I was having a conversation with a friend the other day and this question came up: Who is the captain of my ship? It’s something I’ve wondered over often and I don’t think I have the answer down pat yet, but every time I turn it over in my mind, it seems a little bit clearer than it was before.
Growing up teaches you a lot of things, shatters a lot of ideals and bursts a million childhood bubbles. As you mature, the world seems a lot colder, less friendly and almost hostile sometimes. You redefine the meaning of friendship, you suddenly see the flaws of family and when you look in the mirror, sometimes a stranger stares back.
Once the world stops revolving around you, it’s tempting to think that you are a peg on it as it spins irreversibly and uncontrollably into the future. Tempting to think you have little or no control. But that would be unfair, wouldn’t it? Life has to have purpose and meaning – everyone accepts that, regardless of what they believe in. How can you add meaning to it or define its purpose if you have no say in the matter?
From an Islamic point of view, it’s a matter of Balance as always; the fine balance between Freewill and Predestination. There are things beyond our control: relatives, physical ability, intellect, wealth, circumstances, how long we live. And there are things within our control: character, principles, ideals, efforts, reactions, what we do with our lives.
Now, here’s the interesting bit. You can’t really know or choose what happens tomorrow, but you can choose how you’ll react to it. And when you decide that, you are actually choosing what happens in the Hereafter, building your life there. It’s like a choice hidden within another choice. By deferring our control to the Next Life, God is actually putting our Real Life in our hands.
This life on earth is a stormy sea. Even in moments of calm, you can feel the breeze of the next swell. We each have our own ships on that sea. You can sail alongside other ships, but you can’t sail in the same ship as others. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: Do we know where we’re headed? Do we know how to get there? Are we floundering aimlessly and drifting where the current takes us?
I believe it’s a journey you can’t do on your own. Not if you want it to have meaning. You need to seek out a Trustworthy Source, someone who knows what lies ahead and can advise you on the best route to take and someone who can help you when the storms are particularly overwhelming. You could rely on other human beings who have sailed ahead, but at the end of the day they can only know so much. Besides, it’s a human quality to hurt each other and let each other down – consciously or unconsciously.
The only One who knows the Sea inside out and each storm on its surface is God. And He wants only the best for each and every one of us, so it is beyond Him to harm us or hurt us. Would He create us, give us the entire universe as a playground to learn in, and then turn on us and find perverse pleasure in our pain? That makes no sense.
We do feel grief and hurt in our lives, but each of these experiences enriches us. Teachers will tell you that each student is unique and has an individual learning process. Some seem to imbibe information effortlessly, for others every fact and formula is a battle. But if allowed to learn at their pace and in the manner best suited to them, each one will reach the required goal.
It’s the same for us. Some people need to struggle and break free of constraints in order to develop and grow in character, other people would simply crawl into a corner and fade away with they were put in the same situation. That’s why He had tailor-made each life to suit the soul living it.
The destination is the same for all of us. We are all heading back to Him and He wants us to arrive in the purified condition that He created us for. But the journey differs for everyone. It’s up to us to understand this and put in the effort required in our own education.