Our lives and our experiences are what we make of them. Even the hardest situations can be opportunities for growth. To illustrate this, I wanted to share the stories of two 14 year-old girls:
The first girl experiences a sense of hopelessness. She feels as though she has nothing to live for, nothing to look forward to. At home, she receives beatings rather than love and support. She turns to boys and marijuana for the escape she craves. She believes she’s worthless, ugly, not deserving of life. Her mother found comfort in religion and believes that should be sufficient for her daughter. Her relationship with her mother is strained; she seeks an escape from her family and contemplates running away. She attempts suicide by riding her skateboard into oncoming traffic.
The second girl has a hopeful view of her future. She looks forward to the opportunities ahead. She thinks about the friends she will make and the good she will do in life. She has a support system of people who care about her, believe in her, and encourage her to believe in herself. She is committed to living a life in which she respects herself and her body. Her mother expresses love toward her and encourages her to be all she is capable of. Her relationship with her family isn’t perfect but she works hard to strengthen their bonds. When she rides her skateboard, it’s to feel the rush of wind in her face, to breathe fresh air into her lungs, and to thank God that she has been given another minute to live and another breath to take.
These two girls sound as though they are complete opposites, yet, amazingly subhanAllah, they are the same person. The first girl is a description of a 14 year-old when she first arrived at the residential treatment center I used to work. It’s a place where teens in crisis live for 45 days and undergo intensive therapy. Many of the teens who come to us have severe depression, self-harming behaviors, anger management issues, and many also have suicidal thoughts. The second girl is a description of the same girl when she left the treatment center.
The reason I shared this story is because I have recently been reflecting upon one of the most amazing mercies Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has bestowed upon us- the ability to change. Allah (swt) created human beings with incredible resilience and part of this is the ability to adapt to situations and change when the need arises. I have seen kids who come in feeling as though they have nothing to live for, kids who believe the only way they can relieve feelings of distress and gain some sense of control is through self-mutilation, and kids who have been through more trauma than many of us can imagine… And, yet, after 45 days many of them leave with a hopeful view of their future and a sense of empowerment and ability to deal with obstacles in healthier ways. Having witnessed such incredible changes in such a short stretch of time has made me wonder: If kids with such severe issues are able to change in such profound ways, then imagine what we are capable of?
One factor that I have realized makes the biggest difference in how much the teens I work with progress is whether they want to. Motivation is key. And the same goes for each of us.
Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says, in surat ar-Ra’d (13:11):
Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
When we remember that Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) created each and everyone of us with this capability to change, we will realize that we’ve been given the means and we have to strive toward betterment of ourselves for His sake. With the will of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala), nothing is impossible… no change is too huge of a leap… and there is no better time to choose a goal to work on than this very moment.