Dealing with loss and grief is never easy. It’s a process that takes time, even for the people actively engaged in moving forward. The slowness often frustrates the people around us, who want us to move on and “put the past in the past.” These comments can only make someone feel worse.
In terms of taking time off to heal, the Bahá’í Writings tell us:
There is no object in over-taxing your will power and strength by forcing yourself to do things for the Cause. You should let your mind rest in the thought of the infinite love, Mercy and Forgiveness of Bahá’u’lláh, and cease to fret about whether you are or are not doing your share until you fully recover your health. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 282).
You should have no doubt that the completion of any act of service is contingent on one’s health and well-being, and you are urged to let go of the misconception of failure you have been carrying. In the course of life, unforeseen circumstances occur that can interfere with the achievement of our goals. This is part of life in this world and must not be regarded as a dereliction of duty. (Universal House of Justice to an individual, 12 January 2010)
In the middle of my despair, when I was feeling worse for not being able to work, the House of Justice lovingly told me:
You are encouraged to follow the advice of your therapist in regard to the absences which you should take from your employment in order to facilitate your healing from the trauma you experienced in the past. The time taken away from work beneficial to society would doubtless be more than compensated for by the increase in effectiveness with which you will be able to perform such functions when your healing is more advanced. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 22 December, 1992.)
And with regards to taking absences from the Bahá’í community, and feeling guilty for failing to participate in Bahá’í activities, they told a friend of mine:
You have asked what to do since psychological problems sometimes make it difficult for you to participate in community events and Assembly meetings. In striving to follow the Teachings and the best medical advice you can obtain, you will want to remember that the healing you do now is an investment that will enable you to better serve in the future. Ideally, you would combine concentrating on healing with avenues of service which do not interfere with it. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October, 1994.)
Even Shoghi Effendi had to take time off to heal his broken heart!
Shoghi Effendi had to take a “leave of absence” from his job “under the weight of sorrows and boundless grief” until “by the grace of God, having gained health, strength, self confidence and spiritual energy” he was able to return. (Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 42.)
Many times when Shoghi Effendi was intensely distressed, I saw him go to bed, refusing to eat or drink, refusing to talk, rolled under his covers, unable to do anything but agonize, like someone beaten to the ground by heavy rain; this condition sometimes lasted for days, until forces within himself would adjust the balance and set him on his feet again. He would be lost in a world of his own where no one could follow. (Ruhiyyih Rabbani, The Priceless Pearl, p. 45.)
And ‘Abdu’l-Bahá approved!
We also have a Tablet of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá addressed to Shoghi Effendi, expressing His concern about his health, but at what period it was written I do not know: He is God! Shoghi Effendi, upon him be the glory of the All-Glorious! Oh thou who art young in years and radiant of countenance, I understand you have been ill and obliged to rest; never mind, from time to time rest is essential, otherwise, like unto ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from excessive toil you will become weak and powerless and unable to work. Therefore rest a few days, it does not matter. I hope that you will be under the care and protection of the Blessed Beauty. (Ruhiyyih Khanum, The Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith, p. 7)
In their impatience for us to “get over it”, sometimes people say we need to forgive and not judge. Of course this is true! It’s just not helpful, nor does it take into account the time needed to heal. The House of Justice wrote this to a friend who was struggling with the judgements of the Bahá’í community around her:
Experience seems to suggest that the healing process can often be a lengthy and stressful one requiring the close guidance and help of trained professionals. Advice given by well-meaning believers to the effect that you should seek to transcend psychological problems does not qualify as competent advice on what is essentially a medical issue. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October, 1994)
The purpose of life is to know and love God, and God sends each of us tests uniquely designed for this purpose. Often it involves separating us through others through death, divorce or estrangement. Where we once relied on others for love and support, we have no choice but to turn to God if we don’t want to stay stuck or turn bitter. This takes time!
Another purpose of life is to acquire the virtues we will need in the next world. This is a full time job, which requires all of our care and attention. If we are busy trying to improve the quality of someone else, we are losing a chance to improve ourselves, as Shoghi Effendi describes:
If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
One of the hardest virtues to develop (and possibly one we will need the most in the next world!) is patience.
Great love and patience are needed towards new believers, especially those who have come from very troubled backgrounds. (From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer July 22, 1981).
I’d like to close with a story that illustrates this (author unknown):
A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
What’s been your experience with taking time to heal; or watching helplessly as others heal? Post your comments here: