`Abdullah bin `Umar narrated:
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) took hold of my shoulders and said, “Be in this life as a stranger or a passerby.” (Al-Bukhari)
Imagine that we are all riding on an airplane. Some are sitting in first class while most of us are crammed in the back. We look forward to arriving at our destination, a beautiful resort where all will enjoy themselves regardless of where they sat on the plane.
Some people, however, think that the airplane is all there is to the vacation. They fight over the bags of peanuts and envy those in better seats. They get mad at their fellow passengers for ruining the trip one way or another, since this is their only chance at a vacation.
They forget that it is only a few hours of patience and discomfort before the airplane lands. When we become too enveloped in this world, it is as if we are making the airplane trip the whole vacation instead of waiting until we arrive at an eternal, majestic place.
This world is simply a means to an end. It will fly by so quickly that you will look back at it and think it was only a few hours or a day. Because this world was not meant to satisfy our deepest longings, the Prophet tells us to pass through it purposefully without becoming too distracted. Like a stranger or a passerby, we walk through the earth with a sense of purpose, towards a clear destination, without getting sidetracked. Whether God has written that we would be entrusted with a great deal of wealth, beauty, or influence, or whether He has written that we go through life with very little, it truly does not matter because we are only passing through on our way to another place.
That is not to say that the journey does not matter. It matters tremendously! How we utilize what we have been entrusted with, or how patient we are with our smaller portion, will determine how great our place in the next world will be. All material things in this life are meant as tools to people to work hard towards the pleasure of God. We have to work hard, not in accumulating stuff to enjoy or to show off to others, but in utilizing what we have been given and the opportunities before us to please God.
One of the dangers of becoming too attached to this world is that we lose sensitivity to the blessings God has given us. When we grow permanent roots on this earth, we become frustrated by the lack of contentment material things give us. So we accumulate more and more, trying to fill that emptiness with friends, addictions, or new things. We become blind to what we do have, and we lose our sense of gratitude. Focused on our next material goal, we hope it will fulfill our need for completion. But it does not, because we were not created to exist in this life for very long. We are only passing through.
Being a stranger or a passerby in this life is a path to peace. When we set our eyes on God instead of busying our hearts with the details of accumulating more and more in this life, we can live our lives free of anxiety and competing with others. We can forgive and let things go more easily. We can be more generous with what we have and we can be more patient in times of difficulty. We have a stronger ability to nurture the intangible things in this life that matter most such as compassion, humility, gratitude, and God-consciousness. And we appreciate those things more in other people.
When we understand that this whole world is equal to less than a fly’s wing in the sight of God, we see that it is too worthless to drain our energy and youth in its pursuit. Instead, we set our eyes on our real home, our final destination, where we truly belong and where we will find the answers to our deepest, most cherished longings. This life is just a journey to that place, and living with that knowledge will bring us deep, contented peace.