Wisdom Story – 135

Once, the great Hassidic leader, Zusia, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.

“Zusia, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”

“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusia, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusia turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?'”

His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”

“And I have learned,” Zusia sighed, “that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?'”

One of his followers approached Zusia and placed his hands on Zusia’s shoulders. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?”

“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?'”



    • Paul says


      Did I use this one before? Ouch! [Show how scarce these stories are. I recently googled “wisdom story” and PFO came up as the #1 response!]


  1. Lynda says

    Such a good reminder – one of my more frequent prayers is to ask God to help me to be the person God created me to be. I fear I fall short of this in so many ways.

  2. Dolly says

    The Parable of the Talents. God created me with a purpose that I alone can fulfill. My responsibility is to work towards its fulfillment even if I may not know completely what it is until such time that the mystery is revealed to me in the next life. I cannot be any other. I can only live out this very self given to me, to express it even with its weaknesses, and to cultivate its strength and giftedness that I am aware of to the fullest. There is only one path laid out for me that I alone must take.

    • Jim says

      That parable has always tripped me up. There are so many things about it that seem unfair. The servant with 5 talents and the one with 2 get the same return on investment, but the one with 5 gets rewarded a little better (he gets the 1 talent from the third servant). The master reaps where he did not sow and gathers where he did not scatter seed, and the third servant, fearing punishment if he loses any money, holds onto his talent only to be punished for not earning a profit.

      Clearly, the master is God. We are the servants. Being thrown outside into the darkness is going to hell, I suppose. What the money is, and what the master is reaping and not sowing, is unclear to me.

      This is one reason I don’t get too attached to any details about the nature of God and the afterlife. I can just take this as a message to develop and apply what skills I have, as well as I can, to the love of God and my neighbors, and leave for later understanding the part where I go to hell if I don’t properly divine God’s plan for those skills.

      • Dolly says

        Thank you Jim for being candid. We are both on a journey and it is exciting that we can exchange our experiences on where we are at, at a certain stage of our journey.
        I have heard so many homilies about the Parable of the Talents and the Workers in the Vineyard and what stayed with me the most is the realization that God’s grace is freely given to anyone who wants it. It is not something that I can amass and store up or where I can have a lot of and just a little for someone else. From God’s point of view, I understand, is that what I receive from him is not a kind of payment for having served him, nor is it a reward for work I’ve done. I believe that my relationship with him is not in the realm of “bargaining” with him for a better deal. To quote NTWright (Matthew for Everyone), “He (God) makes covenants, in which he promises us everything and asks of us everything in return. When he keeps his promises, he is not rewarding us for effort, but doing what comes naturally to his overflowing generous nature.”

  3. Mike says

    So true. At 72 I’m getting closer but a long way to go, albeit another wisdom story may assure me it can happen in the twinkling of an eye.

    • Paul says


      I’m 56 so your caution that at 72 you still have a long way to go somehow fills me with consolation.

      I don’t think God usually works with the “twinkling of an eye” model, but I could easily be wrong.



  4. says

    One of my favorite stories as well, and one of the hardest to live out, yes? So many people allow themselves to be blocked by the recognition that they will never be a Moses, or a gold medalist, or President, or whatever, and then never become their fullest selves.

    • Paul says


      Your comment made me think of that great remark by Woody Allen: “I’ve come to realize that the only thing standing between me and greatness is… me!”


    • Paul says


      As is often the case, I’m late to the party. It’s Saturday afternoon and I’ve been having a great weekend. Lazy Saturday mornings are the best!


  5. Denise J says

    I like the idea that even though Zusia is *doing* all sorts of good works — praying, studying, helping others, keeping busy — he has this vision that he is called to *be* something more — maybe even something that involved doing something entirely different.

    No visions of angels for me, but not an unfamiliar sensation.

    Happy weekend, everyone!

  6. Jim says

    I’m reading a book where one of the repeated themes is that God wants you to be “the-best-version-of-yourself.” The challenge, I’m finding, is that I must focus on being the-best-version-of-myself at each moment, without getting stuck on what the ultimate best-version-of-myself might be. Focus on doing your best in this moment, and have faith that you will be a much better, happier person, and much closer to God, in the future, as a result.

    • Paul says


      It all sounds a little bit “self-improvementy” to me and I’m on a decided anti self-help kick at the moment.


      • Jim says

        I think the phrase “the-best-version-of-yourself” is misleading. You will not be surprised to know that the author was 26 years old and quite successful (in his own terms) when he wrote it. It’s the phrasing of a driven perfectionist who has had little experience with deep, personal failure.

        I think I’m getting pretty good at extracting what I need from a piece of writing and putting the rest into the “nonsense/too advanced for me” bin, though. In my mind, the point to be taken is just that we are called to keep trying, moment by moment, to be more Christ-like. This includes forgiving yourself for earlier failings, but it also includes steadily pushing yourself to be more forgiving, more loving, more decent, and more honest with yourself and others.

        I do like “the-best-version-of-yourself” for its youthful energy. It helps me stop dwelling on my past failings and think more about what I can and should be doing in the moment. But, in light of the fact that I will inevitably fail again and again and again in the future, I can see how it can be a dangerous phrase, too.

  7. Emma says

    I don’t know who I am. How can I be myself, the best me, when I don’t know who that is? I can think of the “whats ” much like Zusia, but the “who “…..I have not the foggiest notion. Guess that means the me of it all is just screwed up and lost in there somewhere. Funny thing is, before I knew God, I knew myself (or thought I did) and now that I’m closer to God, I seem to have lost myself :( Does that mean I should turn away from God so that I can find myself again? Weird.

    • Paul says


      Mike at 72 (see above) says that he has a long way to go, so you should feel little pressure in this regard.

      If being close to God means that you have lost yourself, then I’m concerned that the God you are close to is not the God you need to know.


        • Jim says

          It’s also possible you didn’t really know yourself. Maybe you’ve just become aware that the self you thought you knew isn’t really you, and you’re in the transition phase, asking, “but then, who am I?”, with some distance to go before you even begin to think you know the answer. I feel like getting closer to yourself is the same path as getting closer to God (even for those who would never use that word).

          I told someone else here that I think I had to become an atheist and leave behind the cartoon version of God I used to know before I could begin to really know God. Maybe you had to leave behind a cartoon version of yourself to open the way to really knowing yourself.

  8. Carol says

    Thanks for this wisdom story and for each person’s comment.

    I like others am not sure who I am.
    Possible I could substitute the name Zusia with carol.
    When I was younger I thought I did, but not as I travel through my 50″s.

    I decided to begin to read the book you sent Fr Paul-The Other Side of Chaos

  9. Simon says

    I don’t think anyone, when they start out anyway, is truly themselves. They try to conform. I have reached a stage of my life where it really doesn’t matter what people think of me and I am more inclined to be myself. Unfortunately, I’m not altogether sure that I’m all that nice a person :-(

    • Denise J says

      1) Not sure I can agree with your self-assessment. On line, you are a very nice person, it seems to me.

      2) From time to time I work with people whose job it is to defend human rights. They spend their days battling the bad guys of the world with all the non-lethal force they can muster. No one would never, ever describe any of these colleagues as nice. And I thank God for that, and for them.

      Nice is not always synonomous with good.

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