I’ve been Muslim for a dozen years now–hard to accept that the years are passing at a rate quicker than I can appreciate them. As a new Muslim all those years ago, I looked at the advent of my first Ramadan as a challenging exercise of the will. I was excited to put my faith to the test, to directly measure the depth of my faith by the depth of my willpower. Once Ramadan started, I remember the pangs of hunger towards the middle of the month and feeling ill at ease with my overwhelming desire to eat. If I were more deen-focused, would I not be able to ignore or put aside that hunger for the sake of God? Why was I so driven by food? Maybe, my faith was not as strong as I had believed and had hoped it would be….
Three years ago, my daughter was born. As we actively prepared for her arrival, we attended a class led by my midwife. Much of my pregnancy is a blur now–I had just changed jobs, we had moved state, bought a house, and signed on to some extensive renovations all in the last five months of my pregnancy. I do remember, however, one noteworthy piece of advice that my midwife tried to drill into us during that class. While the specific words may differ, the gist of her advice was this: “Don’t have pre-set expectations of how things are going to go at the hospital. Don’t lock yourself in to a plan. Just accept the way things will unfold as there are some things that you just don’t have complete control over.”
Of course, she was right. Things did not go the way we had planned. And, it was nothing like we had imagined it would be. But, as we looked into our little tiny girl’s sleepy eyes as she tried her best to grapple with her new set of circumstances, we realized that none of our pre-conceived notions really made that much difference; nothing really could have made that moment any better than it was.
This year, in my post-fajr high (induced somewhat by a fat mug of chai, strong enough to sprout legs and walk away at any given time), I think back to those early days of being Muslim and how things have changed for me. My perception is different; my patience threshold is a little higher although still miles short from where I would like it to be; my efforts to systemize my world have evolved into simply trying to reduce the chaos and unpredictability that defines it.
And, Ramadan feels different. Not locked in by the handcuffs of defined expectations, I am better able to immerse myself in the undefined joy of Ramadan.
My appreciation for Ramadan is less fettered by what I thought it would be like and instead, is tethered only to a belief that its beauty exists in a vacuum with or without my pre-defined expectations of it. Just as I discovered in the delivery room, I am realizing once again that there are some gifts we are given that are bigger than anything our expectations can define. Perhaps, we can receive them better if they are left undefined.