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Vayera: God Give Me Patience...And I Want It Now!  October 27, 2018

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

יז וַיִּשְׁמַע אֱלֹהִים אֶת-קוֹל הַנַּעַר
“And God heard the voice of the boy …” (Bereishit 21:17)
I live in the United States and as far as I can tell we value tackling problems head on and solving them once and for all. Once we set our minds to something we expect to see results and to see them right away.
This demand for a quick turnaround shows up in all areas of our lives. From relationships, to the ways we give charity, and perhaps most obviously in the ways we diet. There has to be a “before” and “after” picture and there has to be one immediately. If results aren’t seen after a few short weeks … “why did I even bother with this to begin with” we ask ourselves while looking for the next quick solution.
But then what about things like prayer or meditation – things that don’t yield immediate or visible results? Should I just throw out my prayer shawl along with my old iPhone because it too didn’t get me to my desired goal fast enough?
The thing about turning inward for prayer is that internal transformation doesn’t show up in a “before” and “after” photo. So even if I did change after that one session, I most likely wouldn’t be able to notice it. If any growth did occur it most likely would have been a small pivot in perspective rather than a seismic shift in personality, for instance in a greater hope or optimism for a brighter future. When zooming out such a shift is actually a pretty big deal, but in the moment after that last prayer is said it feels instead like I’ve just wasted an hour. “Great, I prayed for peace but has anyone seen the world lately?”
…  Emotional and spiritual change takes time …. as in decades!
In feeling overwhelmed by my lack of transformation, I need to remember to take a deep breath and to acknowledge that this is a process – a marathon, not a sprint. … My lack of change is not a bug in the journey towards transformation, rather the snail-like slowness of the process is an opportunity and a test for my commitment to the process itself.  …
I am not much of a knitter but the importance of a single thread is clear even to me. When a thread is all by itself it’s not at all obvious what role it will play in the larger picture. But the strength and durability of a knitted product does not lie with any one individual thread, instead it is in the coming together of each and every thread: E pluribus unum – out of the many, one. The final product is greater than the sum of its parts. This is the American value that I have begun to cling to rather than any desire for immediate results.
It’s not any one individual prayer that will bring peace into my heart, rather it’s all of the prayers sewed together that will bring me warmth, comfort, and a sense of security. It’s in the aggregate over the many years of returning to … that pew that I will stumble upon the subtle meaning of what my life’s journey is really all about. In a sense this is what religious faith is!
By finally putting my trust in the importance of the long game, I stopped feeling like I had to force myself to change by the end of each prayer, meditation, or journaling session. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Not only could I breathe normally again – I was soaring. I was free to fly in any direction since I was willing to let the process unfold in its own organic way – rather than seeing myself as a mechanical light switch waiting to be flipped.
There is no such thing as a “changed person” anyways… only a changing one. I have heard this idea of perpetual change expressed by many people, but the place that I’ve seen it said best was in this article: “Reading a Poem: 20 Strategies” by Mark Yakich, … “Dispel the notion that reading poetry (that prayer) is going to dramatically change your life. Your life is continually changing; most of the time you’re simply too busy to pay enough attention to it. Poems (prayer) ask you to pay attention – that’s all.”
Looking back at each of the self-reflective moments that have actually helped me to grow emotionally and spiritually – it was only because I entered with a mindset and acknowledgment of my ongoing change. I was different yesterday and I will be changed tomorrow, so all that I can do today is appreciate another day of life and be in awe of how much I continue to grow. [How My (Prayer) Life Changed When I Stopped Trying To Change: Playing the long game has never been so rewarding; By Misha Clebaner October 5, 2018, in E-Jewish Philanthropy (edited)]
Think About It:
1.       What do we expect when we pray? Is prayer related to magic or to the real world? Is prayer a wish or something concrete?
2.       How can we determine if prayer is “working”?
3.       Does Prayer depend on a set order of prayers or should we make up prayers as we need them? What is the advantage of each paradigm?
Teaching: Take Time To Pray
"I got up early one morning, And rushed right into the day;
I had so much to accomplish, That I didn't have time to pray.
Problems just tumbled about me, And heavier came each task;
"Why doesn't God help me?" I wondered. God answered, "You didn't ask."
I wanted to see joy and beauty, But the day toiled on gray and bleak;
I wondered why God didn't show me. God said, "But you didn't seek."
I tried to come into God's presence; I used all my keys in the lock.
God gently and lovingly chided, "My child, you didn't knock."
I woke up early this morning, And paused before entering the day;
I had so much to accomplish, That I had to take time to pray."
~~ Anonymous

Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, October 27, 2018.

Fri, May 24 2019 19 Iyyar 5779