FINDING SOLACE IN THE MIDST OF PAIN
Cultivating Hope and Optimism During Difficult Times by
We are bombarded with news of destruction, famine, war and loss of lives. Each new day we hear stories about hypocrisy, deception and misguidance. We are struggling with our shortcomings, trials and tribulations in our lives and in our relationships. Our hearts are wavering between being overwhelmed and feeling numb from all the chaos. What should be our response when we are immersed in these unpredictable circumstances? How are we supposed to remain optimistic when so much pain and suffering are taking place?
And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient (Surat al-Baqara: 2:155)
Allah is telling us that we will be tested with trials and tribulations so we need to be prepared for these unexpected events by having spiritual prowess along with perseverance. When an upcoming exam is announced in school, we are naturally more ready psychologically which leads us to take action ensuring our success. It’s similar to bracing ourselves for impact when the turbulence of life hits. Therefore, we need to be mentally vigilant for upcoming trials by focusing on passing them with patience and acceptance.
The way to true peace is through acceptance. Acceptance of our destiny. Acceptance of our past and present. Acceptance that everything that has happened to us and is happening right now has been orchestrated by Allah. One of the best examples of acceptance I have witnessed is of a relative who had a twin sister. They had the most amazing relationship you can imagine and they were inseparable. They were two of the most optimistic and angelic girls I’ve ever met, exuding happiness and enthusiasm everywhere they went.They were so connected with one another that they felt each other’s labor pains. One of the twins who was married with a little 5-year-old daughter got diagnosed with cancer and after an excruciatingly painful fight, she lost the battle at the age of 27. I was so worried about her sister emotionally, thinking that she will fall into a state of depression, resentment or anger, but I was profoundly affected by her complete acceptance of the will of Allah masha’Allah tabarakAllah. Her grace and calmness during this tragedy demonstrated her genuine trust and acceptance of Allah’s will. She would give herself 5 minutes each day to weep then quickly compose herself by focusing on her many blessings and not her loss.
Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not. (Surat al-Baqara 2:216)
Even if we are going through painful and difficult tests, we need to have the understanding and maturity to know that it’s teaching us valuable lessons and helping us to grow spiritually.
SEARCH FOR MEANING
When we are certain that things don’t happen arbitrarily and there is divine wisdom in the events of our lives, we are able to embrace the hardship easier. Victor Frankl, a famous psychiatrist who survived the Holocaust and wrote Man’s Search for Meaning, emphasized the importance of searching for meaning when faced with tragedy. He was in a concentration camp and saw everyone losing hope because of the inevitable death and torture they were facing. Even though he lost his family and suffered unbearable losses, he chose to focus his attention on adapting and accepting his circumstances. He built his mental strength to not only survive but to draw upon the experiences to teach others to search for meaning even in the most difficult situations. When we realize that there is wisdom and purpose for the difficulties, then we become more patient. It is like a medical school student that endures with dedicated patience the grueling hours of study, lack of sleep and hard work because they realize that the temporary nature of the trial leads to lasting success.
“How amazing is the affair of the believer. There is good for him in everything and that is for no one but the believer. If good times come his way, he expresses gratitude to Allah and that is good for him, and if hardship comes his way, he endures it patiently and that is better for him.” (Muslim)
The only time we lose hope is when we lack trust in the master plan. Imagine how absurd it would be if an expert architect was designing our home and we constantly tried to dictate how to construct the building without having any formal training in architecture or knowledge of the blueprint. This is what it’s like when we object to Allah’s plan by demanding that the events of our lives unfold the way we desire. Even though none of us have the audacity to think that we know better than Allah, we are implying it by complaining and objecting about our circumstances. When we put our full trust in Allah, our hearts will be filled with hope, knowing that all we are going through will transform us and we will be rewarded when we practice patience.
The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts become fearful, and when His verses are recited to them, it increases them in faith; and upon their Lord they rely (Surat Al-Anfal 8:2)
Once we are mentally prepared and have acceptance, searched for meaning and nurtured trust in Allah, then our overall disposition and state of mind will naturally be one of optimism.
O my sons, go and find out about Joseph and his brother and despair not of relief from Allah. Indeed, no one despairs of relief from Allah except the disbelieving people.” (Surat Yusuf 12:87)
The importance of optimism is emphasized in this verse by equating pessimism to disbelief. It is a form of disbelief to deny the names and attributes of Allah: Al-Qawee: the most powerful, Al–Hakeem: the most wise, Al-Adel: the most fair. As believers, we have no choice but to be optimistic because we need to demonstrate our belief in Allah by having unshakable hope regardless of our circumstances.
FOCUS ON THE POSITIVES
We have the choice to either focus on the news that invokes sadness and despair or focuses on the goodness in the world. We can either focus on what we don’t have in our lives or focus on the amazing blessings Allah has bestowed upon us. The choice is ours and whatever we choose will determine whether or not we live a life of pessimism or optimism. We need to infuse hope in our hopelessness realizing that nothing is permanent. The pain and difficulties we are going through now will eventually pass. It may be hard to see the end of the tunnel, but if we focus on reaching one small goal at a time we will cultivate hope in our hearts and eventually make it through the darkness. It’s helpful during those days of darkness to have a mantra (a statement we repeat over and over) to give us hope and strength.
Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease (Surat Ash-Shahr 94:6)
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