I know. I’ve cried out the same words you’ve cried. I’ve been here too. We’ve all felt this way, believe me. Even those who don’t show it have suffered these dips in imaan and spiritual blindness. I see it written on your face, my friend. This script of pain is a language I’m familiar with. I see you’re weighed down by guilt, fear, and self-disgust too. You’re disappointed in yourself like me?
Perhaps you’ve missed a prayer, or two, or several. Perhaps you pray them late, if at all. Perhaps you have worked hard to pray them on time and miss as little as possible, but you’re helplessly distracted as you perform them. Your mind wanders, you fidget; you go through the rituals physically but your heart and mind are not in tune, and when you’re finished, there’s a certain sense of relief. You’re glad it’s over, like ticking off something on your to-do list. Sure, you’ve made several mistakes. In fact, you can’t recall how many prostrations you’ve done or if they’re the required amount for that prayer. You consider redoing it, but what’s the point? You’ll be just as distracted the second time around, and perhaps make even more mistakes. The time for prayer comes again and you think again, what’s the point? You can’t focus, you can’t feel it, you’re too tired and there are dozens of other things you’d rather be doing.
You’re weighed down by guilt but you push those thoughts away. There are more pressing matters to think about, and dwelling on your sins will only depress you further. Speaking of sins, you’re weighed down by those too. The amount of things you consciously do on a daily basis even while knowing they are wrong are uncountable. But you push those thoughts away, because they’ll only depress you further.
You thought this year would be different, didn’t you? Perhaps you just dragged yourself through the year, waiting for Ramadan to come so you could feel that spiritual cleansing; so you could turn over a new leaf. But no magical transformation happened, did it? You’re still the same person, except perhaps hungrier and crankier. You want to change, you really do, but you feel empty inside. There’s no drive, no motivation. You see your peers seemingly able to conquer all their Ramadan goals while you’ve barely managed a few. And that makes it worse, but you push away those thoughts.
“My God, You are the One who flows His favors [even] on those who do not ask You
and on those who reject Your divinity,
So, my Master, how about one who asks You
and knows with certainty that all creation is yours and the command is for You?
My friend, be still. Be gentle with your soul. Shame, guilt, fear, and disappointment are all negative feelings you don’t ever want to have around your heart. You may keep trying to turn a blind eye to these toxins, but that will not remove them from existence.
Let us examine your heart together.
The first obstruction is the black, barbed mesh that is shame. Ah my friend, we all sin; that’s what makes us human. If we all gathered around and each of us shared the darkest, worst sins we’ve committed, we’d be disappointed at the lack of originality. More often than not, our sins harm ourselves only, but the weight of them drags us even further down and makes sinning again easier because we feel like we’re already doomed as it is. This, my friend, is not true. Let us remove this shame and see what’s underneath.
Fear? Why afraid? And so much self-disgust! And disappointment! These dark thorny tendrils have cut into the soft flesh of your heart and constricted it from further growth. No wonder you feel like it’s hard to breathe sometimes – look what’s growing around your heart! My friend, cut them away!
You are not made to be consumed by such negativity, such darkness. You are a radiant creature made by Light Upon Light. God has bestowed his favor upon you and made you a being with unfathomable potential. He has given you the ability and the means. You have everything you need to become the paragon that you’re destined to be, but the things that are holding you back are those black vines constricting your heart.
If you pinch one of the tendrils and pull it away, the others that are intertwined with it will come off too. Did that hurt? I’m sorry. Let us heal these gashes left by the thorns with The Word of God and a reminder:
Light Upon Light. Light created you. This darkness – that’s not of Him. Dispose of it. Breathe in light, exhale the darkness. Inhale hope, release despair. Have you tried meditative breathing? Will you try it now?
Now that your heart is bare and a little raw, now what? What do we fill it with? Let’s begin with love. Love for He who created you out of Love. Love for His generosity, His kindness, His beneficence. Love your Source and your Home. Love He who created you with adoration and designed your world especially for you to help bring out the best in you. Love He who created you, not for His benefit, because He is not in need of anything, but to love you. He asks only that you know Him; recognize Him in worship. Are you devoted to He who watches over you and never tires? Are you aware of He who has covered you with a blanket of protection and mercy since you were nothing but a clot of blood? Do you realize how much Love The Omnipotent is capable of, and that He is bestowing that infinite Love upon you right now?
I see so much love for the Source of Love in your heart. Let us compliment this love with gratitude. Are you reading this yourself? Have you been blessed with literacy and the ability to see? Have you consciously or unconsciously asked for a source of guidance, for a reminder? Here is your reminder:
“O my Master!
I am the ignorant whom You educated,
the misled one whom You guided,
the frightened one whom You safeguarded,
the weak one whom You strengthened,
the sick one whom You cured
the oppressed one whom You helped
and the one who was less, and You made more.
I do not depend on our good deeds to achieve salvation from Your punishment,
rather I trust it to Your bountifulness toward us,
for You are the Lord of righteousness and the Lord of forgiveness.
We do not know what we should praise more, the beautiful things about us that You spread, or the ugly things You conceal. The good that You grant and test us through or the many evils that You avert and cure.
O’ Benevolent! O’ Creator of beauty! O’ Benefactor! O’ Bountiful!
You know better than I how much there is to be grateful for in your life, and that is just what you’re aware of. If you had any idea of the wonderful things in store for you, or the terrible things that have been kept away from you, how much more grateful would you be? If you can, thank Him. You can? Alhamdulillah. You did?
“My knowledge [of You], O’ my Master, guides me to You and my love [of You] is my intercessor to You, so I trust my guidance because of Your guidance
and am comfortable with my intercessor because of Your intercession.”
Now that you’ve tried to fathom how much He loves and has blessed you, you’re more aware of your own inadequacies, aren’t you, my friend? It’s alright, we’re human and we were created fallible, but that’s not an excuse to be content with our faults. We’ve sinned too many times to count; sinned when we promised ourselves we’d stop. We’ve lied to ourselves, broken our word, forgotten our determination and repeatedly did that which we know doesn’t please Him. In the process, we’ve neglected Him out of shame because we don’t want to face our Lord when we have done something we’re not proud of or when we have remembered other people or other things more than we have remembered Him. Shall we repent to Him? Do you think He’d forgive all our failures?
“My excuse, O’ Allah, in my daring to ask You even though I have committed what You hate is Your benevolence and generosity
I am wishful that my hope will not be disappointed so fulfill my hopes and hear my prayer
O’ The Best of those who are prayed to!
O’ The Most bountiful of those who was hoped in!
What allows me to disobey You
is Your patience with me
and what invites me to the lack of shyness (from You) is Your concealment of my sins.
What rushes me towards Your forbidden actions is my awareness of the vastness of Your mercy
and the greatness of Your pardon”
Let us envelop this repentance with hope rather than self-disgust, with an awareness of our shame rather than despair from it. Believing that we are forgiven when we ask for pardon is a part of faith, so let us beseech Him with earnestness.
“O’ my Lord! You said, and Your word is right and Your promise is true, that O’ (believers) ask Allah of His bounty, for Allah is Merciful towards you (4:32), And it is not from Your qualities, O’ my Master, to order [me] to ask and prevent the answer, and You are the Grantor of all bounties, on all the people of Your kingdom and the One who turns to them with compassionate kindness.”
Do you believe that you are forgiven now? Do you have faith that He has pardoned you?
“O Allah, You have revealed in Your Book
that we should forgive those who committed injustice to us, and we have committed injustice to ourselves so forgive us
for You are more worthy of that than we are
And You commanded us not to turn away the needy who knock on our doors, and I have come to You needy, so do not turn me away
until You fulfill my needs”
Let us pair repentance with hope. For every moment we remember our fallacies, let us remember His Infallibility and Mercy. Rather than sinking into a pit of depression, let the recognition of our shortcomings be a means of clarity and understanding, and let our faith in His Forgiveness be a source of encouragement to better ourselves.
Fear. Let us address that. Has fear been weighing you down too? Why are you afraid?
“My God, If You cause me to enter hellfire it will be the pleasure of Your enemies
But if You cause me to enter paradise,
it will be the pleasure of Your Prophet,
And surely Oh Allah, I know
that the pleasure of Your Prophet is more favorable to You than the pleasure of Your enemy.
I swear by Your glory, that even if You send me away I would not turn away from Your door,
and I would not cease to praise You,
for what my heart has been inspired with
from the knowledge of Your benevolence and vast mercy.
My Master! In Your remembrance, my heart blooms, and in conversation with You the pain of my fear is relieved.”
Lastly, let us not let distraction pull us away from looking after our hearts. You already know that neglecting to think about the state of your soul hasn’t been working well for you, as it cannot look after itself. Your heart is so precious, my friend. It’s fragile in sentiment yet strong enough to withstand the most relentless weathering. Be mindful of it; it’s your guide. Let not laziness, boredom, anger, depression, or material obsessions distract us from our purpose. In minding our hearts, we mind our Creator.
Your Lord has His Hand extended to you at all times. Take it, my friend.
[all quotes in italics are from Du’aa Abu Hamzah Thumali, by Imam Ali Zainul Abideen]