By Rabbi Ellen S. Wolintz-Fields
Executive Director, Women’s League for Conservative Judaism
From a very young age, I began to regularly talk to God. I think it began when I was completing third grade, and my paternal grandfather was very sick, and I realized he was dying. I had seen my sister reading the classic Judy Blume book, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? and so I began my nightly ritual of conversing with God. I requested healing from God for my grandfather, my aunt who had Multiple Sclerosis, my other three grandparents, and my parents, and thanked God for my sister, and asked that no one bully me at school.
At some point, I realized that a conversation was two-sided – with a speaker and a listener. I tried to believe that God was truly listening, since I believed that God was always with me, like a constant companion. Therefore, even if my parents and my sister were busy and they could not always listen to me, God was always there to listen.
However, I began to question the strength of my nightly conversations with God, when I learned the difference between a monologue and dialogue. I was talking, but was God listening? Was I receiving a response from God? The answers to my prayers were not always how I had envisioned them. I quickly learned that ailments are not always healed. My grandfather was not healed. My aunt still walked with a limp. Children too get cancer.
No matter how much you pray, prayers are not always answered. Eventually, I came to the maturity and realization that my conversations with God were more like the song lyrics, “You can’t always get what you want.” However, I was always “livin’ on a prayer.” “You gotta have faith!” The answers to our prayers are more in the words, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
Life experience changes our relationship with God. When we are younger, we may think that God is all-powerful, and controls everything; mysterious like the Wizard of Oz, and that our wish is God’s command. However, life shows us that it is not all up to God. We have a strong hand in what happens in our lives. Nevertheless, I still live each day remembering that “God is my co-pilot.” I am behind the wheel, but God is always on speed dial, and truly my GPS, my God Positioning System, joining me along life’s journey. When it is time, and I receive the signal to redirect, God is always there, ready to listen when I say, “Are you there God? It’s Me, Ellen.”
I share these thoughts to encourage everyone to develop their own relationship with God. How do you speak to God? When do you converse with God? Do you see it as a conversation, a monologue, a dialogue? How has your relationship and conversing with God changed over your lifetime? When do you speak to God? If you do converse with God, is this your prayer, or do you think of prayer as only the words in the Siddur? May we all have the courage, strength, and persistence to constantly develop our own personal relationships with God.