Finding My Place in Davening

Finding oneself completely baffled by davening is an experience many on us probably share. I personally had no familiarity with the siddur whatsoever when I first started, so I very quickly became a noodgy davener, always looking over my neighbor’s shoulder to find the page, and that was in a shul where it was frequently announced. Baruch Hashem, everyone was very considerate about it, and Rebbetzin Hadasa Carlebach gets an extra yasher koach for giving me my first tutorial in the siddur, later followed up by NJOP’s Hebrew Crash Courses I and II. Even after I gained familiarity and began stumbling through the Hebrew, I still always found myself falling behind everyone else. “Oh, well,” I thought. “Hashem will have to accept my inadequate prayers.”

After a year in sem, I finally did become very well-acquainted with the siddur, and Rebbetzin Marci Jablinowitz taught us what we as unmarried women ought to say daily. At that point, I became quite regular about davening, and could walk into any shul and daven with confidence.

Baruch Hashem, only a few years later, Hashem blessed me with the next monkey wrench to my davening: kids. There was no point in even starting Shemoneh Esrei when they were little. I was sure to be interrupted. I knew I was exempt for a valid reason, but I felt inadequate nevertheless.

Of course, I was wrong both times. One night, my husband baby-sat so I could go say Tehillim with the ladies on our block. Being a BT, my Hebrew was slower than everyone else’s and I managed to say only one book. But Hashem made sure I received the chelek of Tehillim that contained familiar words, words I’d practiced many times as I was struggling to learn the Pesukei D’zimra. It was then that I realized how far my early “inadequate” prayers had carried me. When I was feeling like the biggest idiot in shul, I never dreamed I’d really “make it,” that I’d someday be married and living as an integrated member of the frum world. Yet there I sat, reciting Tehillim with my neighbors and friends. And at the same time, it was clear to me that I was not justified in feeling guilty for my lack of consistent davening while my kids were so little. Hashem answered my early prayers in greater ways than I could imagine, and He would do the same for my irregular ones. Ultimately, Hashem wants our hearts, and as long as we’re giving Him that, whether in shul or at home, in a siddur or spontaneously, He will answer us.

Originally Published 1/10/2006

9 comments on “Finding My Place in Davening

  1. I second the comment. Every time I hear about, lo aleinu, a divorce in the community, a critically ill child, a violent accident, a case of abuse, etc. ad nauseum, I say to my wife, “We don’t have problems.”

    If only I could remember that all the time, I’d be a lot happier.

  2. Here are a few more thoughts on the same theme. This morning while davening, I thought quite a bit about a problem I really want Hashem to fix: my finances. My mind wandered to a sign in the office of someone I know. It reads: “Don’t tell G-d how big your problems are. Tell your problems how big G-d is.” The person to whom it belongs is himself a real baal bitachon. He lost his own business and is turning his own fate around.

    So as I davened, I thought that it would be easy for Hashem to solve my financial problems. Later in the day, though, I was zoche to listen to one of Rabbi Berel Wein’s history tapes, and as I heard about some of the horrors our ancestors faced, my problems really did seem small. So though the “pshat” of the sign may be that Hashem is big enough to make our problems go away, it may also mean that what we think of as problems aren’t necessarily problems.

  3. Ohhh. Well that’s a whole other topic: learning to accept “no” for an answer. I listen to shiurim on the topic of dealing with hard times probably more than any other. One of the answers I’ve found is to thank Hashem profusely for the brachos He does give us. I find that it increases my enjoyment of life, and also makes coping with whatever lack, much easier.

  4. Kressel – You ended off your post with “Ultimately, Hashem wants our hearts, and as long as we’re giving Him that, whether in shul or at home, in a siddur or spontaneously, He will answer us.”

    My question was how do you personally understand prayer when Hashem doesn’t answer us with what we requested? When the job doesn’t come through. When things don’t work out. When the Gaza withdrawal does take place…

  5. Mark: I meant Hashem answering our prayers. Was it that unclear? Perhaps you can edit the post so that the words “our prayers” will be replaced by “us.”

    Rabbi Goldson: LOL!

    David: It’s not so clear to me that a woman with children has to daven the Amidah every day. The Amidah is divided into three types of prayers: praise, requests, and thanks. So in women’s sems, we learn that the prayer, “Dear G-d, please help, thank You” is perfectly acceptable for a woman with children.

    Sarah: I say spontaneous prayers to Hashem all the time, and sometimes I come up with a good phrasing that I repeat. One of my favorites is: “Please Hashem, please make this a peaceful and productive day with the kids.”

  6. I was in a group in the past where after a shiur the women would say tehillim together. It was a very mixed group, some very frum, some not frum, some in between, most Israeli, some Bukharian and me and a less than a handful of Americans. It was a very powerful experience. The Americans who didn’t know Hebrew as fluently as some of the others worked slower but intently on it, as the entire package of booklets had to be said. The Sfardim who were not frum but knew Hebrew fluently eagerly did their part. And everyone else was committed as well. There was a shared achdus with a concrete goal in mind. It was a growing experience. Soon after, some of the main members and leaders of this shiur moved to Israel and it didn’t continue but I remember those days fondly. As women and mothers, there are often many things pulling at us, our time, and away from maybe formal, relaxed pace of davening. Even in the house, at any point someone may need us. For sure with regards to shul, depending on ages and stages of children. Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur takes some figuring out. Then there are the special times accompanied by short tefilos but times when we are told we have a “direct line” like at the mikveh or when lighting Shabbos candles or making challah. Some we will catch and some we simply cannot, but with H” kindness there will always be more opportunities and ways of expression.

  7. I read in a book by Aryeh Kapan…A call to the Infinite…that of course you must daven the Amidah as required…but what is loved by Him are our own private words…speaking to Him as our Father…as our G-d.

    I have also aquired , with time….davening skills…though my reading is still slower than others….the feeling of connecting and taking my time…changes me for the better.

    Thanks for sharing your story.


  8. You remind me of the first time I davened in Loshon HaKodesh — it was a weekday mincha and Shmoneh Esrei took me 45 minutes! It was interminable, I didn’t understand a word I was saying, and my only kavanah was “Please let this end.”

    I suspect that I’ve never earned as much s’char (reward) for any davening since.

    After a few weeks I got my Shmoneh Esrei down to 20 minutes, and there it stayed for months. I wondered if I would ever be able to daven properly with a minyan.

    With the passage of time I did chip away at the amount of time it took me to daven. I’m now a ba’al tefillah for Shabbos, Yontif, and the Yomim Noroyim. And guess what? I can rattle off a Shmoneh Esrei in three minutes without even thinking about what I’m saying.

    Is that success?

    One of my rabbeim, a BT who is now a rosh yeshiva, once said something that has alway stuck with me. He said: “I like to think of myself as a ba’al tshuva, but the truth is I’ve become an FFB.”

    The less worried we are about “keeping up” with an FFB ideal, the more we will continue to be driven by the thirst for kedusha that led us to tshuva in the first place, and the more successfully we will live our lives as Torah Jews.

  9. Beautiful post.

    The approach to prayer that I have learned (primarily from Rabbi Yitzchok Kirzner z”tl) emphasized developing a relationship with Hashem and introspecting and changing ourselves.

    What do you mean when you speak of Hashem answering us?

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