I recently reached out to Rabbi Fix, one of my mentors from when I studied abroad (ten long years ago). I filled him in on a little bit of what has been going on in my life, but mainly I wanted to pick his brain about why I have a difficult time when it comes to prayer.
Ever since my mother died suddenly (at age 56) just 3 days before my son, Nechemiah, was born, I have been struggling with connecting to G-d through formal prayer.
At first, the pain of my grief was more subtle, almost like numbness...
I assumed it was the denial phase.
But as reality sunk in, the pain hit hard. It almost felt like a sharp knife cutting slowly and painfully through my skin. I was flooded with memories of my mother throughout my childhood. Like most adolescents and teens, I had a hard time relating to my mother during that stage. I had very little to do with her, even though I craved the warmth of a loving mother figure. This is what Perl Abramowitz describes in her Teen parenting series as “leave me alone, why did you leave me alone?”
And like many other young adults, my relationship with my mother improved drastically the day my first child was born. Even though our relationship was shaky, I asked my mother to be there with me for the birth and she happily came. She was perfect for the job, since she was an old pro. After all, she gave birth to 9 children. Through this experience we bonded deeply, probably for the first time I can remember. And I don't think we fought again after that day. We named our daughter Shayna Bracha (her name literally means my beautiful blessing), which was so apropos because she really did bring so much blessing into our lives.
Although we never fought again, we never really talked through and resolved our past issues. They still lingered between us. I tried to deal with that pain on my own… and then she died. Too young. Too short. Without an explanation.
And perhaps this is where my deep questioning about my relationship with G-d stems from...
We are still in conflict, G-d & I.
That unprocessed pain and longing for genuine maternal connection still bounces around my head and body - and we have not resolved it. It ails me in the form of anxiety, depression, loneliness, hopelessness.
As a child, emotions were considered shameful. Expressing my anger was definitely never allowed. I don’t know where this belief system or notion came from, but I do know that I never felt comfortable with pain, anguish, and suffering. I mean nobody likes those emotions, but I learned to resent them and hate them and myself for having them. If I was never allowed to cry as a child, and grew up thinking there was something wrong with me when I did, then how could I be expected to embrace painful emotions as an adult? Grief made me weak and shameful in my own eyes, let alone G-d’s.
Although a painful relationship as a child turned to warmth as an adult, the pain was intended to be buried deep below the ground, for the rest of my life. I truly believed that there was no room for pain in this world.
I know on some intellectual level that there is a G-d, and we're told he loves us. He even chose us as a people... But then how can I be in so much pain constantly, day in and day out? He gives us strong natural inclinations to feel emotions, to crave restrictions, desire independence… but since emotions and questioning G-d were always shameful, there was no safe space to process it all. Pretty much a set-up from failure.
This paradox surrounds me.
G-d knows I will never be who He wants me to be.
I will fail.
And yet... I am told to try even so.
I mean, from the beginning of creation, we displeased Him. First the sun and the moon, fighting for more light... The pain and desire for ego takes over… throughout the Torah brothers kill each other, people lie, cheat, steal, worship idols and keep getting punished. It seems G-d is literally setting up a system in which He knows we will fail. And yet, we keep trying to be better people.
Rabbi Fix validated and empathized with my plight. He recommended a book called “The Secret Life of G-D.” I began to read it, and I have to admit, it is nothing new. But it reminded me… This world is full of pain, illusion, paradox and mystery. And we all grapple with existential questions - Why are we here? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do we struggle to say goodbye when we know from the day we are born that we will die?
I’m sure you were hoping for some happy mind blowing and comforting message at the end of this blog. Yes, everyone likes happy endings, exaggerated positivity and to know that it’s all part of the coming of moshiach… but as Rachel Tuchman said in a group Whatsapp chat we are in together… Sometimes pain is just pain and it doesnt come wrapped in a pretty little bow, oh how true that is. But sometimes...that pain is literally the thing that shapes our life. For the better.
My relationship with G-d is still turbulent.
I may have buried my issues with my mother, but my greatest desire is to not bury my issues with G-d forever. I now know that it’s not only OK to feel emotions, but that it's critical to feel them in order to heal. So I feel angry, hurt, abandoned, resentful and betrayed. And it’s OK for me to feel that way. I believe G-d is patient and understanding that I can take as long as I need in order to resolve my attachment issues with Him. He has no ego. Although I am still angry with Him and still do not feel comfort in my communications with Him, I believe that's ok for now. I am committed to finding a healthy resolution.
It is through this inquiry on how to reconnect with G-d that I have decided to interview people who I know personally that have struggled with unbearable circumstances with an even stronger belief and relationship with G-d. I want to soak in their strategies and thought process in how they used their challenges to grow, change and make the world a better place. And I hope to share my findings with you.
I sincerely hope that I can learn a thing or two from my search and use the findings in my own journey towards growth and healing. I hope you will too…