وَاسْتَعِينُوا بِالصَّبْرِ وَالصَّلَاةِ
wasta‘īnū bissabri was-salāt
And seek assistance through patience and prayer
(Sūratul Baqarah, No.2, Āyat 45)
To face difficulties in life man needs to draw on resources that give him strength. It is not physical strength he needs but emotional and spiritual strength. These increase the threshold at which a reaction takes place. A low threshold means that a person can be overcome and react negatively to a small stimulus. It brings a lot of frustration and misery, both for the individual and for the people around him. People with a higher threshold are generally more accepting and are happier. Their sense of inner peace is not vulnerable to too many happenings.
Almighty Allah wishes to increase the threshold level of the human being to help him cope with life on earth. Life will undoubtedly have many challenges and the key to function well as a responsible servant of the Almighty is to be able to face the challenges well.
The verse above talks about the requirements of coping. The word ista‘inū refers to seeking assistance. When a human being is unable to face something with his own abilities he turns to One who has the ability to turn the problem around and make it better. The overwhelming feeling of helplessness is replaced with hope and trust. The challenge is reduced in size and can be managed.
The verse mentions two pillars of support through which the assistance is sought: prayer which strengthens through connecting with the Divine and patience which increases self-control and resilience. These energize the human being and give him success in facing the challenge successfully, either through doing what is necessary to change the situation or accepting without bitterness and resentment.
Many Hadiths interpret patience in this verse as fasting. The fast requires patience to stay away from food and drink along with other prohibitions. It is also an exercise in self-discipline and self-control. These are most helpful in resolving difficult issues in life.
It has been narrated that whenever the Holy Prophet (s) faced a big difficulty that made him unhappy he would turn to prayer and fasting for help. Imam Ali (a) would recite this verse when dealing with a challenging problem. Imam al-Sādiq (a) says: Whenever you face a sorrow from the sorrows of the world, do wudū and go to the Masjid to pray and then supplicate for surely Allah says; seek help through patience and prayer (Tafsīr Majma‘ul Bayān).
Seek help of God in the upcoming holy month through prayers and fasting. Recite this verse to help you understand that many of life’s challenges can be countered through this formula, and let it be a way of rejuvenating your spiritual and emotional energies.
‘Allāmah Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mīzān;
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.