Strength ‚ÄČin ‚ÄČVulnerability
Issue 63 December 2009
I am usually the one who gives out the prayers in my family. However, when I was feeling particularly down, hurting, with a deep sense of loss my brother sent me an email. In it he gave me the Prayer of Serenity: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”
Peace came into my heart as I passed the words through my mind. I was in a situation that I could not change. I had wanted one thing, God had willed another. There was only acceptance; and that was where serenity could be found.
Such acceptance can be hard to find. When my little girl was sick with flu she cried, “Why me? Why do I have it?” I looked at her and kissed her nose, “Why not you?” I replied. “This is not some punishment. When we are sick, when we feel sad, when things go wrong, God soothes us and takes away any wrong we have done, rewarding our patience with His infinite Love and Mercy.” A week later I had to recount those same words to myself, when from deep inside me I wanted to cry out, “Why me?” And then my brother reminded me to accept.
His prayer was going to take on further significance when barely two weeks after that my dearest Nana passed on. She went to sleep peacefully and did not wake up in this world. As I have recounted on these pages, my grandmother had such a profound impact on my life, granting me so much peace, faith and love. It was always going to be hard to face her passing; but the timing was awful for me personally. I knew she would not want me to grieve and would rather I had the grace with which she lived her life, but it still hurt.
To find peace, I tried to focus on all that was good: My grandmother had 100 happy, healthy years. I was loved by her my whole life. I have three wonderful healthy children, a good husband, supporting friends and family. Yet this focus was perhaps too intense because firstly I felt guilty at my ingratitude to God for all that I have; guilty that I was not living up to what my grandmother would want me to be and then I began to panic. “What if...” – “What if these other things were taken from me.” I was left feeling like I have never felt before: raw, fragile and vulnerable.
Having to explore feelings of such emotional weakness is a new experience for me. I normally have a very stoical, British stiff upper lip attitude. I cry easily at movies, as my children will testify, but otherwise I tend to think it is best to plough on, even through grief and distress. And that is generally good advice, I feel. Faith has to have meaning in the hard times; it is easy to give up and collapse, especially when people would expect you to, but keeping it together at such times is the true test.
And whilst in this grief I was ‘keeping it together’, the feeling of vulnerability was so new that I found it hard to work through. As the philosopher once said, “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons we could not learn in any other way. The way we learn those lessons is not to deny the feelings but to find the meanings underlying them.”
And then I realised that we are always totally vulnerable. The feeling of control is but an illusion. Anything can happen at any minute. Loved ones can be taken from us at any time; health and wealth can vanish; our world can be turned upside down. Only God is constant, unchanging and permanent. So I had to have even more faith and I had to be even more accepting of His will in my life.
My feelings of vulnerability have their own lessons, and their own peace. I know from the Qur’an that God will not test a soul with more than it can bear. And I know too that I will come slowly to a place of calm once again, although that does not mean fatalism and apathy – quite the opposite. There will be things which I have to accept; there will be things I will strive to change, and in knowing the difference I pray I will find serenity.