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Sometimes living in a modern society so focused on the self, for a Muslim, the idea of self care can seem a difficult pill to swallow. Islam calls on us to give and to care and to advise. Self care can feel so antithetical to an Islamic worldview which calls on us to do good in order to reach God. Centering ourselves at our own love doesn’t feel giving; doesn’t feel Islamic. And yet, the self cannot be denied. We burn out. We are spent.
How is it that the Prophet ﷺ was able to give so constantly? Maybe I am setting the bar too high. The Prophet ﷺ was able to garner his energy almost superhumanly, but how is it that our mothers or grandmothers gave so much and so often? How has our ummah been built on the backs of fighters and thinkers, herdsmen and builders and yet, there were no spa days and no vacation time. In my own home, I don’t seem to be able to manage even the simple tasks of everyday living without overwhelm consuming me.
So many times a day, my children call out to me ‘Look at me, mama’. My children seem to call on me endlessly, their needs draining me to the point of tearful exhaustion, and yet there is so much trust they have in my ability to respond. They beg to be seen; they beg to be heard. They know deep inside them that to be seen, to be heard, without criticism and with affirmation, is to be loved. And so, I do my best to respond because I know that to be loved is to know that you are worthwhile and therefore builds in you the confidence to become the person you so wish to be.
But who is there to see me: to pour into me the love that can light my path and inspire my wings? Especially in the daily trenches of motherhood it is easy to feel forgotten or belittled. Even if I take time for myself and do some ‘self care’ it is only me feeding myself. My weaknesses and fears compound within me and there is no one there to look me in the eye and say I see you and you can do this.
But I tell myself, Allah is Here. Allah tells us He is close; closer than our own veins1 Quran Verse 50:16. I have my prayers, don’t I? I have my time with Allah 5 times a day.
When we stand in prayer, we are there as ourselves, truly, without pretension or mask. Your heart is fully exposed to your Maker. Not only that, but regardless of the state of it, beaming with faithfulness or dirtied by the desires of this life, Allah asks for your presence. That is because He is, in every moment, willing to accept you as you are and thus assure you that you are known and that you are loved. He wants to inspire in you the sure confidence that you are able to be that person you so wish to be.
Is it possible that I may be known and seen?
Allah affords me this chance every single day and I try, I really do. I stand before Allah to complete my 5 prayers. I try to be timely. I try to be focused. Salah times are known and observed by my children and they know it’s my time to ‘talk to my Lord’. Honestly though, I struggle. Most prayers feel quick and unsatisfying. Fighting children, late appointments, the oven alarm going off. Everything seems to be needing me all at once. How can I even reach my Lord if I can’t seem to quiet my mind for a few moments.
Here, the night prayer stakes its claim. Try as I might to quiet the worries of my busy day, the night can enfold them in a way that nothing else can. Now I am free to just be. I can stand as the weak penitent slave that I am. I can relish in the fact that Allah is there and seeing me just as I am. No pretensions or masks, just me as I am. The night gives me time to recharge and to be inspired to lift my wings. In the night, I can finally feel Allah’s love.
But there is more.
Even when I can focus and be still, even in the dark still night, I find myself resisting. My mind looks for any distraction so as not to be there in that prayer before Allah.
I don’t want to be seen; I don’t feel worthy of being seen.
Am I afraid of being loved?!
I wrestle with the thought. I’m not afraid of being loved, I reason with myself. I’m afraid of the wrath of Allah at seeing my deeds. My sins and shortcomings envelop me and it’s so hard to bring all that before Allah. But, the truth is,it is only in my insistence – that I am too ugly with sin to be loved – that I create that reality. Allah’s Grace always prevails2As found in the saying of the Prophet s here. I am sure of that.
So … I am afraid of being loved …
What would it mean to be so wholly accepted as I am? What would it mean to be seen and poured into boundlessly? Each day, Allah calls me to the prayer. My maker, the one who fashioned me and who knows me better than I know myself, He calls me to know that I am truly lovely. Despite my sins and my shortcomings, I am a beautiful creation of His. If I can stand to be seen by Him, he can draw out in me that woman I feel is buried so deep inside. He can Make me see the beauty in myself that I have despaired in finding. Allah knows she is there. Allah can accept me with my sin and He can guide me to betterment if I only have faith enough to respond. Allah wants to purify us but we only want to slip away3 Quran 4:27.
Are you like me? Afraid to meet Allah? Afraid to be seen and known in fullness?
Maybe you feel that you are not worthy of being loved; that you would rather hide than be seen as you truly are. Do you find yourself standing before Allah and then tuning out? Maybe there have been so many prayers that you walked out of with the buzzing stream of endless thoughts refusing to pause. Maybe there have been a million prayers that were empty and just a series of strange archaic motions. Maybe you’re ready to give up on any meaning to your prayers.
Know that Allah finds you worthy of His love. Standing before Him, Allah faces us directly throughout the prayer 4Based on the hadith found here. Allah wants you there and invites you and waits for you until you yourself turn away from Him. Allah runs to us if we just walk to Him 5Found in this hadith. Where are you so hurried to run off to while you are sitting in intimate conversation with Allah. Allah is right there waiting for you. Maybe you aren’t used to being so accepted, and the feeling of it frightens you. But that is why you must persist. This is how you become sure that you are worthy of being loved and are thus able to then love others in fullness. Allah is waiting for you and is open to you any moment you are ready. So, Go. Go and meet Him in the night and find Him, and find yourself.