Of the symptoms associated with heartache is a frantic change in emotion. I am half way through the pangs of sorrow when I stop to breathe. I take it in. The remnant of a tear meanders down my cheek, following a path of the ones that preceded it. And for a moment, I’m too preoccupied with how everything works– the hormones or lack thereof running through my veins, the chemistry of my brain that is causing utter agony: stark magnificence. SubhanAllah. For a second, I laugh hysterically, but the initial painful thought returns me to the state that brought me here. The abrupt change makes me question what I am doing, thinking, feeling at this particular moment.
Because most denotations of the word “pain” indicate a very small portion of what it encompasses in its entirety, it may seem like an unwritten philosophy at times. That is to say, if you were to look it up in a dictionary, you would find its definition to be along the lines of “a physical suffering,” “an unpleasant sensation,” or “an emotional disorder”. Perhaps it’s one of those things you can’t really explain without delving into subjectivity. What is pain to you? And by that definition, what do you consider painful?
Whether or not we know exactly what it is, we are constantly prone to pain. It is, in other words, a natural occurrence or a part of life that varies in intensity depending on the situation. It may be something that someone else might not consider painful because they are accustomed to it, like going a day without eating or working in fields for hours. Or it may be a completely unphysical form of pain, like that of loss, sorrow, betrayal, or loneliness. It can also be the empathy you feel when someone you care about is in pain or the loss you feel at a loved one’s death. When looking for answers, we tend to focus on how we can heal the pain rather than the more important question: why do we feel it?
It seems that in this society, pain is perceived as being abnormal, something we shouldn’t feel, hence the abundance of prescription drugs for depression and various types of supposedly therapeutic practices. We often forget that pain, like everything in this world, is a creation of Allah. And as believers, it is important for us to know that every creation has reason, as Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in the Quran, “Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the night and the day are signs for those of understanding. [Those] who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]…” (Surah Āli ‘Imran: 190-191).
The latter verse is interestingly relevant because some conditions of pain cause the feeler to be sitting or lying down on bed rest. So that heartache, that loss of appetite, that feeling of internal sickness for no perceivable reason, that illness that leaves us weak and incapacitated, that time when not even close friends and family can lift our spirits– whatever we suffer over the course of our lives– is all for a reason: to bring us closer to Allah. And only through truly understanding the manifestations of that reason can we understand the blessing of pain.
One of the main things that pain allows us to do is exercise patience. In this case, being patient means bearing pain and hardship without complaints and while relying on Allah, which Imam Ibn Al Qayyim classified as one of the three types of patience. This theme is repeated throughout the Quran and in the stories of the prophets (‘alayhim as-salam). When Yaqub (A) was faced with the loss of his beloved son, he responded with “fasabrun jameel”, and patience is most befitting (Surah Yusuf: 18). When Ibrahim’s (A) message was rejected by his father, he responded with “Our Lord, upon You we have relied, and to You we have returned, and to You is the [final] destination” (Surah Al-Mumtahanah: 4). And when Ayub (A) was faced with the loss of his wealth, children, health, friends, nearly everything, he responded after years of being patient with, “O my Lord, harm has afflicted me. And You are the Most Merciful of the merciful” (Surah Anbya’: 83). Each of these stories contains a remarkable message and example of patience. The beautiful thing about this type of patience is that it requires depending and relying on Allah, not just to alleviate our pain, but to bring us goodness out of what we have suffered.
This brings us to another manifestation of the reason for pain: our own wellbeing, what is better for us in this life and the next. We are told in the Qur’an, “but perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not” (Surah Baqarah: 216). So know that Allah may withhold something that is harmful for us in a way we may never have known or considered, but because we were so invested in striving for it, we will experience pain at being unable to have it. Consider that through the pain, Allah is teaching us to detach ourselves from a particular object, person, or nature of the dunya. Or perhaps in the process, we are learning the art of gratitude for times when we are not in pain. Maybe the sole purpose of a suffering is expiation for our sins. When we understand that the pain befalling us is actually for our own good, it allows us to understand Allah’s mercy and wisdom, which draws us closer to Him.
Lastly, pain reminds us of the fragility of this world and the transiency of its happiness. This world was built as a place of trials and tribulations, a place of pain. And again, this message appears over and over in the Qur’an. Allah says in surah Al-Baqarah, “and We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, “Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.” Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided” (155-157). These verses bring into perspective all the reasons we feel pain: to be patient, rely on Allah, remain mindful of the Hereafter. Only then may we understand and experience the blessings of pain.
Just imagine that Allah is gently and lovingly guiding you back to Him through every ounce of ache you’ve ever felt. And though it may not be something we can fully comprehend in the limitedness of our minds, imagine bearing no burden of pain in Jannah. Imagine being unable to suffer, unable to hear ill speech, unable to sin. Imagine only hearing words of peace, peace (Surah Waqi’ah: 25-26). Let us allow that to be our motivation to strive for a peaceful, painless end.