A little past her second birthday, my toddler has entered into a new phase of independence.
“Sara Leah do it!” and “Self do it!” These phrases are repeated countless times. Sara Leah will insist on eating her soup independently, even if more spills from her spoon than enters her wide-opened, expectant mouth. She will demand to climb the stairs by herself; or dress up her dolls, even while stopping midway to insist just as strenuously, “Mommy help you!”
It’s often very tempting to scoop Sara Leah into my arms as I observe her exerting herself as she climbs up a particularly steep set of steps. It’s also far less tedious (and messy) to guide her spoon and fork myself, just as it’s far less exasperating to dress her dolls for her than to watch her trying to clumsily contend with the buttons. But I restrain myself from providing this assistance because I realize that her growth is achieved through exertion, by stretching the parameters of her comfort zones. Struggles are the water and life force prodding our budding but latent talents to bloom and develop fully.
Sara Leah’s vacillation between dependence and independence expresses itself throughout the day. Moments after succeeding at doing a task herself, or midway through it, Sara Leah will often want to be helped, cuddled or hugged. An expression of pride fills her determined features after accomplishing one of her self-appointed goals, just as a look of tender contentment crosses over her soft face as she nestles up against my shoulder enjoying a moment of protective snuggling.
I think of Sara Leah’s determined look every time I venture into a project or situation that requires me to extend myself beyond my comfort zone. When those queasy feelings rise in me as I undertake a new challenge, I silently repeat to myself her mantra of “self do it!” and picture Sara Leah’s satisfied pride after she has mastered her task.
Watching Sara Leah in her newfound quest for independence has made me think about the biggest challenges in all of our lives–not ones which we have voluntarily undertaken, but the one task which has been thrust upon us and has become an integral part of our existence.
“There are three things that G-d created that He regrets – one of these is exile,” quotes the Talmud. An omnipotent G-d obviously cannot “regret” something or that thing would cease to exist. The Chassidic masters explain that for G-d to “regret” means that on a conceptual level, He desires and enjoys some aspects of exile while regretting others.
Like any mother watching her children struggle to gain their independence, G-d too “regrets” some aspects of the difficulty He has imposed upon us. G-d suffers together with us as He watches us cope with the whole spectrum of human challenges. He “regrets” our tears of frustration, our sorrow, our loss of dignity and our hopelessness over each small and big challenge in exile.
But He also realizes that at the conclusion of our efforts, in the time of our redemption, the pain of these struggles will no longer be palpable or even remembered. What will remain is only the accomplishments, the growth, the strength and the well-deserved pride and feeling of a job well-done.
Because nothing looks more radiant than Sara Leah’s proud face after accomplishing one more of her “self do it!” goals.
Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including the best-selling Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and the soon-to-be released book, Tending the Garden: The Role of the Jewish Woman, Past, Present and Future. She is a columnist for www.chabad.org and she lectures worldwide on a wide array of issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.