Saturday, March 28, 2015

Taking Small Steps

بسم الله و الحمد لله والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله

There has inevitably been a moment in all of our lives when we've felt under pressure from a daunting task.  Perhaps you've left a term paper to the very last minute or have an exam tomorrow that you've only just started to prepare for.
Perhaps you sit before the Qur'an in awe and also fearing that you'll never be able to apply yourself enough in order to memorize it.
Perhaps you are unhappy with the current condition of your Iman (faith) and wonder how you will ever manage to connect the dots between where you stand now and where you wish to be.

Taking small steps allows us to stick with our goals without feeling overwhelmed
Instead of using that dissatisfaction to serve as a motivator, many of us push it to the back of our minds so we don't have to feel it. We look at this journey we are venturing on and we see miles and miles of unaccustomed earth, instead of focusing on only the first few steps in front of us.
Anything, no matter how daunting or overwhelming it seems will be made easier by constant and consistent effort. You will never run that mile if you don't take the first steps, you will never finish that book if you don't open the first chapter.

I believe that this fear of taking the first steps and the feeling of being overwhelmed is what holds many back in terms of strengthening their Iman. But we can train ourselves to use this fear to motivate ourselves instead of allowing it to hold us back and make us feel ashamed.
Find the means to close the gap between the person you are and the person you want to be.

We know that if our muscles don't get enough use, they atrophy (waste and wither away.) Likewise, if we are not using our hearts and strengthening our Iman, it will waste away. Physical trainers always warn against exercising at a higher intensity than you are not used to. Why is this?  Because they know that if your muscles are overworked and exerted more than you're used to, it can lead to muscle strains, pain, and injury.
We can reverse the effects of neglecting our Iman, but this has to be done in gradual, consistent steps.
Someone who is out-of-shape hates working out and they'll find the process painful and tiring, but someone who exercises regularly can even become addicted to it, it puts them in a better mood, they get an energy boost and they enjoy challenging themselves and pushing themselves further each time. Just as the first steps towards increasing your Iman will of course be difficult, you won't enjoy the act of worship at first because the Dunya is still beautified in your eyes, but the more we perform acts that please Allah سبحانه وتعالى , the more purified our hearts become, and the more we will enjoy what pleases Him and hate what displeases Him. But if we never make the effort to get up and open the curtains, His light won't be able to shine through. Allah only guides those who want and seek to be guided.

Do not let your excuses control you:
Guilt and regret can weigh down the soul and prevent us from seeking Allah سبحانه وتعالى, shaytan wants you to remain in the same cycle, he wants you to despair in the mercy of Allah (May Allah protect us) and doubt your own ability to change. But change is possible and attainable for everyone. We learn this when we study the lives of the Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet). Umar ibn Al Khattab (راضي الله عنهhad attempted to kill the Prophet, he later accepted Islam and became the second Caliph. What a powerful example that we all have the ability to change.
"Islam is easy. No one ever made it difficult without it becoming too much for him. So avoid extremes, strike a balance." (Hadith Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Some of you may be familiar with the children's story of the tortoise and the hare, in this story the two are competing in a race, in the beginning of the race, the hare has a head start and is sure that he will win, because of this arrogance, he stops halfway through and takes a nap, thinking that because the tortoise is so slow, he will never catch up.  In the end the tortoise crosses the finish line first, not because he was the fastest, but because he continued the whole way with constant effort and perseverance. 
Take the first steps and make the change!

What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while. So instead of taking on huge projects, stick with one change, perfect it, and then attempt more change. You will feel more accomplished, and make more progress on whatever you do when you attempt in steps rather than tackling it all at once. Which is more effective, studying a bit for a subject every day or trying to cram it all in the night before? I'm sure we all know which method leads to better results.

Some people may be able to make a 180 degree change and stick to it, but for most of us, this is just not realistic. Taking on too much change too fast will lead to some people feeling too overworked eventually abandoning all the changes they worked hard to make.
The Prophet Muhammad (عليه صلاة والسلام) told us that the most beloved acts of worship are those that are consistent, even if they are small.
Rather than attempt to improve everything, all at once, we should first strive to improve one thing and remain consistent at it. Small changes over time will make these changes more manageable and less daunting. This is the principle of Istiqamah. (remaining steadfast)

وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا ۚ وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

As for those who strive hard in Our cause, We will most certainly guide them in Our ways; and Allah is most surely with the doers of good." (Quran, 29:69)

Remember that spiritual growth and change comes with consistent effort and hard work, you won’t magically wake up one day and find that you have become the ideal version of yourself, you have to make the conscious effort and decision to become that person. The journey to spiritual growth is also rife with failure and shortcomings…there may be days when you wonder why you made this resolution to change yourself and feel hopeless. Although we should avoid falling into this state, when you come upon a river in your path, you can either swim through it and reach your destination or you can remain standing where you are and never get further from that point.
Learn everyday to let the space between where you are and where you want to be inspire you instead of terrify you.
"Guidance is not attained except with knowledge and correct direction is not attained except with patience." -Ibn Taymiyyah
Change comes gradually, there is no such this as reaching spiritual perfection. So don't seek to be perfect, don't seek to be sinless for we are all human and we're all prone to making mistakes. Simply seek to grow and always improve in your Iman.

There is a popular saying, "The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem." I'd say the first step to strengthening our Iman is admitting that it is weak, and if you already recognize that and you know you have a desire to change, you have already undergone possibly one of the most difficult parts. The next step is simply putting that realization into action.

Take those first steps, for even if they're small, it's always better than standing still.

May Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) make our steps towards Him easy and give us Istiqama in our actions.
May Allah (سبحانه وتعالى) send us the necessary guidance to allow us to turn back to Him.

All correct and beneficial knowledge is from the mercy and guidance of Allah, and all incorrect information is an unintentional error only from myself. And Allah knows best. والله أعلمُ بالـصـواب

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