In surah baqara verse 216 Allah tells us that we may love a thing and it is bad for us and we may hate a thing and it is good for us and Allah knows and we know not.
And this applies to absolutely everything He does. He knows and does best for us.
This applies to what we experience as failure. It applies to the thwarting of our most ardent desires.
Most of us hate failure. It is painful, humiliating, crushing. But people of inner traditions realize what a blessing failure is.
What does success do but make us complacent and smug? It entrenches our sense of significance and power. It reaffirms the illusion that we are in control of our lives; that we can manage outcomes for our benefit and take care of ourselves. It reinforces our ego, makes us arrogant and intolerant of others’ weaknesses and failures. And it makes us more, not less, desirous of worldly success.
Failure, if understood and used correctly, has the opposite effect. Unless, of course, we plunge into a pit of self-pity, play the victim and blame the world for our failure and misery. But if used correctly, failure can be beneficial for our growth as human beings.
How can failure help us?
One of the first things that failure does is that it shakes our arrogant self-possession. It makes us humble. Repeated and devastating failure can force us to look inwards at ourselves and reflect if there is something about us that needs changing. Are we perhaps pursuing the wrong things? Are we looking at the world the wrong way? Is there something wrong in the way we are doing things?
Failure also makes us more compassionate and understanding. When we begin to accept our own flaws, mistakes, weaknesses and failures, we become more understanding and accepting of others and their blemishes and disappointments.
Failure makes us more patient. We learn to endure pain, humiliation and disappointment when we fail, because we do not have a choice.
Failure makes us submit. By definition, submission must be to something that is not pleasant or desired. Submission only makes sense if it is to something that is painful and difficult.
And if we do all this – reflect and work on ourselves, patiently endure, and submit to what Allah delivers to us – then in time He shows us the blessing in the failure. He shows us how it was indeed better for us than what we had desired, just as He says in this ayat.
Once we have experienced the blessing of failure, it no longer worries us or distresses us as it used to. We become more and more patient and tranquil in submission and in the conviction that Allah knows and does best for us.
May Allah grant us tawfiq to be patient in failure and grant us the wisdom to see the blessing in it.