Yesterday I was part of a school activity for our class on cultural perspectives. We visited the Islamic Community Center of Lancaster and interacted with a few Muslim women who talked to us about being Muslim in our community and also explained some of the basic tenets of their faith. I went there with the thought of being educated on what it’s like to be a Muslim but I did not go expecting to be challenged by them in my own walk of faith.
One of the Pakistani ladies who spoke to us was so vibrant regarding her faith. The excitement of worshiping her Allah radiated off her face and permeated her words. She was so excited that there was an app on her phone to show her which way was facing east no matter where she is currently. No matter what she is doing, she is very punctual with her prayers five times a day. And to her it’s not a burdensome requirement, it’s a personal privilege to be able to do that. She repeatedly said that faith practices are about a personal journey and choices; it should never be about requirements and have-to’s.
In listening to her, I realized that for most of my life I’ve been approaching my faith journey as 50% have-to’s and about 50% of personal want-to’s. And I began to envy her enthusiasm for her faith and her dedication to the worship of her Allah out of a heart of pure desire untainted by drudgery. If I’m honest with myself I have to admit I’ve never had that level of dedication to my God. But I want that kind of pure desire of worshiping my God. In fact, I crave that joy of faith.
Another lady who was there was an American who was raised in a Christian home. I was curious as to her story and personal journey of faith. And so I asked her what drew her to the Islamic faith. Her response was intriguing. She said what drew her was the fact that the Muslims incorporated their faith into every area of their life. It’s not just about Sunday morning rituals and church rules. It’s about every day living out the tenets of their faith, practical applications of the five pillars of Islam. It saddened me that Christianity didn’t have the same connotation for her. What stood out to me is that she embraced what was calling her even though it meant strained family relationships and the breakdown of her marriage. Her eyes looked at peace and happy and eyes don’t lie. She said two years ago she finally came to terms that life is short and finally you have to take that step and come into the space of being on the outside who you’ve known all along you are on the inside no matter the cost. I asked her if she wears her hijab all the time or just for worship like some of the ladies said they do. She said with the recent tensions and biases toward the Muslims since the election, she decided she wants to visibly identify herself as Muslim. Because she said she realized that she was taking the chicken way out since who would guess a blond American woman as being Muslim so now she wears her hijab all the time.
The way she was all in with her faith really challenged me and convicted me. I currently am struggling with my faith journey and feel at odds within myself and the outward expressions of my faith. I realized that I too need to take that step and say, “this is who I am and this is where I am currently”. Pretending to be someone that I’m not and believe something that I don’t only heightens the tension within and is not conducive to really living out my faith before God. The fact that when I look at my eyes, I don’t see the peace and joy radiating like I saw in her, jolted me to face reality. Is this space going to be easy to step into? Absolutely not! But the question that I’m now wrestling with is this – do I have the kind of strong desire to enhance my relationship with Jesus that I’ll take that hard leap and follow the beckoning of my God? No matter the cost, no matter what others say. Regardless if others feel they know better how God is calling me. Regardless if others try to make me doubt the calling of God.
Is this process/journey going to take time? Yes, because no genuine journey is easy and streamlined. Seeking the true God and following his calling is at first a wilderness experience. And there’s difficult, dry times of feeling lost and alone. Times when you question the direction you’re headed; times when you lose the sound of the voice of God.
But I firmly believe there’s also times of reaching an oasis just when needed to be able to keep on. Wells of refreshment where Jesus is sitting and waiting to talk with me. And so I keep taking one step at a time and I cling desperately to the hope that the wilderness ends, the journey becomes vibrant. And one day, I too will have confident peace and vibrant joy that invites others to enter into the challenges of their faith journey.