Being Religious Means Accepting That Sometimes Our Faith Ebbs
Because momentary is [G-d’s] anger; His will is life.
One may lie down weeping in the evening, but in the morning–joyous song!
A month ago, The Wisdom Daily published a piece I wrote about a spiritual crisis I was experiencing. At the time I wrote about it, my husband and I were floundering amidst serious financial problems. Constantly hustling for more money, making do with less, and lowering expectations had exhausted me, and no end was in sight. God seemed so, so far away.
A few days after I sent that essay to the editor, things got worse. At first, I lay in bed, crying frantically. The next morning, I mustered some strength; I bent over a prayer book and screamed out the words I usually said with intellectual distance. I begged God, “Help us!”
We sought out some advice, made a few calls. I had to be willing to grovel. I had to stop saying, “I can fix this myself,” and “It’ll be fine if I just do this…” I had to accept that we were unable to handle the situation on our own, that our lives were going to have to change, and that some of the changes would be unpleasant.
Our situation improved within hours. By the time my essay ran, not only was I no longer broken down in tears, but I stood on my feet, joyfully reciting psalms. Instead of feeling that God had abandoned me, I felt like he was close–so, so close.
After my essay ran, I received a wide and varied array of responses.
Many friends reached out to me about how much they identified with that headspace of feeling God has abandoned you. Others offered concrete help, volunteering to make phone calls on our behalf or offering us material support. Their empathy heartened me.
But other people–friends, colleagues, even complete strangers–said things that were less than helpful. A few told me outright that I had no business calling myself religious because I felt that God had abandoned me. Some offered me advice on how to fix my problems or, at least, how to stop being overwhelmed by them. Some seemed afraid I’d leave the religious life; while others suggested that I give up prayer because God wasn’t listening anyway.
The people in this second group seemed very uncomfortable with the idea that a person of faith might have a crisis of faith. To them, experiencing the ebb of spirituality was incompatible with a deep religiosity.
When I discussed this experience with my husband, he mentioned that Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe describes life as a sine wave–rising from low moments of depression and humiliation to high ones of security and joy, then dropping back again. In other words, my experience is perfectly normal.
Quoting Sefer HaYashar, a book attributed to Rabbeinu Tam, Rabbi Wolbe says[i] each person goes though “days of love and days of hate.” Sometimes, when we pray or do good deeds or meet religious obligations, we feel turned on, connected, alive–those are the “days of love.” At other times, we feel depressed and distant from God–those are the “days of hate.” These peaks and troughs alternate throughout our lives and, learning to cope with them is the struggle of a religious person.
Although you can’t escape the lows, you can try to shorten their duration. The chief tool is chiddushim–new experiences. A change-up of routine, reaching a holiday or milestone, an “Aha!” moment while reading the Bible: these can pull you up from the depths.
Denying your blues, your doubts, or your fears does not prevent them or end them any sooner.
Looking back on this period of my life, I can learn many lessons, lessons that I don’t think I would have learned without being broken and humbled. My pain has become meaningful.
Still, I’m hoping to prolong these days of love.
Who is like the LORD our God, enthroned on high, who looks down upon heaven and upon the earth? Who raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts up the needy out of the dunghill?
Psalms, Chapter 113:5-7
[i] Alei Shur, Chelek Alef, pp. 34-35
February 19, 2019
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