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On a bike ride with my husband John last weekend, I had trouble with some of the hills and curves and was frankly relieved to find an easier, alternative route at one point of the trail.
I turned my bike to follow it, and John waved as he took the more difficult option. Oh he’s just showing off, I told myself, and he’ll later wish he’d joined me on this one instead.
Well, I was wrong—as I saw a few minutes later when he soared down the other side of the hill, laughing in exhilaration at his achievement and the joy of overcoming the obstacles.
This reminded me of the rewards of facing difficulties head-on. Which of us is more competent for yet another challenge? Which of us improved that day? Who is ready for further growth? Who went home feeling more fulfilled from the day’s adventures?
Clichés such as “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “No pain, no gain” come to mind. If we lived without tests, if our lives were completely at ease, we would not experience personal growth and probably even be bored. In any case, unlike difficult bike trails, real tests cannot be avoided—they are intrinsic to human existence.
Why We Should Face Difficulties Head-on
Through tests we are strengthened, much like steel being tempered by fire or a muscle being trained for endurance. Through tests we learn who we are, and we have a chance to improve.
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. Man is, so to speak, unripe: the heat of the fire of suffering will mature him. Look back to the times past and you will find that the greatest men have suffered most. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 178
Drawing again on the metaphor about steel and muscles, we know that eventually the fire has done its job and the steel needs to cool; likewise, the muscle must rest and heal after exertion. Life is this way, too. Our difficulties finally pass, leaving us to absorb the lessons they gave us and to remember them when we need them another time:
Consider thou that at the time of an examination in sciences and arts, the dull and lazy pupil finds himself in calamity. But to the intelligent and sagacious student examination in learning produces honour and infinite happiness. Alloyed gold, subjected to the fire, portrays its baseness, while the intensity of the flame enhances the beauty of pure gold. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 2, pp. 5-6.
How I Am Beginning to Face Difficulties with Courage
On a personal level, I will improve and become better equipped to help others by engaging in the field of action and not being afraid of taking some risks. I may be only a tiny part of our community life, but we all have a role to play, and the better and stronger each of us is then the better for all.
In my early days as a Baha’i, in my 30s, I was surprised to find some Baha’i prayers wherein one asks for tests—like it’s a good thing and something we should seek. I admit, I didn’t understand what this was all about. Yet another section included prayers seeking assistance with tests, and that made more sense to me.
But as time passed and I not only experienced but also reflected on easy as well as difficult times, I gradually saw the wisdom. To pray for tests is to want to become stronger and be prepared to face difficulties and challenges, much like John enjoying the hills and curves on a bike trail. I think next time I’ll join him. I might fall, or I might make the curves. In either case, I’ll be the better for it—and might have some fun, too.