Each year, between Passover and Shavuot, for the 49 days of counting the omer, I search for a mission for the 49 days—some kind of overarching theme to use as a focus for the special meaning of those days leading up to the giving of the Torah. One year, it was all about really listening to people, rather than waiting for them to finish so I could rush in with all my thoughts and agendas. Another year, it was making sure to get a reasonable amount of sleep every night, as my tendency to shortchange myself on sleep was verging on pathological.
Last year, in 2013, the first day of counting the omer came and went, but I had not settled on my special focus. A few more days passed and I wondered if I had lost my way. I didn’t want to just pick some arbitrary thing like eating more antioxidants, drinking more water, or making time to write my novel every day. Those were all great ideas but none of them had the ah-ha quality I had learned to expect each year.
Finally, I halfheartedly decided my focus would be on being more kind to myself. Expecting less and promising less would be a healthy, spiritual focus.
It was nice to take breaks, to nap and sleep more, to graciously decline all but the most important activities. I spent more time at the window watching the sky and just thinking, feeling free. This was pretty new behavior for me. I felt comforted, yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was supposed to be something more to it.
Then the day of Shavuot eve came and my back went out. I canceled everything that day, which I suspect God had in mind anyway since it was Shavuot. That’s when the shroud of mystery lifted and I saw the whole point of this 49-day journey. It was crystal-clear. True strength of faith does not come from sacrifice and striving, nor from attention to my own needs, but from listening and trusting.
God showed me something I was finally ready to hear. I must be kind and wise toward myself, as he would treat me, before I can truly be kind and wise toward anyone else. So I rested, really rested, because I was unable to move. And I knew that it was Day 1 of my next 49 days of kindness.