I used to hate being religious. All the can’t do’s, don’t do’s, have to’s and you-really-should do’s were just not my thing. Who cares about so many details? Who cares if my candy is kosher? Who cares if I observe all of Shabbat, or if I only mumble half the prayers every morning? Or if I do any of the other stuff I have to do to be considered a “good girl”?

I used to hate being religious

As a preteen, I wasn’t bothered so much about what I had to do; it was more about what I was missing out on—not being able to wear all the cool clothes, or go to certain concerts. Why can’t I watch any movie? Why can’t I eat at this friend’s house?

As I entered my teen years, my mind started working overtime. What is this? What’s in it for me? All day I have to live by these rigid rules, and then what? Where’s my prize, where’s my goody bag?

I looked around and saw some people leading happy, kind, productive lives, though they were completely irreligious, while there were some so-called religious people who were the absolute opposite of what they were preaching to me all day long. My sense of right and wrong was going crazy. How could it be that my Jewish studies teacher could teach us a lesson about love for one’s fellow, yet in the very same breath tear down a girl and shame her in front of a whole class?

And my mind kept fighting the system, the education that I was receiving. What kind of religion is this, that G‑d’s mercy is dependent on petty actions? Is He not our Father? Why is there so much suffering for the righteous, anguish for the kind, distress for the merciful? Why does my relationship with the all-loving, encompassing G‑d have to be dependent on these picayune actions? The G‑d who's supposed to love me is going to send me to hell because I missed out on some mitzvah? How, I wondered, did no one else see this situation the way I perceived it? They say religion is the opiate of the masses. And yes, I thought, the truth in that was quite apparent.

My thoughts and theories leaked into my actions, and I often was rebellious, angry, sad and confused. Nauseated by the tumultuous rollercoaster ride of my mind, I became indifferent to rules and higher-ups. Whenever I was told, "Don’t do this! You must do that!" it made me so angry. Who has the right to tell me what, how and when to do what I want to do?

Often I heard, “This life is so much better and fulfilling! Why look outside when you have everything here?" Well, I felt that just because I had been given the so-called truth, I still needed to search for and find it on my own.

And so I did. I searched, I asked, I read, I thought, I explored. And when you dig, you find diamonds. Sure, there’s dirt—there are religious leaders and educators who are hypocrites, there are rabbis who claim to be all that and they are anything but—yet what I learned is that Judaism is so much more than the real and imperfect people associated with it. It’s about G‑d, deep teachings, the Rebbeim, the Torah and how I fit into all of this.

One of the fundamental changes took place when someone suggested that the key to getting on board was to create a personal connection with G‑d. My first response was, “That’s a nice thought. A little cheesy, but cute.”

Eventually, I really started to think about it.

The more I ruminated over this idea, the more the ingenuity of this concept hit me! A personal connection with G‑d. The same G‑d that I referred to when I said, "Oh, my G‑d!" when I stubbed my toe or when I was surprised, excited, angry, annoyed—that was the same G‑d in the heavens, the G‑d who provided me with my life. That was the same G‑d in the Torah who spoke to Moses, who revealed Himself to Abraham, who split the sea. That was my G‑d? That was my G‑d. My personal G‑d! My direct line above!

As part of the 12-step recovery program for addicts, the first step is admitting that you are powerless over your addiction. In my own process of discovery, I realized that although I thought I was smarter than everyone else out there, all my genius theories were not getting me anywhere. I wasn’t able to figure out the secrets of the world, the secret to why the world was corrupt, or why G‑d never came to me and revealed Himself, saying, "I am G‑d!" I came to understand that, in a sense, I was addicted to not letting myself understand, not letting myself hear answers or listen to solutions. And yes, I did become powerless—I was going in circles, obsessively looking for answers, yet not listening to them when they came.

Once I understood the cycle of what was going on in me, I was able to take a step back and evaluate myself, leading me to step number two: coming to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Did I honestly and truly believe that there was no G‑d? Did I really think this world just made itself it up, just fell into being by some random coincidence? And even if it did, something had to have made the coincidence happen. Sure, in my mind it didn’t really make sense to believe in G‑d, yet it made even less sense not to believe. And that G‑d who I didn’t understand, He was the one who had power over me, over my life, over my world, over the universe, and with the power of my belief in Him, my life could take on a whole new meaning.

WhichI have actively chosen to take His hand led me to number three, making an active decision to turn my will over to G‑d. I understood that even though I didn’t understand G‑d and His ways, it didn’t make Him exist any less. No matter how hard I cried, no matter how much I kicked and screamed, the upper hand in the situation here was just that—the upper hand, the hand of G‑d. I understood and recognized that He was the power in this state of affairs, and as I assessed what was going on, I realized that I could either have a temper tantrum, or I could lovingly take the hand that I was being offered, and walk through this world with the best protection, love and care ever possible.

Thank G‑d, I have actively chosen to take His hand.

True, many of my questions remain unanswered, but I now understand and believe that there are answers and reasons to what is going on, and I trust with full faith that whatever G‑d dishes out is for the best. And yes, the nuances still exist, but they are no longer nuances, they are the key to my love affair with G‑d. They're the chocolates I give Him, the gifts I prepare. Doing the right thing, saying the right thing, wearing the right thing—it’s all still laborious, yet now that my mind is open, it’s a labor of love.