Have you seen the one who has chosen his desires as his lord?
Allah asks us in the Quran.
God has knowingly caused him to go astray, sealed his ears and heart and veiled his vision. Who besides God can guide him? Will they, then, not take heed?
This verse from Surat Al-Jathiyah (45: 23) couldn’t be clearer.
Don’t we all know someone who has decided to only do what he likes doing in life?
But, your desires, your nafs, want nothing more than to keep you stuck in the rut you’re in. And you can blame your brain!
The Brain Hates Change—and Craves It!
Our brain was designed to always seek the shortest distance between two points, and to follow the neural pathways we have repeatedly given it.
We essentially teach our brains a schedule and routine by doing the same things again and again, and then they take over and remind us to follow that routine, a skill that should make our life easier.
What that means is that when we decide it’s time to make a change in life, our brains often rebel, exactly like they were designed to do.
Because of this, we find it very difficult to break our bad habits, or to begin new ones.
But at the end of the day, you are the boss of your mind.
You have to choose your thoughts like you choose the food you eat, the clothes you wear, and the arguments you avoid.
However, as much as our brains hate change, they also get very bored very quickly!
Our brains are always searching for something new and exciting to become enamored with, fueling our individual and collective explorative spirit.
What these two facts mean, practically, is that in order to actually make a change in life, it is natural that we seek the most exciting routes.
But not everything in life is exciting!
In Defense of Faking It
You may have heard the old adage, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” something that we, in our modern, individualistic societies have come to abhor.
No! We want to be truly authentic to our deepest selves! We won’t be chained down by social pressure or societal norms! Vive le Plaisir!
But the cold, hard reality is that no one, ever, in the history of the world, has been truly excited at the prospect of washing the dishes, day-after-day.
Even the most avid runner wakes up sometimes on a cold morning and struggles to get out of bed for their daily jog.
No honest parent will say they enjoy every moment of scrubbing stains out of their furniture or correcting their children again and again.
So, what do we do when all of our senses are screaming at us to run to a distraction, anything at all, to avoid the unpleasant task before us?
(Cough FACEBOOK-NETFLIX-TWITTER-INSTA cough)
Just do it!
Bad news: Your emotions are out of your control. You feel what you feel, and this is a fact. It’s a fool’s errand to try to force yourself to love doing what you don’t want to do in the moment.
Great news: you get to decide, moment-by-moment, if you will obey those emotions and desires by focusing on them, or not.
But guess what? You don’t have to wait until you “feel like” doing what you know is important.
You have the full right to hate washing the dishes. You can hate washing the dishes the entire time you are washing them, no problem! But wash them, anyway.
Keep feeling how much you don’t want to go for a jog today, how much you’d much rather be warm in bed, even as you lace up your shoes and step out of the house.
But do it. Do the thing you know is good for you but don’t “feel like” doing, because your feelings and desires are not reliable managers.
“The enemy is Resistance,” says Steven Pressfield in his book, Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way.
“The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.
Start before you’re ready. Good things happen when we start before we’re ready.”
How This Applies to Worship
It is a timeless frustration for people, and often for converts, that we don’t always “feel spiritual” when we are praying.
It can “feel” like nothing good is coming of our prayers, like our hearts are not changing, like our circumstances remain the same.
But who are you worshiping? If you worship God only when you “feel like it”, you are actually worshiping your own desires!
You are allowing your desires to dictate when and how you will submit to God, making yourself a master over your soul, not submitting to God.
The most devoted Muslim you know has feelings inside sometimes that motivate him to avoid doing what he knows he should.
Even the most sincere Muslim you’ve ever met is sometimes lured into doing good deeds as a way of showing off.
Which of us is safe from the ole’ “just one more Netflix episode and then I’ll pray” trap?
We are human!
Just as a dedicated parent gets up each and every day to help his or her children prepare for their daily activities, regardless how he or she feels, we must tend to the needs of our souls, regardless how serving those needs makes us feel.
Rather than allowing your feelings and momentary desires to dictate what you do, try an experiment this week of reading a page of the Quran each day, regardless if you feel “spiritual” when you’re doing it.