Finding God through struggle

What do we do when life becomes difficult?

In times of uncertainty, struggle, and loneliness, it is easy to wonder if God really hears our prayers. We can seem like such an insignificant part of His creation. Why would He care for us, we may ask, when we are often ungrateful for the infinite blessings He has put in our lives? After much spiritual exertion, I have found that faith is tried in experience, that belief is tested in prayer. Even in the darkest moment, God has never left my side.

Though my life has been blessed, I often wondered why Allah put me and my family through such arduous trials. I feared they might never end. When we first immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh, we suffered financially. My father and mother struggled to make ends meet, and I remember feeling helpless at my inability to contribute financially to my family’s survival. Transitioning from affluent physicians to humble wage laborers practically overnight, my parents made huge sacrifices to ensure a better education for their children. It was in those early years of struggle that I began to form a close bond with Allah. I asked Him to bless my parents and to help us survive our financial hardships. I prayed that He would help my siblings and me succeed in school, so that we could make our parents proud. Most of all, I asked for patience and faith to see us through these uncertain times.

Though my faith did not fail, it was difficult to remain strong after realizing how much we did not have in life.

When I witnessed my father on the brink of death in a hospital surgery ward, I cried for Allah to return him to us. He had unexpectedly developed a rare form of pancreatitis — only one in 100,000 people in the U.S. have it and his chances for survival did not look good. He was still quite young. I feared a future in which he would not see me get married or know any of his grandchildren. How could God allow this man, a caring unselfish dad, to die now, after all he had been through and when he was so needed by his family? For nearly a week we watched him suffer, wincing at his every breath through a ventilator and agonizing over the extreme pain he experienced as a result of his multiple operations. The prospect that he may die loomed heavy. But when his life-threatening surgeries proved successful, and my father returned to normal life, I knew I had just witnessed a miracle.

“Though my faith did not fail, it was difficult to remain strong after realizing how much we did not have in life.

Whenever I am in doubt of God’s power, I think of this special moment. This experience was deep and visceral. I share this story not to romanticize hardship, but to serve as a reminder of how pain and uncertainty can sometimes bring us closer to God.

My mother also endured her share of tribulations in life. As a child, when I saw her day after day straining to eke out a living, I was both inspired and disheartened. She had to wait 1.5 hours just to catch a bus to her workplace. Though my mother never complained and navigated her trials with grace, I sought to know why Allah had created such a difficult path for her. Despite my questions, it was my mother’s unshaken belief in Allah, my father’s devotion to God’s goodness, and the stories from the Quran that sustained me through my doubts. When the two people who love me most in this world also love with the core of their hearts the same Being I rely on, I know there is something profound and true in this faith. I continue to pray because it is one way to deepen my relationship with this compassionate God.

Owing to Allah’s mercy, we survived the hard times. My two siblings and I received scholarships to esteemed universities and completed our education. My parents studied diligently to receive their Registered Nursing degrees, while working, raising children, and running a household. My mother always reminded us, “Allah has seen us through so much hardship; He will see us through this time as well. Stay strong in your faith and ask Him for help.”

In addition to witnessing these miracles in my own life, stories from the Quran continue to sustain me through trials. The account of Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) in Egypt has particular resonance. Though he was separated from his father by his own brothers, cast out from his birthplace, and languished in prison under a false conviction, Prophet Yusuf never lost faith. Indeed, everything was returned to him — his father, his brothers, his birthright, his wealth, and his honor.

“In addition to witnessing these miracles in my own life, stories from the Quran continue to sustain me through trials.”

Chapter 94, Verse 5-6 of the Quran says: “For indeed, with hardship [will be] ease. Indeed, with hardship [will be] ease.”

I return to this phrase over and over. Whether it is loneliness, professional uncertainty, or fear about the future, I hold fast to the belief that Allah will make my life easier. He even repeats this promise twice. I pray that whatever suffering and adversity I may have to endure will only draw me closer to Him. Instead of focusing on loss, I marvel at my infinite blessings. I remind myself that Allah will grant us all this and more in the next life.

My hardships have inspired me to be more compassionate towards people in pain. Suffering is not a punishment for sin. Instead it is an experience which has allowed me to reflect on my life, remember those who came before me, ease the anguish of my fellow beings on Earth, and thank Allah for loving me.

Irteza Binte-Farid is a daughter of immigrants from Bangladesh and is currently pursuing a PhD in Education and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. This piece was previously posted on FaithCounts as part of a series that answers the question: “How does your faith help you deal with suffering and adversity?”

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