The Challenge of Personal Challenges


In the Name of God, the Sublte, the Loving

Ever since watching the 2009 Chicago Marathon, there has been this deep-seated desire in my heart, in my soul, to run the marathon next year. I am not young; I am not thin; my hardware is beginning to break down. But, despite all of this, there is something inside me – some invisible force – that is driving me to do it anyway, despite my (and that of my closest family and friends) better judgment.

Indeed, I recently increased my morning workouts by 15 minutes, and I am in a world of pain…all over the place. But I still want to run the race anyway.

Part of me wants to do it in loving memory of my daughter; but there is another part of me that wants to do it for the sake of doing it. Indeed, it is an amazing feat: to run (or run/walk) 26.2 miles is no easy task. To finish such a race – before the end car pushes you out – would be such a personal accomplishment. True, I am not an elite athlete, but it would be so amazing to say that, “I ran the marathon.”

But, why is this so? What is the big deal of running a marathon, especially if I am not doing it to win or anything like that? Is it ego? Partly, I bet. The challenge of running the marathon is a “dare” to the ego: I dare you to finish me in less than 6 and 1/2 hours. The ego wants to prove to the race that it is not scared of the challenge: it takes on that dare, even if it may mean personal injury and bodily harm.

The same goes with golf for me: I could have an horrific round, but I keep coming back for more. Again, the golf course dares me to finish a round as close to par as possible, and the ego takes that dare, again, and again, and again. The possibility of a better round next time keeps me coming back for more, each and every year.

Therein lies the challenge of the personal challenge: the test of the dare to the ego. It is to always remember that God is here, and that nothing can be done without His will and His permission. Running the marathon simply for the sake of having run the marathon is not wrong, per se. But, the challenge is to remember that you can only run the marathon by God’s grace and permission. And thus, if one is to embark on such a personal challenge, she should begin that journey with the remembrance of God and a prayer to Him for His help and blessing.

The Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) understood this concept: as they were digging the trench, they sang the song: “O God! If it was not for You, we would not have been guided, or prayed, or given to charity.” No matter what we do in our lives, we should always remember God first. It is always best to remember God, especially in the good times. This is because, if the bad times hit, God will not fail to remember you.

Remember the example of Qarun, the Israelite? His wealth was so vast that the keys to his treasure chests were too heavy to carry for the strongest men of the tribe. God said about him: “he arrogantly exalted himself above them – simply because We had granted him such riches…” His people beseeched him not to exalt himself, but remember the favor of God upon him: “Exult not [in they wealth] for, verily, God does not love those who exult [in things vain]!” (28:76)

He rejected their admonition: “This [wealth] has been given to me only by virtue of the knowledge that is in me!” (28:78). Thus, as punishment, the Lord caused him and his home to be swallowed up by the earth.

The point of the story is that, yes, acquiring wealth, or running the marathon, or playing good golf takes effort – lots of effort – but, one must always remember to invoke the help and grace of God. And when one does that, he or she will find tremendous blessing and God willing, she will accomplish what she set out to accomplish. That is the challenge of the personal challenge.

So, will I run the marathon next year? I am not sure…the serious pain I caused myself after running for only an hour has given me serious pause…and a serious reality check. But, if I am crazy enough to go for it anyway, I will definitely – God willing, of course – ask God for His help, strength, grace, and blessing first. That is the only way I could finish the race and not kill myself in the process.

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4 thoughts on “The Challenge of Personal Challenges

  1. You'll have alot of people pushing you and supporting you and I, for one, will take every step with you by your side if you choose to embark on the journey. I know you can do because you have more pushing you than most do. As fat as I'm concerned, going thru medical school, residency, and taking care of bayan have prepared you for this. Those each are harder than this marathon and at I, your cousin, knowing how it feels to run and push yourself for someone elses cause, have no doubt you can get through it. 5 hours of pain for a lifetime of pride. Your steps will be our steps…

  2. What Walead said is SO true- especially through all you've been though, inshaAllah, you can do it Hesham!! I say go for it all the way, and ENJOY THE PROCESS along the way!!

  3. Whatever your decision, I am certain that you have the support of the many people who enjoy and grow from your wisdom.I completed two marathons a number of years (and pounds ago). I cannot say I ran them- after mile 18 it was a run/walk/limp/crawl. There are many training guides to assist in the effort, including books and some online sites (e.g.: http://www.marathontraining.com/marathon/m_sch_2.html , http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244-255-11937-0,00.html ).I am not a natural runner, and without the motivation of running for a particular charity and God’s help, it would not have happened. For many (and I suspect it is true for you and me), the merit of the marathon is not in finishing, but in the courage and commitment to attempt. Like the rest of life, we are responsible for the effort, but the fruits of those efforts are always in God’s hands.By the way, you might be surprised by how easily one spontaneously prays as the miles accumulate!Salaam.

  4. The idea, in this day and age, that a god would even care about or intervene to assist anyone to excel at a very personal challenge is somehow preposterous. If it can’t solve the suffering and war in the world it is hardly going to both about individuals!

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