Hello, G-d? Are you there?
Sitting in the X-ray waiting room of the hospital with my daughter’s head nestled against my chest, I sighed heavily. It was going to be a while.
The room was packed with people of all faiths waiting with their children. While most sat quietly, one woman was having a phone conversation so loud that it was very difficult to ignore. As she continued speaking into the phone, I realized she was actually praying to the person on the other end of the line.
She cried out with fervor, “Oh heavenly Father, I pray to you to forgive me. I pray for hope, for peace, and love for my neighbors, for my friends, and for my enemies. Oh, ultimate Father and pleasant one, grant us assistance, protection, and guidance. I pray for love, heavenly Father, and for health and forgiveness…”
This went on for many minutes without so much as a moment’s pause.
When the woman completed her dissertation, she paused and said, “Father? Uh, hello? Father? Are you there?”
Heavenly Father was clearly no longer on the line. She groaned disappointedly towards the phone and hung up.
Despite the irony of the situation, I was struck by her level of faith in someone on the telephone. She faithfully believed in this person’s capacity to connect her to G-d, only to realize they were not even there to hear her in the end.
How lucky are we to have direct access and connection to Hashem! Without need of an intermediary, Hashem never tires of our requests, and is constantly available to us—rain or shine, day or night.
Do we always take advantage of this gift, or even believe that Hashem is capable and present at all times? We too can experience a blockage that prevents us from connecting directly to G-d. This disconnection stems from our end, not G-d’s.
Sometimes, when we experience challenges and suffering, the burden feels so heavy, we develop callousness of heart which prevents us from connecting. Being faced with a challenge is like boarding a train platform with trains departing in opposing directions. The train is going to leave, either going closer to your ultimate destination, or farther away from it. You will move in one direction or another, but you won’t stay where you are. Suffering moves us.
The opportunity for challenges to bring us closer to Hashem is tremendous. Chapter 23 of Tehillim describes a scene of David HaMelech with Hashem. The first half of the psalm refers to G-d in the third person, “He lays me down in lush pastures, He directs me beside tranquil waters, He restores my soul.” Suddenly, mid-psalm, it switches to first person: “Though I walk in the valley of death’s shadow I will fear no evil because You are with me.”
When everything is positive, Hashem, He, is right there. Yet, when things become dark, Hashem’s relationship to us becomes first person, You, an even closer experience.
This is beautifully illustrated in the famous allegorical poem (of disputed authorship) called “Footsteps in the Sand.” A man is having a dream that he is walking on the beach with G-d. He sees two sets of footprints, one for his steps through life, and the other representing G-d’s. When times were good, there G-d was, walking right by his side. Yet when things became difficult, there was only one set of footprints, and the man felt abandoned.
However, when the man asks G-d to explain his absence, G-d explains that He was actually carrying the man. Although right next to the man in good times, Hashem was even closer in his time of need.
How can we choose such closeness during our struggles, big or small?
Hashem has bestowed upon us a gift—prayer—that encourages this closeness. Tefillah replaces the korban, sacrifice, that was offered during the times of the Temple. The root of the word korban is karov, which means “to bring close.”
There are three distinct elements that define prayer—praise, requests, and thanksgiving. These aspects of prayer heighten our awareness of Hashem’s ultimate sovereignty over our lives, which enables closeness to continue.
Praising Hashem is not meant to “butter G-d up” to our requests, but rather for us to realize Who it is we are speaking with. The purpose of praise is to broaden our perspective of who G-d is. It is this widened perspective that enables us to connect with Him.
Rabbi David Aaron shares the following metaphor: Imagine a boy is playing with a ball in his front yard. The ball begins to roll into the street, and the boy immediately races after it. He is intercepted by his mother, who sees an oncoming truck in the road. She holds him strongly in her arms, preventing him from continuing after the ball.
He begs her to let go, to no avail. The child is angry, not realizing that, ultimately, she is saving his life.
The child experiences a narrow perspective on the situation, similar to our perspective compared to G-d’s. When we pray, we broaden our perspective to realize that G-d is our loving Parent who always cares for us, even when it doesn’t seem that way.
I’ll never forget a lecture I once attended where the rabbi said, “I’ve only prayed a few times in my life.”
The audience looked around at each other with disbelief. This was a man piously dressed, who had already led three prayer services that weekend.
He described that he was referring to the type of prayer where one surrenders himself completely to Hashem. He described prayer where the need is so heartfelt that a person prays to the point of shaking, falling to the floor, or is crying so intensely that his heart is left exposed on a platter.
Although I had prayed many times in my life, I too could count on my fingers the number of times I had really prayed in this manner.
It is these moments where the real connection happens, and our closeness with Hashem knows no bounds. When praying in this way, a person hands over her burden completely to Hashem, giving up “control” in realization that only Hashem can help. Oftentimes, after prayer of this kind, we feel comforted, experiencing peace of mind like never before.
It is extremely hard to see the good in the middle of a difficult time. In retrospect, we can sometimes see that certain events unfolded to our benefit. It is for this reason that the morning blessings describe, “She’assa li kol tzarki”—I thank G-d that He provided me with all my needs. The reason it uses past tense is precisely because it is hard to see the benefit in the moment.
We can counteract this by keeping this phrase from Tehillim in mind: “Tov lehodot laHashem, ve’emunatcha baleilot.” It is good to thank G-d when times are good, because this will help us keep our faith in dark times.
When we continuously thank Hashem for all the good in our life, big and small, it enables us to feel close even if things don’t go our way.
Maybe I sighed that day in the waiting room not because of the long line of people (or having to hear random phone conversations), but because I was scared for my daughter. But then I remembered, we all have a direct line to G-d that can be used to communicate anywhere—even in an X-ray waiting room! We don’t need a cell phone, or any sort of intermediary figure. Knowing that and recalling the three components of prayer will ultimately deepen our relationship to G-d, helping us to recognize that G-d is truly always awaiting our call. We just need to pick up the phone.