Most of us have experienced times of bliss in our spiritual lives and even a sense of ease that has given us great encouragement in our spiritual journey. During these times we feel sure of God’s grace in our lives. But then along comes “life,” bringing trials, struggles, and failure—and we have great difficulty seeing this too as “spiritual” or as evidence of God’s grace. Where before we felt the joy of our soaring souls, now we feel only the weight of an unhappy ego. Now comes the desire to give up, withdraw, and indulge in past pleasures, no matter how fleeting the ego balm they provide.
As Yogananda said, we must be able to stand unshaken amidst the crash of breaking worlds. We must be unwavering as we cling to the goal of finding God in order to reach soul freedom. The ultimate gift of unity with God is revealed to the devotee when he no longer desires anything else.
How do we gain this strength of purpose? By working through tests and growing. Plants grow strong and survive to show their glory by weathering challenge. Hothouse plants may be luxuriant but are weak. Who is more likely to grow in life: one who has been given riches, with every possible need fulfilled, or one who weathers multiple challenges, each one stronger than the last, until he is invincible within? Which life do we desire for ourselves and for those we love? God loves us and wants us to be invincible in Him.
“The season of failure is the best time for sowing seeds of success.” (How to Be a Success by Yogananda) Our spiritual growth comes not when we are effortlessly coasting but when we not only have to engage our dynamic will but also draw on Divine will in order to survive and thrive. We learn to pick ourselves up and try once more. The only true failure is when we stop trying.
Swami Kriyananda gave a talk for the Way of Awakening television shows called “Developing Strength Through Spiritual Tests.” In telling of the many spiritual tests he has experienced, he says: “I eat persecution for breakfast.” It is not that he did not feel pain during the tests. It would not be a test if the devotee felt nothing! But he never gave up, and continued to tune into God’s guidance and put out effort in the direction he was guided, to the best of his understanding. After much experience with challenges, he grew to understand that tests are necessary for us to open windows to greater joy. When he knew this in his own heart, he could actually feel joy in the midst of the suffering.
Think about the last time you felt thwarted in your efforts toward a goal, discouraged by the outcome, hurt by others’ words or actions toward you, challenged by circumstances beyond your control. Did you find yourself reacting, possibly suffering, and possibly wanting to give up? Instead, call your loving parents: Divine Mother, Heavenly Father, and the Guru. Demand their guidance and their help, and then renew your efforts. Yogananda encourages us, “A saint is a sinner who never gave up.”