We’ve all heard the old advice, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”—which asks us to meet challenges with an optimistic attitude in the face of adversity.
But when those lemons hurt us where it hurts most, it can be tough to find the motivation to start juicing.
In this life, one thing is certain: that nothing is certain. Everyone suffers, and no one escapes the bruises those hard lemons can cause. All we can do is trust that life’s tough tests occur to teach us something about ourselves. The Baha’i teachings view those tests as a potential path to understanding a greater wisdom, which will inevitably contribute in some capacity to our physical and spiritual growth:
It can be terribly hard to reconcile the benefits of a true spiritual test, particularly when it seems to hold us back from everything we’ve worked towards. Tests can arrive in the form of anything that brings us grief and disappointment. Tests are also relative from person to person and per situation. No one can say that my test is more hurtful or greater than yours, because who can say which hardship causes more pain? Tests are not a game or competition for whose with the worst luck—we all get them.
So what’s your test? It could be a loss of a job, a fight with a friend, an illness, or an injury that prevents you from doing what you most desire. It could be money, health or love, as another old saying goes. Life’s tests can seem overwhelming, unbearable or even crushing—but faith offers us hope. These quotations from the writings of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l-Baha shed light on our capacity in the face of adversity:
[God] will never deal unjustly with any one, neither will He task a soul beyond its power. He, verily, is the Compassionate, the All-Merciful. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 106.
Tests are a means by which a soul is measured as to its fitness and proven out by its own acts. God knows its fitness beforehand, and also its unpreparedness, but man, with an ego, would not believe himself unfit unless proof were given him. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 4, p. 45.
The Baha’i writings say that tests can be perceived as signs and gifts from God. We don’t only receive life’s tests by chance, but sometimes by the design of our Creator, who intends to refine our characters and our souls. As hard as this may come to us in times of grief, the Baha’i teachings encourage everyone to turn to God in prayer, and thank Him for receiving the blessings that enable us to grow:
Tests are benefits from God, for which we should thank Him. Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 50.
Personally, I’ve dealt with my own large juicy lemon of a test recently. I continue to tell myself that it could always be worse, and for that I am grateful, but it definitely put a wrench in my life goals and plans.
My lemon was gifted to me in late October 2016, when I was travelling through the city of Cusco, Peru. We were 11,000 feet above sea level, sitting on the roof of our hostel when my right ear randomly began a series of loud pops, fizzles and hisses. That was the first time I experienced vertigo, hearing loss and chronic tinnitus. Many months, specialist appointments, pills and tests later, nothing changed. I was told that while in high altitude, the lack of oxygen had made me susceptible to some mysterious virus that affected my inner ear. I’ve lost 30% of the hearing in my right ear and experience a constant ringing sensation (tinnitus) that only gets worse around other loud, amplified noises. As a musician, this has been a hard reality to face.
The difficulties that followed this unfortunate event would arise when I was playing music, in a room with amplified music or in large crowds of people. Certain pitches, tones and volumes would trigger my tinnitus, distort what I was hearing and cause headaches and vertigo. I also had trouble hearing my own voice while performing, and as a result would often produce pitchy tones I’d never heard come out from within me before. I felt like I was losing control of my voice and perfect pitch, which I’d taken for granted since I was a child.
It got to the point where I feared going into restaurants, crowded places, concerts, even rehearsals with my band. I became fearful of spaces where I couldn’t control what noises or sounds I was exposed too. The anticipated pain was not worth the risk, and I’d revert to staying at home. At times I’d try to push through, attempting to ignore the pain I was experiencing, but my anxiety and fear of loud spaces only grew worse.
Ask anyone who knows me: I was always the first to crank up the tunes, attend a party, or stand front row at a show. Now here I was, asking people to lower the volume, speak softer, leaving my own performances feeling nauseated, and passing on seeing some of my favorite bands when they came through town. I’d lie in bed, with the loudest ringing in my head, begging for silence. I sat through all types of medical tests (even some painful ones), tried various medications and therapies, but nothing seemed to work. Music and friends—the things I hold so dear in this world—were the things bringing me pain and suffering. How could I possibly see this test as a gift?
This terrible test sometimes made me wonder and reflect on whether I’d taken my health for granted before this incident. I’d ask questions like: Why me? What did I do to deserve this? What could I have done differently to avoid this? If I hadn’t travelled to Cusco, would this have still happened to me? But those questions had no answers.
While these thoughts went through my mind and heart, I’d ultimately be reminded of the gratitude I felt for having faith at all. By believing in a higher powers’ overarching plan for me, it would somehow relieve me of the direct pain I was experiencing, even if it was just for a short moment. I would pray so hard. I would plead for strength, healing and assistance. I prayed for detachment from my plans of pursuing music as a career, and asked God to confirm me in a new path, as I’d felt like my entire identity had somehow been ripped from me. Reflecting on the words of Baha’u’llah, I realized that the vertigo, hearing loss and chronic tinnitus I was experiencing were only proof of God’s power, and my resilience were signs of my capacity:
… the Almighty hath tried, and will continue to try, his servants, so that light may be distinguished from darkness, truth from falsehood, right from wrong, guidance from error, happiness from misery, and roses from thorns. Even as He hath revealed: ‘Do men think when they say “We believe” they shall be let alone and not be put to proof? – Baha’u’llah, The Book of Certitude, pp. 8-9.
Two years on, I’ve finally landed on a therapist who is able to empathize with my misfortune. She’s been helping me with strategies to overcome my anxiety and develop methods to deal with my tinnitus in a healthy and manageable way. One thing she made me realise is that I needed to slow down. My life up until I received my lemon gift was a constant GO, GO, GO. I would only stop to sleep, and every spare moment was spent doing something, anything. Perhaps this was God’s way of telling me to slow down, and that a change in lifestyle wasn’t a bad thing. My hearing loss and tinnitus has forced me to live life in a more holistic, balanced and health conscious way. I’ve also realized that my own experience has given me a stronger ability to empathize with the suffering of others, and become more sensitive to their misfortune, strength and resilience.
I feel like I’ve held onto this sour lemon for two long years, and am finally learning how to make delicious lemonade—that I can also share with others. My future will look a little different than how I’d originally planned it, but I’ll continue to make music and be a part of the music world, just in different ways than I’d previously thought. I know that I need to continue to keep the Creator and service to humanity at the core of my life, and that this will guide me down a clear path and protect me. I’m learning to adapt to these new conditions and I’m excited about the prospects.