The Trials of Life
Issue 92 May 2012
One of my favourite songs when I was growing up was Labi Siffre’s, “Something Inside So Strong”. The song was penned by Siffre as an anti-Apartheid anthem, and describes the strength of purpose the oppressed show in the face of tyranny. “The farther you take my rights away / The faster I will run... Something inside so strong / I know that I can make it.”
As a ballad to and for the oppressed, it is an incredibly moving composition, and I have always enjoyed listening to it. In a way, it details the strength and fortitude shown by so many oppressed peoples of the world. It may have been written as an anti-Apartheid anthem, but it could just as well be used by any number of people today. I am often reminded of the song when I think of Palestine, particularly the line, “The higher you build your barriers / The taller I become.”
Resilience and pride in the face of oppression is an oft-noted response throughout history. The tyranny breeds a strength of purpose in the oppressed, which astounds, and seems almost superhuman. But for most of us, our battles are more mundane, but they can be overwhelming.
The daily grind, the exhaustion of small children, a job you hate, domestic chores, bills to pay, teenagers being difficult, moving house, burst water pipe, loss of a loved one, angst at work, a spate of ill-health, a boss on the war path, a miscarriage, loss of a job, spouse being difficult, elderly parents trying your patience...Some—perhaps even most of these things—will happen to all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps a few of them will hit us at once. And there may come a point when the culmination of many little things may break you, or a small thing may end up being the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. What do you do in such circumstance? You can hardly start singing Siffre’s song. Yet the sentiments needed are the same—resilience in the face of struggle.
What do you do when you come to the end of a period of great effort and find only an insurmountable wall? There may not be a tyrannical regime building the barricade, but it seems like an impossible barrier anyway. What do you do when you have strived and struggled to do what is right on a daily basis, but at the end of it you simply feel “broken”? There may not be an dictatorial government to crush your spirit, but you feel in pieces nevertheless. Such are the emotions for so many in the trying times and stresses of the modern age. For me, the only answer I can offer lies with God, and to surrender utterly to His Divine Will.
I know for many this concept of surrender and service to God is hard. Islam has sometimes been accused of being a religion that creates servile zombies, slaves to a nasty, vengeful god called Allah. Yet for me, this could not be further from my understanding of the role of surrender to the Divine. The Creator of the Cosmos brought us into being out of Love. He sustains and nurtures us out of Love, and in loving Him we find the very essence of Being. To surrender ourselves utterly out of love is not a lowly or slavish thing. To love the Divine, the Merciful, the Beautiful, with all our heart, and to desire to serve Him out of that love is not servitude, but beauty. To love Love is life itself. And in loving Love, and recognising the limitless blessings He bestows on us, one finds huge strength, and the Grace to deal with life’s trials.
Surrender has become a negative word, as has servant. Who wants to be a servant? It is one of those sad modern ironies that “community service”—far from being something that every child is taught, and every citizen aspires towards—is actually a form of punishment. Service to one’s family seems equally derided in the modern age.
But I know of no other answer to the trials and tribulations of life other than surrender, and a life of service. Surrender—like patience—is not passive, it is not servile, but it is—I believe—a transformative action. Utter surrender is the complete emptying of the self in order to be filled by the One; it is the breaking in order to be built anew by the One, and ultimately it is the dying to be raised again through God’s Mercy. Surrender is accepting Grace into your life, and recognising Him at work.
To find God’s abundant Grace through every trial is no easy task, but it is His Grace which will give us peace, in this world, and ultimately the next, as the Prophet said, “None amongst you can get into Paradise by virtue of his deeds alone...not even I, but that God should wrap me in his Grace and Mercy.” On which note, I end on another favourite song of growing up, the hymn by John Newton, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, / That saved a wretch like me.... / I once was lost but now am found, / Was blind, but now, I see.” l