I said “What about my eyes?” so God said “Keep them on the road.” I said “What about my passion?” so God said “Keep it burning.” I said “What about my heart?” and God said “Tell me what you hold inside it.” “Pain and sorrow,” I reply earnestly. God said “Stay with it. The wound is the place where the light enters you.”
Granted, pain of most natures is generally considered unnatural and unnecessary. We view it as dark, evil and destructive. It can be tough to shift perspectives in such a generous and allowing fashion but perhaps this experience carries treasure for us too. Take the pain of birth for instance- what is intense in the moment is also fleeting and paves the way for much fruitfulness. That’s not to say that every hardship builds character or makes a man or woman out of us. We don’t have to justify pain through its lessons or search for well hidden or non existent silver linings. On your healing journey, it is important to be discerning. You must know when it is appropriate to fight back and when you should be still.
Take a moment to release yourself from the immense pressure of needing to make sense of why you’re here. Commit to just being as you are, hand on your heart, feet on the ground. It would be too simplistic to suggest that pain is sent to us on purpose, that it is part of God’s ultimate design and plan. That some bodies will react differently to other bodies and carry more or less pain. When I look at the communities of people around me, my brothers and sisters, I see joy and triumph as well as personal agony. If there was a rhyme or reason to it, we might also bring karma into the discussion. Nobody is blameless and we are all afflicted in one way or another.
It’s crucial we practice meaning making and commit to the journey ahead. Be brave and ask yourself how you’ll come back stronger after adversity. Examine the ways in which you’ve been torn open and figure out how to better stitch yourself together again. What messages are being communicated to you in this space? What is your body asking of you in the moment? How can you serve yourself well here?To say I’ve struggled in this waiting season would be an understatement. I’ve felt uncomfortable teetering on the cusp of adulthood, this impending stage inciting simultaneous awe, curiosity and nerves. It feels close enough that if I might reach out I’d touch it. It feels like being pulled in, sucked in hopelessly. Does one resist? I’m reminding myself there’s no single right answer for growing pains, for navigating untrekked trails and untread waters. I’ve witnessed myself consciously unravelling with nothing to do but stay the course.
A few weeks ago I stumbled across Taylor Swift’s ode to her mother Andrea, the one person she could always lean on. The Best Day is a musical tribute and representation of her eternal gratitude for a safe and warm childhood. The touching soundtrack, synced to various home movies, brought on a deluge of raw emotion. On top of that was the knowledge of Andrea’s brain tumour. Longing and loss in transition overcame me and I cried suddenly, silently, continuously. Our truest affections are certainly in the most difficult goodbyes. Baby Taylor is asked “What do you have in your hair?” “Spiders,” she says. “Not spiders,” her mother says chuckling. “What are those?” “Pigtailers!” she announces and it’s my turn to laugh. Not pigtails, pigtailers. Too precious. “Pigtails.. you look beautiful today Miss Taylor.” “Thank you.” “You’re very welcome.” “Thanks for saying that.” “Why you’re very welcome honey.”
When I received the news that I was to become a big sister again, I felt all breath leave my body. My parents divorced when I was fourteen and it came as a great relief to me. It was painful watching them pick up pieces that were better left on the ground- we had become a puzzle with sections that didn’t fit together anymore and forcing them into place only caused further anguish. Growing up I felt there was no room for me to exist as an individual in my father’s mind. Unique expression, autonomous thought and self action wasn’t encouraged or welcome. The more I aimed to please him and live up to an ideal I didn’t align with, the smaller and less empowered I became. As the sacrifices grew, the resentments began piling up. I spent three years in education at an Islamic primary school, popping on a headscarf each morning and attempting in vain to memorise the arabic alphabet so I could transition to reading the Quran. I felt completely inauthentic- holding beliefs that only served as a front and couldn’t stand up became damaging to my sense of identity and worth.
When I turned six, I was given the choice of wearing pants or a skirt or dress with leggings underneath. There is no real concept of practicing modesty as a small child. If anybody was looking at me, that is well and truly on them. I still feel at odds and uneasy within my body. It’s been a journey to viewing it as my home rather than a rest stop or object for others to derive pleasure from. The new addition I’d been counting on to complete my family was a puppy, not a newborn. My father’s arranged marriage to a woman in Pakistan two and a half years ago felt surreal up until we met her in June. After a considerable wait, she’d been approved for permanent residency. My brother and I had no input in the wife shopping process and hadn’t been invited to the wedding. The three of us had never met before, nor spoken on the phone. The concept of instant family has never sat right with me. Marriage is a sacred bond that is decimated when ruled by convenience and overwhelmed by a desire to combat loneliness. He’d taken the privilege in the human search for love and turned it into an equation, a mere transaction.
They fell pregnant for the second time shortly after her arrival, the first time having ended in miscarriage. Baby boy is due in March next year, shortly after college resumes for the semester. I briefly considered deferring my studies but decided I couldn’t remain at the mercy of his selfish choices. Ultimately, I don’t have to accept being thrust into a role I didn’t ask for. What I’ve gained thus far is a greater and more evolved understanding of how my childhood impacts my present reality and will shape the future. I found myself bidding farewell to the part of me that hoped for reconciliation and a close relationship with my father, the man who has replaced both my brother and I. My father and stepmother are fifty one and thirty nine respectively. She is a first time mother- that is her only motivation and agenda. If age is any indicator, his time to welcome a child has long since passed. Intimacy and attachment are great provokers of selflessness yet I believe ulterior motives reign above all.
My father was very much passive in his role, never active. To this day he believes he shouldn’t act like a father because I don’t act like a daughter. Don’t we earn our positions in the eyes of the ones we love though? Devotion has to count for something. He never took my brother camping or hiking, to sports or games. Never watched him play soccer. Never cooked breakfast with him on weekends. He was frequently asleep, at the mosque or working. He valued Islam above all and let the difference in beliefs come between us. He stopped talking to me and started talking at me, despite my insistence in a different faith. To this day he can’t resist commenting on the way I dress and carry myself. Most recently he’s become a rape apologist. He’s a genuinely smart person but allows himself to be tainted by archaic, extremist viewpoints.
My brother and I have effectively been written out of the family. His wife speaks no english, doesn’t cook or eat for the most part and doesn’t drive. She has not a semblance of independence yet manages to dictate so much. My father has no job or savings and hasn’t paid child support in months. A large sum of money that was meant to go towards a car for me was spent on his rent. Together they live in a small, run down granny flat in an unsafe area. There was a recent kidnapping and assault where a man was held against his will and stabbed thirty times over the course of seven hours. Then he was thrown onto the street. My father has no pride, no shame, no concern, no desire for betterment.
I worked up the courage to explain the concept of investment to him and was met with anger. There was no acknowledgment for the truth in my words. Blending families is difficult but it doesn’t have to be. Biological parents have instant investment into their children. In the case of a stepparent and stepkids, the relationship needs nurturing and development to grow and blossom. I read of a woman who waited years out of courtesy to her stepsons before having a child of her own. In this way, they were able to build up a rapport. Welcoming a new baby became a family decision rather than staying between the couple and creating disharmony.
Thomas Merton said: “And it is in this darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our own minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that resides too close for identification is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure.”
Rumi once said ‘The healing for the pain is in the pain.” Yes, that’s right. The supposed antidote for our suffering can somehow lie in the cause. While I never had the father and daughter relationship I deserved and can’t value my parent the way I wish to, the focus and pressure is off me. I can really come into the person I am, unshackle myself from the weight of these chains and have hope in a future where I live up to my own standards. As much as I’ve wanted to run, hide, numb and turn away from the truth, I’ve had to face it to be free. I’ve had to turn towards it, appear with the intent to conquer.
In the Bible there is much talk of nurturing with maternal energy. The Psalmist wrote: “Oh you who dwell in the shelter of the Most High and abide in the protection of Shaddai- I say of the Lord, my refuge and stronghold, my God in whom I trust, that God will save you from the fowler’s trap, from the destructive plague. God will cover you with Gods pinions; you will find refuge under God’s wings; Gods fidelity is an encircling shield.”
The Hebrew word Shaddai’s root is shad which translates to mountain or breast. References that tie nurturing breasts to God and God’s goodness occur over thirty times in the Hebrew Bible. The Psalmist goes from calling God Elyon or Most High to Shaddai, bringing God back down to earth, into our human lives, like a mother taking care of her child. In this we can relate. It is on our level. The Divine is willing to stay present with us. Jesus referenced the Psalm when he said: “How often I’ve ached to gather your children the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” These precious verses ascribe to God the feminine energies of healer, nurturer and tender carer who draw their beloved in close to their chest and holds them tight.
What could offer more beauty and grace than this imagine? When the wound threatens to sting, when the tears ache to spill, we can turn towards it with understanding. God is holding us and he does not assign mountains that cannot be moved. You were given this life to be wholly and fully present in it. To prioritise wellbeing as well as productivity. To attend to yourself with feminine virtues that flow from within to others, creating a ripple of vitality in a world crippled by pain. Mindful Prompt: Maybe this darkness was always meant to be a refuge, a place for you to be healed of wounds that run deep and the idea that only light is good.