Once upon a time, I used to pray Big. That is, after I stopped praying
Small. By that I mean, I once prayed for small things, 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 powers of
concentration are more... well, let's say more focused on their own
personal welfare. When praying for worldwide peace, for Mashiach, for
starving children in India, or for general 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 a long-hoped-for shidduch --
and the heartfelt intentions are flowing in no time at all. The tears
well up, the chest heaves, the brow furrows, and words of prayer pour
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 22
letters of the alef-bet 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
Speech, phrased in the form of prayer, is one of the greatest gifts 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
* * *
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. And when I realized that they too were 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 paycheck arrives. 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). Please, please, please.
To my amazement, I discovered something. Once all the smaller requests
were out of the way each day, I was free to start in on the bigger
items. This outpouring of immediate but intimate prayer, with its
natural, accompanying concentration (I really wanted that kid to get
to school before the bell rang!), paved the way for improved
concentration 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 to me 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.