When talking to friends about your service, has anyone ever said: “Don’t “should” on my friend? If so, you may be doing things for the wrong reasons!
It’s important to examine your motives for agreeing to a service you don’t want to do. If, like me, you’re motivated to accumulate “spiritual brownie points” for the next world, you’re setting yourself up for distance between you and God, the very thing you want to avoid!
If a man’s actions are motivated by the thought that he may reap a reward for himself in the next world, then this is attachment, and a barrier between himself and God. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)
If your motive is personal gain, it will limit your effectiveness:
And whenever any one of them hath striven to improve its condition, his motive hath been his own gain, whether confessedly so or not; and the unworthiness of this motive hath limited his power to heal or cure. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 254)
If your ego gets in the way, and you’re doing it with the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power; or to exalt yourself over others (paternalism), these are not the right motives either:
Human society at present exerts a pernicious influence upon the soul of man. Instead of allowing him to live a life of service and sacrifice, it is highly competitive and teaches him to pride himself on his accomplishments. From early childhood he is trained to develop his ego and to seek to exalt himself above others, in the ultimate aim of achieving self-importance, success and power. The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh aims to reverse this process. The soul of man needs to be adorned with the virtues of humility and self-effacement so that it may become detached from the Kingdom of Names. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 22)
If we’re doing it for recognition, we might be falling into the trap of attachment to the Kingdom of Names:
In many of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh exhorts His followers not to become the bond-slaves of the Kingdom of Names. The well-known Islamic saying, ‘The Names come down from heaven’, has many meanings. In this world every one of God’s attributes is clad with a name, and every such name reveals the characteristics of that attribute. For instance, generosity is an attribute of God, and it manifests itself in human beings. However, a person who has this attribute often becomes proud of it and loves to be referred to as generous. When his generosity is acknowledged by other people, he becomes happy, and when it is ignored, he is unhappy. This is one form of attachment to the Kingdom of Names. Although this example concerns the name ‘generosity‘, the same is true of all the names and attributes of God manifested within the individual. Usually man ascribes these attributes to his own person rather than to God and employs them to boost his own ego. For instance, a learned man uses the attribute of knowledge to become famous and feels gratified and uplifted when his name is publicized far and wide. Or there is the individual whose heart leaps with feelings of pride and satisfaction when he hears his name mentioned and finds himself admired. These are examples of attachment to the Kingdom of Names. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 25)
We need to guard against serving for personal desires and the achievement of leadership:
Now some of the mischief-makers, with many stratagems, are seeking leadership, and in order to reach this position they instil doubts among the friends that they may cause differences, and that these differences may result in their drawing a party to themselves. But the friends of God must be awake and must know that the scattering of these doubts hath as its motive personal desires and the achievement of leadership. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 214)
No good can ever come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go:
No good but only evil can come from taking the responsibility for the future of God’s Cause into our own hands and trying to force it into ways that we wish it to go regardless of the clear texts and our own limitations. It is His Cause. He has promised that its light will not fail. Our part is to cling tenaciously to the revealed word and to the institutions that He has created to preserve His Covenant.’ (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 119)
There are many people who have rendered notable services to the Faith and their names are recorded in its annals, yet when they were unable to subdue their ego, they lost their faith, their goodness and virtues; they fell from the heights of glory into the abyss of degradation and ignominy. We certainly don’t want that to happen to us!
There are many people who have rendered notable services to the Faith and their names are recorded in its annals, yet when the winds of tests blew they were unable to subdue their self and ego. These individuals not only lost their faith, but also their goodness and virtues. They fell from the heights of glory into the abyss of degradation and ignominy. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 264)
Everybody has a role to play in building a new civilization; and we have a tenancy to fill in the gaps when other people don’t play their role, which can lead to burn-out and resentment. I’ve written more about this in The Theory of the Big Toenail.
There’s no need to beat ourselves up and push on beyond the point of exhaustion! We need to examine our resources of mind and spirit; and be honest about our limitations, without finding the Writings to beat us up with!
Clearly, the set of capacities necessary for building up the social, economic, and moral fabric of society depends upon the resources of both mind and spirit. The civilizing virtues of honesty, duty and loyalty so central to human progress are cultivated by the language of the heart and the voice of conscience. Legal imperatives and penalties, while essential, are limited in their efficacy. To draw upon the spiritual roots of motivation that lie at the heart of human identity and purpose is to tap the one impulse that can ensure genuine social transformation. (Bahá’í International Community, 2001 May 28-31, Overcoming Corruption in Public Institutions)
Whenever someone asks us to do something, we need to have a conversation with our higher self, and listen to the answer:
A man may converse with the ego within him saying: “May I do this? Would it be advisable for me to do this work?” Such as this is conversation with the higher self.’ (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 179)
Anytime you hear a “should”, it’s a real warning sign of bitterness towards yourself.
Anytime you find yourself judging yourself for not doing enough, or not doing the “right” service, remember that Baha’u’llah tells us:
For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and . . . the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 264)
The “tongue” in this case, can be the negative thoughts you have against yourself.
God’s love for us always comes in loving thoughts, so we can be sure that when we use the Writings to beat ourselves up, that does not come from God.
For example: There is a never-ending list of things to do in the Baha’i Community, especially where there are so few active believers. There’s a tendency to think “it’s all up to me”. This can be supported by subtle coercion from immature individuals serving in administrative roles, who don’t understand how dangerous this line of thinking can be. I think this is why the House of Justice suggested in its recent letter:
Consult as a body on one or two specific issues with immediate relevance to the life of the community” (Universal House of Justice, to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)
Do you recognize any of these thoughts?
- I want to be a martyr for the Faith because it says: “. . . then write with that crimson ink that hath been shed in My path. Sweeter indeed is this to Me than all else, that its light may endure for ever”. (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words, Arabic 71).
- I want to be like ‘Abdu’l-Bahá because it says in the Writings: “Look at me, follow me, be as I am; take no thought for yourselves or your lives, whether ye eat or whether ye sleep, whether ye are comfortable, whether ye are well or ill, whether ye are with friends or foes, whether ye receive praise or blame; for all these things ye must care not at all.” (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 503)
- I want to be sacrificial and long suffering, like the Greatest Holy Leaf: “You should, however, take courage and resign to the will of God when you see what the Greatest Holy Leaf had to face during her life. All you may suffer is nothing compared to what she had to endure; and yet how joyous and hopeful she used always to be!” (Shoghi Effendi, Bahíyyih Khánum, p. 87)
- If I don’t do more, it will delay the onset of the “Most Great Peace”. It’s all on my shoulders: “Thou knowest that in my love for Thee I have not sought any rest, that in proclaiming Thy Cause I have denied myself every manner of tranquillity, and that in the observance of whatever Thou hast prescribed in Thy Tablets I have not delayed to do Thy bidding. (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 151)
How often have you forced yourself to do something because you “should”, only to find yourself resentful later when we’ve taken on too much? Then you withdraw to protect yourself and your time, and perhaps even become inactive, and then hate yourself when you realize you don’t want to serve God anymore. Then you become even bitter towards the institutions who ask you to serve more. And so the downward cycle begins.
Our lower nature is a deceiver; telling us lies such as these. We need to know how to recognize when it’s happening. We can’t resist it if we don’t know how it works or what the truth is.
The truth: The Baha’i Faith allows for “time off”:
The Bahá’ís, in spite of their self-sacrificing desire to give the last drop of their strength to serving the Cause, must guard against utterly depleting their forces and having breakdowns. For this can sometimes do more harm than good. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 279.)
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 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.)
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.)
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)
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.)
Although we need to serve on an Assembly if called on, we can ask to be excused from taking on a position as an officer:
We have also been asked to point out that although it is the obligation of a Bahá’í to serve on an Assembly, either Local or National, when elected . . . However, there is no objection for an overburdened believer asking the Spiritual Assembly to which he may be elected not to appoint him as an officer or to a committee. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
We need to be filled up with the word of God AND be able to discern which Writing applies to us. There’s an easy test we can apply: If it makes you feel bad, it’s not from God. The spiritual world only bestows joy.
Every good thing is of God, and every evil thing is from yourselves. Will ye not comprehend? (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 149)
Our lower nature preys to our weakness. For example, if I believe I’m not enough, I’ll find the quotes to prove it. This is not what God means by calling ourselves to account.
How strange then it seems that man, notwithstanding his endowment with this ideal power, will descend to a level beneath him and declare himself no greater than that which is manifestly inferior to his real station. God has created such a conscious spirit within him that he is the most wonderful of all contingent beings. In ignoring these virtues he descends to the material plane, considers matter the ruler of existence and denies that which lies beyond. Is this virtue? In its fullest sense this is animalistic, for the animal realizes nothing more. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 236)
Have you ever served because of a “should”? What happened and how did you deal with it? Post your comments below!