Giving thanks

October 25, 2009 at 11:35 am (moral issues, personal, religious practices)

I sometimes think my attraction to religion is an attraction to an alternative me that I want to be. A me that gets up at the crack of dawn to pray, is calmly spiritual, devotedly faithful, peacefully mature. The real me has always fallen far away from that. The real me is stricken with worry, lurching from one crisis of faith to another, getting overwhelmed and losing all resolve. I am kidding myself if I think that I’m going to arrive at faith, make a commitment, and then it’ll be plain sailing. (Bear with me, there’s a positive coming 😉 )

This week for example, I don’t even know what’s happened, but after making strides with establishing a prayer routine, and even stepping out in hijab last weekend, it somehow became a real struggle. It might have something to do with other big stresses this week. I lost confidence, I lost patience. I guess I have been back at where I was when I stopped going to church – feeling like a victim and wondering why God doesn’t care. Astaghfirullah!

I need to drop any expectations of a quick fix. I am not going to get a personality transplant by starting to pray. I am not going to instantly have a deep knowledge of God. These things take practice. I really should stop thinking in black and white, stop pressuring myself, stop hating what I am. Otherwise I will be right back to resenting all religious obligations.

This is exactly applicable to other aspects of my life too. I resent work obligations, for example. I am just someone who worries about getting it right, and secretly strives and agonises, to the point of exhaustion and loss of hope and loss of care.

I DON’T WANT TO BE A NEGATIVE PERSON.

I DON’T WANT TO BE A DRAMA QUEEN.

I DON’T WANT TO BE PERPETUALLY UNHAPPY.

I know how I want to be, what the right way to be is. But perhaps I can only move towards it by first accepting what I am now.

The best idea I had yesterday was to begin by “counting my blessings” as the saying goes. It just dawned on me that by being negative and unhappy and always wanting things to change, I am being really ungrateful for the good things in my life, of which there are many. How sad would it be to get everything I wanted and then realise that I still didn’t know how to appreciate it. Life is short, too short to wait to enjoy it. Giving thanks might be the best way to connect with God and foster humility. Rather than trying to force myself to not care about the things of this life, I will work on mentally connecting them with their Source.

Just a small step to take, but small steps are probably all I can manage. I am interested to see where it may take me.

Likewise, there would seem to be many positive things about me in my work that I am completely sabotaging by being so negative. I have enslaved myself to “perfection”, disrespecting the natural characteristics God has made me with because of my fear of man’s judgment. I will try and start to remind myself of my strengths and attribute everything to God.

Any advice is appreciated… and don’t mince your words… sometimes I need a verbal slap 😉

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8 Comments

  1. LK said,

    I think you already know what to do. Calm down, and take things one step at a time. My personality is similar. I want it to be fixed after all this time but its not that simple. I have to step back and try not to stress myself out. As much as I would like it, I am not going to wake up one day going “I am at peace, connected with God! All is fixed in my world!” Would be wonderful, but it doesn’t work that way. Remember to breathe.

    I also like this prayer from Pslams of Islam. It is The Whispered Prayer of the Thankful. I’ll post it on my blog, its really long lol.

  2. Sarah Elizabeth said,

    You sound like me when I was younger, except I wasn’t even aware these things were making up who I was.. Turning me into someone I despised..

    Dramatic, loud, insecure, a show off, unable to tame my emotions, temperamental, jealous, and worst of all: blind to it.

    The people in my life never shook me awake, they just ignored or enabled or pretended everything was ok…

    It took me hurting someone really bad, and them verbally berating me and telling me everything that I was, all the negative, all the bad parts of me, and how those bad parts hurt that person..; for me to open my eyes…

    When I saw myself through the eyes of another I was slapped in the face with the real me, not the person in denial that I seemed to have been.. Just reality.

    It took me 1 year. After 1 year of struggle, depression, coming to terms, and effort I really, truly, changed. I became that person I really always wanted to be but didn’t know how to be..

    And then I found religion.

    Pertaining to your own worries and woes, you are a step ahead because you are completely aware of who you are and who you want to be.. I don’t think studying religion is going to change your insides, I think your looking in the wrong place for fulfillment. You have to look within. I know it is cliche to say, but it is real. You’ve been looking for who you want to be behind all of these religions, and you will never find it.

    You can wear hijab, Abaya, pray five times a day, that does not mean you are going to suddenly be this calm, pious person.. You have to change yourself first, and then religion will merely enhance all of those changes..

    Change is a mental workout, a conscious decision that you have to make every single day until it is natural for you and you find that it has become you. If you embrace religion instead of embracing yourself, then you will be the crazy dramatic Muslim girl, and that will be the only change.

  3. susanne430 said,

    I think your choosing to count your blessings is a GREAT step! My pastor often says that a thankful spirit drives out worry and so much more! Honestly can you be thanking/praising God for all the wonderful things in your life while at the same time you are being angry or bitter or griping, complaining, worrying? I really can’t mix those things. When I am focusing on God’s goodness to me those other things can’t compare. So I believe you made a HUGE first step by choosing to be thankful!

    Something I read yesterday was about being content NOW…in the journey of life. NOT constantly thinking “I’ll be content when…. happens” or “When … happens, life will truly be good.” We waste so much of life waiting for the next step when this journey IS life. We must choose to be content and enjoy life *while it’s happening NOW*! That may be a no-brainer to you, but it was something I need reminding of from time to time.

    Enjoyed this.

  4. Sarah said,

    LK – it makes me feel better just to know I’m not the only one stressing out about it! I am grateful for meeting you and everyone else in the blogging world. You’re right, we really need to take a step back and ease off the thinking sometimes.

    Sarah Elizabeth – that is a really interesting point, maybe I am looking in the wrong place. Why do I want so badly to be religious? I am asking myself that right now and not really knowing the answer. I do already have religious beliefs, but why am I pressuring myself to find a system to commit to? I’m sure there was a reason I started this journey, but right now I can’t remember what it was. I’ve given myself the task of deciding in an objective way about the truth of Islam, since it’s a faith I’ve been attracted to for many years… but it’s a task that has overwhelmed me, and no wonder, because it’s a really tall order. Most people practice religion with far less conviction than what I expect of myself. Their conviction then comes more through experience. Is it worth it to do it this way? It has become an obsession. It has made me tired and frustrated. Buffetted back and forth with all the different arguments either way. Too much. I will have to consider carefully where to go next, because maybe this way of searching isn’t good for me.

    Susanne – I totally agree, thankfulness is mutually exclusive with anger and bitterness and discontentment. I think it is a really good thing to cultivate. And yes, living in the moment is ideal! Something I find pretty difficult too.

  5. Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

    Like you said, prayer & being religious in general take time to have an effect on your life. They won’t make you a completely different person unless you too actively try to become a different person. Many people pray but are pretty horrible or unhappy people. However, if you consciously try to better yourself, prayer will definitely help.

  6. Sarah said,

    I’m just exhausted, Sara. Investigating religion has consumed me and I’ve no energy left over for actually practising anything or trying to improve myself. Perhaps I’ve been using all my energies in the wrong things. Perhaps it doesn’t matter what religion you identify with, perhaps there’s truth in all of them, and what you believe (in practice) and what you do and what kind of person you are is more important. I think I want to change direction in that way.

    • Sara (cairo, lusaka, amsterdam) said,

      I definitely agree that what you do and what kind of person you are is more important.
      I think we have similar problems with religion – i.e. accepting that we can’t understand or rationalize every part of it. That was what stopped me from becoming religious – not being able to logically explain or understand every part of Islam. That’s why there has to be an element of faith, and I think that’s the hard part for you?

      You have to really trust God and the Qur’an, there’s no getting away from that.

  7. Sarah said,

    Yes, my problem is always that there are doubts. Trust issues!

    One thing I realised yesterday was that community is a big motivation for faith sometimes. I went off to an Islamic society event pretty upset because of all the doubts that had cropped up that day. My husband dropped me off and I was trying hard to be positive but I was feeling rotten. Then I got talking to people, and it all seemed so different being surrounded by Muslims. Outside of my own head it seemed a lot simpler. It no longer seemed at all reasonable to think that Islam could be bad. All these people seemed happy, and friendly and nice. It occurred to me that the influence of people is really strong – it was a HUGE factor in me becoming a religious Christian. Of course I then remembered it can backfire too. But deciding on a religion through solitary objective reasoning is really unusual, and I do think it’s possible, and good, but very difficult. I think I am asking a lot of myself to do that.

    My doubts about religion are distracting me from God, basically. Instead of working on being more thankful, since I wrote this post, I just got distracted into worrying about other details of religion and what they might mean. Perhaps I am just never going to have any more conviction than I do already. At a certain point maybe I have to take a chance on God.

    It’s almost to the point of OCD – worrying about religion. They’re going to name a new disorder after me, lol! As I said before it totally depends on my general state of mind, which at the moment is far from relaxed, and I don’t know why I can’t see that if I just stop thinking about it and calm down, it will all seem OK again. It always does. 😉

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