Exercise for our Souls

A  cocoon stirs with signs of life. An opening appears, and you watch as thewinged creature inside struggles to emerge from a small tear in the sack oflife. Striving to free itself, the butterfly labors for what seems an eternity.You reflect on how easy it would be to simply break off the rest of the cocoon,thus aiding the butterfly with an easy passage to a new world. Gently tearingthe rest of the cocoon, you stare in wonder as the creature crawls out withlittle effort. You wait patiently for it to spread its wings and take flight,but the butterfly only drags its swollen body and shriveled wings around inthe dirt. It never does take flight and spends the rest of its life crawlingaround, weak and crippled. When you thought you were helping the butterfly,you were actually preventing it from a necessary struggle, a struggle that wouldforce fluid from its body into its wings so that it could be ready to fly, onceout of the cocoon. The hardship it would go through would, in turn, make it

stronger in life

The parable I just related to you is a fairly popular metaphor, often usedas a tool in inspirational talks about overcoming obstacles. But what does itmean to the Muslim? It means that if Allah (SWT) allowed us to sail throughlife without hardship, it would weaken us. Every trial we go through –every family problem, financial problem, every bout of illness – has thepotential to make us stronger in the end.
As difficult as it may be to understand, there is goodness in all our trials.Suhaib reported that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: “Strange are the waysof a believer for there is good in every affair of his and this is not the casewith anyone else except in the case of a believer for if he has an occasion to feel delight, he thanks (God), thus there is a good for him in it, and ifhe gets into trouble and shows resignation (and endures it patiently), thereis a good for him in it.” What we learn from this hadith is that therereally is a silver lining to every cloud. That is, in His infinite mercy, Allah (SWT) has made it possible for something positive to come out of a seeminglynegative situation. If we turn to Allah (SWT) and approach our hardships withpatience and restraint, then certainly something good will come out of them,whether it is in this life, the Hereafter, or both.
So, how does pain amount to pleasure? Think back to the first time you wentto the gym. You lifted weights, jogged on the treadmill, and came home exhaustedand sore and wondering what lapse of sanity caused you to go to the gym in thefirst place. But you always return because obviously all those chiseled bicepsand impeccable pecs you were surrounded by were not a result of lying on the sofa. As time goes on, the pain is always there – the burning muscles,the aching limbs – but it becomes easier and easier to endure and harderand harder to reach your threshold, to break a sweat. And, you finally startto notice the muscle mass you’ve gained, not to mention the extra strength andenergy you always have. What you once considered painful is now simply a means to a desired goal, something painful you must endure to attain physical strength.Similarly our souls are, in a sense, in need of struggle. Trials and tribulationsare a form of exercise for our soul. We must go through the pain and endureit patiently to attain our ultimate goal, Jannah. And, if trials and tribulationsare exercise for our soul, then the more we go through them, all the while exercisingpatience and trusting in Allah’s decree, the stronger our souls become. Suddenly the small worries and problems that pop up in life seem like no big deal. Why?Because we have increased our soul’s threshold to bear afflictions. It willnow take bigger problems for us to really break a sweat.
We must notice that the key element here is to bear hardship with patience.And to do that, we should recognize that the hardship or affliction is by thedecree of Allah. We must restrain ourselves from complaining and lamenting andremember that our final return is to Him. Allah says: “Give glad-tidingsto those who have sabr. Those who – when afflicted with an affliction – say:Indeed, we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return. They are those on whomare the blessings from their Lord and His mercy. They are the ones who are guided”(2:155-157).In this ayah, Allah (SWT) makes clear what kind of people are rewarded withglad-tidings and are under His guidance. It is none other than those who accepttheir affliction with patience, as a test from Allah (SWT), and recognize thatwe indeed belong to Him and shall consequently return to Him. Try and remember this ayah the next time you are faced with an unexpected trial in life. Insteadof unleashing a vicious string of profanities and cursing everything under thesun, simply say Innalilahiwainnailayhiraji’un (Indeed, we belong to Allahand to Him shall we return). This phrase will serve as a beautiful reminder, a reminder of where you come from and where you will ultimately end up, thusmaking your problem seem a little less dire in the larger scope of things. n

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