So, I’ll start off by saying that I’m really not sure where I’m going with this – just that it’s been on my mind as of late and I’m just thinking out loud as sort through my thoughts, and perhaps even to remind myself regarding a thing or 2.
So, recently I’ve been through a number of hardships walhamdu lillah. All bearable (and Allah doesn’t burden us with more than we can handle iA) and relatively small, alhamdu lillah, but because they happened all at once, they’ve become a sort of burden on my soul nevertheless. So it made me think a bit about afflictions – the various “tests” of life – both big and small. For a long time, I guess I felt like there was a “right” and a “wrong” way to handle these hardships. There were those who had it “together” – took things in stride and dealt with these hardships with a grace and patience that I’ve always greatly admired. They were “strong”…and consequently, I just looked at myself and my emotions as a weakness…as a path towards failure, with regards to the virtue of patience in times of hardship.
In a weird way, I had a very black and white thought process towards the whole thing. “Pass” or “Fail”, “Right”/”Wrong”. And for a long time, I just felt like my way was the “wrong” way; not necessarily the most pleasing way in the eyes of Allah (swt), and those thoughts took me further in the direction of despair (particularly because I felt like I couldn’t change the nature of my emotions). Rather than just struggle or grieve for whatever I was grieving for, I carried the additional burden of feeling I wasn’t necessarily grieving in the most “noble” way, if there really is such a thing – and that I was in some way consistently failing the “test” of patience. My intense emotions were a liability and in time, I gave up and lost faith that I could do anything to change that, so to speak. In a way, it became a barrier for me – making it harder to get close(r) to my Creator. In many cases, aside from the grief itself, it was the guilt regarding even having grief, and how I was grieving, that at times pushed me further in the opposite direction – that caused me to despair. I guess I just never really had a good handle regarding what exactly it meant to be patient in those instances. I could endure most things, fairly well in fact, but at some point, my emotions would almost always get the best of me. Everything I envisioned I should be doing/feeling was a form of perfection I was far from and didn’t realistically think I could achieve. I started to wonder, what was an acceptable, allowable, way to mourn any sort of loss or express frustration? What was the “right” way to grieve and was my grieving a sign of lack of faith? If it was, how could I change something I felt I had literally no control over?
Over time (fairly recently actually), I realized how wrong, and how unhealthy such a thought process was, and I’m not really sure where it stemmed from to begin with. Maybe it’s growing up in a competitive society, where if you’re not “passing”, you’re “failing”. Or the black and white mentality many of us are often raised with growing up. I really don’t know. Regardless, I decided to take a lesson from “progressive” education – to stop trying to force myself into a preconceived mold that just wasn’t working for me. I tried to adopt a more “progressive”, healthier thought processes towards the whole thing – not just for my sake, but for the sake of my deen…as a means of maintaining (and strengthening) my relationship with Allah (swt). People are different, people learn differently, people connect with their Lord on different planes and on different levels, and often times through different mediums. Some walk down the path towards wisdom quickly, through simple, singular experiences and some tread this path more slowly (and some, dare I say, may never fully develop it at all). I started to think of how some people handle tribulation…with a grace and strength and a resolve that is inspiring and humbling, and I’m in awe – because that’s how I’ve always pictured it should be handled. In my mind’s eye, that’s what I should be striving for – but I never really felt like I came close, and consequently felt “doomed” because of it. (Ok that’s a little dramatic but you get what I mean :)). Others, like myself, struggle, perhaps even despair, publicly or privately. But ultimately, the main goal we should strive for when faced with any tribulation is realizing one’s humanity, one’s vulnerability, one’s dependability on Allah (swt)…one’s insignificance, and truly how much gratitude we owe our Creator. For me, I felt like if I could forego the guilt or the shame associated with struggling, with feeling weak, and on some level embrace it and accept it as a sign of the ra7ma Allah put in my heart – a sign of my humanity, of my vulnerability – I could allow my emotions to take me down the road towards self-actualization. Ultimately, my hope is that it will only give me a deeper love and appreciation for my Creator…so isn’t that enough? Does it really matter how I got there, as long as I DO eventually get there? Isn’t that ultimately what patience during times of affliction is about? It’s not about taking away the grieving process…pretending something didn’t happen, being stoic and strong and emotionless. It’s about using the grief as a tool towards a more absolute truth. Ideally, I’d love to “get it” on the first try, just like any child learning a new skill…but if it takes me 10 or 100 tries, stumbling down a rocky path, and someone else 5 tries down a completely different path, in the end, does it matter? And does it matter if my path and my method is so different from someone else’s?
The real problem occurs when the path is obstructed and the end result delayed not just by prolonged grief and struggling with a hardship, but by guilt and shame and despair (which can all translate to a form of depression) that can creep in and accompany it. We’re all human…we all err and we all need to be humbled and to seek repentance, because the ultimate goal is not necessarily not to err (because it can’t be avoided), but to come back to our Lord when we do. (btw for more on this, I posted an earlier entry from Suhaib Webb’s website on forgiveness that addresses this beautifully!). Anyway, the key for those of us who really struggle with times of hardship is to take these moments of vulnerability as a positive sign (from a spiritual standpoint), and use them as the catalyst towards deeper spiritual growth – and to stop feeling bad about…feeling bad! 🙂 I think the more that I’ve embraced this…the quicker it’s actually been able to “get over” things, because I’ve attempted to let go of the guilt that so often came along with my reaction. Not to say we shouldn’t work on self-discipline, and controlling our anger, etc. But this is a little different. It’s more about the actual emotion itself…how the heart is moved and if we let it take us down the path of something darker, or use it as a means to get closer to Allah (swt) – a source of eternal light and contentment iA.
Anyway, I guess ultimately, there are things for those of us who are Muslim that are spelled out. How and when we pray, fasting, how we perform hajj, etc. But the path towards connecting with Allah, towards appreciating Allah and all of His blessings can be so vastly different for each of us – and the hardships we endure, and the pain and grief that may come with it are just alternate paths that, if appreciated in the proper context, can give us that humility and ability to connect with our Lord, iA.
Anyway – done rambling 🙂 Not even really sure I made sense, but…I feel a little better 🙂 I know my biggest challenge will be to break the cycle and remind myself that the struggling, and in some instances, the grief, can be a good thing if I can harness it properly. Hopefully I can stick to my resolve to keep a more open-minded, “progressive” outlook…