How To Be Powerless & Live Well

How To Be Powerless & Live Well by |


Marc Manley
Marc Manley is a writer, educator and former chaplain at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the Executive Religious Director at the Islamic Center of Inland Empire in California.

Over the past several years I have been contacted by a number of Muslims who have confided in me about various issues they struggle with. One of these challenges is the notion of power. They revealed that they often feel powerless in various situations, or even in life in general and thus experience an array of emotions, chief amongst them, depression. I confided that I too struggle with the very same difficulties and thought in light of not being able to provide any definitive solutions, I would at least share some reflections on the topic.

There is nothing more awesome than God. The power, might, subtlety and grace by which The Creator subdues, bestows, withholds and encompasses are breathtaking. While this can be very emotionally uplifting when it takes the form of a sunrise or the birth of one’s child, it can also be vexing and even crushing when it takes the form of frustrations in our lives, be it a stagnant career, a failing marriage, or even doubts concerning faith itself. In an attempt to cope with my own powerlessness in the face of the Almighty, I needed to revisit some critical notions of what Islam is founded on: submission, the limits of human reason, forbearance, steadfastness, and personal honesty to name a few. Slowly, perhaps even reluctantly, I have seen the writing on the wall of the fallacy of my own power as a human being. Ultimately, God is asking me to make choices. As to whether those choices can be realized in results that will be pleasing to myself is outside my sphere of influence, outside my sphere of total control.  And thus, in a manner of speaking, this life, this Dunya, is akin to a long funeral procession, mourning the passing of my deluded notions of self-control. Let us look to the meanings of mourning to help us grasp this concept:

To mourn: to feel regret, sadness. From the Old English, murnan: to be anxious about something; to be careful or cautious. In Arabic this is known as الندم .

In essence, I have had to learn (and am still learning!) to mourn my lack of power, mourn my lack of total control. As I continue to journey through this Dunya, I struggle to mourn the illusions of a power I never truly had to begin with. I strive to overcome the grief of having no power and to ultimately, with God’s blessings and mercy, move beyond it. What is important here first and foremost, especially for those who are seekers and givers of advice, is to know that everyone has a different period of time to mourn. Some of us are more (spiritually) mature than others. We have varying degrees of attachment to the illusions of life and thus, we must be patient with ourselves and certainly with those around us as they struggle to bring this reality to certitude in our respective lives. But to be plainly honest, the sooner I (we!) can put my (our!) grief (i.e., lack of control!) behind myself (ourselves!), the sooner I (we!) can attempt to lead a happier life.

Be wary of grief, though. Just as is the case for a loved one who has departed ahead of us, if we do not learn the coping skills for that grief, it can cripple us, leading to anger, self-hatred and loathing and even worse, loss of faith. So I keep this in mind, for myself, and for those who seek counsel: for those who are unable to move beyond their grief, they become prisoners of their own making. Unlike conventional prisoners, such people can neither jailbreak nor be emancipated by any normal human means. Simply put, there is no way around their sentencing. Either they serve their time, dealing with their powerlessness (grief!) and acceptance of God's might so they might move on to healthier pastures, or they are likely to be condemned to life in a prison of their own making.

I pray and ask God Almighty to protect us and our families and to enfold us in His mercy and to allow us to take consolation in the knowledge that there really is "no might or power but save with God". Amin.

وَلَوْلَا إِذْ دَخَلْتَ جَنَّتَكَ قُلْتَ مَا شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَا قُوَّةَ إِلَّا بِاللَّهِ
“Why, when you entered your garden, did you not say, ‘It is as God wills. There is no strength but in God’?” (Qur’an, Surah al-Kahf 18: 39)

 


By Marc Manley, 20 Aug 2014


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