R'11 Day Twenty Four: Down, but not Out

Have you ever heard of the story of a town flooding and a man climbing to his rooftop to stay alive? The man is alone and panicking and starts praying to God to save his life. About a minute later, a man on a jet ski comes by and shouts to the man on the roof to climb down. The man refuses and continues to pray, saying that he's waiting for God to save him. Next, a man in a speed boat comes by and shouts to the "roof man" to come down. Again he refuses, shouts the same response, and prays even more feverishly. Lastly, a helicopter flies right above the man and a rope ladder is dropped down and hovers overhead for a minute or two. The man refuses and five minutes later, he is swept away by the currents and drowns. The man then has the chance to face God and asks Him one question: "God, I prayed so hard for you to come and save me and yet nothing happened. Have I been so horrible of a person that you couldn't answer my prayers?" God replies back to him: "I heard every single one of your prayers, and sent the jet ski, the speed boat, and the helicopter. Each time I sent a stronger sign, and each time you refused it. Why?" Shocked, the man replies: "I was waiting for a miracle".

There's a concept in Islam whereby believers are taught that we do not solely sit, wait and do nothing until divine intervention occurs. That would be the literal interpretation of the phrase "InshaAllah" or God willing. The thing I remember my mom teaching me the MOST from a very young age is that we need to always act with the best of intentions, and pray at the same time, and Allah will InshaAllah guide us. She often still reminds me of a famous saying in Iran that goes something like: "Take a few steps towards Allah, and Allah will run towards you". Complacency, or 'giving up', in her mind has no place, and I was raised to believe the same. And this determination is something I've held onto.

In the field of psychology, this determination is called resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back, so to speak, from whatever life may throw at us, and return stronger and more determined than ever. Theorists believe that resiliency is not innate in that only certain individuals are born with it, but rather than we all have the capacity to be resilient if we have the right mindset and tools. And in fact, research (especially that of Dr. Michael Ungar out of Dalhousie University) shows that having a strong social network is a key determining factor in resiliency.

There's been plenty of life situations I've faced that I could have just thrown my arms up in the air and said "that's it, I'm done and am tuning out now". And while that's easy for me to do because it no longer exposes me difficult or hurtful situations again, I'm also perhaps missing opportunities because I'm guarding my ego. In other words, signs are being sent your way, and you're passing them up because you're waiting for that ONE giant miracle to occur to shake you out of your stale mate.

I was bullied most of my childhood. I could have, as an adult, played the victim role and hermitized myself, but I just couldn't. I wrote the MCAT THREE TIMES during my undergraduate years, barely increasing in scores each time and applied to medical school three years in a row only to be rejected each time. I could have said "it's medical school or nothing" and continued to work retail until now, but I couldn't settle for that. I could have taken off my hijab when I first starting to wear it because I felt as if the world was staring down at me and I wanted my old "like the majority" self back, but I didn't. And in the frustrating situations I've had in the marital arena, I could easily have given up and said "I don't need a man! I'm independent, self-sufficient, successful, and am free and happy" each time I was rejected, emotionally undermined, or a communication attempt just didn't work out...but I just can't live with that mindset!

And you know what? YES it's SO much harder to get back on the camel and ride again after falling...but that's the beauty of resiliency. You've built up enough of a callus on your finger that you can keep sewing and the needle doesn't hurt as much when it does poke you. And even though it still hurts, you're willing to take the pain because you know that INSHALLAH one day, your perseverance and prayers will pay off. You have a reserve of defences and support to weather the storms, so to speak.

Shutting yourself out from a certain aspect of your life may work in the short-term, but eventually, you'll regret it...and worse yet, you may even get to a point where you are very jaded and bitter and there's nothing that can change your mind. And that's such a sad place to be, it upsets me to see people with that mindset. Nothing we struggle with is a struggle we face alone. Test this idea! Post your biggest concern as your Facebook status, and you'll have Likes and Comments empathizing with you before you know it.

And imagine if the next situation you come across in your 'have given up' zone is actually a favourable one? We can't know this for sure or even predict it, but taking small steps forward and praying at the same time to be guided along the RIGHT path is not that risky at all...which is why as Muslims, we (Alhamdulillah) have a prayer meant specifically for decisions we seek guidance about. And then we must be VERY aware and vigilant of any signs that are sent down to us.

After all, we wouldn't want to miss something as glaringly obvious as and equivalent to a helicopter now, would we? ;)

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