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Making God Real

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When I was younger, God was pretty irrelevant to me. I had no relationship with God and couldn’t have told you whether or not I believed there was a power greater than humanity running the world. Today, much of what I do is driven by my desire to follow God to the best of my ability, even when I fall far short.

There are people who believe in God but think that God is primarily or exclusively concerned with the Big Issues, such as war and peace, life and death, keeping the ocean from flooding the shore and making the sun rise and set each day.

Yet, there is an idea in Judaism that we don’t so much as move our little finger without God being involved.

Obviously, there are nuances, but there are three main positions one could hold regarding God:

1) God is non-existent and/or irrelevant.
2) God exists, but is only involved in the big things.
3) God exists and is involved in every detail.

I fall solidly into the third camp. And here’s a small window into what that looks like in my life.

For well over a year, I have been debating about whether or not to resign from working with a particular client. On the one hand, the work I do for them is completely unrelated to the rest of my portfolio. I wanted to eliminate it in order to concentrate on what I feel passionate about. On the other hand, the client is a dream client who pays me fairly, always pays me on time, compliments my work and does not make excessive demands.

A few months ago, the client reprioritized my tasks. In reality, although they still pay me fairly, I have much less work to do for them now. This frees me up to concentrate on the things I really want to be doing, which are projects that come from my Jewish commitments.

As I was describing this change to a friend earlier this week, I realized with a start that God had solved my dilemma for me. I didn’t have to resign and give up the monthly retainer. And the net effect is that I work many fewer hours each month for this client, so I have more time for other projects.

I consciously attributed that outcome to God because I strive to see God in the details.

Here’s another example. This past August, there was a news story about an Arab man with tree-like tumors all over his hands who was successfully treated by Israeli doctors. The images of the man’s hands were shocking to me. If you have a strong stomach, you can see the images by clicking here. I was alternately fascinated and repulsed by them. For 10 years, this Arab man was unable to use his hands. He was in tremendous pain as a result of the tumors and had become a recluse because of them.

A few days ago, I was kneading dough to make challah for Shabbat. At one point, the dough was thick and sticky and my hand was twice its normal size, completely covered in dough. I pulled it from the bowl and was reminded of the man with the tumors.

All I had to do was pull the dough off and wash my hands to restore their smoothness. So I took a moment to thank God for my hands, which are ordinary human hands, blessedly tumor-free. I wanted to express my gratitude to God for my hands which, until that moment, I hadn’t given much thought to.

These are two small examples of what my life looks like when I concentrate on seeing God in the details.
It’s not easy or effortless, but I feel that it enriches my life to try to see things this way. One of the tools I use to get better at this spiritual practice might be called Conversation as Prayer.

Prayer is hard for me. I’m especially bad at communal prayer. Most of the time I spend in synagogue, I’m somewhere else, inevitably still in a quiet prayer moment when the rest of the congregation zooms on and starts singing or I’m distracted by the whispered exchanges between my neighbors or I’m resentful of the various ways women are shortchanged in an Orthodox synagogue. It’s very hard for me to connect to God in synagogue, the very place established to help create a bond between people and God.

Praying at home is a little better. I can take my time. I can be comfortable. I am not distracted by other people talking or singing when I want to think. But I am still resentful every time I notice that a prayer was written with the assumption that the person saying it is male.
There is a Jewish style of prayer called hitbodedut, made famous by Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. In its classic form, hitbodedut means talking to God for an hour a day in your mother tongue, without a siddur, without a minyan. Just talking to God, preferably outdoors, as you would talk to a friend about what’s on your mind, what’s in your heart.

I’ve aspired to a hitbodedut practice. And, to date, I have not yet succeeded.

There was one year that I spoke to Hashem for five minutes every day about a specific issue, but an hour? I’ve never been able to do that.
Instead, I’m developing the practice of talking to God all the time, multiple times a day. I ask for help managing things that are hard. Or even for accomplishing things that are small. I apologize for saying, or even thinking, things I should not have said or thought.

And I try to thank Him all day long, for the small things - a delivery that arrives on time, a set of clean sheets on my bed, a picture of my grandson received on WhatsApp.

There is no place (except the bathroom) where I cannot speak to God – in the kitchen, in the car, at my desk, while relaxing in the living room in the evening. And since I’m communicating with God throughout the day, I don’t feel as much pressure to participate in a formal set of communal prayers.

I’m getting better at feeling connected through stringing small moments together throughout my day. Relating to God is a discipline. And not everyone does it the same way.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to do an hour of hitbodedut. But for now, a few moments here and there, more each day, are helping me stay close.

Helping me make God real.
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