Nay·yar (noun): radiant
Nayyar read her husband’s text message and set down her phone; he would return soon with the bread. The ghorma sabzi was simmering nicely on the stove. Nayyar had already par-boiled the basmati rice, so she drizzled olive oil on the bottom of a pot and placed potato slices in the hot oil. She hummed as she spooned the par-boiled rice over the potatoes.
Today was a good day. The cloud of depression that usually burdened her mind and heart seemed to have dissipated. She turned the heat to low, topped the rice with pats of butter, and covered the pot with a quilted lid.
Nayyar now had 45 mins to wait as the rice finished steaming, so she decided to do some last-minute cleaning. That book shelf hasn’t been dusted in weeks, she thought. On her knees in the formal sitting room, Nayyar pulled the bottom shelf books out for a proper cleaning. As she did, a small paperback booklet slipped onto the floor. Startled, she picked up the pamphlet and read the title: “That You May Know.”
“No,” she gasped, “He couldn’t have!” Her husband Farzin was supposed to throw this away before they crossed back into Iran, but here it was – this Christian material. Why would he put them all in danger like this!?
Nayyar opened it and felt her world spin. Everywhere – in the margins, over the printed words –Farzin had written his own notes and questions. Surely, he had been reading this for months.
Why? Why would he study this? Why is he questioning? her mind flooded with questions. She hastily stuffed the books back onto the bottom shelf, entirely forgetting to clean it. Has he lost his faith? Would he dare become a Christian? Should she confront him? Should she keep silent?
With tears filling her eyes, Nayyar stuffed the booklet back between two hardcover books. My dear husband… How could you?!?
“Mom?” Elham, her 14-year-old daughter, came into the room. Nayyar quickly wiped her eyes and got up from the floor.
“Elham, prepare the saffron. The rice will be done soon,” Nayyar spoke abruptly to her daughter, masking her emotions. Elham was taken aback but quickly followed her mom into the kitchen and pulled the saffron from the cupboard.
As the evening passed, Nayyar was aware of Elham’s confident movements as she ground the pinch of saffron with a bit of sugar using a mortar and pestle. She was aware when her son, Sami, hovered over the pot of ghorma sabzi and awarded her efforts with a kiss on the cheek. She was aware when her husband, Farzin, arrived home and placed fresh barbari on the table. She was aware that she herself expertly decorated the platter of rice with golden saffron-infused rice; she knew the importance of presentation in their Persian culture. But throughout the familiar routine, Nayyar felt as if she were standing at a distance, watching… confused and hurting. She no longer knew her husband. The cloud of depression came rolling back and demanded to claim her.
“Tomorrow, I will go to the Imam Reza Shrine,” she suddenly heard herself say. Her children and husband looked up from their meal in surprise. What had they been talking about when she interrupted them? She had no idea. She only had one feeling, one thought: desperation.
“Are you not feeling well, mother? I thought today was a good day?” Elham kindly put her hand over her mother’s. The whole family knew that Nayyar struggled with depression. Persian families did not hide these things but carried them together.
“I…” Nayyar broke off, “I want to pray, that is all. If God wills to heal me, He will heal me. But… I just want to pray.”
Farzin’s eyes tried to find Nayyar’s. She felt it, but she would not look at him.
“I will go with you,” softhearted Elham squeezed her hand.
After a night of silence between husband and wife, Nayyar awoke the next morning in an empty bed. So many mornings it had been like this; Farzin arose early, even before the sun. Now, she wondered if it was to read and study that booklet. “That You May Know,” she couldn’t brush aside those curious words. Nayyar flung the covers off and began her morning routine, concluding by packing a lunch for herself and Elham. They would visit the shrine before evening prayers, and she would pour out her heart to God. Perhaps this time, God would hear her and overlook the faults of her family, including her son’s waywardness and her husband’s traitorous questioning. And most importantly, perhaps today Nayyar would sense that God loved her.
When they entered the courtyard, black-clad women were milling about. Some were sitting, some standing, some eating, and all were talking. It was not exactly quiet in the Imam Reza Shrine courtyard. In fact, sometimes, before the hour of prayer, it felt more like a picnic spot than a holy place.
I do not want a picnic, Nayyar sighed as she handed her daughter a sandwich. I want relief.
She knew the other women were just like herself. Depression was common. She saw it in their faces: the hopelessness and emotional famine. But most of the women crowding into this shrine also came for physical healing. The Imam Reza Shrine was supposedly a place of miracles.
Nayyar saw the steel window where people gathered. The men and women were separated, but there were always 3 times more women pressing towards the window than men. Some pushed family members in wheelchairs. Mats were laid at the base of the “window,” and the diseased waited for relief, for healing. She herself had touched the sacred window many times, but she always left unchanged. Sometimes, the cloud even felt heavier and she wondered if God was punishing her. The poets claimed that He was a God of love, but she couldn’t feel His love. She had never sensed God’s love.
At the thought of love, Nayyar’s heart squeezed. Her daughter Elham put away the lunch basket and laid out their prayer mats beside the other women in the courtyard. Soon, they all were in rhythm together, praying in unity and hoping with every bow that somehow God would not remain distant. They yearned for Him to come close, to care.
Nayyar prayed with all her heart as her lips recited the Arabic prayers she’d known since childhood. “God, the poets say that you are loving, and I want to believe them. But why doesn’t this depression ever leave? Why is my son living an impure life? Why is my husband questioning his faith? Where is Your love in all of this? If I could only know You love me, then I could face anything… anything, God. I only want to know that You hear me, that You love me.”
Amid her pain, Nayyar again remembered the curious title of the little book:
“That You May Know.”
She couldn’t get the phrase out of her mind. God, is this You? Without warning, a sense of hope washed over her. Could this be the Hope? Hope was such a new sensation to Nayyar that she opened her eyes in surprise. Suddenly, she was aware of a desire to read the little book. That You May Know, she mused. Maybe the little book will help me know if God loves me, she concluded, and hope started to bloom.
Nayyar stood in sync with all the other women but noticed that her daughter Elham did not move from her kneeling position. She must have lost concentration, Nayyar thought. Once she hears all the other women moving away, she will come to herself. But Elham did not move. Her eyes were closed and her hands clasped in her lap. She was breathing very deeply, serenely even. Nayyar suddenly considered another possibility…
Perhaps Elham was becoming a devout Muslim.
How Can We Pray?
Nayyar is seeking hope, peace, and above all, a God who loves her. Let’s pray for Persian women who are seeking just like Nayyar:
- Pray that they would encounter the love of God. It is His loving kindness that will draw them to repentance.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to set them free from spirits of depression and hopelessness. May they find hope in Jesus.
Nayyar’s name means ‘radiant’. Today, we specifically pray 2 Corinthians 4:6 over the Persian women that our team will be meeting this week:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
May the light of Christ shine in their hearts. May they become radiant with His hope, peace, and love.
Jesus, we thank you for the transformative work that you are doing in Iranian women today.