Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan for the third year in a row, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
A story that I was once told involved a young woman and her elderly grandmother. This young woman was finding it harder and harder to deal with the challenges that life brought her way. Seemingly every day was a different struggle.
When the grandmother became aware of this, she took her granddaughter into the kitchen and proceeded to boil three pots of water. As they reached a boil, she placed in one some carrots, in a second some eggs, and in a third some ground coffee beans.
After some time the grandmother turned down the heat and the let the water cool. She asked her granddaughter what she saw, to which the obvious response was "carrots, eggs and coffee."
The grandmother asked her granddaughter to feel the carrots, and they had become softened. She then asked her to break one of the eggs, and within the shell was now a hard-boiled egg. She then asked her to sip the pot with the coffee beans, and it tasted rich and had a deep, satisfying aroma.
The grandmother then explained to her granddaughter that each of the three things was put through a similar challenge, the placement in boiling water, but each reacted differently. The carrots that were once hard became soft and weaker. The eggs that once needed to be handled gently because of their delicate inside became tough under their skin. The coffee beans though were most interestingly unique. After they were put into the pot, they changed the water.
She then asked her granddaughter, "Which one of these are you?"
"When God loves a servant, He tests him." ~ The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him.
All of us face different challenges in our lives and the opportunity for growth presents itself within most of them. When we watch from an audience, most of us always side with the underdog, hoping they will succeed and overcome what they are facing. But when we find ourselves in it, we at times back away too quickly, or let others back down from their challenges by not supporting them through it.
A different sense of appreciation is fostered by those who are willing to rise to the occasion and sustain the challenge. People who have experienced loss and failure, who have seen and lived grief and been able to find a way to move beyond and keep going, build a difference sense of appreciation and gratitude. The potential is also there for them to possess a unique sense of empathy and compassion, depending on how the experience itself is reconciled and dealt with.
The goal itself of a challenge is not always completing it or being "successful" in that sense, but sometimes the purpose of the challenge is to gain self-recognition. There is a sense of achievement that should stem from completing a day's fast during the intense heat and long hours of the Summer, but the process and challenge of the fast can yield much more than that if we don't make it only about the ends, but also take from the means that got us to the end in the first place.
Hope is a key factor to our growth, and despair is its greatest opponent. You have to be believe that things will get better and when you see someone around you at a crossroads or standstill, you have to remind them of that as well. The coffee beans collectively changed the water. One coffee bean on its own wouldn't have been able to and even just the presence of a second bean would make the impact on the water that much stronger.
In this month of Ramadan, take the time to see how you are responding to the challenges that life is bringing your way. Reflect on moments from the past so that you can better deal with the challenges that confront you presently and that you may face down the line. Indeed, as we move forward, we should always look backwards, lest we fall into a test the lesson of which we learned already some time ago. With confidence, not arrogance, deal with each to the best of your ability. There will be times when the challenge leaves you weak, times when the challenge leaves you hardened, and times when you overcome the challenge. In each of these there is benefit, so long as you let there be.