Going over it in her mind, she had to admit that George was probably right—she shouldn’t have this baby because she had no means to provide for its livelihood. Here she was, sitting on the floor in her childhood bedroom, staring at the phone beside her, willing it to ring. But she knew George wouldn’t be calling. She had given up on him and left him behind in New York when he made it clear that he didn’t love her. She was living with her mother in Boston now. She wanted to ask her mother for support, but she couldn’t face her, so she kept silent about her situation.
Adjusting her position on the floor, Hannah told herself, “I have just one choice now. I have to pray to God.” She raised her eyes to the ceiling, where she thought there was a heaven, where she thought she might find God. But her mind was unclear about what to do or say next. She didn’t really know how to pray but she hoped, if there was a God, He would hear her wherever she was…wouldn’t He? She didn’t really know much about belief. Religion didn’t play a big part in her family’s life; perhaps this had led her to believe she didn’t need religion or God in her life.
For the past 10 years, she had been living like so many young people of her time, never once contemplating God, religion, or even the difference between right and wrong. She had followed the crowd and her own egotistical desires. Ironically, it was this crooked path that led her to God’s door. She was standing now at a dangerous intersection, 30 years old with no home of her own, no job, pregnant out of wedlock, and trying to make a responsible decision for the life she carried inside.
Growing up, it was clear that her parents had hopes and dreams for all their children to be successful, good people. Her generation had their marching orders: make the family proud. They strove to be the brightest in school, the most talented musicians, and the toughest players on the football field. Her family was well-known in town for owning the biggest house, buying the best clothes, and driving the newest cars.
As a child, she had lived a sheltered, lonely and isolated life. Her playmates were her cousins and siblings. When she grew older, her friends became the most important people in her life. And although she tried, she didn’t fit in with her peers; perhaps the reason was because she didn’t belong to a community of faithful believers, or perhaps because her skin was a shade too dark. Being different had impacted her identity negatively. Despite all the love her family had shared, she was unhappy with herself. Hannah couldn’t wait to get away from that town, that family, and the unanswered questions about why she didn’t fit in.
Hannah’s life changed drastically after she went to college. There, she was free. What she did with her newfound freedom was not inhibited by her skin color, her parents, or by any relationship with God. She cared nothing about what God thought of her, and only about what people thought of her. Her sole ambition was to appear liberated from any sense of guilt or shame, even after wronging herself or another.
After college, her parents expected her to move back home, but Hannah refused. By then, her taste for freedom had become as precious as gold, and she couldn’t imagine losing even one piece of it. So, with her parents’ reluctant support, she moved to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a rich and famous songwriter and singer.
After seven years, and some success in the music business, she returned home—secretly pregnant. Deeply disappointed by her mistakes and the dissatisfying path she had chosen, Hannah sought shelter in her mother’s home, until she could figure out what to do next. In her room, Hannah prepared to pray, closing her eyes and fearing God. Praying was something she hadn’t done since she was an innocent child. She wondered,“Will God listen to me? But then, why should He?”
Hannah struggled to find the right words, to move beyond her fears and doubts. How could she ask for something from someone she hardly knew or trusted? Finally, she managed to speak: “God, I am unworthy; too unworthy to ask for your help.”
With her head bowed, Hannah began to sob, “But I’m in trouble. You have to help me…I have nowhere to turn, no one else to ask. Oh, dear God. Please help me...”
In tears, and feeling her prayer was futile, Hannah was about to give up, when she was struck by a clear, cold reality: God was her only Helper. This truism awakened a longing deep inside of her. She kept pushing, praying, putting aside her pride, and then, she began to beg: “Oh, my God, I’m going to do the most impossible thing. But You…You have to help me, because without Your help, I couldn’t do it…”
She heard her own voice, crying out, asking for a change in her life. Like the Israelites, who had cried out to God from the depths of their souls to be released from slavery. God answered their cry and gave them Moses.
Praying was evidence of a change taking place within Hannah. But she had to wonder, was it really enough, if absolutely nothing about her situation had changed? She had no plan of action, no partner, no place to live, no money, and no job; and yet, she now believed that everything in the universe could change by God’s will:
“…Truly, never will God change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves…”
Hannah began to think of other changes she could make to her life, asking herself for the first time: “Could I change my way of life? Would God guide me if I asked to be guided?”
When she finished crying and praying, and opened her eyes, Hannah felt better. She had an inexplicable sense of peace, and felt confident about her sudden decisiveness. She passed her hands over her face, still wet with her tears and whispered into the air: “I’m going to have this baby and God is going to help me.”
From that day forward, Hannah’s awareness of and deep need for God would determine all her choices. For Hannah, it was the beginning of a renewed relationship with God, a way for her to learn how to trust in God. Some call it “a leap of faith.” But years later, Hannah would describe the experience in her room as the day she surrendered to God. She experienced the true meaning of faith that day; the moment of her surrender came when she realized with her whole heart that she had only One True Helper.
Tears dried and spirits surprisingly high, Hannah left her room and headed downstairs to the pantry. Starving, she held a salty pickled turnip in one hand and a sweet piece of baklava in the other, when her mother came upon her and asked innocently,“What are you doing, Hannah? Why are you eating both of those at once? You’re going to get sick!”
When she saw the love and concern on her mother’s face, and thought about the gift from God growing inside her body, Hannah was overcome by a profound sense of gratitude, and the vision of a new life, with God as her guide.
“Say, ‘Come, I will rehearse what God has really prohibited you from: Join not anything as equal with Him; be good to your parents; kill not your children on a plea of want.’ We provide sustenance for you and for them…come not near to shameful deeds, whether open or in secret. Take not life, which God has made sacred, except by way of justice and law. Thus does He command you that you may learn wisdom.” (Qur’an 6:151)
Afterword: Hannah and her child never experienced a single day of want. Today, her son is 28 years old and has far exceeded the hopes and dreams a mother could have for a child. She often refers to him as the “jewel in her crown.” And each fall she makes him his favorite dish, salty pickled turnips.
At God's Door: A New Life
- Mary Lahaj
- Category: Issue 82 (July - August 2011)
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