Does life seem like a struggle, trying to get through day by day?
Are your tests relentless?
Does it seem that just as you’ve passed one, you’re given another?
As we know from the Bahá’í Writings, tests are sent to us for the perfection of our souls.
Man’s physical existence on this earth is a period during which the moral exercise of his free will is tried and tested in order to prepare his soul for the other worlds of God, and we must welcome affliction and tribulations as opportunities for improvement in our eternal selves. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 367)
Shoghi Effendi tells us that it’s not always easy, we can find meaning and wisdom in the midst of our suffering:
Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self-improvement. In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434.)
Recently I stumbled upon this story, which gives us a perspective to consider. Unfortunately I can’t find and credit the author.
Here’s the story:
Once upon a time a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed. Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire.
Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot and ground coffee beans in the third pot. He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter. The daughter, moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. After twenty minutes he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup.
Turning to her, he asked. “Daughter, what do you see?” “Potatoes, eggs and coffee,” she hastily replied.
“Look closer”, he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft.
He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.
“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.
He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity-the boiling water. However, each one reacted differently. The potato went in strong, hard and unrelenting, but in boiling water, it became soft and weak. The egg was fragile, with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard. However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.
“Which one are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
So in a Bahá’í context, which of the does God want us to be?
When we’re the potato, and become soft and weak through adversity, we’re dull, lazy and weak, even though we may feed the body (and do some good):
But to weak believers tests are trials and examination, for, on account of the weakness of their faith and assurance they fall into difficulties and vicissitudes . . . Consider thou that at the time of an examination in sciences and arts, the dull and lazy pupil finds himself in calamity . . . Therefore, tests to the weak souls are calamity and to the veiled ones the cause of their disgrace and humiliation. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, v2, p. 5)
When we stand firm in the fire, like the egg, we’re like pure gold whose impurity has been burned away:
Torment is the fire of test wherein the pure gold shineth resplendently and the impurity is burned and blackened. At present thou art, praise be to God, firm and steadfast in tests and trials and art not shaken by them. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 120)
And when we’re the coffee we can transform the whole character of mankind!
Is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself, both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God’s universal Manifestation would be apparent. (Bahá’u’lláh, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25)