This past Shabbos, I bumped into a non-Jewish friend on the sidewalk. Anxious about what was happening with the three Israeli boys who had been kidnapped, I rushed over to her. “Did you hear anything about the boys who were kidnapped in Israel? “ I asked her, my voice breaking.
“Oh my God, are you related to them?” she asked looking into my fear-filled eyes.
I was about to shake my head, but then I found myself answering, “Yes, they’re family. Did you hear anything on the news? Are they okay?”
The next day, one of my daughters was graduating from eighth grade. At the graduation, a rabbi stood up to say a prayer for the boys, and I started to cry. I was so embarrassed. Get a hold of yourself, I told myself. Don’t do this now at your daughter’s graduation.
But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t imagine the pain of the boys’ parents, but I knew what it felt like to be a Jewish mother. To have your heart break when your child is hurt in any way. To feel like a part of you is always walking around in the world, vulnerable and precious and without your protection.
And then I realized I was using one of my excuses: What will people think? I wanted to cry. I wanted to pray with all my heart for their safe return. I thought about my words to my neighbor on Shabbos: Yes, they’re family. Wouldn’t I cry if they were my family? Why should I be embarrassed?
I thought about all the times that I make excuses for not being true to myself and my feelings. So for a moment, I took all my excuses and pushed them aside. It didn’t matter what other people would think. This was the time, right now, to pray, to cry. It was the time to believe that it is never too late to become the kind of person I am meant to be.
Here are four primary excuses that hold me back. See if you find yourself in any of them.
1. I don’t have time. This is an excuse that I often say out loud. And when I say it, I mean it. It’s true. There are only 24 hours in a day, and it’s challenging to find the time to begin anything new. It’s just hard to take that step back from all the urgent, busy tasks that fill our days and carve out some space to grow. But even though I may not have an hour, I can find five minutes here. I can grab another ten minutes there. Before I go to sleep, I can find another 15 minutes. And the cumulative power of those minutes can change my entire day. There is always a bit more time if you want it badly enough.
2. I’m not ready. How many times have I told myself that if I had just a little more knowledge, more experience, more resources I’d be ready to give it a try? I just need another degree. Some more confidence. A little more experience. A class in public speaking. A guarantee that I won’t fail. This excuse makes sure I’ll never even begin. Because while I’m not ready, thousands of people with less education, less money and maybe even less experience, are trying anyway. As James Baldwin once said, “Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.”
3. What will other people say? Change is hard enough when we are struggling with ourselves. When we are also looking around us and over our shoulders to see if others approve of us, we waste precious time and energy. We all eventually learn that it’s impossible to please all people all of the time. And it’s usually impossible to please all people even some of time. You don’t need someone else’s approval to follow your dreams. You don’t need anyone else’s permission to search for meaning. Often authentic change only comes after we have stopped looking over our shoulders and resolved to be true to ourselves.
4. It’s too late. It’s too late for me to make major changes. I’m already married with children. I have a mortgage and a set plan for the next ten years. Or I’m already set in my firm. It’s too late now to change paths. I already chose my major, began my profession, chose my friends. It’s too late to change anything now. This excuse can start after our sophomore year of college, when we’re stuck in a major that makes us miserable, and we are too scared to start again. And the excuse will continue unless we face this incredible truth: it’s never too late. Your life is never set in stone. You can always begin again. Change your life so that you are excited to wake up in the morning and live. “If not now, when?”
This is the time. Right now. To pray. To cry. And to believe that it is never too late. We need to know that in the deepest recesses of our heart, now more than ever, it is never too late for any of us.