I told my wife I was going to bed early last Tuesday night. I was wrong. At 10:30 pm, my anticipated bedtime, I found myself in the car taking one of my kids to the ER (Emergency Room). It was a beautiful and extremely unpleasant experience. No one enjoys seeing their loved one in pain. And no parent, especially me, enjoys missing their bedtime. But those painful moments are often precious moments. And along with the discomfort that comes along with pain, it is also an honor, a pleasure, and an opportunity to be there for our loved ones when they need us. ER, pain, pleasure… how does that work?
Arriving at the ER represents entering an environment that is unknown, a situation which is unclear what to expect, frightfully confronted with mortality, and a strong potential for physical and/or emotional pain. In other words, it’s a recipe for deep primal fear. Science and experience have taught us that primal fear turns on a deeply rooted survival system within us. We feel it in our nervous system through the adrenaline rush and raised heart rate, in our mind as our thoughts are rushing and we can’t think straight, and in our hearts as anxiety and fear take over. It’s a survival mechanism, and we all have it. A voice within us calls out, “Don’t be alone in this! Go find someone to support you! Quick!” I see that voice in my daughter’s eyes as we are told she needs stitches. Paternal nature takes over as we sit there on the hospital bed, foreheads touching, holding hands, as her wound is stitched up. And as I am comforting her through her painful and scary moment, I can’t help but realize that we were profoundly bonding.
A correlating Torah Insight:
It says in Tehilim 126:5, “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” The simple understanding of the verse is comfort. Those who are sad and tearful now, there will be times of joy to come. However, perhaps we can understand this verse in another way.
We are built to bond, and our greatest joy is the joy of connection. Whether that connection is through bonding with our spouse, parents, children, or the Almighty, it is ignites within our body and soul feelings of tremendous comfort, satisfaction, and joy. The opportunities to experience that joy of connection come from the bonding experiences we have in our most vulnerable spaces, often moments of fear or sadness. “Those who sow in tears,” those who are willing to feel their vulnerable parts and reach out for connection in their times of need, “will reap in joy,” will have the great joy of an intimate bond of closeness.
Relationship Application: We all have times where we get scared and have an inner voice saying to us, “Don’t be alone in this! Go find someone to support you!” At first, shame or past wounds may stop us from reaching out for the comfort and connection we need in those moments. We might even feel it could push away our loved ones to share our fears with them. The truth is that this space is where relationships survive and thrive. We take a risk when we reach out to our loved one and say, “I need you. I’m scared and need you to be here with me. I need you to comfort me.” But through that risk to share, we open the door to receive their comforting message, “I’m here for you. I’m with you. I’ll support you.” There’s nothing in the world that bonds two individuals more than to know, and to experience, you’re there for me when I need you.
Though none of us seek scary feelings, we can learn to open up to them as opportunities. They are where we learn to reach out, or be reached out to, connecting with our loved ones. We can use them as the vibrant breeding ground where relationships grow, thrive, and flourish. Being in the ER is not pleasant. But being there for my child to know I’m there for her is awesome.
Joshua Marder, M.A., Rabbi, LMFT, has studied and trained with some of the leading couples and family therapists of our generation. He offers counseling for couples and families, supervision for couples therapists, runs monthly one-day “retreats” for couples, and leads a monthly consultation group for therapists. To see more articles and videos from Josh, go to his website: www.builttobond.com.