When I was a teenager, I spent my weekends with Fireball sailing boats on the Nairobi Dam. The dam, originally commissioned in 1953 to provide the growing city with water, was topped at one end by the large, densely populated slum area of Kibera. It was a small dam: if I stretched out my hand out far enough, I could reach across its width; if I squinted on a clear day, I could see across its entire length. Almost. Still, its 350,000 cubic meter surface provided us with ample space for water sport.

No matter how far I leaned out, I was not pulling the boat levelThroughout my sailing career, I never took responsibility for controlling the mainsail and rudder of the Fireball because I simply could not understand how a boat is expected to move forward when the wind is not behind billowing into the sail, but blowing directly into the boat. Since I could not grasp the theory of zigzagging to move forwards, carrying out the actual maneuvers was obviously impossible.

In every race, I was happy to be the more passive partner in our team of two. When the race master sounded the horn, and we began sailing towards some distant buoy, I followed my partner's instructions and pulled in or let out the jib, the small triangular shaped sail whose function always remained a mystery to me.

I also had to use the harness and this was the job I loved best. If the wind was blowing particularly strongly, we would allow it to fill the mainsail and so cut through the murky dam water faster. At these times, to counterbalance the push of the wind and keep the boat on an even keel, I hooked myself onto a harness and leaned out over the edge of the boat. I let the harness out as far as it could go and leant back into the air straining with every kilo of my skinny frame to pull the boat level.

The wind was blowing my hair this way and that, the water was spraying up in white waves and we were speeding forward to a distant buoy. The thrill was heightened whenever I realized that we had moved too much into the wind, had lost control and no matter how far I leaned out, I was not pulling the boat level. Then, on our way to capsizing, I would unhook the harness and jump backwards, away from the boat, into the dubious waters. Considering the solid waste that the slum of Kibera was dumping into the dam, it was a miracle we never caught any horrible disease.

By the time my head surfaced, the mainsail was lying flat on the water surface and we had to clamber onto the centre board, and jump up and down on it until the boat began to straighten. If I was lucky, I would fall into the boat as it was straightening. If I was unlucky, I would fall back into the dam. Sailing taught me that to reach a goal, you have to strive and strain.

Sailing has helped me to raise my children. As a mother, I always seem to be striving towards some sort of goal, aiming for a distant buoy while straining against the wind. Some of my goals are more easily attainable than others: hustling the children out in the mornings cheerily seems to be an almost unattainable one. No matter what time they go to bed the previous night, by the time morning comes, those eyelids are still tightly shuttered. So striving to make the morning rush pleasant, I have employed a whole gamut of tricks: Singing. Playing loud music. Pulling off the blankets. Chocolate chips or fruit gums under the cereal bowls. Special cereal for the early risers: this usually works but leaves me feeling sad for the sleepy heads who sit at the table rubbing the sleep from their eyes and munching dry rice crackers.

I could do nothing to change our positionI ran the gauntlet every morning faithfully. Some mornings were better than others, and some children were better than others. But it seemed that one of my sons, let's call him Nattie, was always going to be a late riser—none of these tricks worked with him. Since I preferred for him to go out with a smile on his face and a song in his heart, instead of endless admonitions ringing in his ears, I kept trying. I tried charts: they worked till he got the prize. The next morning we were back to our sleepy routine. I talked to professionals. I refused to write late notes. Together we bought a new alarm clock which he set every night and ignored every morning.

Then, one afternoon when listening to my preschool daughter singing her retinue of songs, I found something that I thought would work. She was singing a song whose words come from the Shulchan Aruch, the Codified Book of Jewish Law written by Rabbi Yosef Caro in the sixteenth century. That evening, with a plate of chocolate chip cookies by our side, I told Nattie about the first chapter.

Rabbi Caro tells us, in the name of Yehuda son of Taima, that one must be as bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do G‑d's will. Strong as a lion means beating that voice that tells you not to get up yet, I explained to Nattie. We should be running to do what He wants of us, I told him. Next we opened up a wildlife book and looked at pictures of lions racing across the savannah in pursuit of prey. I skipped over the photos of lazing lions, their bellies full of meat, too full to swish the pesky flies away. Thanks to this process of visualization, and audio stimulation in the form of roaring on my part, some mornings, Nattie actually tumbles out of bed the first time I call him. Finally he leaves the house happily. I am happy too: happy to be drawing closer to my Creator by meeting the challenge He tailored for me.

The second thing that sailing taught me about goals is that sometimes, striving towards a goal requires relinquishing control and doing absolutely nothing. On racing days when the wind refused to blow and every mainsail flapped limply, all the Fireballs would languish on the dam drifting agonizingly slowly towards the buoys that floated in the distant tauntingly. On those days, I lowered myself onto the floor of the boat and stretched out to bask in the sun. The sun's rays bore down and then dazzled back up from the water's surface. I relished the warm embrace and quiet. No pulling in or releasing of the jib, no striving against the harness would make the boat move faster. I could do nothing to change our position.

We need to find the balance between expending incredible effort and refraining from putting in that effortI've applied this second lesson too in my life. Recently my eldest daughter babysat for the friend of a neighbor. The friend kept forgetting to pay her. Two uncomfortable phone calls and one house visit later, left me feeling extremely frustrated. Then I realized that this was one of the times that having put in the effort, and seeing no results, it was time to give up. G‑d was running the world and however hard I pushed, I was getting nowhere. I told my daughter that she should try and be happy that she had helped someone out. I also told her that some people are having a hard time and G‑d wants us to share in their trouble. Losing out on her money was the way that G‑d orchestrated to force her to feel the woman's pain. We stopped trying to reach her. Then, a week after we did nothing in the pursuit of our goal, the woman paid.

Striving to come close to our Creator requires us to find the balance between expending incredible effort and refraining from putting in that effort. Different situations call for different responses. If we remember, both when we are striving and when we are not, that G‑d is in charge of the world, then also these moments of apparent inactivity will be turned into a form of striving. Both our toil and our islands of tranquility will become part of our striving for closeness to Him.