Why Can't I Stay Devout?
Sometimes we find it difficult to sustain a constant and long term routine of obedience to Allah.
We may have all experienced it or seen it at one point or another. There are times, when we have reconnected with God, or have undergone an intense experience, it leads to short term improvements in habits and behaviour. For a period of time, we go into a period of worship and obedience.
But then the changes are temporary and the interest dies. Maintaining the routine becomes a struggle.
From High to Low
Usually, when we get excited about something, we try to implement too many things at once. In matters of Islam, this often resulting in radical but unsustainable changes – going cold turkey, or implementing extreme changes, without being spiritually prepared for it.
An extremist approach usually causes more harm than good. The new found spiritual euphoria will eventually lose its momentum, and worshipping becomes burdensome rather than uplifting. A spiritual burnout can result in extreme cases, or less dramatic, the interest simply fizzles away. It becomes difficult to continue, and then we slowly start neglecting our worship.
Having fallen off the moral high horse, we can also fluctuate to the other extreme and neglect Islam. Sometimes, it even makes us cross boundaries that were off limits previously. That is, until the next round when something brings us closer to God, and the cycle repeats itself.
Moderation is the Key
The key to spreading Islam is through mercy and moderation. In the early days, Islam was implemented through mercy, not by force or harshness. A wise person will not push another beyond limits, but instead will encourage him to apply Islam in reasonable portions, based on individual ability and strength of faith. By the same token, that mercy of implementation should also apply to yourself.
If you want to sustain, do not implement Islam with severity. Go easy on yourself, and make your spiritual progress slowly but constantly. Allow yourself to absorb and get accustomed to the new pattern of behaviour in small steps. If you are new to Islam or are rediscovering it after a long period of absence, think of it as learning a new language. If you were to try and cram everything all at once, your mind and your body would not be able to cope. Long term sustainability is the key, and the most sustainable actions are those done in small but consistent steps.
Constantly strive, but don’t push yourself over the limit. The Prophet (SAW) said, “The dearest of actions to Allah is that which is done regularly, even if it is small.” (Al Bukhari and Muslim)
The Qur’an was revealed over the course of 23 years. The sequence of revelation gave space for people to accept and adapt, to understand the nature of Allah, prior to the adherence of rules and regulations. Had the entire Qur’an been revealed to mankind in one go, it would have been a shock to everyone’s systems, and personal implementation of its teachings would have been impossible for the majority.
Therefore, understand that the entire practice of Islam cannot be downloaded into your system overnight. If you try to do this, you are setting yourself to fail. Instead, set realistic aims. For example, work on developing constant habits on the mandatory aspects of worship first. Don’t force yourself to perform the nawafil prayers before you have established a constant routine on the obligatory ones. Grasp one small issue at a time, and use these as building blocks for a solid foundation before you take the next step.
Abu Hurairah RA reported that the Prophet SAW said, "The deen is easy. Anyone who makes the deen too hard on himself will find it becomes too much for him. So aim for what is right, follow a middle path, accept the good news of the reward for right action, and seek help [to reach your goal by being constant in worshipping] in the morning, evening and some of the night." (Bukhari)
For some of us, it is also often the case that when we have rediscovered Islam or acquire a new piece of knowledge, we become critical and judgmental towards others. We feel as if everyone else is going the wrong direction and we look down on them. This is extremely dangerous. It is often that such people, whose arrogance has overshadowed humility, are those who make the worst mistakes and fall the hardest. Therefore, never feel arrogant, but always remain humble to Allah, for without His will and mercy, you would be travelling down an entirely different spiritual path.