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An Eye Opening survey on Tefilla: Part 1

By Shmuel Gluck


This article discusses a topic which is almost impossible to be understood by anyone who hasn't experienced the responses. However, understanding them is necessary for anyone who has children, people they're mentoring, or close friends. Due to the difficulty in "giving over" the emotional part of the responses, I didn't write this article. Instead I e-mailed several dozen friends questions, and their responses "make up" the majority of this article.


This is the background to the survey. I've seen many people who don't do Aveiros, but also don't do many Mitzvohs. They don't seem to be angry. They just haven't been convinced of the value of living a Torah life. In addition, their lives aren't going the way they'd like them to go, and their frustration, confusion, and resentment, causes them to place Mitzvohs at the back of their lives. 

Nevertheless, if they're with a friend, or want to make someone happy, they'll sit in a Succoh, go to a Seder, learn a little Torah, and dress with Tzinius. When the need arises, they'll accommodate those who care about them, because they aren't anti Mitzvohs. They're just not pro Mitzvohs.


However, there's one Mitzvoh for which many teenagers seem to be unable to accommodate anyone and that's Davening. If they're dragged into a Shul, they'll sit there and not do anything. I've seen boys agree to learn two hours a day, but run from a 15 minute Mincha.


These are the questions that I sent out. "Why's it so difficult to Daven? Why leave the room when Mincha begins, when Shemona Esrai will take under two minutes, and then you can sneak out before anyone notices? Why won't you open a Siddur once you're forced to sit in the shul anyway? I'd like to know the thoughts that lead to your inability to Daven, even if they're only subconscious. I'd like to know anything that'll give me some understanding of what goes through your mind at those times."


I was surprised at the amount of thought that went into the decisions of those people who couldn't bring themselves to Daven. I was also saddened by the extent of "noise" and "clutter" that's inside their heads. Before I show the readers their responses, it's important for me to offer the following disclaimer.


I'm not assuming that their views are correct. Even at this stage in their lives they acknowledged within their e-mails that their thoughts were immature and wrong. I'm asking the readers to listen to the teenager's thoughts, in order to help the readers understand that many of the teenagers who don't respond to their parents, mentors, and teachers, overtures, aren't just ignoring them. They're overloaded with thoughts, and don't know, or have the energy, to make sense of them. 


The reader should be aware that although the survey responses may shock you, they're the common, and even sincere, feelings that many teenagers, and even some adults, have. My goal is to help both parents, and their children, approach Tefilla more effectively. If people you care about are beginning to show an aversion towards Tefilla, their root causes may be as "extreme" as those of these teenagers.


Here's the first response


For me personally, I am a very honest person & I can't talk to someone or pretend to talk to someone if I don't believe in him so if I haven't yet figured out my belief in him or if Torah does not matter to me yet. I feel like a hypocrite when davening.


Even though many teenagers "officially" believe in Hashem, they aren't convinced of His existence. Even some adults aren't sure of it. This is partially due to the lack of attention that's given to this subject by individuals and communities. This is, now, being combated by multiple organizations who discuss the most basic of Jewish beliefs. Sadly, the community has a long way to go in making this topic mandatory, and enjoyable, so that all students will engage in it.


With large families, and classrooms, children are expected to "just know" that Hashem loves them. Of course He does, but too many children haven't had that fact, among others, explained to them enough, for them to believe it. Parents, and even the school curriculum, must adjust for this new reality.


Another teenager responded in a similar manner with an added component:


I think a lot of ppl daven and really don't believe in Hashem. They say Baruch Hashem and im yirtza hashem etc. .They are just touting whatever someone else (parents, teachers) taught them. This lack of sincerity comes through. It makes you really disgusted to daven. 


Many teenagers are disillusioned with their role models. They see, sometimes correctly, and sometimes incorrectly, a lack of sincerity and honesty in them. This causes them to be "allergic" to anything that doesn't seem honest. Without understanding why they should Daven, they see the act of Davening as another example of what people do because they're dishonest with themselves. Since they don't want to do anything that's dishonest, they won't Daven until they're convinced of its value.


Many teenagers are aware that Hashem exists, and even that He loves every one of them. However, talking to Hashem causes them to confront many "scary" thoughts, ideas, responsibilities, and resentments. No one wants to "walk into" a maze of thoughts from which they can't "escape" when they finish Davening and, therefore, logic tells them not to begin. Here's one comment that echoes these thoughts.


Facing him & talking to him may bring up a whole slew of other issues & questions that I may have been trying to avoid that I am just not ready to deal with yet.


For some teenagers, Davening that goes unanswered instills guilt.


It hurts to Daven. It hurts to turn to an omnipotent being and ask for things over and over again and be turned away. It is rejection. It is painful.


When my prayers weren't answered, I felt ashamed for believing I could be saved; I decided that Hashem saw something in my cells that was unredeemable--and that I was on my own."


Davening that goes unanswered makes all people angry. The anger comes from several misconceptions: Hashem hates me, or Hashem causes all my problems, are the two that I've heard the most. Here's a comment that supports this feeling.


Davening is admitting that there is someone listening, that someone knows what you are going through/went through and didn’t/doesn't care enough. so there is definitely some anger there.


Interestingly, what I would have expected to be the most commonly mentioned explanation was only mentioned once, and only as a side issue: and that is rebellion:


I can also add that my mom is very into davening. Maybe some rebellion is involved:


The next response focuses on giving up on life, a total lack of feeling for Yiddishkeit, a lack of understanding of the dynamics of Tefilla, and Hashem's response to them:


Up until a year ago I too would sit with my siddur closed and would refuse to daven now I do daven, I still have these thoughts. "I've davened a million times before said the same word and as far as my Human eyes can see nothing's changes" there's no response and no relationship. It's is the least thrilling thing I can possibly do at this moment in time, we have pretty colorful lives and reading the same thing each day isn't going to thrill anyone.


The far most common response was anger at Hashem, because of problems caused by other people. Here's one common response.


Davening is really hard for me for a number of reasons. First of all, I feel a lot of anger towards Hashem for the recent struggles in my life. I am very resentful that I was given difficult life circumstances and don't daven to show him that since he caused me so much suffering I won't talk to him. It's a very immature reason but it does give a sense of satisfaction that in a way I am paying Hashem back for all my pain.


Here's a similar response from another teenager.


At that time, for that transition period while dealing with stuff, that is the time when it becomes even harder to daven because it means talking to the one that is responsible for your life & your issues & whether it is anger or questions or complaints that it brings up.


In the next article I'll discuss how we, as a community, should handle the feelings which are found in so many teenagers, and young, and even older, adults


To be continued...


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