We all have them. Days and nights, perhaps weeks and months even, during which we feel disillusioned, dejected, numb. When that flame of spirituality and inspiration seems to have been put out, when we can no longer seem to see God and His miracles and gifts in the mundane struggle that life has become. No matter how much we pray, we remain with heavy loads and heavy hearts, and circumstances do not shift despite the desperate du`a’ (prayers).
In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis refers to these periods of ‘dryness and dullness’ as ‘troughs’; as fluctuations in the human state that are natural and can be our making as believers, or our breaking. Written from the viewpoint of a Senior Devil providing counsel and advice to a Junior Devil, there is a lot of profound insight to be received from Lewis’ work.
‘It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in a state of dryness are those which please Him best.
He wants them to learn to walk and must, therefore, take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles. Our cause [the devils] are never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intends to carry out God’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.’
We learn how the Devils will do all they can to subtly exploit us human ‘creatures’ when we are vulnerable, and that these same dreaded periods are incredibly instrumental in God’s ever Wise and Perfect plans for us. Sometimes those prayers that are offered in what feels like perpetual exhaustion, in that anaesthetized, seemingly hopeless state, are the most beloved to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). The abstinence from sin despite the lethargy, the apathy or the sadness, every moment you trudge along the path to Him, Allah (swt) is right there with you, loving you and guiding you, teaching you how to walk, though you do not perceive it.
You cannot help a child to learn to walk if you forever hold onto their hand, and on letting go, they may feel scared, wobbly, confused and often fall down a few times. But you let go knowing you are still right there beside them; you have not forsaken the child, and in actual fact, you know that what they are perhaps painfully learning is an incredible gift. In letting go, you are equipping them with what they need to travel thousands of miles further than they ever could with you pulling them along.
You may not be tasting the emotional sweetness or sparks of spiritual awakening as you once did, you may be disheartened and plain fed up. But so long as you continue to walk towards Him, know that He is pleased with you. There may be points where your pace is slow, or where you can only crawl, but He has not forsaken you. Quite the contrary, so long as you are obeying Him in sincere earnestness, His love for you is beyond your comprehension. When the instant gratification and motivation of a spiritual high is no longer there, but you continue to call Him, you are ascending. Higher and higher. Even the best of Muslims experience troughs; it is simply part of being human.
In anticipating relief from the Lord of the Worlds, you are worshipping Him. And what a beautiful form of worship it is. Acknowledgement that all help comes from Him alone, hope for His unending mercy and trust in His timing and design for you. Persevering with a beautiful patience. Do not forget that even as you drag your limp existence along, you are being rewarded for your `ibaadah (worship). You will reap the rewards insha’Allah (God willing), in this life and the next.
Ramadan is a recharge, a storing up of nourishment and sustenance for the year ahead, a cleansing and a return to what is pure and true. We must do everything we can to continue the habits we establish and to ascend as we do during those blessed days, but do not slip into thinking that nearness to Allah (swt) manifests solely in a peak period. The emotional and spiritual sweetness you feel is not necessarily directly proportional to how pleased He is with you.
Nothing is permanent. You will exit your trough as certainly as the day leaves us with night and the night leaves us with the day. He who gave life to you when you were nothing, He who gives life to the barren earth, will give life once again to your weary heart. Though you perceive it not, know that your steadfastness during exhaustion, your prayers and resilience during the troughs may be the ones Allah (swt) is most pleased with. The times during which you grow the most, and earn His pleasure as He teaches you how to walk.
Do not be fooled into feeling as if you are sinking, away from what is good and away from Allah’s (swt) love; as if ‘that buzz’ is just for Ramadan, like you’ve ever lost it for good, or till next Ramadan.
Instead, promise yourself to do even more. We must learn to gaze not at our feelings but at our deeds. Set yourself a manageable target, perhaps praying a Sunnah prayer, making a set number of salawat per day, giving £10 in charity every so often, or even simply to smile at people more. For some people, it might be to pick up the Quran and read even a line a day or to wake up for fajr, while for others it may be to restart memorisation and pray Tahajjud. It is the most personal journey, the most hidden and intimate. Make the intention here and now, aim to be steadfast and sincere in your prayers, your dhikr (remembrance of God), your dua and your deeds, and ascend the most beautiful ascension.