Many people mistakenly believe that despair is a form of humility.
How many times have you heard people say (or have said yourself):
- "I'm just an amoeba compared to..."
- "I could NEVER do what s/he does..."
- "Only truly great people can..."
- "Only tzaddikim can..."
- "I'm just not on that level."
It's a bit of a trick question because the truth is that, for example, I really am an amoeba compared to Rav Meir Shapiro ztz"l.
But that doesn't mean that I'm really like an amoeba.
I have more than one cell, for example...and Hashem fully expects me to use my multi-celled self to the best of my ability.
And maybe you really can't, say, carry out hospitality or visiting the sick or learning Torah b'hasmadah on the level that certain people can. However, you have your own specialties and potential that Hashem planted within you for the purpose of cultivating.
And while you really may not be "on that level," or that "only tzaddikim" or "only truly great people" can behave in a particular manner, this is often said as an excuse to not even try. Many people seem to feel that just the attempt at trying is an act of pride or arrogance.
Just to be clear:
Sometimes, you really aren't on a particular level and you're facing someone with unrealistic expectations who's pressuring you unfairly. It's fine to tell them that theoretically they're right, but that you just aren't on that level.
That's not making excuses. It's just the truth.
Unfortunately, spiritually unhealthy people demand that others behave like perfect angels in order to be satisfied and they are wrong to pressure you to either attain or maintain such an impossible standard.
All in all, it's just about being honest with yourself and whether you're honestly trying or whether you've perhaps written yourself off and are hiding behind your own smallness as an excuse for not even trying.
So whichever one applies to you, I don't know.
That answer can be found within yourself.
Different Challenges & Chizuk
Some common (yet strenuous) struggles that ordinary people face are:
- Staying "present" (i.e. not disassociating or "blanking out") when life gets tough
- Not losing their temper when exhausted or attacked in some way
- Being happy and hopeful even when faced with ill finances or ill health
- Being patient when faced with irritating or irrational behavior or events
- Resist indulging in forbidden or unhelpful behaviors when bored or stressed
- Much, much more
(Needless to say, there are also severely challenging circumstances, like life-endangering health problems, abuse, terrorism, and more.)
This is when people need chizuk from others.
(If you don't have anyone who can give you chizuk, you can say the above to yourself. You can also write yourself a letter of chizuk.)
However, a quick 'n' cheery brush-off like, "Well, it's all from Hashem!" or "Just daven!" or "Just have emuna!" are usually not helpful at the breaking point.
(Note: Breaking points aren't nice 'n' neat. They can also come one after the other in quick succession. People who freak out, become desperate, or shut down in this type of situation aren't weird or pathetic; they need chizuk, tefillah, and practical hands-on help if possible)
Ideally, chizuk consists of support, empathy, and validation, such as:
- Telling people their strong points, their good points
- Showing genuine admiration or appreciation for how much work they've done or are willing to do on themselves
- Acknowledging & sympathizing with the difficulty and stress of it all
- Offering to pray for them
- Reminding them that Hashem really does love them, that they'll see tremendous reward for their efforts one day, etc.
- Reminding them that their struggles, efforts, and prayers really are meaningful in the big picture and are having a very real effect, even if they can't perceive this
- Whatever else you can think of that's sincere & helpful
Maybe you honestly believe you don't have what it takes.
Maybe other people reinforce this false belief.
But if Hashem is putting you in this kind of situation, apparently He knows that you're up to the challenge.
Even if you can't make it now, eventually you will.
I've found Miriam Adahan's book 30 Seconds to Emotional Health to be very helpful in breaking this all down to bite-size pieces, both in identifying what needs polishing up and also with choosing baby-steps to take, steps which really do reap powerful results. This book also emphasizes the goal of using ordeals to become a better person (i.e. the kind of person Hashem intends for you to be) and it covers a wide variety of situations and relationships.
(It seems to be out-of-print, but you can contact the author to ask where to purchase it or borrow a copy from a friend or a frum book library.)
For a related post, please see:
Being Who God Wants You to Be
Everyone needs chizuk sometimes.