Back in the day, come Shabbos morning, you would always find me in shul. I was a junior congregation regular before I graduated to the main minyan, and though my motivation, in part, was to see my friends and eat herring at the Kiddush following services, I showed up mostly to pray.
As a married lady, I would sneak an occasional peek over the mechitzah to watch my husband pray before returning to my own prayers, and after two bed-rests out of three pregnancies, I practically skipped into the women’s section with newborns on my shoulder, eager to find my place in shul once again. It was good to be back—for as long as it lasted.
The run ended one Shabbos morning when my son announced we wouldn’t be going anywhere, vaguely referencing an injustice involving grape juice at youth group the previous week. My attempts at bribery landed flat; then again, what rational person tries to negotiate with a tenacious 3-year-old anyway? I’d already given up my figure, date nights, and the luxury of a full night’s sleep to birth my boys. I wasn’t going to surrender my shul time, too.
But there was no moving my son’s mountain that morning. For a while, I remained confident I’d lost the battle, not the war. I took off my fancy hat and he pulled out his Legos, each of us crawling off into a cave of our own thoughts until we decided we preferred one another’s company. What I did not yet know was that this was our new Shabbos normal, that in doing what love demanded of me in that moment, I was allowing the plug to be pulled on an essential part of who I am.
My hats went out of fashion at the back of the closet, just as time chipped away at the resentment I initially experienced. In an unexpected twist, I prayed less, but talked to God more, catching a few words with Him as I plated the gefilte fish while the rest of our family was in shul. I still believe in my heart that He heard every word I said, because I felt the tension of sadness—and some guilt—lift off my shoulders.
That period of child-rearing seemed to trudge on forever, but in fact, it passed in the blink of an eye. My son has already celebrated his bar mitzvah. Having forgotten about that long-ago perceived grape juice injustice, he now attends services every Shabbos.
But I continue to chat with God from home, a lot less formally than I would with a prayer book in my hands at shul.
“There’s nothing stopping you anymore,” my boys insist. Their father does, too, patiently nudging me back towards the sanctuary because he knows how much being there once meant to me.
I try, but fail to convey how painful it is for me to feel so out of my element in a place that once felt like home, or how I have already mourned that loss, having fallen out of the shul-going habit long ago.
Yet I’m certain of a miracle, the same one that occurs every year, when for a few long days, I’ll take the seat at shul assigned to me for the High Holidays and feel good about talking to God from there. On my lips will be assurances that my faith is steadfast, even if my attendance is imperfect. I’ll apologize for my failure to show up more often. And though I’ll hold back on making resolutions I’m not sure I can fulfill right now, I’ll end the Days of Awe with a heartfelt request: a little help, please, in getting my shul groove back.