Lessons To Turn a Mid-Life Crisis Into A Mid-Life Bloom
By Romina Afghan
How is it that one minute I seem to be grappling with the reality of a new born and nappies and maintaining a marriage, and the next I am watching that ‘baby’ get married? How is it that my house that was so noisy and loud and chaotic at times, so zoo-like and filled with the sounds of quaking ceilings and groaning floorboards is now filled with the silent tap of technology and muffled laughter of a shared virtual joke with an audience not present?
How is it…? It is, because life passes, time flies, one Ramadan after another, one year after another, this is the ebb and flow of our lives; it is, because this world is only a few shuttered moments, punctuated by a few highs and lows and made meaningful only through those moments that we acted in accordance with our fitrah- our true nature, our highest purpose.
The problem is, it took a while for me to figure that bit out. I often found myself consumed in the moment by the mundane: consumed by thoughts of how to get to my mums house without upsetting a potty training programme that would revolutionise my life ( …at least for a little while!); I was consumed with ideas of how to get a baby to start chewing food and not just swallowing it all down; of how to cook for guests when your mini kitchen is designed for only two people; of how to be a domestic and good wife and impress not just my husband, but my family and his, with my efficient domesticity…
And I see this cycle perpetuated sometimes in my younger sisters…perhaps this is how life is, and perhaps we all need to knock a few hurdles down for ourselves before we can start to gracefully leap over them, but in my honorary capacity as Aunty to every sister, I offer these lessons I have learnt from humble experience.
1.Know your priorities and then protect them
Know what is the most important thing to you in your life. Take some precious time out to answer the question, “What is it that’s most important for you to be and do in your life?” That’s your broad aim and the purpose of your life. Know it and own it. Just as it’s your right to choose what’s important and what your priority is, it’s the right of that priority to be followed, enacted and protected.
Then, know what is the most important thing for you in your day. Every day, you can ask yourself, what is it important to do today? Link this to your broader purpose that you outlined above to be the most important thing in your life, and ask yourself, “Where is it most important that I show up as my fullest and best self? Where do I need to set my focus today? What is my core goal of the day? Where do I need to serve Allaah today?”
I suggest having a few simple ‘baseline’ priorities to start off with, based on what your highest obligations are – prayer, duaa, the Quraan, your relationship with your parents, husband, or children – and identify for yourself a mini goal for each one of these areas, based on your own ideas of what it means to serve fully in that area. Perhaps for you it means praying on time, or within the first half hour of the time coming in, so then you can make that a conscious priority or goal for the day. If it means giving your child a hug and story, or 15 minutes of undivided attention before they go to bed, then set that.
This is really powerful, since once you have set a conscious priority, you know what’s important and you can assess and make conscious decisions about what you can let go of without it impacting the meaning of your life, without it impacting what’s most important to you, and thus playing havoc with your self esteem and sense of fulfilment. This is because it’s really easy to feel like you have not done anything, or that you have “failed” when you don’t have a scorecard to tell you what you should be looking for or to keep count of your small wins. When you ask yourself what you have achieved today without having set your priorities and mini goals, the question is so broad that your search engine doesn’t have a filter, so you come up with nothing! On the other hand, it’s really easy to celebrate the blessings of Allaah when you know what you’re looking for and can see that you have stuck to your priorities, so set yourself up for success and realistically plan and know what’s most important and what is achievable in the time and resources you have available to you.
Know that your right to have those priorities and protect them means that you can say “no” to some other things that are not as important without beating yourself up about it: it’s important to protect what’s important!
2. Time heals everything but the wounds you give yourself.
We all make mistakes: big ones, ugly ones, shameful ones, silly ones.
The Prophet sallAllaahu alayhi wa sallam said:
“All the sons of Adam are sinners, but the best of sinners are those who repent often.”
Related by At·Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah with a strong chain of narrators.
Every single human being makes mistakes. You are not alone in your mistakes. In fact, your mistakes are a part of your human condition:
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) having said:
By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace (you by) those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them.(Sahih Muslim 2749)
My dear sister, Let go of who you were yesterday when you made those mistakes – those mistakes that make you feel embarrassed, the ones that make you feel bad, the ones that make you think that you don’t deserve good, and especially the ones that make you think that if people knew the ‘real’ you, they would hate you. Let go of them once you have made your tawbah ( your repentance), because you were a different person then; you are not that person today, and that fact is evident from the fact that you feel embarrassed and ashamed by what you did – you clearly didn’t have the resources or tools or knowledge to know that mistake was a mistake at the time, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it! Similarly, the fact that you wouldn’t do that action now is evidence not just for the fact that you are a different person today, but also for something even greater: that the mistake was, in fact, serving a purpose and taught you a lesson – it enabled you to become who you are today, which is a stepping stone closer to who you want to be tomorrow.
…your past is not a blueprint of your future, it is a stepping stone to it.
My dear sister, your past is not a blueprint of your future, it is a stepping stone to it. It is a necessary part of your journey of growth and towards becoming the best possible person you can be. The past helps us understand the path we took to get here today, just as the step we take today will determine the path we are on tomorrow.
Don’t beat yourself up about a mistake in the past that actually had a purpose for you- learn from it, make it right if it is something you can make right, reach out and do good to those who you did wrong to, make istighfaar- a sincere repentance and turning back to Allah. If He forgives you, then nothing else matters, not even your own thoughts! So, be kind to yourself as you look back on your past so that you can heal and move forward, and know that if in doing so, your intention is to allow yourself to become a better person, then you will be rewarded by your Merciful Lord:
Abu Huraira reported: The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever is kind, affable, and easy-going, Allah will forbid him from entering Hellfire.”
Source: al-Sunan al-Kubrá lil-Bayhaqī 20806
Grade: Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Albani
3. It is not your job to teach anyone a lesson.
Yes, no one – not even your own kids. This is a tough call when it comes to our older children – may Allah help us! Somewhow , living in the west particularly, we have picked up this over-developed sense of responsibility over all things when it comes to our children. Our children are an amaanah, a trust, yes, but we cannot control anyone around us and neither is it our job to.
Alhamdulillaah, What a relief that is! Yes, I say relief because isn’t it difficult enough just trying to control your own self? Don’t we have enough problems trying to resist that slice of chocolate cake or buttery biscuit when we know we really shouldn’t indulge? SubhanAllaah, how many of us have difficulty in sticking to a diet or exercise regime; how many of us struggle to control our bad habits in our own selves, and yet somehow we think that it is going to be miraculously easy to control our children or others by telling them what to do, by artfully covering it in the form of “advice” and then being offended or worse, angry, when that advice is not followed to the tee…
Let us reflect and ask ourselves, how many times have we done something when we knew it wasn’t the best course of action to take? Even something small like going to bed early – how may times have you and I failed to follow our own advice of going to bed early, and ended up staying up late even though we knew we would regret it in the morning..? Yet, If we cannot follow our own advice, how can we expect others to?
I get it – sometimes it’s hard to accept that our job is not to teach anyone a lesson through us withholding something or punishing them in some way, as our offended nafs might suggest. But at the same time, we must believe fully that everyone will learn the lessons that are right for them, in their own way, at the time that Allah chooses for them and in the way that He knows best will benefit them.
The most important things our children and others in our lives will learn from us will stem from our kindness, our acceptance and unconditional belief in their positive intentions and highest potential.
It was narrated from ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) that he said:
“Do not think badly of a word uttered by your brother, when you can find a good interpretation for it.”
Once we accept that, life becomes much easier. “I don’t have to be responsible for every lesson they learn; in fact, I am not responsible for every lesson they learn. I am responsible only for my own behaviour and what I teach them through that behaviour towards them,” are powerful statements and once internalised, together with the other lessons, they allow us to free ourselves from unnecessary burdens so that we can have a “mid-life bloom” rather than crash and burn into a “mid-life crisis”. You can be who you really want to be – you can touch the lives of others in a way that is in line with your highest values.
You may not be able to control much in life, but you can control yourself, and that is ultimately what we will be accountable for : how we each chose our responses to the situations we found ourselves in, how we stood firm to our priorities and how we learnt from all the bumps along the way without compromising our highest values.