For years, I’d been blindly following them down a path of increasing severity and external piety, all the while thinking that God really wanted me to graduate to a padded head-band and bullet-proof stockings, and that that would be the pinnacle of kedusha and yiddishkeit.
Man, I was so miserable being religious like that! I felt like I’d lost everything that made me ‘me’, from my favourite jeans skirt, to my permission to read, to my ability to reach out and relate to people who weren’t super-machmir-frum-angels.
Then God did my the biggest favor of my life (although it didn’t feel like that at the time): He showed me that the people who were running off their mouths the loudest about other people’s flaws; and who were putting on the biggest show of being unimpeachable, super-holy rollers; and who were full of criticism and competition and superiority about their own apparently lofty religious levels, and what everyone else was meant to be doing – were actually very flawed people, with hugely problematic character traits.
They were selfish, jealous, competitive, untruthful, insecure and arrogant.
But they dressed impeccably in black and white, had big streimels, and ‘ticked all the boxes’ externally, 100%. To put it another way, they were living a huge lie, and the main people they were lying to about what was really going on was themselves.
I had such a strong reaction against their religious hypocrisy last year, that it’s only because Rabbenu was hanging on to me so tightly that I managed to hang on to my faith, albeit it still got pretty badly mangled.
It’s taken me months of praying and searching and asking God for help to really emerge out of the other side of the experience, but thank God, I think that’s the stage I’m now at. But I want to tell you what I went through, and what I learnt from it all, so it can hopefully help you to avoid having to go through the same sort of heartache and confusion.
There is so much that could be said, but I’m going to concentrate on two things, to try to make my point: the latest Star Wars movie, and my husband’s green jumper.
Last week, I saw an ad for another Star Wars installment, replete with an ancient-looking Harrison Ford (is that a wig, or what?) and all the latest hi-tech hoopla. I got pretty weird after I saw the ad, and started to feel all weepy, but didn’t know why.
A few hours of personal prayer later, and it struck me that I’ve seen every one of the previous 6 Star Wars movies, and they were kind of ‘movie milestones’ that cemented other key things in place that were going on in my life. In short, Star Wars isn’t just a movie for me, it’s a kind of self-reference point, a way of me pegging myself in the world. And now, that frame of reference was gone, and I was feeling pretty lost again about who I really was.
Then, the little voice in my head told me: give yourself permission to go and see it. So I did: I imagined getting it out on DVD; sitting down at my pc to watch it; how it would look, how I would feel before, during and afterwards. And at the end of that process, I knew with complete certainty: I do not want to watch this! It’s a waste of time, and will fill my head and soul with a lot of damaging stuff.
I felt so good! The old ‘superficially-religious’ me would never have heard that little voice out; I’d have been far too worried about ‘where is this going to lead…’ – which means that really, I’d have been really pining to see the movie on the inside, where stuff really counts. This way, I brought the whole issue out into the open, and I CHOSE not to see it. And the difference is enormous.
Next, I came and had a serious talk with my husband about the whole ‘package’ we got sold by the religious phoneys a few years’ back, who made us feel like we were so materialistic for doing things like holding down a job, wanting a nice place to live, and not devoting ourselves to the cause (ie, their cause…) 24/7.
Thanks to them, my husband felt like he was a terrible person for working. Thanks to them, we both felt like we were letting God down, every time we wanted to take a day’s holiday, or buy something new that wasn’t directly connected to keeping Shabbos or a yom tov. Thanks to them, we ended up financially broke, spiritually broken and completely alone in the world, trying to jump through more and more impossible hoops to keep their harsh version of God appeased.
(Yes, I know it was all from God, and all for the good, but that’s a post for another time.)
So I came and asked my husband: that favorite olive green jumper of yours, that you couldn’t quite throw away, even though it wasn’t black or white. Do you think God would mind if you wore it again? Do you think you’ll be letting God down, somehow, if you decided that the ‘real you’ likes wearing olive green jumpers?
He looked at me shocked. But now he’s thinking it over, and we’ll see what happens next.
The point is not that he should, or shouldn’t wear it: the point is, that he, and me, and all of us, should be asking ourselves what does God really want?
Because there’s a lot of people out there telling us that God wants padded head-bands, and impossible religious perfection, and miserable, super-machmir, intolerant, superficial yiddishkeit that looks so impressive, but feels so horribly wrong.
But really? God wants the heart. And if it happens to come packaged in an olive green jumper, I have a feeling that’s fine by Him.