We all come across various difficulties in our lives. However, not all of us handle them as effectively as we should. As strategies for getting through life’s problems are rarely formally learned, we are constrained to use trial and error, sometimes leading to suboptimal results.
Dealing effectively with our difficulties and problems requires appropriate emotional control, acceptance of realities, charting out a course of action, and finally taking preventive measures to keep future problems at bay. Thus, arming ourselves with the right intellectual, mental, and spiritual strategies to get through these phases can help us achieve successful breakthroughs.
Let’s go over those steps in more detail.
The Emotional Response
An emotional response to a difficulty or calamity is normal and only human. However, emotions have to be managed and channeled appropriately; else they can manifest negatively within our personalities and affect our lives in general. Research, too, confirms that emotionally-reactive individuals confronting even relatively minor challenges in their lives are prone to increased physical problems and diseases.
One potential way people channel their emotions is to act them out uncontrollably and irresponsibly. In such situations, the prophet (peace be upon him) instructed us to exercise patience and to maintain a composed demeanor instead. When his son Ibrahim was dying, the prophet’s eyes filled with tears. Abd al-Rahmaan ibn Awf said, ‘Are you weeping when you have forbidden us to weep?’ The Prophet said, ‘I do not forbid weeping. What I have forbidden is two foolish and evil kinds of voices: voices at times of entertainment and play and the flutes of the Shaytaan, and voices at times of calamity and scratching the face and rending the garments and screaming.’” [Al-Tirmidhi, al-Bayhaqi in al-Sunan al-Kubra (4/69), classed as hasan by al-Albaani]
In other cases, emotions are channeled to fester, which then leads to the development of a victimized mindset. You may not realize it, but believing that your life is a teary saga may be the anchor weighing you down and preventing you from moving forward.
So, be conscious of how you channel your emotions. You can temper them with positive thinking and a strong faith. If you show any signs of having a victimized mindset then you need to snap out of it and adopt a more positive and reality based mindset instead. That can put you on the right path to get out of your difficulties faster.
Trying to make sense of the difficulties
The divine decree: When facing difficulties, our weak faith can sometimes drive us to question the fairness of it all. In this context, we should remind ourselves that believing in al-Qadr (Allah’s divine will and decree) is one of the pillars of Islamic faith. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, it means belief in (1) Allah, (2) Angels, (3) revealed Holy Books (Quran, Bible, Torah, etc.), (4) His Messengers, (4) Day of Judgment, and (5) to believe in al-qadar (the divine decree) both good and bad. Allah also says in the Quran, “No calamity befalls on the earth or in your selves but it is inscribed in the Book of Decrees (Al?Lawh Al?Mahfooz) before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah.” [al-Hadeed 57:22].
As part of that belief, we should therefore recognize that Allah does what He wills for reasons that are only known to Him. Any attempt to comprehend with our limited minds His wisdom, or to understand how our current situation fits in His overall plan can only lead us to erroneous conclusions.
The “If-Only” Trap: Another trap that many of us fall into has to do with using the “if-only” logic. Very often, our minds tell us that “if I could have done such and such, then this wouldn’t have happened.” The prophet warned us against falling into such satanic traps. In a hadith narrated by Abu Hurayrah, the prophet remarked,
“…….If anything befalls you, do not say ‘If only I had done (such and such), the such and such would have happened,’ rather say: ‘Allah has decreed and what He wills He does,’ for ‘if only’ opens the door to the work of the shaytaan.” Narrated by Muslim (2664).
We see another example of this during the battle of Uhud when many Muslims died. This gave the hypocrites an excuse to criticize the divine decree. But Allah refuted their claims by stating (interpretation of the meaning): “Say: ‘Even if you had remained in your homes, those for whom death was decreed would certainly have gone forth to the place of their death’”. [Aal ‘Imraan 3:154].
This further goes to show that what Allah decrees is inevitable. Any attempt to imagine a different outcome based on different actions that we could have taken in the past will only increase our frustrations. This belief is also a blessing because it prevents us from returning to the past that can result in nothing but an added emotional baggage.
In this context, many among us also resort to blaming people, including those close to us. This blaming attitude in turn nurtures a mindset where people (even within families) resist future temptations to recommend anything or engage in an open dialogue. This not only weakens communications amongst people but also causes irreparable rifts and a loss of trust between them.
To summarize, accepting the divine decree can help us in not only forgoing the past but to also win Allah’s pleasure. Suppressing our urge to blame others by maintaining a positive mindset can help us maintain healthy relationships and in also keeping good recommendations and advice flowing.
Getting yourself out of trouble
Having accepted Allah’s decree, and after getting over any emotional challenges, the next step involves taking the right actions to get us out of our problems and difficulties. Actively engaging our God gifted faculties to pull us out of such situations is not as common as one may think. Thus, many a time we fail to achieve successful breakthroughs because we either follow a haphazard approach to resolve our problems or give up on our efforts too early in the process. This leads us to get stalled and makes us regard situations as irresolvable, hoping and praying for miracles to pull us out.
If you find yourself in such situations, this may be the time to rethink your overall approach. You see, most of us are accustomed to looking for “silver bullet” types of solutions. However, such solutions aren’t that many and thus can’t be relied on to get you out of your life’s challenges. Adopting a realistic but methodical approach instead has a better chance of putting you closer to your desired outcomes.
This requires that you take time to define the problems and difficulties that you face with increased clarity and specificity. This is bound to yield better results because you will get clearer about the outcomes that you desire. You will also be able to clearly delineate the constituent tasks that potentially can put you closer to your desired solution. Follow those tasks through to the end with perseverance and patience and you may reduce the load of your problems.
On the spiritual front, we should recognize that if Allah puts us through trials or punishes us because of our sins, the decision is His. However, as highlighted in seeking forgiveness through repentance (Istighfar) can help undo the damage of our sins. As the prophet (peace be upon him) said: “whoever does a lot of Istighfar, Allah will provide him a way out of each concern he has, and will solve all his troubles, and will provide him with livelihood from sources that were not known to him” (Narrated by Imam Ahmad, Sanad Sahih.)
Finally, although Allah’s decree is ordained, there are things we can do beforehand to influence the outcome of our efforts, and thus prevent problems from piling up. First, we should never forget that Allah has provided us with a free will and associated faculties to think and act. As the prophet had stated, while we should fully trust Allah, we should tie our horse first – meaning we should use all our God-gifted faculties and exercise the required due diligence.
Second, for cases in which we fumble to choose between options, we should exercise the use of the Istikhara prayers. The text of the dua recited in those prayers clearly reflects your plea to Allah to make the desired decision work for you if it’s good for you, or to ward it off if it’s not. By doing so, you consciously put your faith in Him to guide you. This will reduce the likelihood of you ending up with a failed outcome and thus an added burden for you to carry in the future.
To summarize, remember that effectively channeling your emotions, letting go of a negative past, maximizing the use of your God-gifted faculties, and above all a strong faith can help you attain the wisdom that life demands from you to get through even the most difficult challenges. Just ensure that you get serious about resisting the old attitudes and inculcate a positive mindset to propel you forward.