Hunger. Thirst. Weariness.
These feelings, though uncomfortable, serve a real purpose in our bodies, and that is to alert us to a need our body has for food, water, and sleep.
But there are very real needs we have that go much deeper than physical cravings and requirements, and they are, unfortunately, much harder to fill, and easier to ignore or confuse.
We feel bored so we waste time scrolling through endless pages and feeds.
We feel lonely so we seek out superficial connections on Facebook or Twitter.
We feel scared or overwhelmed so we gossip about others or find some way to focus our negative energy outside of ourselves.
If you find yourself feeling empty, hollow, or always craving the newest and best stuff, unable to sit still for one minute and live right now, right in this moment; and if you feel your inner self always driving you to seek more exciting and thrilling things, experiences, and people, this is your soul alerting you that you are missing a necessary part of your daily spiritual needs.
Created for Worship
You are a soul and you have a body, as C.S. Lewis said. You were created by a perfect Master who designed a very specific hole inside of your soul which will burn and grow and ache until you seek out the only source that can fill it: Him.
We were created for worship. And whether we know it or not, whether we are aware of what we are doing– and even if we think we have no belief in any god or pure belief in only One God– each of us is worshiping something or someone every single day of our life.
It may be our own soul, as the Quran talks about the fool who has made his desires his master; it may be money, fame, or power; or it may be a desire to be accepted or loved by our friends, community, or family; it may be an overwhelming need to be loved by another human on a romantic level.
If we are not devoting the deepest parts of our heart to Allah, our Creator, we will keep running and searching and hungering and thirsting and trying to fill that gaping wound inside each of us. We will not ever be able to fill it, and will require ever stronger, more dangerous methods to attempt to assuage this need.
For example, love for your spouse is beautiful, but it becomes not when you allow your love for them to overcome your love and devotion to Allah.
When your mood, worldview, and self-esteem depend on their feelings about you, this is a good indicator you’ve made your love for them more important in your life than your love for Allah.
When you care more what your community or family thinks of you than what Allah thinks, you have made them an idol– a false god– and committed shirk, the worst of all the sins.
John Greer said in his book The Fault in Our Stars, “Pain demands to be felt,” and it will not cease crying out inside you in various forms until you recognize it and do something to alleviate it.
This is especially true of the pain felt when we are far from our Creator. You can try to patch up that hunger for more, but like any patch, it will stretch and tear and make the original hole even larger and harder to fill.
A Personal Experience
Take it from me. I travelled the world and lived through many experiences, both good and bad, and practiced several religions devotedly before finally embracing Islam seven years ago. I tried many methods to fill this void– and still sometimes do when my faith is low– but none of them fit the bill.
Traveling, chasing ever-more-dangerous and thrilling experiences, throwing caution to the wind in a misguided carpe diem attitude (that’s YOLO for you younger folks), constantly searching for peace in the next relationship with the next person… none of these things filled the void inside me and it only got bigger and the pain only got louder.
Maybe we won’t realize we’re in emotional or spiritual pain until we get physically sick. Maybe it will even take a broken limb, like it did for me, before we will wake up and see that our inner spirit is crying out for something much deeper and longer-lasting than the prescription of parties, Instagram, Netflix, and Facebook we are using now.
It was January 2009 when I was forced to consider the meaning of life and my endless chasing after the wind. I shattered my lower left leg and ankle in an accident and was placed on bed rest for 3 months, and then endured another 3 months of physical therapy before I could even walk.
I spent those months angry and confused, longing for the answers to my deepest questions and wandering wildly through the maze of my mind, looking for any clues and hints I may have picked up along the way during my crazy life.
Finally, in August of 2009, I found Islam and the intimate connection with God my soul was crying for.
Indeed, our souls will never find peace until they find their connection with Allah. As Allah says in the Quran:
Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find peace. (13:28)
Islam is an Arabic word that means “submission to the One God, which brings peace”. That’s a profoundly deep meaning for such a small word, but it’s the truth.
Islam offers the perfect formula for the contentment, inner peace and spiritual connection we most need but try to distract ourselves from.
Prayer (both salah and du’a), remembrance of God (dhikr), fasting, giving of our time, money, and energy in charity to others who are in need, all out of our love for Allah– these are all excellent methods to draw nearer to God and allow Him to heal the inner wounds we have.
Above all else, never forget that worship is for our benefit, not Allah’s. He is As-Samad, the One who is not in need of anything or anyone, but upon whom all things depend for their subsistence and existence. When we seek out nearness to Allah, He loves it.
When you take one step closer to Him–say, for example, by choosing to think deeply on His qualities and attributes next time you have to wait, rather than scrolling through social media–, He takes ten steps closer to you.
If you go to Him walking, He comes to you running. He made us these promises in a sacred Hadith, or an authenticated saying of Prophet Muhammad wherein God Himself spoke through the Prophet.
Just like eating junk food feels great in the moment but leaves you feeling weaker, tired, and bloated, none of the substitutions you’re seeking will ever take away that emptiness you feel inside, and this is evidenced by the hundreds of celebrities over the years who have taken their own lives after achieving fame, fortune, love, and wealth.
The soul will not accept any substitute, and it will never stop pushing us to find what it needs: closer connection with our Creator, Sustainer, Protector, and Fulfiller.
(From Discovering Islam’s archive.)