Rabbi Nadia Siritsky
In his book, Celebrating Life, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks taught: “Faith is not about optimism but about courage, the courage to face an unknown future, knowing that we are not alone, that God is with us, lifting us when we fall, signaling the way. Faith is not certainty. It is the courage to live with uncertainty. It is not knowing all the answers.”
Whenever we are faced with the unknown, we always have a choice, whether to respond with fear or faith.
The truth is, the future is never known. Even when we plan and think we know what the future holds, we are reminded that we can never know the future.
Working in a hospital, though, we are also reminded that uncertainty can lead to miracles, which can surprise us when we least expect them.
It remains a common habit, when faced with the unknown, to fear the worst. It is too easy to fill in the empty spaces of the unknown with fearful stories of “what if.” But it is difficult to live with the soul-crushing consequences of this seemingly easier decision.
Choosing to live with faith and hope, in the face of the inherent uncertainty of life, is a courageous act that can make all the difference in the world.
A story is told about a child who was in the Intensive Care Unit, doing poorly. A teacher was asked to meet with the student to help him review his multiplication tables. She tried, but looking at the boy, feeling bad for his poor prognosis, made her hurry through the lesson, worrying that she was causing him more stress than necessary.
Eventually, the teacher left, feeling helpless, like a failure. A week later, she was asked to return, which she did, though reluctantly and fearfully.
But when she arrived, the nurses greeted her like a hero. The patient had miraculously improved! The nurses said it was almost like his will to live had returned. The boy later explained that he figured he couldn’t be doing so badly if they sent someone to teach him math.
What we believe can shape our outcomes, and we don’t know what we don’t know, so we should not assume that what we don’t know is bad. We should only react to what we know to be true, not to fears and stories we tell ourselves about what has not happened (and may never happen).
Whenever our illusions of certainty are shattered, we are reminded that none of us know the future, and none of us can control what happens to us. We can only control how we respond, and the stories that we tell ourselves about what is going to happen. But this can make all the difference in the world; the stories that we tell ourselves are colored by our faith and ability to discern grace in our lives.
The religious response to unexpected events in our lives is to turn to faith. It might feel countercultural to assert faith and hope when others are immersed in fear and doubt, but this is a powerful act of spiritual resistance that can bring us profound healing and redemption.
Because fear may become a harbinger of blessing, the unknown can lead us to become even better acquainted with fear and worrying, or it can become our teacher.
When life forces us into its necessary moments of uncertainty, we can deepen our ability to trust and have faith, preparing us to face whatever is around the corner of our personal journeys. If we have difficulty feeling fully rooted in faith when life’s storms assail us, just take a deep breath.
Because ultimately, our breath can teach us all that we need to know.
If we take a deep breath in, we might be tempted to hold onto it, because we know it, but eventually, we need to let it out, even though that means we momentarily have no breath inside of us. We can allow ourselves to be afraid, or we can recognize that this moment, right before we inhale again, is a necessary part of allowing new breath to form inside of us, to enliven us.
In Hebrew, the word for breath is the same word as for the one who breathes life into us: ruach. May our breath teach us; may we use this breath to teach others and may this time of uncertainty yield healing and blessings beyond what we currently see is possible.
(Rabbi Nadia Siritsky is vice president of mission at KentuckyOne Health.)