During this occultation, there are unique trials, tests, tribulations, confusions and perplexities. Imam ar-Rida (as) said in two narrations that the Shi`a will be "refined (yuftanoon) just as gold is refined; purified just as gold is purified". (يفتنون كما يفتن الذهب، ثم قال: يخلصون كما يخلص الذهب.) When gold is taken out of the ground, it is black. During the refinement process, in order to rid it of excess minerals, it must be burned until nothing remains except pure gold. Likewise, during the occultation, "years will come that will perish them, a sword that will kill them, and a disagreement that will scatter them" (يأتي عليهم سنون تفنيهم، وسيف يقتلهم، واختلاف يبددهم ). In the same hadith, as-Sadiq says this process will continue until 300+ true Shi`a are left. If you read the narrations on what constitutes a true Shi`a of Ahl al-Bayt, it's a very high bar that many of us will never reach. Beyond the 313 companions of the Mahdi, he will have no less than 10,000 others in his army, who will be people of taqwa, but not at the same level of yaqeen as the 313. These are the people that survive the tribulations, which will cause many Shi`as and Muslims to deviate under the heat.
Not only are we supposed to "await the relief day and night" (ليتوقعوا الفرج صباحا ومساء), but awaiting the relief is considered a part of the relief (إنتظار الفرج من الفر ). This is a time period where we can gradually develop our relationship with the Imam and be counted from his followers without even fighting alongside him. The reward of one who recognizes him is like that of those who will be in his pavilion (ومن عرف إمامه ثم مات قبل أن يرى هذا الامر ثم خرج القائم عليه السلام كان له من الاجر كمن كان مع القائم في فسطاطه ).
Another spiritual instruction given to us for the occultation is to hold our tongues and stick to our homes (حفظ اللسان ولزوم البيت ). This is an indicator to the outward corruption and schism of this time period. The more time spent in the markets/malls, for example, the more likely we are to see/hear/do/buy things that are bad for our relationship with God and His representative. This is becoming increasingly the case with nudity, music marketed towards our desires, and a global culture that maximizes our ego and materialism.
Now, if you've read in between the lines, there's a trend here. Recognition of the Imam is not just knowing his name and biography. True recognition is to have an experiential relationship with him; so much so that you begin to take on his characteristics. Imam as-Sadiq (as) says, regarding the true Shi`a, "They are those, whose lives are so simple, whose abodes move from place to another, who, if they are seen they, will not be known, if they are absent, they will not be missed, if they become ill, they will not be visited, if they propose to a woman, they will not be married, and if they die, their funerals will not be attended. It is they, who divide their wealth among them, who visit each others' graves, and who never disagree even if their countries are different.” (أولئك الخفيض عيشهم، المنتقلة دارهم، الذين إن شهدوا لم يعرفوا، وإن غابوا لم يفتقدوا، وإن مرضوا لم يعادوا، وإن خطبوا لم يزوجوا، وإن ماتوا لم يشهدوا، أولئك الذين في أموالهم يتواسون، وفي قبورهم يتزاورون، ولا تختلف أهواؤهم وإن اختلفت بهم البلدان). This isn't an instruction to be aloof, but rather, it's describing the state of the true believers of this time. They will be supporters of one another and have close ties, but to the outside world, it is as if they do not even exist. They are not recognized by their merit, and that's exactly what is happening now. The good is seen as evil, and the evil is seen as good, and so consequently, the Shi`a are despised, rejected, unrecognized, not missed, not visited, and not felt for. Sound familiar?
This is a part of the tawalla and tabarra. Anyone can pray, fast, perform Hajj, and give alms, but the true Shi`i is the one who has a direct relationship with his Imam and disassociates from his enemies. During the time of Husayn (as), when he was calling his supporters to come with him to Karbala, it did not suffice to say "I am going to stay in Medina, pray more tahajjud, write up some fiqh manuals". The true supporter had to live Husayn's life and die his death. Those who didn't regretted that, and they became the tawwabun. During the time of as-Sadiq, he became a teacher and educator in theology and jurisprudence, and likewise, his companions were not off joining revolutions - they were students of his and teachers of the people.
What I find fascinating is that the 313 live the life of the Hidden Imam. That is, they live simply, they are unrecognized, they are forgotten, they support one-another, and they seclude themselves from the overspreading darkness of this world. They feel the Imam's suffering and fear, and live it. But, their proximity to Imam will allow them to all travel to Mecca prior to his coming. They will be the first to give bay`a to the Imam upon his appearance. Then, they take on the new characteristics of the Imam: utmost strength, courage, initiative, and they abandon taqiyya. Then, with the Imam together, they bring justice and peace to a world fraught with tyranny and injustice.