Praying Big, Praying Small
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a time of concentrated prayer. But how does one pray effectively if one isn't even sure how to begin or what to pray for?
I used to pray for every small thing I wanted or needed or thought I needed. But one day I decided that I was bothering God with too many minor requests. I felt it was a better idea to concentrate on the really big, important issues -- the things that really mattered -- instead of cluttering up the lines of communication with all the petty stuff.
That's when I switched over to praying "big." I also thought that praying big was more conducive to praying well, although it didn't quite turn out that way. As it did turn out, praying big just meant asking for different things, but I didn't know that at the time.
Most people seem to do a better job of praying when their the subject matter is their personal welfare.
Most people seem to do a better job of praying when their powers of concentration are more concentrated on their own personal welfare. When praying for worldwide peace, for the Messiah, for starving children in Africa or for other universal panaceas, we tend to be pious, generous, well-meaning but definitely laid-back.
But just let something touch home and see how fast we sit up! A serious illness, a looming financial disaster, a divorce, or long hoped for shidduch -- and the adrenalin-fed powers of concentration are flowing in no time at all. The tears well up, the chest heaves, the brow wrinkles and words of prayer gush forth.
Like the voice of the shofar, our prayer can be a wordless cry from the depths of the heart. Like the story of the shepherd boy who played his flute in shul on Yom Kippur because he could not read, it can be a gift of song from the soul. Like the man who offered God the twenty-two letters of the alef beit because he did not know how to use the prayer book, prayer can be a rational gift from man's mind. Whatever form it takes, true prayer is pure and whole. But almost by definition, prayer means words.
Speech, phrased in the form of prayer, is just about the only gift we can offer our Creator. Our words praise Him, beseech Him to fulfill our endless needs and requests, and thank Him for His endless benevolence. They allow us to form some concept of God and to imitate His ways. It's our way of recognizing that He is all we've got. And He graciously accepts our unending lists of supplication as a humble offering.
I needed help on the everyday stuff, not only on the biggies.
That's why I went back to praying "small." I had so many small requests that needed tending to. I couldn't keep putting them aside, hoping they'd take care of themselves. I needed help on the everyday stuff, not only on the biggies.
The moment I understood that my minute, repetitive requests were also legitimate prayer, I felt tremendously relieved.
SERVICE OF THE HEART
And when I realized that these small prayers were actually a form of Divine service -- my service of the heart -- I was uplifted. Imagine! I come asking for gifts and I am credited with doing a good deed! Where else can you find such a marvelous arrangement? Every time I try to withdraw from the heavenly bank, a deposit is placed in my account!
At that point I let myself go full speed ahead: "Please God, don't let the heater break down just yet. Please make my husband's sore throat better. Please make my challah rise. Please don't let the phone bill come due before the salary goes into the bank. Please help my son get to school on time this morning; his teacher is getting annoyed. Please let that nice boy call my neighbor's daughter for a second date. She isn't getting any younger, You know. And please, see to it that the manuscript I sent in to the publisher is accepted. Please, please, please."
Now I felt comfortable borrowing King David's words in Psalms for the larger issues.
To my amazement, I discovered that once all the smaller daily requests were out of the way, I was free to start in on the bigger items. This outpouring of immediate but intimate prayer, with its natural, accompanying kavanah "proper intent" -- (I really wanted that manuscript to be accepted!) -- paved the way for improved kavanah during longer, more formal prayer.
King David said it all. He poured his heart out in soaring songs of praise, in searing prayers, in sublime thanksgiving, in words infinitely more exalted than any I could conjure up. There was a time when his words seemed too lofty to express my trivial concerns. But now that I was taking care of my own everyday affairs with my own small words, I felt more comfortable borrowing his words for the larger issues, and like the hundreds of generations before me, I, too, found within them strength, endurance, and overwhelming beauty. His were the words I needed for praying really BIG.
Praying Big, Praying Small is based on an article in the book "Cinnamon and Myrrh" by Yaffa Ganz, published by Feldheim Publishers.