Life’s purpose, tightly intertwined with suffering and struggle, means that this existence is a training ground for the soul.
The Baha’i teachings affirm the necessity of struggle:
The mind and spirit of man advance when he is tried by suffering. The more the ground is ploughed the better the seed will grow, the better the harvest will be. Just as the plough furrows the earth deeply, purifying it of weeds and thistles, so suffering and tribulation free man from the petty affairs of this worldly life until he arrives at a state of complete detachment. His attitude in this world will be that of divine happiness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 178.
Through suffering, we grow spiritually. This is no easy task, and that’s why we need to rely on God.
But sometimes we can imagine that relying on God means waiting for Him to save us from struggle and suffering. We expect a sign, a vision or a feeling that will guide us, and until that happens, we need to reside in limbo. According to the Baha’i teachings, though, along with complete trust in God, we also need to exert ourselves to the utmost. We need to do our best and make every effort we can while putting all our trust in God, knowing that He will assist our every effort.
By the fire of the Love of God the veil is burnt which separates us from the Heavenly Realities, and with clear vision we are enabled to struggle onward and upward, ever progressing in the paths of virtue and holiness, and becoming the means of light to the world. – Ibid., p. 82.
There can be no doubt whatever that, in consequence of the efforts which every man may consciously exert and as a result of the exertion of his own spiritual faculties, this mirror can be so cleansed from the dross of earthly defilements… – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings From the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 262.
Overcoming suffering requires an abundance of effort and perseverance, especially since everywhere we look suffering seems to appear. This really speaks to the fact that life is a struggle. Struggle is not something that happens from time to time; it is part and parcel of life. Looking at life from that perspective, struggle is not something simply to overcome or avoid–it is something to embrace and live each day.
Sometimes we feel that if we are struggling, then we are doing something wrong. At times we can even feel a sense of shame that we are struggling–or perhaps a feeling of bewilderment or confusion that we just don’t understand why life is always so hard. But the reality is: we are human. Suffering is part of the deal, part of the package! We don’t need to run or hide from it, or pretend that everything is alright. We can openly be the puny creatures that we are, and embrace the struggle as best we can.
Look at it this way: If we’re not struggling, then we’re not growing, and if we’re not growing, we’re not fulfilling our purpose in life. Struggle, in general, is something we have to accept.
We need to embrace life’s tests with full confidence that we encounter them for our own good. This will strengthen our faith and our resolve to press on, rather than filling ourselves with feelings of futility and defeat.
When we struggle, we will fail. That’s just the nature of human life, and all people go through it. Repeated failure can be very disheartening and can make us feel like giving up. It can make us feel that we’re meant to resign ourselves to lowliness. We can even justify this to ourselves by saying that our incapacity to change is a sign of our powerlessness and humility. Yes, we need to acknowledge how puny we are in relation to God. We do need to acknowledge our incapacity and powerlessness: we can’t struggle to overcome anything and everything. But we cannot let this become an excuse for giving in.
Whether it is a test imposed on us, like a genetic disease, or a lifestyle choice, the only option is to struggle on. It doesn’t matter so much how we find ourselves at the bottom of the slippery, muddy hole; the question is how we are going to get out. It’s not sufficient to sit at the bottom and pray to God to deliver us from our wo, and yet take no action. God operates this universe using the laws of physics, so we need to work within those parameters too. We need to pray to Him to give us strength to keep scaling those slippery walls. With perseverance and trust we can edge our way up, and even if we fall to the very bottom, we can try again. Fail we will, and that’s just part of the noble struggle.
To continue this hard, life-long struggle we certainly need fuel for the journey! We need God’s assistance. We need to nourish our bodies through sufficient rest, food and exercise. We need to refresh our minds by spending time in nature and meditation. We need to feed our souls through daily reading of the sacred word and prayer to God. Without these things, the struggle will naturally feel unbearable, because we are trying to carry on using our own finite will alone, while cutting ourselves off from our Maker and His divine Assistance.
So embrace the struggle; acquiesce to its relentless oncoming with keen determination and trust in God! All these tests will pass, and as we go through them they serve as healing medicine for our souls.