Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

As always with a change of year I find myself reassessing life
decisions. I know I cannot go back and change the past. But I feel
burdened by regrets about foolish relationship decisions, bad job
choices, even something as silly as twenty pounds I put on this year
brooding and feeling stuck. I have tried getting re-engaged with
Judaism as a way of jolting myself out of my funk, but sometimes the
words in the prayers just get in the way. I am long past any Sunday
School version of God as a man in white robes on a throne. I believe
that HaShem is a guiding force in life, but also that my own
(seemingly very messed up) free will has been able to subvert that
guiding hand into the mess I’m in now. Can you help me find my way
back to some greater clarity and faith?


Dear Adrift:

That’s a tall order for an advice column, but here goes. Belief in a
power greater than yourself is a useful adjunct to free will, especially if
your faith in yourself is at a low point. Organizations like Alcoholics
Anonymous have used that principle to help people for decades. But
just turning your life over to an idea and expecting a cavalry to the
rescue turn-around isn’t a realistic or likely outcome. You’re going to
have to take more control of your life and responsibility for making
better decisions for anything substantive to change.

Take the High Holidays seriously. Go to ask many of the services as
you can. Don’t focus on the words that distract you. Instead focus on
the meaning of the prayers, the trust in the divine, the sincere
supplication of your heart for relief and release. In my shul I once
heard a father say to his son, If you don’t like what’s happening, just
read the commentary. To my mind that’s great advice. Just being in a
place of worship with others and feeling that energy will begin to
lighten you. And if there is a call for an aliyah that you can participate
it, go up to the bimah and receive a blessing from the rabbi.


Also, do tashlich. And take it seriously. Find a flowing body of water,
and with every bit of bread you toss (as in many small bits, not just
dumping a was), make an affirmation about the changes you want in
your life. You can make these affirmations in the negative (e.g. I will
not eat any more sugar except on my birthday or at weddings.) or the
positive (e.g., I commit to getting a new job.) Take your time and dot
this ritual with a friend. Say your affirmations aloud and witness them
for one another.

Seriously consider getting a counselor, at least for six months. The
kind of turnaround you are talking about is a big life retrofit. It’s hard
to do that alone and even good friends should be able to be friends,
not to substitute for a trained professional. Most of us who have big
life issues to confront also have long-standing habits and emotional
patterns that are more than just superficial. Having someone on your
side who can help you look at your history and how you cope with it is
a wonderful gift. If money is a constraint, see if there are any sliding
scale clinics in your area. Often newly minted folks will work in those
kinds of places while they get their supervised hours under their belt.
Many are very devoted caring people. You can try to address this all
on your own. But having an ally is wonderful way to help yourself.


Finally, pray. You can do this in synagogue but also on walks on in
meditation. Try to make at least twenty minutes a day both morning
and evening to be quiet. If you don’t think you can do that, put on soft
music. But sit still and don’t fret about everything in your life you say
you want to change. Practice just being still and focus on your breath,
in and out and in and out If you believe in HaShem then ask for help
on the inhale and think Thanks on the exhale. Say you are ready to
turn things around and you want help, support, and guidance in any
form that it can be given to you. Give gratitude for what’s good in your
life. And try to be as kind to those around you as you would like them
to be to you. This is big important work. But by next year at this time
you should be well on your way. Good luck.