Lessons on the Heart From a Dirty Pot

It’s funny how God can shed light on our lives and hearts through the most mundane of things. Today was another such glean, albeit while getting my hands dirty in the suds.

I began my adult life as a cook. Nothing glamorous. I even flirted with culinary school and had aspirations of opening my own restaurant one day. Cooking brings me pleasure; I find it relaxing, though if you ask my wife, it seems to create its own stress for me but that’s another story. So the other day, while cleaning up the dishes, I looked down at one of my old, favorite pans and saw that it was charred black on the underside. My first instinct was to grab a steel wool pad and begin to scrub it clean. Five minutes into scrubbing I realized that this was going to take more effort than I had first predicted.

I see many Muslims, young and old, struggling to operationalize their Islam. To take the Qur’an, the Sunnah, all of the books, the tapes (dating myself), the lectures, and synthesize them into something that can be acted upon. I have seen so many young intrepid seekers reading treatises on spiritual refinement only to be frustrated by the density of its prose, the inaccessibility of its Arabic, or a combination of the two. Part of the this I feel stems from an unrealistic assessment of what spiritual refinement will require of the apprentice. And just like my aching arms and back, I realized I was not going to get that pot clean in one sitting. Similarly, our hearts will not be scrubbed clean in one fell swoop, especially if we have neglected its care and upkeep over the years.

So I set down my pan, stepped back and looked at what I had done. Sweat dripping from my brow, I saw that I had indeed made a bit of progress: some of the shinning stainless steel had begun to show through in one spot. But I was exhausted, not to mention my one-year-old daughter was calling for me to come and play with her. So what I resolved to do was that everyday, I would soak my pan for a few minutes and then after dinner, turn it over, get out a new steel wool pad, and scrub a new spot. I must say, my pan is looking better and better each day. However, to avoid becoming too insufferably pleased with myself, I am cognizant that I also use this pan everyday to cook with, meaning that it will also blacken a little bit each day and thus, if I only scrub just enough to remove today’s cooking, I will make little progress. What’s needed is to go above and beyond, even if only by small increments, so that not only do I make “progress,” but that I also develop a habit of doing good, as Imam al-Haddad quoted once: “goodness is a habit”/الخير عادة.

God willing, I pray this will shed some light on the practical nature of attempting to clean and refine one’s heart. The Prophet said صلى الله عليه وسلم,

أن أحب الأعمال أدومها إلى الله وإن قل

“The most beloved deeds to God are those done with consistency, even if their are infrequent.” — al-Bukhari

And God knows best.

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