A truth about life [90:4]

blog Apr 09, 2024

Today’s reflection is from Sura Balad where Allah [swt] says: Certainly We have created man to be in distress. [90:4]

In this verse, Allah [swt] uses the word kabad for distress. Scholars explain that the word kabad which originally means intensity, also signifies 'a disease in the liver of a person’ and is used for any trouble and misery.

This verse spells out a truth about the human experience during this plane of existence: from the time the human embryo is conceived it will go through difficult stages with pain and toil until the time it is born, and from then on; during his childhood, the period of his adolescence, and through his mature and senior years, he is and will be faced with many kinds of challenges, stresses and distresses.

The problem, though is that even though Allah [swt] has explained this to us in the Quran, we human beings expect something different. We LOVE comfort and luxury and are deeply attached to the idea of a life of stability and ease. We feel entitled to such a trouble-free existence, even when we have no proof that it is possible. Even when we may recognize that moments of such comfort and ease move us further away from spirituality and recognizing the purpose for which we are here.

And so, when we are experiencing challenges and distresses, instead of reminding ourselves that this is, quite simply, the nature of this world, we tell ourselves that “something has gone wrong” and that “it is not meant to be this way” and a number of such things which actively resist the acceptance of this truth.

And then, of course, we look at others. We see the edited versions of their lives which are apparent to us in real life or in the virtual arena. And then we compare our distresses and challenges to the snippets of their apparently-distress-free life, to the abundance of peace and joy that we think they are enjoying, and we think that somehow they have managed to escape this reality.

I really love how Phil Stutz explains this truth in a hard-hitting way in his great book: Lessons for Living: What Only Adversity Can Teach You.

Phil starts his book by telling us: "Our culture denies the nature of reality. It holds out a promise that you can live in an ideal world where things come easily, a world in which unpleasant experiences can be avoided, where there is never a lack of immediate gratification. Worse, it suggests that if you do not live in this world, something is wrong with you. This ideal world is a realm of illusion. No matter how promising this world seems, it does not exist."

He continues by saying: "Be honest. Your own life experiences have been far from ideal. But what you have experienced is what is reality, not what you would like to experience. In short, the nature of reality is this:
1. "Life includes pain and adversity."
2. "The future is uncertain."
3. "Accomplishment of any kind requires discipline."
4. "You are not special. No matter what you did, you cannot avoid these aspects of life."
5. "This will never change."

In short: Life is hard. [or as the Quran puts it, we are created to be in distress]

Denying and resisting this simple fact of existence and telling yourself the story that life “shouldn’t” be hard is, arguably, THE greatest obstacle to your enjoyment of life.

When we quit arguing with reality and stop thinking something must be wrong with us because we’re experiencing life’s inevitable challenges, we can change our relationship to all the pain and uncertainty and hard work inherent to a meaningful life. In other words, when we stop resisting the truth that God has spelled out for us, we can fundamentally and permanently change our lives.

Of course this does NOT mean that there is no joy or happiness or even moments of bliss on this earth. It does mean, as Stutz reminds us: “There is love, joy, surprise, transcendence, and creativity as well, but these never occur separately from the above five points."

In other words, once we accept that life is hard, that we “are created in distress”, we can stop spending all our energy on resisting the reality of our circumstances and carve out a meaningful, and yes even happy, life for ourselves. We can learn to make peace with an imperfect life and focus on making the best of an imperfect life.


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