“Will you just relax?”

Don’t you just love it when people tell you to relax? I find it the most un-relaxing thing in the world.

I have a friend who has been searching for her soul mate for years. “Relax,” they tell her. “Just relax and you’ll find someone. A woman suffering for years with infertility treatments: “If you would only relax, you would become pregnant.” The woman in labor: “Relax,” the doctor tells her, “and the baby will go down.” She just lost her job and needs to pay the rent by the first of the month: “Relax, you’ll find another one.”

I’m not saying that these things are false; in fact, they have a lot of truth to them. If you relax, it can help you to find a spouse, job, a baby, health—you name it. Relaxation is great. But I never saw anyone relax (and I am a both a massage therapist and a doula) by telling them to relax.

I never saw anyone relax by telling them to relaxSo how does one relax? Relaxation comes when you let go and let G‑d do the job.

Last night a woman came to me for a massage. She wanted me to help her sleep better. She had no physical problems. Her insomnia comes from anxiety and fear. She is in her eighth month of pregnancy, and she is petrified. Not of the birth, but of after the birth. After her first child was born, she suffered terribly from post-partum depression. For four months she didn’t live; she barely functioned, as thoughts of suicide, darkness and despair overwhelmed her. At last, with lots of support and medication, there was a light at the end of the dark tunnel. She made it. Now, even taking preventative medicine, she fears the return of that darkness.

“Will you teach me to relax?” she asked me. As much as I kneaded, massaged and soothed her muscles, I knew that there was nothing my hands could do to take away the tension. The only lesson that I could offer her was one of faith.

Six days a week I can’t take a nap. I’ve tried. I lie in bed, close the curtains. I’m exhausted and I know that I need a nap, but I can’t. I can’t relax. As soon as my head hits the pillow, I start to think about . . . the laundry, what to make for dinner, letters that need to be written and phone calls that need to be made, lists and lists of things “to do.” There went my nap.

Saturday comes, Shabbat. We finish our morning meal. I leave snacks on the table for my kids and wish them good Shabbos (and good luck!). I close my bedroom door. My head hits the pillow, and in less than a minute I am asleep and am taking the most delightful nap. If no one were to wake me, I would sleep for three hours. No work to do, no errands to make. It’s Shabbat, and everything that needed to get done is done. For six days I made my effort; I did my part. I bought food, cleaned the home, cooked the food and laundered the clothing; now the seventh day comes, and with the lighting of the candles I completely relinquish control to G‑d. This is His day, the day that we meet Him face to face. We invite the divine presence to our dining table as we sing and sanctify the day with wine. I am completely and totally relaxed.

The Talmud tells the story of a vineyard owner. One Shabbat morning he took a walk and noticed that there was a hole in his fence. “Oh no,” he thought. “I will have to fix that as soon as Shabbos ends, so that animals don’t come into my fields and eat the grapes.” He immediately felt bad. “Why am I worrying about my fields and planning on what I will do later tonight, when it is now Shabbat?” He felt so bad that he decided that he would not fix the fence, ever. G‑d performed a miracle for him, and a tree began to grow in that exact spot, covering the hole.

For six days I made my effort; I did my partIn Hebrew there are no names for the weekdays. Sunday is the “first day”; Monday, the “second”; . . . Friday, the “sixth.” Each day receives its name from its distance from the past Shabbat, and we count towards the next Shabbat. The entire week of work and activities is centered around the holy Shabbat. We await her presence like a groom awaits his bride on their wedding night. As we go through the week, we make preparations. We make our effort, we do our part, but ultimately we know that G‑d is in control. With this in mind, we don’t have to worry. We can relax.

I looked at my client in the eyes and took her hand. “You are taking preventative medication. You have a team of family and friends lined up for support. Pray that it is not going to happen again, and leave it up to G‑d.” Her face softened; the muscles went limp. “That’s something that I will have to work on.”

“We all do,” I admitted.

She took a deep breath, smiled, and left a bit more relaxed.