Do the Math: Calculate Your Spiritual Reality
“If we can see past preconceived limitations, then the possibilities are endless.” - Amy Purdy
Math (if they even call it that anymore in school) was always my worst subject. Yet, when I try to make sense of a situation, understand someone’s behavior, or best predict an outcome, I will use that expression – do the math. Whether true or not, mathematics represents reality as it is – without distorted perception, wishful thinking, or resistance to what merely is.
The very week my book, A Year of Sacred Moments, came out, I met the owner of a small publishing house and described my book to him. In his opinion, there was no appreciable market for my book. People prefer theme-oriented books – not structured according to the weekly Bible chapter - and he predicted sales well under 500 copies. He wasn’t trying to be mean. But after thirty years in the book business, he was “doing the math,” and he didn’t want me to have unrealistic expectations and feel like a failure if I didn’t hit some fantasy number in my head.
And who was I to argue or have an opinion to the contrary? I can’t even count how many intakes I have had with prospective divorce clients who would say something like – “My buddy said that since my wife cheated on me, I don’t have to give her anything,” to which I would reply, “Which law school did you say your friend attended?” I’m sorry, but not everyone has a right to an opinion. And so, I couldn’t just shake off what this publisher had to say and, with impudent bravado, substitute my version of market reality for his.
Nevertheless, there may be another way of looking at this whole thing. Maybe one of the lessons of Lech Lecha is to learn a new type of math - “spiritual math.” What is the measure of the success of a Torah-based book anyway? The number of copies sold? Or is it the contribution and impact it may make? How about my experience and growth as a writer? And what effect would that have on my family and friends?
We think of capital in terms of money only, but what if we expanded it to encompass social, relationship, and spiritual capital? Isn’t that what counting our blessings is all about?
A New Math
Lech Lecha is the command by God to Abraham to go from his “country,” his “place of birth,” and “his father’s house.” These places are not just geographical but also psychological: they represent the influences and biases of our society, cultures, and the times our nature, our inherited genes, our dispositions, and our family of origin.
While the debate has raged for decades over which primarily controls – nurture or nature – either side of this argument buys into control being exerted by an external force or circumstance outside of your control – thus a limitation.
In Ur Kasdim, Abraham and Sarah were extremely wealthy and influential, successful by anyone’s math. And yet, Abraham and Sarah left their material comforts to go to a land God showed them - which didn’t exactly flow with milk and honey. It was desolate. There was a severe famine. And they had to leave for Egypt.
Lech Lecha, however, set into motion the chain of events that changed the lives of Abraham and Sarah and the entire course of human history.
Workin' On a New Deal
In one of my favorite movies, The Family Man, an angel took away all the material trappings from a billionaire Wall Street trader to teach him the meaning of life. When the billionaire complained, "I'm in the middle of a deal", the angel answered, “You’re workin’ on a new deal now, baby.”
The journey of actualization is to break free of limitations. But we are not alone. Abraham and Sarah taught us that we have a direct and intimate relationship with our Creator. Alone, we are limited. Connected to God and each other, we are transcendent.
To follow in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah doesn’t mean that we must leave behind the places and people we love or give up our comforts or way of life. However, it does expect us to be willing to re-evaluate our assumptions and priorities. Regarding our society, culture, and times, we need to ask ourselves whether we can break free of the blame and finger-pointing and be ethical, kind, and responsible citizens and members of our communities.
Are we willing to re-narrate our childhood or other victim stories with compassion for family members or others who have hurt us? As we look to our inner circle, what are our precious commodities, and what do we devalue? What do we give freely, and what do we hoard? Are we squandering thousands of life hours for no return? Are we wisely investing our social, relationship, and spiritual capital?
Lech Lecha is about charting the spiritual trajectory of our lives. For God’s sake, do the math.