The Prayer for Guidance

(Continued from “Seeking Guidance” on October 19, 2011.)

There is no sure-fire way to be 100% certain that we’re making the right decisions. However, there is a way to be confident that we’re heading in the right direction. And it’s not by seeking out signs and omens or consulting tarot cards or fortune-tellers. There is only one source of perfect advice and guidance and that is God.

Some people dislike that answer. Either they don’t believe in God, or they don’t think God speaks to us clearly enough for us to know what He really wants. Some Christians, and Muslims, too, will open their Holy Books (the Bible or the Qur’an) to a random page and let their finger or eye fall on one verse or passage. They then try to interpret what God is telling them through His Word.

In my opinion, that’s no better than superstition. It’s also lazy. Because there’s only one way to obtain God’s guidance and that’s through prayer. But not just any prayer. Muslims have a special prayer which is called “Salat-I-Istikhara” or the Prayer for Guidance. We were given this prayer by the Prophet Mohammad (swt) and the English translation goes like this:

Oh Allah! I seek Your guidance by virtue of Your knowledge, and I seek ability by virtue of Your power, and I ask You of Your great bounty. You have power; I have none. And You know; I know not. You are the Knower of hidden things.

Oh Allah! If in Your knowledge, (this matter*) is good for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, immediate and in the future, then ordain it for me, make it easy for me, and bless it for me. And if in Your knowledge, (this matter*) is bad for my religion, my livelihood and my affairs, immediate and in the future, then turn it away from me, and turn me away from it. And ordain for me the good wherever it may be, and make me content with it.

Even if you don’t remember the exact words, you can learn a lot about how to be guided by God from studying this prayer. First, we learn that we can’t hope to know the future; only God knows that. And because He’s the only one who knows the future, He’s also the only one who can give us the best advice about how to head into our future.

Second, we learn that whatever we decide, it must be good for our religion, our livelihood and our affairs, both immediate and in the future. If we’re contemplating something that would violate that guideline, we know right there that we’re heading the wrong way.

Third, because God knows not only the future, but knows us, He alone is able to guide us properly.

However, this still leaves the problem of how God guides us. And here is where I marvel at the wisdom of the Prophet (swt). For he tells us to trust God and have faith in His ability to make those things that are good for us also easy for us, and the things that are bad for us more difficult. We are also to trust that God will influence us to the point where, if we’re really submitted to Him, we will find ourselves losing interest or confidence in those plans that are not God’s will for us.

This requires time and repeated prayer. We can’t expect instant answers. Sometimes we have to wait for a while to see if we remain enthusiastic and positive about our intentions. We also need to give God time to work in us and in our circumstances.

I hope I don’t sound like I’m an expert about seeking God’s guidance, because I’m not. But I thank Allah that He gave us this model.

Seeking Guidance

A newborn baby operates on instinct. She doesn’t decide when she cries or sleeps. He’s at the mercy of the adults in his life to make all his decisions for him. But as she grows older, she becomes increasingly independent. And part of that independence is learning to make your own decisions.

The good parent teaches his child to make decisions wisely and responsibly. This can seem like an overwhelming task because making decisions isn’t easy even for grown-ups. How do we teach our children to be wise and responsible when we so often fail at this ourselves?

Some people are very decisive while others are indecisive. I tend toward the latter. In my younger years I never wanted to make a decision because I was always afraid that I would make the wrong one. When I was asked what I wanted to do, I would say, “I don’t know; you decide.” That was my way of protecting myself from another person’s displeasure. I thought if I never made a decision, it would always be the other person’s fault if it went wrong. I also thought that no one would ever get mad at me if I never tried to push my own agenda.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. All I ended up doing was frustrating my friends and family. They felt that I was distancing myself from them, making myself inaccessible. Just because I wouldn’t say what I really wanted. They weren’t asking me to agree with them. They wanted me to reveal myself by showing what I cared about.

I was especially bad about this when it came to my boyfriends and later my husbands. Shortly before I married my first husband, I became a Christian. And rather than making me wiser and more responsible, I became less so. That was because I didn’t ask God to help me make decisions; I asked my husband to. And because I was trying to be a “good” Christian, I thought I had to defer to my husband’s leadership and to me that meant that I was to let him make all the decisions.

That’s the tricky thing about seeking guidance. If we seek it from the wrong people, we can make a mess of our lives. Bad advice makes for bad decisions. And even if the person we’re conferring with has good motives and a certain amount of wisdom, he still may not give us advice that fits us.

I discovered this when I took a course in creative writing a few years ago. I’ve always wanted to write and thought I was good at it. In class one day I told my teacher that another teacher had said that my writing was “almost lyrical.” My writing teacher’s response was, “Yes, but that doesn’t mean it was good writing.”

I was scarred by that comment, to the point where my confidence in myself as a writer was almost completely eroded. As a result, I stopped writing for a while except for in my journals. It has taken me a lot of time and effort to build back my self-esteem, and I’m still not where I want to be.

So how do we protect ourselves from people who are not really wise or empathetic enough to give us good advice? And how do we make decisions for ourselves that are the “right” ones? And, even more, how