of dying is not of importance, for it lasts so short a time.”   Our lives are measured at the time of our death; our death is measured by the way we live our years.

Know you are blessed.  (Genesis 24:1): “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and Adonai had blessed Abraham in everything.”   Is this to say that when we have everything we are blessed? Calling something a ‘blessing’ is to name it as a spiritual value or goal; we feel ‘blessed’ by things we really value. The vision of an ideal life is one that encompasses emotional, material, and spiritual goals. Abraham is blessed in everything here because not because he has what he has, but because he is aware of it and values it.  Pirkei Avot 4.1 teaches: ‘Who is rich? One who is content with their lot.’ Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

Awe moves us to prayer.  (Genesis 24:12): “And he [Eliezer] prayed: ‘Adonai, God of my master Abraham, please cause to happen to me today, and do a kindness for my master Abraham.” Sent on a most important journey, Eliezer carries a great weight on his shoulders – to find a suitable match for Isaac, one which will impact the future of Abraham’s offspring and the future of the Jewish people as promised by God.  As he prepares for this task, these words stumble forth from his lips.  What elicits words and feelings of deep prayer and petition?  Awe.  Being aware of the world that is larger than us, deeper than our understanding, is what enables prayer to bubble up.  We are able to reach inward and upward, making room for holiness, for God’s presence to be with us.  We live in an awesome world – great, mighty, overwhelming, beautiful, and in need of our honoring that with the way we live our lives.  Cultivate awe.

The power of love can bring great comfort.  (Genesis 24:67): “And Isaac brought her [Rebekah] into the tent of his mother Sarah; he took Rebekah, and she became his wife and he loved her.   Thus did Isaac take comfort after the death of his mother.”  Sometimes in loneliness or grief, it is not words that bring healing, but a loving presence that will enable us to move forward, back into life.  In times of darkness, keep your heart open to those who love you; let their presence be your light and your comfort in your darkest moments.

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