What If Prayer Doesn’t Work?

After a recent lecture on prayer, an attendee approached me and said, “What if our prayers don’t work?”

I answered, “I think we need to look at prayer from a difficult angle. Prayer is not a gumball machine, where one puts in a quarter and out pops our request. Prayer is not a manipulation of G-d.

“Rather, we are developing a relationship, where we are expanding ourselves so we can be ready to receive. But more importantly, no prayer is ever wasted, and Hashem knows exactly what to do with our prayers.” 

Through prayer, we always have an address, even when our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. 

Rabbi Duvi Bensoussan shares an incredible story on this topic. When he was in second grade his best friend, Jessie, came into school and said, “Duvi, we aren’t going to recess today.”

Shocked, Duvi responded, “What do you mean?”

As a child, Rabbi Bensoussan was a ball player and lived for recess. If his friend said they shouldn’t go to play, it meant something was seriously wrong.

Jessie replied, “My mother was rushed to the emergency room this morning as I was coming to school. We need to say tehillim during recess.”  

His best friend explained that everything was fine, and that his mother was just having a baby. Jessie already had five sisters. He was hoping he and Duvi could pray that he would have a baby brother this time.

He cried out, “If I have another sister, I’m going to go out of my mind!”

In the boys’ opinion, this was an emergency situation. “Okay, then,” said Duvi. “I guess we aren’t going out to recess today…”

When the bell rang for recess, all the boys in the class ran outside. Duvi longingly watched them carry a football to the field, while he stayed inside reciting tehillim and shuckling all the while.

That morning, both boys spent the entire break time praying their hearts out for Jessie to have a baby brother.

Eventually, the class came back inside from recess and resumed their studies. An hour later, there was a knock at the door and Jessie’s father, back from the hospital, was standing in the doorway of the classroom with a beaming smile across his face.

The whole class watched in anticipation, waiting to hear the gender. In unison they asked, “So…what is it?”

“It’s a baby…girl!” Jessie’s proud father announced.

The whole class groaned.

“What do you mean?” asked Duvi, incredulous. “I gave up recess for this! I can’t believe it’s a girl. I prayed like crazy, why didn’t Hashem listen to me?”

Jessie’s family named their daughter Naomi. As it turns out, years later, Rabbi Bensoussan, once the little boy who begrudgingly gave up his recess to daven for that baby to be a boy, ended up getting a soulmate from the fact that the baby was a girl. He eventually married her. 

Rabbi Bensoussan concluded his story by saying simply, “Hashem knows exactly what to do with our tefillot.”

We don’t know Hashem’s ways. We pray and many times it feels like it falls on deaf ears, but no prayer is ever wasted. Our prayers are like deposits, waiting to be withdrawn at the right time, when Hashem deems appropriate.

Prayer is not just reciting mindlessly from a prayer book or psalms. A prayer can be recited at any time, and can mimic regular conversation. It can be as simple as a quick mutter while cooking dinner or driving, or it can be more intense when we converse from the heart and share our deepest fears, desires, and hopes. We can pray for ourselves, our friends and family, and even strangers.

No prayer is ever wasted. Every single prayer has an address.

Who knows what saying that one chapter of psalms can accomplish? Who knows what positive impact your midday muttering can bring about? Maybe one person had a complete recovery because of your prayer. Or maybe, somehow and in some way, that prayer will be saved for you at a later time in life when you need it most.

Sometimes, we are not privy to where our tefillot end up, who they reach, or when they help, but they always have a destination. Hashem welcomes our prayers with open arms.

May Hashem give us each strength to continue to turn to Him with prayer during both good times and trying times.

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