I have a love-hate relationship with instruction manuals. I love the stability they offer, the 1-2-3 step process with a set goal and objective in mind. But, I hate that they leave no room for interpretation or creativity. I hate that if I deviate from the instruction manual, my Ikea bookshelf will be nothing but a pile of wood (can it even be considered wood?).
And yet, when life gets real in the realest sense, I find myself clinging onto the idea of living an Instruction Manual Life.
What is an instruction manual life, you ask? It is a life of detailed guidance, direction, and teaching. It’s not about guidance towards my unique potential, but rather, a robotic, 1-2-3 step lifestyle that will keep me safe, happy, successful, and surrounded by cheap yet structured furniture.
It’s the kind of life I want on days when I hear bad news or make costly mistakes. In those moments, all I want is something that tells me exactly how to live and which decisions to make.
….But. There’s always a but. What if this is wrong? What if the Instruction Manual Life is a living of a different kind; not a scared attempt to stay under the radar and get by, but an opportunity to kick off from a guidepost onto big, bold, and meaningful lives?
Stop. Vocabulary time: The Hebrew word for Instruction is הוראה (ho-ra-ah), which also translates as guidance or direction. Notice it says nothing here about minute, fixed detail.
Can we seek guidance without becoming co-dependent on the feelings of control?
I’m sure you’re sitting there thinking: Yeah, we have that, it’s called the Torah. It’s obvious, right? The Torah is the instruction manual…there’s nothing else to seek.
Well, if that’s true, how come we find ourselves seeking answers and direction in everything but the Torah?
Ah…Curiouser and curiouser.
There’s two different kind of instruction: The first kind is an attempt to run away from life (which feels so much easier!). The second kind is an attempt to embrace life, whatever it brings.
Torah offers us straight answers, but, it also doesn’t. It tells us how to live, how to be, how to embrace the world and its many intricacies, but it doesn’t offer a one size fits all guide. We can look for instruction and answers, but at the end of the day, we’ve each been given a unique opportunity to live our own lives in the way that is wholly and entirely different from anyone else.
The Torah is our kick stand from which we can dive into the deeper waters of life. It will tell us how to be, while offering us the space to embrace it with our individual sparks.
Listen. There is nothing I crave more in life than the guarantees offered by an instruction manual…okay, that’s not true. Second to tacos. That’s still pretty high on the list. And, in some instances, having that structure is very necessary. This is not a call for a structure-free, revolutionary life.
But. Again with the but. Here’s the thing: the more I cling to the idea of how life should be, and how it should unfold, the more I find myself burdened by expectation and difficulty to accept what is at hand. Trying to use a microwave handbook to build a table yields weird results.
Instruction manuals don’t make for safety. They cause a heavy burden of trying to shift shape the you-ness out of you.
I could give you a Dr.Seuss-esque rendition of the wonders of being you and no one else, but I’ll keep it simple: Life is not meant to be linear. It’s scary, it’s true, and if we embrace it, it’s beautiful. Nothing ever goes as planned, but if we stick to the second type of instruction, we’ll at least have guideposts with which to keep pushing through.
Sukkot is upon us, people. Go sit in a Sukkah, spend eight days soaking up Hugs From Hashem, and use that energy to embrace a world that is entirely chaotic and out of our control. Let this be your instruction manual.