When I am in pain, I complain. I complain to God, my select group of loving confidants, and my trusted journal, and I consider myself blessed to have this 3-tier support to fall back on with a head full of worries. I complain because that is me speaking my truth, and asking for the help I need. By acknowledging and expressing with honesty what my body and heart are experiencing, I find the energy to move on and look for solutions to my problems.
But I was not always like this. I used to be the one who was quick to equate complaints and dissatisfaction with ingratitude, and I defined having patience as being content in hardship. I have spent years feeling guilty over my inability to be all-accepting in hard times. I would often interpret that as ‘self-obsession’, and seek His forgiveness, while brutally chastising myself.
Then I got pregnant with my second child. A pregnancy that I wasn’t ready for and came with health complications. I was shocked, overwhelmed, even angry. That afternoon I fell to my knees and I just couldn’t lie to God anymore – lie that I was willing to bear this; lie that I am grateful for what was happening… this time, I told Him I was deeply unhappy, that I wasn’t prepared, and that it all felt so unfair.
And He listened. He just listened to it all. It was surreal… I felt enchanted; like I was walking into a bright, vast, solacing embrace. Slowly and gently, I felt relieved and comforted. I was still sad and knew this wasn’t going to be easy, but my anguish felt validated. I felt understood; I felt honest. My heart was not heavy anymore with the of feeling what it did. I didn’t need to apologize to God, or anyone, for being overwhelmed. I felt instead that God was already ready to hold me tighter because He knew I will be needing that. I felt Him and I were coming to some sort of understanding: that this was going to be difficult, but that He will be there for me. I was experiencing gratitude in a way which I had never felt before. My honest shakwaa to God made me feel closer to Him, and more hopeful of His Help.
Since that day, I look at complaints, struggles, patience, gratitude, and blessings in a different way. I have strung them together into prayer beads. They stick close together to enhance my remembrance of Allah.
No shame in pain
I am not ashamed anymore of expressing pain to God, or to anyone. I don’t feel guilty when in doubt, nor when I am struggling to cope. Instead, I know pain, doubt, and struggles are a part of my humanity. A part of my vulnerable reality which makes me seek God’s Help and Closeness. After all, Allah knows what is in our hearts, much more than we do. Then who are we hiding the pain from? The real thoughts and feelings from? The real doubts from? Certainty comes from facing our doubts. We purify the heart when the tongue brings forth its true contents. Our worries need to gently find a way out through our tongues, and that frees up space for conviction and gratitude to enter the heart.
God acknowledges honest shikwaa
Having patience or gratitude does not mean we should not speak the truth about our sufferings or any abuse we have to bear. We see in the Quran that Allah’s chosen ones did honestly share with Him what they were experiencing, and they were not reprimanded when they did so. Take the story of Maryam (as) for instance. When she cried out that she would rather be dead, Allah did not chastise her in the verses He revealed to us about her story. Nor did Allah remind her immediately of the constant blessings of food and protection she had always been given. Instead, she is told not to despair and is offered practical advice to manage her situation. Allah says,
So she conceived him, and she retired with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried (in her anguish): “Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!” But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the (palm-tree): “Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee; “And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. (26) “So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, ‘I have vowed a fast to (Allah) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter not into talk with any human being.” (Surah Maryam, 22-26)
Or take Surah Yusuf where God in His revelation describes to us in detail the agony of Yacob (pbuh) over losing his son. He becomes blind. His family questions him if he will ever cease from remembering his son, but Yocab replies back to them that He will continue lamenting to Allah. Yacob even tells his children that he knows they are not speaking the truth, showing that he is is open about his grief, and honest about the wrong that was done to him.
Jacob said: “Nay, but ye have yourselves contrived a story (good enough) for you. So patience is most fitting (for me). Maybe Allah will bring them (back) all to me (in the end). For He is indeed full of knowledge and wisdom.” And he turned away from them, and said: “How great is my grief for Joseph!” And his eyes became white with sorrow, and he fell into silent melancholy. They said: “By Allah. (never) wilt thou cease to remember Joseph until thou reach the last extremity of illness, or until thou die!” He said: “I only complain of my distraction and anguish to Allah, and I know from Allah that which ye know not. (Surah Yusuf, 83-87)
Even Ayyub (pbuh) who has been referred to as the patient one, has taught us a beautiful dua, in which he is honest about his anguish:
Indeed, adversity has touched me, and you are the Most Merciful of the merciful.
Surah Al Anbiyah – 83
Patience is in steadfastness
From the Quranic stories above I learn that Allah acknowledges that sometimes His Will for us will lead to suffering. He is not expecting us to be happy with the pain, but with His Will. These are two different things. His Will, we accept it; as for the pain, we endure it. Patience then is not contentment with hardship; rather, it is steadfastness in hardship. The pain we experience is as real as the test of faith we are undergoing. It requires perseverance, and the strength to persevere comes from knowing that Allah acknowledges our pain and that He understands and cares. It is true that Allah does not burden us more than we can bear, but He does burden us nevertheless. When Allah Himself does not deny that we undergo difficulties, then who are we to deny the distress we, or anyone else, is going through.
As for contentment, it is trust in Allah’s divine plan for us. Contentment is feeling sure that this will work out for the better, that despite the difficulties right now, our affairs are still being taken care of.
We will test you with a certain amount of fear and hunger and loss of wealth and life and fruits of your toil. But give good news to the steadfast: Those who, when disaster strikes them, say, “We belong to Allah and to Him we will return”. Those are the people who will have blessings and mercy from their Lord; they are the ones who are guided.
Surah Al Baqarah, 155-157
Blessings should fill us with love, not guilt
Allah reminds us:
And be patient over what befalls you.
Surah Luqman, 17
We are reminded to be patient, because despite the many blessings He continually bestows upon us, sometimes what befalls us is difficult to bear. Unfortunately though, often times when someone expresses sorrow, we tend to barrage the complainant with ‘this that blessing of God’. In doing so, we are turning God’s blessings into toxic ‘enemies’ of the believer. God’s Bounty becomes the very substance that suffocates us., the very reason why we cannot speak our truth and are expected to silently live with pain and/or abuse. I believe that God’s blessings should not make us feel guilty, but loved. They are a sign that He cares, that He Provides, and that He will show us the way out. The good things that happen around us shouldn’t negate or deny the ‘bad’ things. Instead, good things should give us the strength to manage the ‘bad’ things.
The way forward…
So don’t be afraid. Go ahead and lodge that official complaint with God. Don’t ask others why God is doing this to you. Take the courage to fully focus, and ask Him – and take the time and words you need for emotional honesty. This will help open up your heart for incoming guidance. Your concerns and heartaches will be taken with love and understanding. Remember though, that often times the way out requires sincere courage. At that point, strengthen yourself with a compassionate reminder of His Blessings. Look around you and within you. His countless favors are not to shame your vulnerability, but to remind you that He can give abundantly. Be assured, that when He has given so much, He can surely give you more.
Finally, I must emphasize how necessary it is to have a complain-friendly clique. It can do wonders for you. A small group of close family or friends who won’t judge your Iman by the volumes of tears you shed, but instead will lovingly pay attention to every detail of your complaint, and offer practical solutions while validating your struggles, and reminding you that Allah will reward you for your perseverance. Those who know how to uplift you when they remind you that “surely, Allah is with those who are patient” (Surah Al Anfal – 46).