How NOT to Give Chizuk

How NOT to Give Chizuk

One day this week, at the end of a long day, I went to the gym to exercise and listen to some inspirational videos and a favorite audiobook and generally enjoy myself. And I was, until I ran into Leah*. An acquaintance I see sometimes around the gym.
“Hi, how are you?” she asked, “please remind me your name?”
“Chana.”
“Chana, right! I married off my son last night!”
“Wow, that’s amazing! Mazal tov!” I love hearing good news, and Leah’s news just added to my already good mood.
And then she asked, “Have you married off any children?”
My first impulse was to cut the conversation short and get back to my workout. I was in a good mood, this was my self-care time. Why ruin it with THIS?
But then I bit my tongue and ordered myself: Don’t be rude to her. Be Nice!
“No, none of my children are married.” A short pause.
“How old are they?”
“My oldest is 26…” Leah waited in silence.
“And then I have a 24-year-old, a 22-year-old, a 19-year-old and none of them are married. It hasn’t worked out so easily for us with marriages,” I said, my voice getting slightly choked.
And then Leah attempted to give me chizuk, “When kids get married, they leave the home. You barely see them anymore. And that is so hard for me. It’s very difficult!”
For a moment this did comfort me. I thought of how much I enjoy the company of my older daughters who are still at home. That is a blessing. A bit of sweetness in this nisayon.
But as fast as the comfort came, it left, like an exposed wedding-candle extinguished in the wind.
I’ve worked a lot on my emuna and bitachon. And b”H, nowadays I spend a fraction of the amount of time I used to spend feeling down and upset about my older unmarried daughter. But after a few good months, with Leah’s “chizuk,” the upset came rushing back.
Even after I left the gym, I felt stormy all evening. And even the next morning I was still upset.
I couldn’t put my finger on why that conversation with Leah had bothered me so much until I ran into my friend, Sari, at the gym this morning.
I asked her where she will be for Shabbat, and she mentioned something about sheva brachot for her niece who just got married.
“Mazal tov! That’s so wonderful!”
And then she, remembering my own situation, said, “You know I married off 2 of my children 7 weeks apart! May Hashem bless you with simchas! I once heard marrying off children is like getting the first pickle out of the pickle jar. The first one is hard to pull out, but once it’s out, the rest slide out easily!”
I thanked her and told her (truthfully) how her chizuk made me feel better and gave me hope.
And I learned a lesson. When a person is struggling, it doesn’t help to say: What you are praying your guts out for isn’t actually so great.
It does help to say: I know this isn’t easy, you want your dream to come true, like it seems to be coming true for everyone else and their children. But I’m telling you IY”H IT WILL. Blessing will pour down on you in ways you cannot even image. Please God.

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One comment

  1. I had similar experiences while waiting to have children. There were many comments and a particular article by someone on a Jewish website. The article was about how if you don’t have children, it’s ok, you can become an auntie or uncle to neighbourhood children. It’s nice to have kids but it’s not essential, the idea seemed to be (written by someone who, after the article, was described as the mother and grandmother of a number of children so clearly to this person it was something very essential actually). To me, it still hurts to even think about it, after many children since then. I wish more people would have said “wow, yes, it is a big loss! Keep davening, Hashem hears your pain”.

    I think there are certain things that we recognise are against the way they “should” be, even when they do happen to many people. Someone of marriageable age struggling to get married for many years. A couple waiting years for children. A child being very ill or losing a child as a parent (when the child should normally mourn the parent). Many more such examples. These are painful tradegies. Of course we can overcome them but let’s not pretend they are anything else.

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