There is an interesting paradox revealed by juxtaposing the following two Sufi teachings. The first is a parable of sorts, by al-‘Ajami:
One day Habib went out to make ablutions and left his cloak behind on the road. Hasan came by and found Habib’s cloak. He thought to himself, “Habib has left his cloak. May God forbid that someone take it!” So Hasan stood watch over the cloak until Habib returned.
When Habib arrived he greeted Hasan and said, “O Imam of the Muslims, what are you doing standing there?” Hasan exclaimed, “Don’t you know that your cloak should not be left here? Someone might take it. Tell me, in whom were you trusting, leaving it here like this?” Habib replied, “In He who appointed you to watch over it.”
The second Sufi teaching is a simple, anonymous phrase:
Trust in God but tie your camel’s leg.
Juxtaposing these two teachings we are left with the paradox that we can trust God to watch over our interests and that it is up to us to watch over our interests. By which teaching should we abide?
Often in life we are presented with apparent either/or choices. Sometimes these apparent either/or choices are what we call a “false choice,” meaning that in such situations other choices remain with which we have not been presented (or of which we have not thought), for instance, “none of the above,” or, “both/and.” The answer to the paradox in question is both/and; we should abide by both teachings. Regarding some matters we can trust God to watch over our interests while regarding others matters it is we who should watch over our interests.
Regarding what matters can we trust God to watch over our interests? God’s involvement in our lives regards those matters we would normally label philosophical, e.g., ontological and existential matters (questions of being and meaning). Regarding these matters we can trust in God (though our egos may not always be satisfied with the manner in which God manages these matters). The theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher coined the phrase “absolute dependence” to describe our relationship with God in this regard. (For Schleiermacher, “religion is neither knowledge nor a set of moral codes; it is the immediate and intuitive consciousness of the infinite, of man’s absolute dependence on the infinite of God.”) - www.museeprotestant.org/en/notice/friedrich-daniel-ernst-schleiermacher-1768-1834-3/
In fact, the measure of the spiritual life is not the ability to wax philosophically prosaic but the manner in which we conduct our daily affairs, including issues as mundane as where we leave our cloaks. How so? The manner in which we conduct our daily affairs is a direct indicator of the condition of one’s psyche. A messy life indicates a fragmented psyche whereas an ordered life indicates a unified psyche: as within - so without.
Surprisingly, this works the other way as well, meaning that if we take on the management of our daily lives as a spiritual task, the successful management of our daily lives can help bring about a unified psyche (which is required for spiritual experience - a much lengthier topic, on which more at some other time and in some other vein). This may seem counter-intuitive but it is true. By organizing our outer life we experience a shift in our inner self.
So, balance that check book, sweep that floor, and fold those clothes! You will be surprised just how much attending to these practical matters will support your spiritual journey!