The Silent Struggle: Living with Pain

By Umm Sumayyah

“Everyone upon the earth will perish,

And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honour

So which of the favours of your Lord would you deny?” ( al Qur’an, 55:26-28)

Is there anything in this world that lasts forever?

No, I know there isn’t, not least because one of my favourite ayaat reminds me of this fact, and each time I read and reflect on it I am forced to confront with shamefaced humility that whatever fleeting sand I am trying desperately to hold onto in my inept hands, or whatever burning coal has landed in my lap at this moment in time, is here only for this moment. It will pass, it will “perish” and become nothing, both materially and in its relevance and importance in my life. I am forced to ask myself , “Will the struggle that engulfs me now remain important when all else perishes and it will be just the Face of My Lord that I will hope to see?”

More often than not, the perspective and distance that answer engenders is enough to lay the problem, whatever it is, at the feet of My Rabb as I trust in Him to put it right, and acknowledge my own powerlessness, except for whatever ability He grants. I know it will pass, I trust the end result will be the One He has Decreed for me – not against me, not to me- it is the result that He knows will be the best for me, in His all-encompassing knowledge, and I submit fully to that, as an imperfect slave with imperfect knowledge.

And yet…

And yet, when it comes to this pain, by Allaah I struggle. I am weak.

I can get through labour all gung-ho, no gas-and-air cocktails or epidurals, and I can even revel in the experience because I can see the end, and because I like to think of myself as strong, tough. Millions have done this before me, and I won’t be outdone by any of them!

And then it strikes. Actually, it builds. Slowly. Like a neurological volcano about to erupt, I feel the rumblings and know the pain will come. Yet I am powerless. More powerless than I have ever felt in my life.

And when the pain strikes, I appear to be a different person, not myself. Or, perhaps my deepest fear, is that this is the real me. Perhaps I am not tough at all, perhaps I have no patience at all, perhaps I am just a shell of what I thought of as a solid person; perhaps my submission is not as complete as it should be, and perhaps the other principles and ideas I have about myself are a sham too, and this is what this test is highlighting for me…

There are moments of patience and yes being tough for Allah, of not complaining; and then there are the moments of breakdown and the silent scream in the heart that seeks recognition “YOU don’t know the pain I’m going through”. I want others to know, to give me a pat on the back and tell me how strong and brave I am, I want others to recognize my gargantuan (at least, to me) effort to hold it in. And therein lies the problem. If I TRULY BELIEVE Allaah will reward me, if I truly know that He sees and knows my pain, then why do I seek this acknowledgement form others? Because I was weak. Because I was a sham. A hologram of a strong Muslimah with no real substance.

And then I tell myself, “So what?!” So what if I was a sham, I don’t have to be a sham now. I have a choice about that. So what if I wasn’t as tough as I thought I was. Who was I being tough for, anyway? If I was being “tough” or patient for Allaah, then He is the all-knowing, the Subtle, from whom nothing escapes. And if I was doing it for other than Allah, then I praise Him for showing me the fault in my heart before I come to Him on the Day when no secret will be hidden, whilst I still have time to correct it, and even that is due to His Guidance and tawfeeq.

So the pain is a test of my submission, of my patience, of my deep-down certainty that my lord is Loving, al-Wadud, that He is Merciful and that this test IS a manifestation of His Mercy; it is a test of my complete contentment with the decree of Allaah- am I truly content with whatever He sends for me? Do I truly acknowledge and believe it to be a mercy to me? Do I truly praise Allaah even for this pain ?

Sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night, sweating, in pain, and unable to sleep but longing for that most simple of pleasures to take me just for a little while, I remember death more keenly than I ever have. I start to feel as if this might be the last of my days, and as I cry like a baby over all my spilt milk, I thank Allaah for all of His Blessings like I never have before- with desperation and even self-loathing for all the wasted moments of gratitude and remembrance that should have come before. I lament over my mistakes, and my children…yaa Allaah, my children.

The thought of death propels me to make duaa for their guidance fervently and selfishly, as I hope for some reward when I lie alone( and yet hopefully not forgotten) in my grave. I make duaa in hope and fear that I have given them what Allaah would have me give them, that I have discharged my duty to His Servants. Whilst memories of my failings haunt me and shaytaan taunts me with them, I seek refuge in His Mercy, I know He covers my sins and shortcomings in this life, because if He didn’t, well, I feel I would scarcely find a person willing to talk to me, let alone those He has sent who love me; so it gives this shattered vessel hope that He will overlook my shortcomings in the next life too.

What I have realised is that our whole life we have to build: build khushoo’ in our Salah, build hope in Allaah, build gratitude to Him when we have everything going for us ( but sometimes still fail to realise it, may Allaah forgive us), we have to build all the internal resources in times of ease so that we can call upon them in times of difficulty- it is very difficult to suddenly have khushoo’ when you’re in pain if you have not spent time and effort to develop that concentration and awareness beforehand.

I have realised that each of us must prepare ourselves in times of ease so that we have the resources that will carry us through our test. The test is the time to see what resources are there and call upon every ounce of them.

Ibn Abbas reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.” Source: Shu’ab al-Imān 9575, Sahih (authentic) according to Al-Albani.

Sometimes we wait in life to develop into the Muslim we want to be, we wait for a time when we have the space and ease to become better, not realising that this is a pipe dream blown into our ears by Shaytaan. There will never be a better time than the time you have been given to breathe now, to decide now to take some action, even if it is just to make istighfaar, and to be that person who you really want to be, in front of Allaah.

The mythical time of perfection and peace to learn how to be the muslimah you yearn to be is none other than today; don’t wait for a test to touch you for you to realise what resources are missing from your heart, what connection you should have built with your Lord before you meet Him. Let us heed the advice of the Messenger of Allaah, alayhis-salaatu was-salaam,  and take advantage of the five that have been given to us before tomorrow, when we may feel their absence.

And Tomorrow is coming very soon. It may feel very distant, just like the pain might feel like it never ends- the pain of losing a loved one, the pain of a broken family, the pain of isolation, and yes the pain of serious illness, but in reality, nothing lasts forever..no happiness in this world is forever, and certainly no pain is either,

“Everyone upon the earth will perish,

And there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honour” ( al Qur’an, 55:26-27)

May Allah grant us all the ability to see the blessings He has gifted us, may He guide us to make the best of them and use them in a way pleasing to Him, may He grant us the patience of the Prophet Ayyub alayhis-salaam, and may He allow us to be of those who are blessed in Jannah to see His face, ameen.

About the author:

Umm Sumayyah is a mother of four who has recently been faced with some health issues. She lives and works in South London.

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