Asking to Walk with God

father-son-walkingOn further reflection, a person might also become disheartened, G‑d forbid, wondering how is one to fulfill adequately one’s real purpose in life on this earth, which is, to quote our Sages, “I was created to serve my Creator” — seeing that most of one’s time is necessarily taken up with materialistic things, such as eating and drinking, sleeping, earning a livelihood, etc. What with the fact that the earliest years of a human being, before reaching maturity and knowledgeability, are spent in an entirely materialistic mode of living.

-Translation of a letter from the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
“Is Most of My Life a Waste?”

Some people feel discouraged. They then assume that these feelings are facts: since they feel discouraged that is a “proof” there is no hope. But feelings only represent a person’s present state of mind, they cannot predict the future.

They can ask themselves: “Do my present feelings actually prove that there is no hope?” Of course not. There is never absolute proof that your situation will not improve. By believing you have no hope, you are causing yourself great harm. Adopt the attitude: “It is always possible that the future will turn out much brighter than I presently feel it will. What constructive action can I take for improvement?”

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Daily Lift 943: “Feelings Aren’t Facts”

Last Sunday afternoon, a friend challenged me. I hate these sorts of challenges because they always mean that I have to crawl out of my comfort zone. Yes, we all have one. The place where we spend most of our lives or want to, anyway. The place where we excel. The place where people see us as competent, and significant, and see all of the good things in us we want them to see.

And we see them in ourselves.


…but there isn’t so much to actually achieve there. The comfort zone is where you exercise all of the skill sets you are already really good at. There’s nothing more to learn in the comfort zone. Oh, you may learn some stuff, but it’s stuff that never really surprises you. It never shocks you. It certainly never scares you.

That’s why when my friend suggested that I get out of my comfort zone and ask God to show me more of Himself…a real encounter with Him, I experienced true dread. I know that sounds horrible. After all, in the realm of religious people, who doesn’t ask, plead, beg to experience a closer walk with God?

Most of us. A closer walk with God means having to change, not just a little bit and not in the direction we feel comfortable changing (or not changing and just pretending to change). I mean real, unanticipated, unpredictable, uncomfortable, “I don’t wanna go there” change.

Yuck! Who wants that?

But what’s the alternative?

My soul thirsts for You; my flesh pines for You.

Psalms 63:2

One Yom Kippur, after the Maariv (evening) services that ended the 25-hour fast, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev exclaimed, “I am thirsty! I am thirsty!” Quickly someone brought him water, but the Rabbi said, “No! I am thirsty!” Hastily they boiled water and brought him coffee, but again he said, “No! No! I am thirsty!” His attendant then asked, “Just what is it you desire?”

“A tractate Succah (the volume of the Talmud dealing with the laws of the festival of Succos).” They brought the desired volume, and the Rabbi began to study the Talmud with great enthusiasm, ignoring the food and drink that were placed before him.

Only after several hours of intense study did the Rabbi breathe a sigh of relief and break his fast. The approaching festival of Succos with its many commandments – only five days after Yom Kippur – had aroused so intense a craving that it obscured the hunger and thirst of the fast.

It is also related that at the end of Succos and Pesach, festivals during which one does not put on tefillin, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok sat at the window, waiting for the first glimmer of dawn which would allow him to fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin after a respite of eight or nine days.

Today I shall…

…try to realize that Torah and mitzvos are the nutrients of my life, so that I crave them just as I do food and water when I am hungry or thirsty.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day, Tishrei 11”

plead1Particularly in Jewish thought, performing the mitzvot are the nutrients of life but what you do lacks meaning if you do not employ kavanah, otherwise known as “intention” or “direction of the heart.”

When asking for a closer connection with God, it’s always important to consider that time-honored caveat, “Be careful what you ask for.”

It’s sort of like dying of thirst but being afraid to drink because you might drown. It’s like dying of thirst, but the only source of water is at the bottom of a massive waterfall. You only need a few drops or a glassful, but your only option is a raging torrent.

How about just a little revelation, God…something I can handle, something not too scary or overwhelming. Let’s warm up with that and see where we should go from there.

Believing in God is easy. Trusting God is hard, and yet we have this.

Do not trust in princes,
In mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.
His spirit departs, he returns to the earth;
In that very day his thoughts perish.
How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
Who made heaven and earth,
The sea and all that is in them;
Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed;
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free.

Psalm 146:3-7 (NASB)

I have plenty of experience being disappointed in human beings, including me. I don’t think I’ve ever been disappointed by God, but then again, have I ever given Him the chance?

Has this ever happened to you?

8 thoughts on “Asking to Walk with God”

  1. There is yet a more subtle consideration regarding seemingly “materialistic” behaviors, involving the “holiness of the ordinary” (kidushat ha-‘hol). This may be seen in Ps.146 that you quoted, wherein the One Who is to be trusted is the provider of food as well as justice and freedom. All aspects of life are to be sanctified along with the obvious ephemeral sanctities. Torah and mitzvot, of course, are tools for learning to do so. But it is the existential consciousness of HaShem’s Presence that satisfies the yearning and provides the experience of malchut ha-shamayim. Study and meditation upon the meanings of Torah and mitzvot can provide an intensity of concentration that brings awareness of that Presence, but once that awareness is known it may be recalled and applied to even the most ordinary circumstances.

  2. Study and meditation upon the meanings of Torah and mitzvot can provide an intensity of concentration that brings awareness of that Presence…

    OK, let’s freeze and zero in on that thought, because it was something my friend said, too. I’m pretty familiar with how to study but exactly what does one do to “meditate” on the meanings of Torah and the mitzvot. Sorry, but in a lot of ways, I’m just a “nuts and bolts” kind of guy. How do you operationalize “meditate on the meaning of Torah and the mitzvot?”

    1. I once heard it compared with what ruminant animals (e.g., cows) do with their “cud”, which is incompletely chewed food that was previously ingested and stored in one of multiple stomachs, that is partially regurgitated in order to chew it more completely and thoroughly. When we first read or learn something, we do not immediately grasp every nuance of its implications, or connect it with related material that we have learned previously. But later thoughtful review of it allows us to make such connections and consider its various possible applications and consequences, and possibly to recognize benefits that HaShem intended as blessings of one sort or another. Someone else described it as re-thinking HaShem’s thoughts in order to integrate them into our own thinking, beliefs, reactions and emotions. Walking prayerfully along pathways where HaShem has been can initiate a sharing of thoughts alongside Him and a sense of His immediate Presence (and sometimes the most startling insights).

      Does that help?

  3. @PL: I think so. In some sense, even writing about what I study is a form of “meditation” as it requires I process that learning, looking at different connections and responding to it. I think blogging is how I “capture” that meditation so it doesn’t “escape” me (or rather my leaky memory).

    @genevievevictoria: Thank you for the complement and the reblog.

  4. After a particularity difficult stretch with my son where I spent countless tears and time on my knees, into the wee hours of the night, begging God to save him (from himself) and hoping that He would hear and act, things began to shift. I wasn’t looking for favor for myself, I just was focused on divine rescue for my son.

    Through a series of events a what I thought was a door of rescue was shut tight. Then a bad night came and I went to bed with nothing but tensed nerves, nauseous stomach, stressed out heart, and mental resolve to “trust” God. Trembling in my bed I prayed for rescue again and gave it up to God, verbally, if not spiritually, since I was still shaking.

    The following day He opened that sealed door for my son, and then blessing after blessing began to come. He even did some very remarkable things that there was no other conclusion for but that God did it out of His sheer sweetness and kindness. I remember telling Him that it’s okay, I already believe in Him and there was no danger of that ending, but they kept coming, large and small things. It got to point of being overwhelmed so much that I asked Him to stop. I know it sounds crazy, but I actually felt embarrassed and unworthy of the attention He was lavishing upon me.

    Another difficulty was how hard it was to share with anyone because as you are trying to point out how amazing God is, most people get offended and think you’re bragging.

    I encourage you to take the challenge, you will most likely be overwhelmed, be knocked over a time or two, and guess what? He’ll be right there to pick up back up.

    Thanks for a great post.

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