As I turned 40 earlier this year, I started collating some reflections, partly because I wish I had known some of these lessons earlier in life.
What is it about the number 40 that has held such mystery throughout time? Something happens around this number of days or years that seems to signify a step change. Babies acclimatise to their new world and (generally) start sleeping and feeding better, much to the relief of their exhausted parents. The intense pain of losing a loved one, while remaining painful, becomes a little less so after 40 days have passed.
In prophetic stories, 40 is quite symbolic too. Prophet Musa (AS) was ordered by Allah to leave his people and go to the mountain for 40 days and Prophet Isa (AS) fasted 40 days which followers of Christianity observe through Lent to this day. We are also told that the Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years after they disobeyed their prophet. In fact, the number 40 is mentioned 146 times in the Bible often signalling hardship and trials lasting 40 days or years before triumph is attained. The individual’s awareness of God ascends to new heights through an elevation in spiritual status. Our very own Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), whose birth anniversary we celebrate during this month, started receiving revelation and was ordered to propagate the message of Islam at the special age of 40 too.
In the Quran, we read about this stage of life in Surat Alahqaf (46:15):
“And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful & kind to his parents. His mother bears him with hardship. And she brings him forth with hardship, and the bearing of him and the weaning of him is thirty months, till when he attains full strength and reaches forty years, he says: My Lord! Grant me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favour which You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds, such as please You, and make my off-spring good. Truly, I have turned to You in repentance, and truly, I am one of the Muslims.”
By the age of 40, many of us would have undergone a whole range of experiences, directly or indirectly accelerating our growth. From marriage to becoming a parent, entering the world of work, losing a close relative, been tested through illness or injury, wronged someone or been wronged ourselves to name a few. If we are blessed enough to still have our parents, they would certainly be frailer and more dependent.
These experiences shape the way we see the world, while opening up new doorways to truly comprehending the attributes of Allah, from His mercy, provision or power. These experiences are all signs to help us reflect, to question our existence, our purpose and give us a much needed jolt out of the daily sleepwalking of life.
At 40, many of us start to become noticeably weaker having previously enjoyed strength and a sense of invincibility. We experience weaker eye sight, memory and physical strength. But in undergoing this slow but gradual decline in faculties, we are thrust onto a new stage of maturity, and a capacity to understand and tackle the highs and lows of all spheres of the life with greater reason and wisdom.
When the Quran was revealed, the average lifespan was around 60-70 years, 40 would then have marked a 2/3 of the journey through worldly life. Nowadays although we enjoy 90 or 100 years, 40 is still a significant portion and quite a chunk of the stronger years too. The words of a wise teacher resonate: ‘Do not look at how long you may have left, look at the proportion you’ve already spent to get to where you are.’
I have certainly felt this step change, a greater curiosity about the purpose of life and my role within it, a greater feeling of responsibility towards bettering this at times seemingly dismal world.
As I turned 40 earlier this year, I started collating some reflections, partly because I wish I had known some of these lessons earlier in life. Partly because I wanted my children to learn these lessons faster and easier than I did, though this may be wishful thinking. Maybe it’s a journey each of us needs to take at their pace and through their own experiences to fully feel and appreciate the meaning of the lesson.
1. Everyone has something to teach us
2. The Quran speaks to us if we would only listen.
3. Losing people around us is a reminder of our own inevitable mortality – so take heed
4. It’s OK to have therapy. Therapy helps us untangle out thoughts, understand our emotions and our relationships with others.
5. My children are here to teach me.
6. My thoughts are powerful-but they are not me. Thoughts influence my feelings which influence my behaviours which form my habits which makes me.
7. Heaven and hell are not in the future but are already here.
8. People I find annoying are triggering a trait in me I should reflect on
9. Time spent with good friends recharges depleted batteries
10. Children are reassured by seeing their parents displaying affection.
11. I set my own worth with my behaviour and people will only treat me as badly as I allow them.
12. Friendship is a fuzzy, warm feeling more than it can be described with words.
13. My spouse is not here to make me happy – they are here to help me grow.
14. My parents did their best with the knowledge and capability they had.
15. It’s good to be vulnerable, and in doing so we give others permission to be vulnerable too and thereby strengthen bonds and relationships.
16. It’s the little mundane moments that build the most precious memories.
17. Jealousy says more about me than the person I’m jealous of.
18. Taking care of myself makes me better able to take care of others.
19. Success is a feeling inside and nothing like what society persuades us it is
20. Parenting courses can help us become more deliberate and better informed when we parent as well as help us develop as individuals and in the married couple.
21. Each of us has resources from Allah that are quite unique to us, our talent that we can utilise in the service of others.
22. Happiness comes as a by-product of growth and experience and not when we seek it as an objective.
23. Most of us have some kind of addiction we use to sooth a pain or distract from it.
24. People as usually on your side until their interests are threatened.
25. We show love to others the way we like to receive love but others may speak a different love language and not understand our love.
26. Being present frees us from past regrets and worries about the future
27. Peace comes only through surrendering to Allah’s will and being pleased with whatever He has planned for us.
28. Real friends alert me to my shortcomings and help me grow.
29. I cannot change others, I can only change myself.
30. We miss so much of life’s beauty while caught up in our thoughts.
31. The more we accept those around us, the less they will resist change.
32. Nature is an awesome healer.
33. As we get older, the quality of our relationships becomes more important than quantity and family grows in importance.
34. We create competition by competing.
35. People are never intrinsically bad; they have just lost touch with themselves
36. Children do as we do, not as we say.
37. Hypocrisy is really hard work.
38. My children are not an extension of me, they are on their own journeys.
39. Parents are very precious. If my dad was still with us, I would spend more time with him.
40. We are not only what we eat but what we consume, physically, mentally and emotionally, so consume only goodness
With love and duas,