I came across something online today that really kind of…poked at me in an unusual way. A woman in a conversion group posted two comments, stated as if they are immutable facts. I think her intentions were good, most likely trying to encourage people feeling down about their conversion process.
“If you ever come to the point where there are no more nisayonim (obstacles) in your spiritual life and everything is butterflies and rainbows, run for your life, for you are being deluded.”
“If coming to Judaism *doesn’t* “turn your world completely and totally upside-down,” you are doing something wrong. Don’t be discouraged. It is common to feel overwhelmed and not-quite-up-to-the-task.”
I turned both statements over and over in my head, trying to figure out what about them rubbed me wrong. After all, my family hasn’t exactly had the smoothest path to conversion. Even taking conversion out of the picture, I’m not sure anyone’s life is butterflies and rainbows all the time or doesn’t have times where their world seems to be turned upside down. I also absolutely agree with encouraging people who may think that this is a sign that something is “wrong.” Just because you’re having a tough time doesn’t mean you’re not on the path that G-d intends for you or that you won’t make it to whatever goal you have in mind. Sometimes that struggle is where our rough edges are worn off.
A wise friend helped me get to the bottom of my discomfort.
She pointed out that both statements imply a judgment. Flip them around and someone who is experiencing one of those wonderful spiritual high points, where life does seem filled with butterflies and rainbows…is simply deluded. Someone whose conversion process has proceeded rather smoothly and whose life hasn’t been turned upside down…is doing something wrong. Either that, or they’d better be wary because if they ARE doing it right, that kind of upheaval is certain to come.
My spiritual life in general is one of ebbs and flows, like tides. I don’t believe the parts where I do feel sublimely connected and a great peace or joy are a delusion or a sign I’m being misled. I don’t expect every moment to be like that, so I enjoy them for the temporary pleasure they bring. I welcome them without judgment and knowing that I never know when they’re going to come or go. Like a butterfly landing on your shoulder, there’s really no way to keep them there. Still, I don’t think it’s wrong to stop what I’m doing and stare in wonder at the butterfly, admiring all its colors and enjoying it visiting me. For me, moments of childlike joy are a taste of Olam Haba as much as a delicious meal on the Sabbath. They’re glimpses of a better world made whole, not a sign that something is wrong.
Similarly, my path to Judaism has been one of joys and losses, ups and downs, but I also know people who haven’t had quite as many twists and turns as I have. I know of a woman who had a relatively straight path to conversion in a single year. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. G-d chose to give her different obstacles in other parts of her life and her path to Judaism wasn’t one of those. Even in my own path, as long and winding as it has been, I can’t say that my world has been “completely and totally turned upside down.” Have I had some deep disappointments and chaos? Sure. But when I think of my world and what it would take to completely and totally turn it upside down? I think more of grave disease or death in myself or someone I love, war, famine, something on that scale. My conversion being delayed or any of the lifestyle changes I’ve done as part of the process? Difficult maybe, but it’s just another turn in a winding road, not the utter reversal or upending of it.
At the bottom of it, I think my problem with statements like these, as well-intentioned as they are, is that it implies that there really only is one way to experience spirituality or conversion and that any other…is suspect or somehow lesser. If there is one thing that I have learned in all these years on my own conversion journey, it’s that it’s a unique journey for every person who goes through it. I’ve also learned that Judaism and spirituality in general have so many facets to them. Maybe this woman does find more grounding and meaning in a more sober spirituality, but others find a great deal of joy in theirs and both can be proper.
I mean, look at the Na Nachs! These fellows, who are a subset of Breslover Chasidim, go around dancing for HOURS with vans that play music, all in an attempt to make people smile and feel joy. I’m sure, like all human beings, they have their struggles, but in those moments, it at least seems like they’re embracing butterflies and rainbows.
And the world really could use more happiness.