I surveyed the wreckage of what had been her bedroom. If it had happened five minutes later, my 3-year-old daughter Sara would have been in the bed. Five minutes.
We had recently moved into our home and decided that the room closest to the bathroom would be Sara’s. We decorated it with pink curtains and a matching bedspread, making the room sweet and little-girlish. We didn't know that the hot-water boiler was built into the ceiling directly over her bed.
It must have been in the morning that the seal on the boiler had burst, allowing hot water to begin slowly dripping out onto the thick plasterboard ceiling below. Throughout the course of the day the ceiling quietly became saturated, softening little by little. By the evening it was like soggy cardboard.
Sara was already in pajamas and brushing her teeth when I heard the crash.
Sara was already in pajamas and brushing her teeth when I heard the crash. As I entered her room, the sight that greeted me was one of contained devastation. The soggy ceiling, unable to support its own weight any longer, had collapsed. The pretty pink bed – the same bed that in just a few moments would have held my daughter cuddled up with her dolly – was saturated with scalding water and covered in huge chunks of plaster.
The carpet was ruined, soaking wet and smeared with pieces of pulverized plaster. In the ceiling was a gaping hole with small streams of water leaking out from all sides. Tongues of pink insulation hung down from the opening, grotesquely matching the now-soiled pink curtains.
After calling in to our insurance company’s 24-hour emergency hotline, I hung up the phone and went to inspect the damage. As I thought about what had happened and, even worse, what could have happened, I experienced something entirely unexpected: a strong sense of tranquillity.
Calm During the Storm
Suffice it to say, I am not known for my tranquillity. I am a type-A personality, naturally organized and efficient. I plan things carefully and expect them to run smoothly. What do you mean you lost my pizza order? I phoned 30 minutes ago and I have hungry kids in the car! How could my file be erased? I backed up my computer twice!
When things don’t go according to plan, the feeling I experience is not what I'd describe as calm acceptance. Annoyance yes, irritation for sure, aggravation definitely. But serenity? Never.
During the following hectic days there were many opportunities for aggravation. I dealt with an incessant stream of assessors, building contractors, plumbers and carpet installers. Yet all of this was accomplished, surprisingly, with that same feeling of focused serenity.
Maybe it was simply a matter of perspective, a sudden re-alignment of my priorities. My awareness of the disaster that could have happened enabled me to clearly see certain truths. A bedroom, no matter how pretty the curtains are, is just a place to sleep. Possessions can be replaced and money can always be made. But how much would you pay to have a healthy child?
Was God responsible for my boiler, but completely uninvolved in my pizza?
All this was certainly true, but the sense of calm that I was feeling came from something deeper. Somehow I knew, with complete certainty, that this was straight from God. He, in His infinite wisdom, had decreed that my ceiling would collapse. And He, in His great mercy, had ensured that my child would be safely brushing her teeth at the time. It was all part of The Plan, an experience that I needed to grow from.
One morning, as I was waiting for the carpet men to arrive, a thought occurred to me. What was so special about a near miss with a collapsed ceiling? How was it any different from my pizza order getting lost? Was God responsible for my boiler but completely uninvolved in my pizza?
Creation and the Light Bulb
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the world is like a wind-up toy. Sure God created it, but it’s been going on its own ever since. Now He’s busy with important matters and surely he has bigger things to worry about than my pizza.
Fundamental to the Jewish worldview is the understanding that creation is not at all like a wind-up toy. It’s like a light bulb. As long as electricity continues to flow, the bulb remains lit. Should the electricity be cut or the circuit broken for even an instant, the light is extinguished. Creation is powered by a continual flow of Divine energy. When it comes to existence there is no such thing as momentum. My existence at this moment in time has no bearing on my continued existence one second from now.
Creation is not a one time event; it's a continual happening. With each breath I draw I am simply because the Infinite Source of existence is willing me to be. God is here, He is present, He is intimately involved and He is second by second keeping every aspect of the universe running, from the massive to the microscopic. Since He is infinite, nothing exists without His continuous sustenance.
My perspective on God’s involvement in saving my daughter from harm enabled me to remain serene. But that was an event so obviously out of the ordinary that I could see in it the unmistakable Hand of Providence. It’s apparent that the Almighty is running the show when it comes to the big things. But it’s not only through the major events of our lives that God is speaking to us; He is whispering in our ear through each lost pizza order and every erased file.
Living as a Jew means focusing on God as a presence in our daily lives, recognizing that He is responsible for everything that happens from the seemingly insignificant to the obviously momentous. God runs the world. He loves me. He is taking care of me. He is always with me, gently pushing me to grow. Understanding these ideas and working to integrate them is the key to developing a trusting relationship with God and the beginning of meeting all of life’s challenges, big and small, with serenity.