There have been times in my life when I've felt so strong and positive, where I've been on a real growing path. I've felt myself getting more connected and inspired and it motivated me to keep growing and developing my relationship with Hashem.
There have been other times, however, that I've felt disconnected, unwanted, locked up in spiritual solitary confinement. At its worst, I’ve described it as G-d ‘closing the door on me’ (ch'v) and leaving me out in the cold. I’ve felt detached, doubtful and generally disconnected and I’ve had a really hard time understanding why that happens.
Some of those times have come after not having been so involved or dedicated to my avodat hashem, and so i always assumed it was related. But it recently happened unexpectedly - from one day to the next, I've felt like I couldnt relate and couldnt connect anymore.
I've been working hard to try to make sense of it.
We keep saying that if we try harder
daven with more kavana
stay focused on our goals..
we’ll connect to Hashem better and feel more inspired.
As if it's in our hands and we have control over how close we feel to Him.
But why should that be? We know that G-d works on the 'efforts' system. He doesn’t expect results from us, he expects effort. The results are in His hands. All I’m responsible for is my effort, for doing my best, trying my hardest, making correct decisions, but the results are not in my hands. Whether I get the job/get the guy/pass the exam/ get sick, is all in His hands. I do my best, I follow His "suggestions" but He decides what I truly NEED (not what i deserve) in return.
Of course my responsibility is to try, to put in the hishtadlut, but my successes and failures are not directly correlated to my efforts. Anyone who tries to live according to strict cause and effect quickly becomes very disappointed. It just doesn’t work that way.
Sometimes we get hand-outs we don’t deserve, and sometimes we work hard and don’t get results – and as torah observant jews we can accept that - in the material world.
So why do we assume it’s any different in the spiritual world?
Who says that if you daven harder, you’ll feel more connected or you'll have more clarity? If you perform mitzvas with more love and devotion, you’ll have an easier time feeling closer to hashem? Of course those are the things G-d has asked us to do in order to get close to Him and so they do get us closer, but how can we presume to understand how His accounting system works, why do we assume we will FEEL closer?
Is it possible that just as Hashem decides that someone needs to be poor or ill - for their own good and their own growth - that He can decide that someone should have a harder time feeling a connection to Him. Maybe it’s for our benefit to feel distanced, or not to feel so inspired? But, and this is the big important BUT, that doesn’t mean that G-d is not approving of our efforts, that we aren’t actually closer to Him. It just means that we are not in control and we cannot pull the strings and decide how close we will feel, how clear His intervention will be, how strongly we will relate to the connection.
I read something the other day that I really loved (A Daily Dose of Wisdom from the Rebbe) - not so much because it was unusual or revolutionary but because it expressed so well how I’ve felt at certain times in my life.
The Invisible Prison
The worst prison is when G-d locks you up. He doesn't need guards or cells or stone walls. He simply decides that, at this point in life, although you have talent, you will not find a way to express it. Although you have wisdom, there is nobody who will listen. Although you have a soul, there is nowhere for it to shine. And you scream, "Is this why you sent a soul into this world? For such futility?"
That is when He gets the tastiest essence of your juice squeezed out from you.
This amazed me, because it’s exactly how I’ve been feeling. I’ve felt imprisoned. I’ve desperately wanted to get closer to Hashem, to feel more inspired, I’ve tried, I’ve cried… but it's just not working the way it has in the past.
My instinct is to think that I’m not trying hard enough, I’m reading the wrong books, not praying hard enough, behaving inappropriately, or maybe I’m being punished - maybe I’ve done something wrong and I’m not wanted anymore.. I don’t know..every possibility sounds more far-fetched than the last.. but I’m grabbing at straws because I just don’t understand it.
A friend of mine explained to me that sometimes G-d hides His light a little more than usual so that we crave it a little more. Sometimes it’s not our actions that interest Him as much as our desire to get closer. After all, the actions are simply tools to get close - sometimes Hashem wants to see how much we really want it..
It’s easy when you’re doing everything right and you feel that it’s bringing you closer to Him, but how many of us can keep doing everything right when we don’t feel closer, when we pray and our heart feels like stone, when we keep pushing ourselves and not seeing results. How many of us manage to stay focused and thankful to Hashem.. and how many of us start developing doubts and resentment?
The reason I liked that “prison” image is because it described my desire to be free, to want to feel alive, while feeling constrained, trapped in a contained space, feeling like I'm bouncing off the walls, desperate to let out energy. You beg and plead to be let out, you cry and question yourself, you pray with all your heart to be liberated, to feel G-d taking you in.. but it doesnt happen.
Being aware that I’m in this "prison" that I’m stuck between four walls, and that the door is locked from the outside and there's things nothing I can do but wait to be let out, is helpful in dealing with these feelings. I can accept the situation I’m in, stop fighting it – stop fighting myself, stop blaming myself - and instead focus my energy on trying to live in the moment, doing my best, trying my hardest. Showing hashem, the One I loved and felt so close to a few months back, that I’m still just as interested, still just as much in love, still just as desperate to feel close to Him, even when it’s dark, and I don’t see my potential being actualized.
It’s an amazing relief to realize that my ONLY job is to try. Instead of focusing on the results, on how close I feel to Him, I turns inwards and measure how much I’ve done, how much I’m capable of.
It’s easy to get lazy when you are under the impression that you control the outcome.
- If I pray well – I’ll feel this close, and if I pray quickly, I wont feel so close.
- So.. today I think I’ll take it easy, I don’t really feel the need to be close
- And today I really need His helping hand, I think I’ll daven harder.
It doesnt work that way.
But when you realize that you can pray hard, and not feel close, and that you can do nothing and get a big burst of inspiration, you start to pray with only one objective, to get close, to make Him happy, to make yourself happy. Regardless of the results. I think that in itself is a level, to be able to acknowledge that. It's not a place I want to be in, but like I wrote in the past - you use the clarity you gained when it was day, to illuminate your way in the dark. You trust that the feelings will come back, the closeness will return, and you do your best in the meantime to show Him how much you mean it and desire it.