Anytime you hear a “should”, it’s a real warning sign of bitterness towards yourself.
Anytime you find yourself judging yourself, remember that:
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.
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)
Inside the Baha’i Community
How many of us have been bullied, abused, tormented or wounded by someone we thought cared about us? Then we find ourselves in a Baha’i community, where the same dynamics are playing themselves out!
Perhaps the greatest test Bahá’ís are ever subjected to is from each other; but for the sake of the Master they should be ever ready to overlook each other’s mistakes, apologize for harsh words they have uttered, forgive and forget. He strongly recommends to you this course of action. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 601).
Again, our job is to forgive in order to be able to “overlook the mistakes”. How many times? A hundred-thousand!
If a person falls into errors for a hundred-thousand times he may yet turn his face to you, hopeful that you will forgive his sins; for he must not become hopeless, neither grieved nor despondent. This is the conduct and the manner of the people of Bahá’. This is the foundation of the most high pathway! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 436)
Wow! The standard is very high! If we think we have to do it all by ourselves, we’d never be able to forgive even once, but as we saw above, God is ever-ready to assist. All we have to do is turn our attention to Him and trust that He won’t let us down.
Lack of education could be playing a factor:
But the most essential thing is that the people must be educated in such a way that no crimes will be committed; for it is possible to educate the masses so effectively that they will avoid and shrink from perpetrating crimes, so that the crime itself will appear to them as the greatest chastisement, the utmost condemnation and torment. Therefore, no crimes which require punishment will be committed. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 268-269)
Here ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is talking about crimes and criminals, but when someone offends us, isn’t this how we see them? As having created a crime against us, for which they need to be punished?
Perhaps they are victims of their lower nature and don’t have “eyes to see” or “ears to hear” how much their behavior is hurting us.
For more in this series: