A Reason to Bother

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I believe in a God that does not believe in perfection, for me or anyone else.

by Harriet Rossetto

Note: Harriet Rossetto is the founder of Beit T’ Shuvah, a renowned treatment organization in Los Angeles for people suffering from addiction. Rossetto describes the program as "a unique blend of Jewish spirituality, cognitive behavioral therapy, 12-step philosophy and the creative arts." Approximately 120 residents interact with clinical staff in a healing atmosphere that emphasizes faith-based recovery and the values of the Jewish community.

I grew up a third-generation atheist. I had no God, and utter contempt for those who did. I worshipped Intellect and put my faith in true love and/or saving the world. My religion was Existentialism—I believed that life is hard and then you die; religion is the opiate of the masses. In between the "highs" of new love or new ideas, I lived in low-grade misery, soothing myself with good food or thoughts of not-being.

I hit an emotional bottom in 1984. My only child (my justification for living) had left for college. My prince hadn’t come, and I lost hope that he ever would, and I had made no difference in the world. I had no more illusions of salvation. I couldn’t keep doing the same thing, expecting different results. A friend gave me the business card of metaphysician Janet Levy, the Expect a Miracle lady. I certainly didn’t believe in miracles, but I was desperate enough to make an appointment.

"What is it you want, dear?" she asked.

"I don’t know; that’s why I’m here… What I want is to know what I want."

"Do you pray?" she asked.

"Don’t be ridiculous! I’m Jewish and an intellectual; we don’t pray!"

"Close your eyes and take my hand; I will pray for you: Father of the Universe, take this woman by the hand and guide her to her rightful purpose. She doesn’t know what it is. That’s it,"she said, "You just pay attention."

The miracle I wasn’t expecting appeared as a small ad in the classified section of the LA Times:

Person of Jewish background and culture

to work with Jewish criminal offenders. MSW&#8212Gateways Hospital

I felt the goose bumps that announce the Divine; AA calls them God shots, moments of spiritual awakening. A woman tells me to Pay Attention, and three days later I "happen" upon a job with my name on it. Coincidence? God? If you had asked me the moment before I saw it if that was my heart’s desire, I wouldn’t have known. But I knew when I saw it.

I made a conscious decision to call it God, a calling to Divine service. That decision changed my perception of life’s meaning from random and meaningless to purposeful. It contradicted my "existential" Why bother? What’s the point? Nothing matters hopelessness and framed my life with Higher Purpose.

I am always amused when the addicts who come to Beit T’Shuvah for recovery proudly proclaim their disbelief in God. Beit T’Shuvah is my mission—a home for lost souls addicted to everything, believing in nothing. It is God’s gift to me, a place where I belong and can heal my broken-ness through helping others achieve wholeness (Holiness). Because I was paying attention, I heard the call and found my corner of the world to repair. I get it. I see myself in all of them: "So tell me what God you don’t believe in."… "I don’t believe in that God, either." Their ontological arguments are almost routine: "What about the Holocaust? Why do bad things happen to good people?"

The God we were given and don’t believe in is a punishment/reward God, an external measure of our worth, our Parent in the Sky who knows "if we’re naughty or nice." Quid pro quo, cause and effect.

Typically, when we reject our parents’ authority and struggle to define ourselves, we reject God.

I offer my grown-up God: "God didn’t make the Holocaust—people who had no God made the Holocaust. Punishment/reward is an inside job. We do the right thing because it’s the Right Thing to do.

My God is a non-gender Force that supports my highest intention and connects me to the highest intention of others. It is my Ally in my battle with Negativity and Existential Despair.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: "God is the meaning beyond absurdity."

So what is my relationship to this God? Do I pray? What do I pray for? Prayer in Judaism is reflexive—l’hitpalel, to know oneself. I pray to know the truth of myself and for the courage to speak it. I pray for the willingness to do the next Right Thing even when I don’t want to, to live with authenticity, connection and transparency. When I screw up or sink into sloth, I ask God’s help in forgiving myself to avoid getting caught in the shame cycle.

My God does not demand perfection. My imperfections are also a Divine gift if I accept them, embrace them, and employ them in the service of God.

My other names for God are Higher Self, Divine Wisdom, Higher Consciousness. The Jewish tradition teaches that God is One—not the absence of Evil, but the integration of Good and Evil in order to transform our Evil Inclinations through Right Action.

God is the lens through which I see the world, helping me to make moral choices, right wrongs, forgive myself and others, make connections, and find Joy in living.

About the Author

author_harriet-rossetto Harriet Rossetto
Harriet Rossetto is the CEO and founder of Beit T’Shuvah, Los Angeles’s renowned nonprofit drug and alcohol treatment organization. Harriet received her Masters in Social Work from the University of Minnesota in 1964 and is a much sought after speaker in synagogues and community groups. She is also the author of Sacred Housekeeping (AuthorHouse, 2012), an honest autobiography about how she helped incarcerated Jewish men re-enter society. Harriet lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Rabbi Mark Borovitz. Visit www.beittshuvah.org.

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