Five years ago, I raised my right hand in a Montgomery County court room and told the sheriff that I would “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” I had been called as a character witness. I answered the lawyers’ questions while sitting next to the judge. A microphone recorded my every utterance. I was intimidated but confident about offering the “whole truth” to the judge.
In contrast, the whole truth in prayer often feels elusive.
Genuine prayer is more than the formulaic recitation of words. It requires that we see ourselves as we really are – faults and talents. Yet such introspection is difficult amidst the internal ‘noises’ which befuddle us. We are distracted by our own self-aggrandizement and sense of entitlement. We are distracted by our fear of our shortcomings. We are distracted by the distress that a moment of candid truth will be painful. When we move beyond these barriers, however sincere moments of prayer are possible.
In the Book of Samuel, Hannah struggled with infertility for years, enduring fresh waves of disappointment each month. She grew jealous of other women’s pregnancies and was fearful of her own potential barrenness. Hannah was drowning in her own internal noise. When her bitterness threatened to consume her, she sought solace at her local temple. There, she quieted her fears. She dismissed the traditional prayers and found her own words to talk to God.
Hannah described this moment, “I have poured out my soul before the Lord.” Afterwards, “her face was no longer downcast.” (I Samuel 1:15, 18) Jewish tradition cites Hannah’s prayer as the most sincere appeal to God in the entire Bible.
We model Hannah’s openness, vulnerability, and sincerity in our recitation of the Amidah today. Like Hannah who “spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard” (I Samuel 1:13), we silently move our lips as we say the Amidah blessings.
Hannah teaches us that prayer requires us to cut through our personal din so we can hear our unguarded selves. Prayer reveals itself when we peer into our hearts. When we are bitter, heartfelt prayer can help us expand ourselves and transcend our circumstances.
We should follow Hannah’s lead and know that we can look beyond prayer books for our own words to God.
So, what are the noises that are drowning out your deepest prayers? What are the words that you would whisper to God? Clear your schedule; clear your head of the distractions; open your heart.
Be ruthlessly honest with yourself because the Divine judge is asking for “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”