How Real Do I Want God To Be In My Life?

As a convert to Orthodox Judaism and an avid 12-stepper, I feel like I have no choice but to say that I want God to be as real as possible in my life, but I don’t live that way every day. Much of the time I find myself wanting God to be real enough in my life that I abandon my most self-destructive tendencies, but not real enough so that I can’t do the things I want.

Aside from a Hasidim, Jews don’t generally talk about God. We don’t generally talk about making God real in our lives. I’m not getting my God talk here from my Jewish experience but from my 12-step journey.

My beliefs about God haven’t changed much over the years. I think I developed my sense of God as a little boy, that He was the Creator, the Source of Revelation, and the Judge.

I think one’s image of God is intimately tied up with your image of your father. I have a lot of respect towards both. I see God and dad as the sources of moral authority, and the ultimate judges.

I don’t have any literal image of God. Never had. That would be a sin. If you force me to come up with an image for God, however, I’d think of the Torah, God’s instruction manual from Mount Sinai.

Growing up, I was taught that God loves me and that He most wants me to have faith in him. This didn’t make much sense to me. The notion that God loves me didn’t seem real. I didn’t sense God loving me or God loving anyone. I didn’t see any advantages to believing this. And the idea that God was primarily concerned about how I thought about Him was not inspiring. It made God seem petty.

I never doubted that there was a God who created the universe until I got to college and then I dropped belief in God for a few years until coming to Judaism at age 23 in 1989.

All of my beliefs about God have been rote, inherited from whichever religion I held by at the time. I’ve never had any distinctive beliefs about God. I’ve never thought much about God. I’ve been following Judaism since 1989. It has a specific program of action and I follow it more or less.

So why am I grappling now about how real do I want God to be in my life?

Because of my 12-Step work. I find myself seeking out a 12-step lecture online most every day, particularly at night when I have trouble sleeping and in the morning when I want to get aligned right for my day ahead. And at the end of this one 12-step lecture, the speaker challenged us: How free do you want to be? How real do you want God to be in your life?

Those sentences have been echoing around in my head ever since. They haunt me because I tend to be lazy and just settle for free enough, real enough.

Holy hell, how real do I want God to be in my life? I’ve almost always believed in God, but having God real in my life is something entirely different and much more threatening. I believe in certain rabbis but I don’t want them real in my life during my every waking hour, particularly when I’m watching movies. I like them to be at shul when I’m at shul. And that’s very nice!

Yes, I pray to God but it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just something I do. It’s like a tax. When you get your pay check, you have to give up much of your income to tax. When you live as an Orthodox Jew, you have to give up much of your time to prayer. It’s the price of admission. When you become a religious Jew, you start showing up to shul every day to pray. You don’t announce your religiosity by cutting back on your cheating because anyone can do that, even a goy. Honesty doesn’t classify you as a religious Jew. Only by practicing publicly the rituals, that’s what sets you apart.

My ideal shul experience is sitting with friends and shmoozing for three hours while people pray around us. I like being in the atmosphere of prayer. I think prayer is a good thing. I just find it difficult to do myself, like cleaning bed pans and changing diapers.

I always feel better after I’ve prayed. I know it’s good for me, but I’m falling down on my Judaism and my 12-step commitment to daily seek contact with God. It’s easier for me to go to shul and to rattle off the prayers and to talk to my friends than to seek a relationship with God.

Yes, I could hang out in a bowling alley and shmooze with friends but regular and ritualized prayer times brings people together more reliably and the atmosphere in shul is more elevated than the atmosphere in a bowling alley. The human interaction that I’ve experienced in shul is more profound than what I’ve found in bowling alleys and the like. Where you do things and how you dress is important. You could eat a gourmet meal in a dirty smelly bathroom and it won’t be nearly the experience of eating the identical meal in a nice restaurant. You can talk to your friends in alleys or in shuls, but all things being equal, you’re going to have a more powerful interaction in shul.

What does God see when he sees me? How real is Luke to God? I’m as real as the Pope, but no more so than anyone else. I’m just another of His creatures evenly balanced between good and evil.

So if I make God real in my life, does that mean I have to let go of my dirty nasty fantasies? The ones that are incompatible with Torah and with 12-step work? It’s one thing to give up forbidden behavior, but do I have to give up stoking my fantasies as well?

What’s so frightening about finding God? Well, would you like having your rabbi over? Would you like him sitting next to you at work and when you go out? How real do you want your rabbi, your pastor to be in your life? I like my clergy and my God at my house of worship. Yes, God belongs in the bedroom, but I don’t really want to invite Him in there.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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