Have you ever made all these promises, and kept to them for a certain period of time, only to break most of those promises? I have. It's frustrating, isn't it? Promising Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance) that you will strive to be among his Shia, only to forget that you were supposed to wake up for Fajr. It's hard to consistently do the bare minimum, the Wajibaat, let alone pray 51 rak'ats a day and fast for Rajab and Shaa'ban. It's really, really hard, and that feeling of guilt is sometimes overwhelming, especially after you read a hadith like, "A Shia is he whose actions testify his words." That's Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him), by the way.
Well, I was reading Light Within Me, and I came across this one narration: "Do not force yourselves to worship." It made sense. This saying does not mean we should worship Allah when we feel like it. No, that's not it, because we are told that every action, every word, every prayer, and every single thing we do in our life that is not for the sake of Allah is worthless. The hadith, from the little I understand of it, is that sometimes, we get too zealous and enthusiastic, and we pack our lives with beautiful, sincere acts of worship: Du'a Ahad and Ziyarat Ashura every morning, Du'a Tawassul every Tuesday, Du'a Kumayl every Thursday, Salaatul Layl every Friday morning before Fajr, Du'a Nudbah every Friday afternoon, etc. That's it, we pack our lives with Ibadaat, and we perform these acts sincerely and try really hard to perform them with a soft and present heart, but we cannot maintain it. It's too much for us, and it's also rather harmful.
Look at it like this: you're trying to run a marathon after spending the last two years of your life smoking a pack a day and neglecting to exercise. You start running, and you're doing awesome, you're in first place…but then, five minutes into the race, you can't keep up anymore, so you slow down, and everyone overtakes you, and eventually, because you can't take anymore, you come to a complete stop and look for the nearest garbage bin to throw up.
Have you ever heard that saying that faith has ten grades like the steps of a ladder? We have to climb the steps one by one. We cannot just put our feet on the highest step and expect to not pull a muscle. Sometimes, it is better that we start off slowly, and gradually increase, inch by inch. At least then, if we fall, we don't hurt ourselves as much as we do when we go for the highest step. Yes, we should aim for the highest, and we are aiming for the highest, but we're working towards that point slowly but, Insha'Allah, surely.
Look at Malcolm X: he started off as a drug dealer, a drug addict, a pimp, a thief, a con artist, and a criminal. If you read his autobiography – which I recommend you do – you'll read that at one point, he was smoking over four packs of cigarettes a day and snorting coke and smoking reefers at every opportunity. He not only harmed himself but others too. He was the lowest of the low. Then he got caught and went to prison. From then on, he started reading whatever he got his hands on, and eventually he renounced his previous lifestyle. Even then, he became a spokesman for a cult that is labeled as "Islam" but is completely outside the boundaries of Islam. He realized that, made changes, came towards true Islam, and died a martyr. A Martyr. Malcolm X's life is characterized by a lifelong search for Truth, but we must note that before he became the man we all remember him as, he started off at the bottom, and he worked, nay, he clawed his way to the top, slowly but surely.
The lesson for us is that in order to reach the top, we have to start at the bottom. It's not a smart idea to suddenly go into "spirituality overload", only for it to end a few days later. The story of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) is proof that if our goal is Allah, it doesn't matter where we start – we will go back to Him. Indeed, as the Qur'an states, "You shall obey God and His Messenger, and do not dispute among yourselves, lest you fail and scatter your strength. You shall steadfastly persevere. God is with those who steadfastly persevere." (8:46)