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Know That It Is Good: How To Turn Complaints Into Gratitude

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

When God splits the sea and the Jewish people cross through from slavery to freedom, Miriam takes out her tambourine and the women play music, sing, and dance to praise G-d for the miracle He performed for them. This all sounds normal enough, except remember: the Jewish people left Egypt in a rush. There wasn’t even time for bread to rise and yet Miriam grabbed her tambourine?

Even in the darkest hour when the Jews were attempting to leave Egypt, Miriam knew that God would take the Jewish people out and they would soon sing and dance in celebration. In other words, her emunah, or faith, was so strong that she knew everything was going to be good even when things did not seem good.

The word Miriam comes from the word “Mar,” which is Hebrew for “bitter.” Miriam’s essence is to turn bitterness into joy by knowing that everything is truly good even when things seem to be going wrong.

Most of us have been in a situation where things seemed to be wrong but then everything fell into place and we could look back and understand why those “wrongs” were really right. When the Jewish people safely reached the seashore, they got a glimpse of the whole picture: why God had the Jewish people enslaved in Egypt (for instance, to develop their sensitivity as a people) and why they had to be taken out through miracles (as we discussed last week, to show the world that God controls it).

Yet rarely in life do we get a glimpse of the whole picture. For one, we are living in just a small part of human history. In our own personal lives, we do not know what G-d has planned for us. We are living “in process” and we need to channel Miriam’s legacy to believe that everything that happens is good now, even if we can’t see it.

But what about when something happens and we are so frustrated, angry, or disappointed that we can’t feel it is good?

One of my teachers Sara Rigler recommends a tool, which I try to use, called “How To Turn Complaints Into Gratitude.” This is how it works:

  1. First, we need to acknowledge our negative mind state and then be willing to let go of it. Sometimes we are too worked up to calm down and simply need time to stew. That is ok, but Sara Rigler likens stewing in our negative emotions to swimming in a dirty public pool. We can do it, but why would we want to? Still, sometimes we need time.

  2. Once we are ready to let go of our negative mind state, we ask ourselves: What do I know? What are my assumptions? Usually a situation seems worse than it is because of the assumptions we are attaching to it. For instance, we assume someone had bad intentions instead of giving him or her the benefit of the doubt. We assume a certain outcome might result when this is not necessarily so. We assume something might be for our benefit or detriment when it is in fact the opposite.

  3. Then we must acknowledge that everything is from Hashem. As we spoke about last week, everything is ultimately from God. This step enables us to deculpriticize the person or situation we are upset with. We all have free will, but once a person said or did something to us, Hashem allowed that person to act the way he or she did to us for a reason. Sara Rigler often cites a dog barking at the stick being waved in its face. It is not the stick the dog should bark at, but the person holding the stick. Instead of barking at the stick, we need to realize that God is orchestrating the situation.

  4. Next, we must be like Miriam and recognize that what is happening is good, even if we can’t see it. As Sara Rigler says, bad things do not happen to good people; maybe painful things, but not inherently bad things. The Torah gives several reasons why painful things happen to us. The painful event or inconvenience might be a:

  5. Kaporah, an atonement that pays a spiritual debt. We would rather pay the debt in this lifetime than in the eternal afterlife.

  6. Nisayon, a test sent from Hashem to help us exercise our free will to be a better version of ourselves and fulfill our potential.

  7. Tikkun, a rectification of something we needed to fix, whether from the past or even from another lifetime! We do not know why our souls were sent to this world in this lifetime and what our individual missions are.

This step requires an understanding that there is a positive purpose for our suffering, even if we do not know the exact reason.

  1. Last, in acknowledgment of the above, we thank Hashem for the suffering. Talk about a change in outlook! This is also a good time to express thanks to God for five new things we are appreciative of today, even if a particular situation isn’t going the way we hoped. Feeling and expressing gratitude to G-d can help bring us out of our negative place.

I hope you find this tool as helpful as I do. I bless us all that we should be able to channel the spiritual inheritance of Miriam and our ancestors to have faith that things are good now!

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