When we look back at the past, we can often pinpoint certain circumstances or events that stand out as times of awakening, as ‘eye-openers’ that changed our perspective from that moment onwards. We refine ourselves through every such experience and grow towards becoming the real us.
I had one such defining moment a couple of weeks ago and it came in the form of an unbelievably tiny 22-week-old angel of a foetus. I had a chance to spend a few minutes with the baby (I cannot call her anything else) and as I looked down into the little cot where she lay, her tiny head with the little pink crochet hat turned sideways as if asleep, it was impossible to comprehend that she was never going to take a breath, that she had left this world before even entering it.
I could not begin to organise my thoughts. Here was a not-quite-finished and yet beautifully complete human being. The nurse referred to her as ‘non-viable’ but everything about her seemed to announce the glory of God. The little hands, the little feet, the tiny mouth, the shut eyes, the perfectly shaped eyebrows! Such detail in a being who was barely halfway to being fully formed. It may sound poetic, but it is the simple truth that she was in herself an ayah – a very viable Sign – of the Majesty and Perfect Design of God.
When I came home and looked at my toddler, I had to sit down with the weight of gratitude that wrapped itself around my heart. Was it not for the abundant Mercy of God, would she have made it to full-term and emerged as a living, breathing child? ‘What did I do right to deserve her?‘ I asked myself and immediately realised how wrong the question was. The mother who had lost her child had done nothing wrong. Children are not, after all, gifts given out for good behaviour from our Creator.
It made me think about how we define parenthood, as well as other familial relationships. We talk about our parents, siblings, spouses and children as ‘blessings’ or ‘gifts’ and they are, but this is not their main purpose for existence. All these individuals are a means to an end. They are in our lives for a reason: to teach us something about ourselves, to give us the opportunity to fulfil our obligations and to help us on our Journey towards our Lord.
We tend to forget this in all the hype that surrounds these relationships. Sisters/friends are supposed to accept you just as you are and do ‘crazy’ things with you, spouses are supposed to be soul-mates met in the most romantic of manners and fulfilling story-book ideals, children are supposed to be angelic little devils who drive you nuts but you still ‘love ’em to bits’.
In reality, however, life is social-media perfect for a minority. The question is does it even need to be so? Who sets the standard for what a good relationship should be like? With billions of unique human beings on this earth, is it even possible to have a standard? Yes, principles like honesty, steadfastness and piety are universal, but habits and personal idiosyncrasies mean that even these principles will manifest differently in different people.
The only unchanging constant in all our relationships is God, if we would only acknowledge and recognise His Presence. For a majority of us, He is simply an Observer, overseeing what we do and how we do it. He sends us blessings (for which we are happy and try to remember to thank Him) and sometimes tests (that we question and never forget to complain to Him about) and that’s about it really. How many of us ever really involve Him, let alone make Him the focus, of our relationships?
When we look at our spouses, for example, and feel a rush of warmth within our hearts, do we ever think ‘God, You are reflected in the qualities he or she is displaying and that is why I feel this love?’ or when we are irritated by their actions, do we look at them and think ‘God, you love this person and sent him/her to me as gift, our union is through Your approval so teach me to forgive them and love them as You do’.
When I looked afresh at my daughter, I wondered why I hadn’t noticed the miracle she was more often. Why had I not see the Design of God working in her stubbornness as she learns to have an opinion, in her turning the room upside-down because of her healthy curiosity or in her destruction of my personal items as she explores her personal ingenuity? All these things had been described to me as the ‘reasons why kids drive you crazy’ and ‘why you can’t have a life of your own after having kids’. However, they are actually magnificent, practical examples of how God’s constant, dynamic creation is in motion and how completely dependent we are on Him in the process.
Why then would I want my old life where I only knew God through my own complacent self, when I can now see aspects of His creation that I could never have imagined existed before? By exposing me to different people, He has immersed me in an ocean of emotion and thought that was inaccessible to me before. The more challenging the situations I face, the more I have an opportunity to discover my own abilities and strength, the better I understand myself and the greater my awe and thankfulness is towards Him.
It is as if He was dangling bait before me and now that I have well and truly bitten it, He is reeling me in towards Himself slowly, but surely. The question is how much of this will be a ‘battle’ because of my ignorant resistance and how much will be an eager love-struck submission.
The father of the little-lost baby announced the news to us with the words ‘Alhamdulillah, God took back His Trust from us.’ Powerful words. Strong words. Words filled with love, both for the child and the One to Whom she belonged. Sometimes God takes people from us for a test, sometimes He leaves them in our lives for the same reason. Every gain and loss has a reason, a purpose not just for this world but for the hereafter as well.
It is this balance that we must keep at the forefront of our minds in every moment of every day. Just as a baby arriving into this world too soon cannot survive successfully because it is not completely equipped for the environment of this life, so we too will not be able to exist successfully in the hereafter if we do not develop the necessary capacities required for that environment.
May God continuously show Himself to us at every turn and keep us all safe from ever crying out: “O my Lord! why hast Thou raised me up blind, while I had sight (before)?” (Holy Qur’an, 20:125)