Taking Baby Steps toward Greatness
Anyone who has ever watched a toddler learning to walk knows how exciting it can be to witness. Over the course of a year, infants go from uncoordinated newborns, to crawling and curious babies, and then, suddenly, those first amazing steps are taken! Parents everywhere beam with pride as their child navigates one step, then another, until—BOOM!—they crash to the ground.
Of course, in most situations, rather than comfort and coddle the fallen child, we rush to congratulate them and encourage them to stand right back up for just a few more steps. This cycle repeats itself over and over, falling and rising again, until that toddling child becomes a seasoned walker, on the move and ready to cause trouble wherever they can find it! It is mind-boggling to think about everything that a baby accomplishes in just a few short months.
Babies’ ability to fall without being discouraged and immediately get back up again creates an exponential potential for growth. Only with their can-do attitude and refusal to give into failure are babies able to transform themselves into full-blown walkers.
When a young child falls, they don’t dwell on the mistake they just made. There is only pure tenacity and the desire to achieve their goal. Young children don’t become ashamed, and they don’t care about what other people think, making it that much easier to get right back up and try again.
Unfortunately, once we grow up, we are all too quick to give into failure. Unlike the baby who can’t wait to get up and take its next few steps, failure in adulthood can paralyze us and cause stagnation. Be it a bad date, a job rejection, or even just running late to a meeting, we are so quick to let negativity take hold and allow the bad thoughts to fester. We worry about what others may think of our failure and wonder if we can ever get past it. Once we are down, it can be hard to get back up again.
“Sheva yipol tzaddik vekam—A righteous person falls seven times and rises.” (Mishlei 24:16) Failure is part and parcel of being human. Throughout life there will be innumerable challenges to face. What makes a tzaddik unique is their ability to rise after they fall. Not only do they get up, but those difficult situations are actually vehicles for learning and growth. In the back of their mind, they know that although Hashem may not be visible in that moment, they are not alone. G-d created this difficult moment as a unique opportunity to learn and grow from.
While cooking in the kitchen one afternoon, my baby was happily playing next to me. A small toy she was playing with skid across the floor and landed under the counter towards the back of the baseboards, where even most brooms don’t reach.
She crawled towards it and tilted her head to get a better view, then positioned herself on her tummy, attempting to reach it, but to no avail. With a pause, she calculated her next move. Looking towards me for help, she started expressing her frustration. I instinctively began to reach for the toy to hand it to her, then retracted, realizing that the struggle was good for her and would help develop her gross motor skills.
Understanding now that she was on her own, she maneuvered herself way closer to the toy and after another try, succeeded in reaching her goal. She beamed with joy at her accomplishment.
Although parents know without a doubt that we love our children and want them to succeed, from the child’s perspective that is not always so clear. In their moment of struggle, it can be difficult to understand that when their parents take a step back, it is ultimately for the child’s benefit.
As children of Hashem, when we look at our own life’s trajectory, we may feel alone in our struggles, wondering where Hashem is in our lives. During difficult times, we may feel anger or dismay that Hashem wants us to stretch ourselves. Hashem’s seeming absence may feel immeasurable as we struggle to figure it out by ourselves. But Hashem is never truly absent. That “step back” is actually an act of love from Hashem. He is always watching, guiding, and cheering us on, and oftentimes he is protecting us from hardship in more ways than we can ever imagine.
One Shabbos a number of years ago, I attended shul with my sister-in-law and my three-year-old niece. As the energetic toddler jumped in between the pews, I watched her mother strategically place her hands so my niece would not bump her head. She simultaneously stopped the siddurim from falling on my niece or on the floor. I remember thinking, Wow, my niece has no idea that her mother is guarding her every move to make sure she does not hurt herself. That’s when it hit me: Just as parents do so much for their children without their children’s knowledge, so too is our Father in Heaven constantly protecting us even when we cannot see it. Although it may not always seem that way, He is orchestrating every move of our lives to ensure the best outcome for us.
Witnessing my niece’s “blind spot” was sweet and endearing, but as adults it can be easy to take the goodness in our lives for granted. We live our lives obliviously, barely noticing all the amazing miracles that keep us safe daily. Hashem is with us during the hard times even when we can’t see Him, but he is also with us every time we wake up in the morning and take a deep breath, arrive safely at our destination after a turbulent plane ride, and so many other moments that we are being protected without our knowledge.
Just like a parent knows when to step in and when to let their child fall, struggle, and eventually get back up again, Hashem is the ultimate parent who is always supporting us, even during difficult times, rooting for us to become stronger and greater each day.
The next time you find yourself on the verge of collapse, remember that G-d always has your back, propelling you to find your footing and learn to run.