We are living through difficult times and many people feel a bit overwhelmed by what is going on in the world. Some complain, some hold all of the troubles inside and don’t talk about it, and other feel a perpetual anxiety. It’s good during difficult times to remind ourselves to be thankful. Below are three simple stories about gratitude, about staying centered in adversity, and about the benefit of remembering Allah SWT and counting the favors He bestows upon us.
This Too Is for the Good
A traditional teaching story about a farmer who lived long ago conveys this wisdom. One day while working in the field, the farmer’s plough horse dropped to the ground and died. Everyone in the village said, “Oh, what a horrible thing to happen.” The farmer said simply, “This too is for the good.” Everyone in the village got together and gave him a new horse as a gift. A few days later, the new horse jumped a fence and ran away. Everyone in the village shook their heads and said, “What a poor fellow!” The farmer smiled and said, “This too is for the good.” Eventually, the horse found his way home, and everyone again said, “What a fortunate man.” The farmer said, ” This too is for the good.” Later in the year, the farmer’s son went out riding on the horse and fell and broke his leg. Everyone in the village said, “How unfortunate for the poor boy.” The farmer said, ” This too is for the good.” Two days later, a marauding band of thieves came into the village and tried to coerce young men to join them. When they saw that the farmer’s son had a broken leg, they left him alone. Everyone said, “What a fortunate young man.” The farmer smiled again and said, ” This too is for the good.” One of the villagers said to the farmer, “It seems that whether good things or bad things happen to you, all you say is ‘this too is for the good.’” The farmer smiled and said, “Yes, that’s true…and this too is for the good?!” (modified from the traditional teaching story).
The Prophet (s) said, “The affair of the believer is amazing! The whole of his life is beneficial, and that is only in the case of the believer. When good times come to him, he is thankful and it is good for him, and when bad times befall him, he is patient, and it is also good for him” (Muslim).
Troubles are Like Dandelions
A teenage girl was complaining to her mother about the difficulties in her life — it seemed like her teacher always criticized her, her best friend borrowed things and didn’t return them, there was a leak under her bathroom sink that had soaked everything stored under there, and she had stained her favorite shirt. Her mother listened patiently to the litany of complaints. Then she said, “Sweetheart, the troubles we encounter in life are like dandelions. Dandelions are unpopular, considered a weed that grows profusely where it’s not wanted, and are nearly impossible to get rid of. However, we can shift our perception of dandelions and all of a sudden, they don’t look so annoying and unwanted.”
The mother continued, “Did you know that dandelions have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for over a thousand years to help the liver remove toxins from the bloodstream. Did you know, honey, that more nutrition is packed into a dandelion than in most vegetables? And the fact is, dandelions have wide-spreading roots that loosen and aerate hard-packed soil and prevent erosion.” The mother then pointed out the potential benefits of the troubles and challenges her daughter was facing, and would always face, in life: “Sweetheart, each trouble you encounter is a gift when you face it with patience and try to remember with gratitude the good things in your life. When you do that, you are using that difficulty or hardship or frustration, like a dandelion, to remove toxins from your mind and heart, toxins like impatience and discontentedness. Each inconvenience you endure with grace and gratitude nourishes your strength of character. Each nuisance you deal with in a balanced way loosens and spiritually aerates any hardness of your heart.” The mother touched her daughter’s hand and said, “There was a man who could not get rid of the dandelions in his front lawn. He tried everything and nothing worked. So, he called a local farmers and gardeners association to ask for advice. He told them everything he had tried to eradicate the troubling weeds. After listening patiently to him, the agriculture specialist replied, ‘Sir, the only way to deal with the nuisance and inconvenience of the dandelions is to learn to love them.’” The mother then added, “Sweetheart, thank God for the dandelions. And then reframe your complaints about your life so that you see each difficulty as a gift.”
The Prophet (s) said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor anxiety, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick of a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that” (Bukhari and Muslim).
What Can I Find to Be Grateful For?
A mother was at the grocery store with her 18-month-old son who lately had begun throwing temper tantrums whenever he couldn’t get what he wanted. This morning he was asking for candy and when told it was almost time for lunch and he could have a candy after lunch, the toddler began whining and kicking while in the grocery cart seat. The mother started feeling her blood pressure rise and sweat on her brow. “Another tantrum…This is getting to be too much. I can’t take it anymore. He’s impossible to deal with!” Then the thought came into her head, “What can I find to be grateful for in this situation right now?”
That question was an instantaneous interrupt of her spiraling out-of-control anger and resentment toward her son for acting up. Immediately she thought, “Wow, I feel angry and resentful toward a toddler! That’s crazy!” She repeated the question — “What can I find to be grateful for in this situation right now?” The answer came spontaneously — “I am grateful for my own good health and having a child who is healthy.” This thought calmed her, and she reached out and touched her son’s arm, a spontaneous reaching-out to reassure herself that yes, there he was, able-bodied and full of healthy vigor enough to squirm and whine like the childish human being that he was. Her touch also seemed to calm the boy just a little. Enough that the mother then thought, “What else can I find to be grateful for in this situation right now?”
She looked around at the well-stocked shelves, food of every sort, fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, chicken…why, anything she might want. And she had the money to buy more than enough for her family. All those cans of soup and beans and… then an idea came to her, and she said to her son with a big smile on her face, “Let’s count the cans of soup on this shelf and see if there are more than five!” Her son who loved to count got excited, forgot all about the candy, and started pointing to cans with his arm outstretched. “One, two, three….” The mother thought, “Let me count my blessings and remember God in this moment!”
“And if you were to count Allah’s favors, you would not be able to number them; most surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (Qur’an 16:18).