I had an email from a loyal reader to this blog, who asked:
I have a daughter who is supposed to marry [someone from another religion] and initially she discussed having two marriage services as is done when there are two religions involved. Now she sent her uncle to tell us that she has dropped being a Bahá’í and she has been avoiding to come to our house though it is in the same city. Obviously we are distressed. I have tried to call her and invite her, but she keeps saying when she finds time, she will come. What do you suggest?
It seems to me there are several issues at play here. One is your love for your daughter and the pain of her betrayal. Instead of consulting with you directly, she sent her uncle, and now she avoids you entirely. I’m sure it’s because of this pain it causes, that Baha’u’llah has told us:
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than . . . estrangement . . . among the loved ones of God. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
Much though you want to remove the estrangement, you can’t do it by yourself. It’s important for you to understand what part of this is your test and what belongs to others. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they say this prayer, which I think is relevant to you:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are several forces at play here:
- Your relationship with God: As much as you love your daughter, this has to be your primary relationship. Concentrate your energies on strengthening this bond.
The best way to do this is to realize that God’s plans are always better than ours, so even though we think we know what might be best in this situation, God knows best.
Can humanity conceive a plan and policy better and superior to that of God? It is certain that no matter how capable man may be in origination of plan and organization of purpose, his efforts will be inadequate when compared with the divine plan and purpose; for the policy of God is perfect. Therefore, we must follow the will and plan of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 127)
What can you do to trust Him? Remember the Bahá’í marriage vow: “We will all, verily, abide by the will of God”. I don’t know if you had a Bahá’í marriage or not, but ultimately, this is our whole purpose in life. To know God and to worship Him is all about abiding by His will.
It’s easy, when life throws us a curveball, to get distracted and forget how to know and worship God. Ask yourself: are you continuing to pray and read the Writings morning and night? Are you giving sacrificially to the fund? Is your Right of God up to date? Are you teaching the Faith and finding ways to be of service to others every day?
If you have weaknesses in any of these areas, there are veils between you and God that can be removed. Focus all your attention on strengthening your relationship to God, and the pain of your daughter’s betrayal will lessen.
2. Your relationship with your husband: You didn’t mention if he is still part of your life, but if he is, your relationship to him has to come before your relationship with your daughter.
The House of Justice feels it most essential for your husband and you to understand that marriage can be a source of well-being, conveying a sense of security and spiritual happiness. However, it is not something that just happens. For marriage to become a haven of contentment it requires the cooperation of the marriage partners themselves, and the assistance of their families. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)
In considering the problems that you and your wife are experiencing, the House of Justice points out that the unity of your family should take priority over any other consideration. Bahá’u’lláh came to bring unity to the world, and a fundamental unity is that of the family. Therefore, we must believe that the Faith is intended to strengthen the family, not weaken it. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)
You will be with him through all the worlds of God, whereas your daughter will go through all the worlds of God with her husband.
When two people, husband and wife for instance, have been completely united in this life their souls being as one soul, then after one of them has passed away, this union of heart and soul would remain unbroken. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 75)
If you concentrate on what you can do to bring unity to your marriage, you will have less time to feel the pain of your daughter’s decision.
- Your relationship with your daughter: Much though it causes you suffering, you are powerless to make her talk to you when she’s determined not to. The best you can do is to pray for her, love her, support her, respect her decisions and be there for her when she’s ready to come back. This is the best way to prevent estrangement from taking root.
Where love, respect and courtesy are genuinely and mutually expressed, estrangement finds no accommodation and problems become soluble challenges. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
You can ask to consult with her, but it will have to be when she’s ready.
Bahá’u’lláh also stressed the importance of consultation. We should not think this worthwhile method of seeking solutions is confined to the administrative institutions of the Cause. Family consultation employing full and frank discussion, and animated by awareness of the need for moderation and balance, can be the panacea for domestic conflict. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 453)
When you do consult together, let these principles guide your discussion:
The prime requisites for them that take counsel together are purity of motive, radiance of spirit, detachment from all else save God, attraction to His Divine Fragrances, humility and lowliness amongst His loved ones, patience and long-suffering in difficulties and servitude to His exalted Threshold. Should they be graciously aided to acquire these attributes, victory from the unseen Kingdom of Bahá shall be vouchsafed to them. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Administration, p. 21-22)
- Your relationship with your future son-in-law: There is nothing you can do for him either.
You didn’t mention why your daughter stopped being a Bahá’í, but my hunch is that it might have been because her fiancé:
- didn’t want 2 marriage services?
- wanted the children raised as Catholic?
- didn’t want to commit to the Bahá’í marriage vow?
If her fiancé is the one behind your daughter’s decision to withdraw from the Faith, it will be easy to make him the scapegoat: blame him and gossip about him to others. Both of these will destroy any future relationship you might have with him. Hard as it will be for you, your job is to forgive him, and develop a level of insight which sees him captive to his lower nature.
As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner, and to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
- The extended family’s relationship with the new couple: This situation will be their test, but you can help them by being an example and role model:
The people of the world are carefully watching the Bahá’ís today, and minutely observing them. The believers must make every effort, and take the utmost care to ward off and remove any feelings of estrangement. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 207)
Focus on finding positive things to say about the situation instead of negative. This will be hard, but some that come to mind are:
- It’s good that my daughter is making decisions for herself.
- Even if she’s making the wrong decisions, that’s how she will grow.
- God has a plan for my daughter and her husband. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure it’s a good one.
- Your daughter’s relationship with you: This might be your hardest test, because you long for her to talk to you again and you want to help her plan her wedding.
It’s wonderful that she’s continuing to take your phone calls! This is a positive sign! You need to trust her when she says “when she has time, she will come”. Because she has committed herself to creating the institution of marriage, she now has other obligations pulling at her time and energy.
A Bahá’í who is married to a non-Bahá’í may well have to limit his activities to same degree in order to maintain the unity of his family. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 86)
Whereas she was your “little girl” for the past couple of decades, she isn’t any more. This is one of the hardest and most painful parts of being a parent! We long to give our children roots and wings, but when they take flight without us and leave us behind, it’s very painful.
Something to keep in mind is that our time on earth vanishes in a twinkling of an eye, and God has promised us that in the next world we’ll not only recognize our loved ones, but be able to have a relationship with them for all of eternity:
And know thou for a certainty, that in the divine worlds, the spiritual beloved ones (believers) will recognize each other, and will seek union (with each other), but a spiritual union. Likewise, a love that one may have entertained for any one will not be forgotten in the world of the Kingdom. (‘Abdul-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdul-Bahá, V1, p. 205)
In the following quote, “Abdu’l-Bahá is providing comfort for a mother whose son has died, but I think His advice makes sense in your situation too:
O thou beloved maid-servant of God, although the loss of a son is indeed heart-breaking and beyond the limits of human endurance, yet one who knoweth and understandeth is assured that the son hath not been lost but, rather, hast stepped from this world into another, and she will find him in the divine realm. That reunion shall be for eternity, while in this world separation is inevitable and bringeth with it a burning grief. Therefore be thou not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, neither wail nor weep; for agitation and mourning deeply affect his soul in the divine realm. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 201)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá is reminding us that we will be reunited with our loved ones, even if they are lost to us through death (or marriage); that separation is inevitable and brings on grief (which you are certainly experiencing currently); and He’s asking us not to sigh or weep because your mourning affects her soul. I think that would be true in this world too. If, in your interactions with your daughter, you are continually reminding her that she’s making the wrong decision, and of how much her actions hurt her, you will only drive a wedge between the two of you.
As hard as it will be for you to be loving, forgiving and respectful when you’re hurting, it will do two things:
- It will keep the doors of communication open
- You will pass this test and grow spiritually
We’re told to use words as “mild as milk” when we’re talking to people about difficult situations:
Every word is endowed with a spirit, therefore the speaker or expounder should carefully deliver his words at the appropriate time and place, for the impression which each word maketh is clearly evident and perceptible. The Great Being saith: One word may be likened unto fire, another unto light, and the influence which both exert is manifest in the world. Therefore an enlightened man of wisdom should primarily speak with words as mild as milk, that the children of men may be nurtured and edified thereby and may attain the ultimate goal of human existence which is the station of true understanding and nobility. And likewise He saith: One word is like unto springtime causing the tender saplings of the rose-garden of knowledge to become verdant and flourishing, while another word is even as a deadly poison. It behoveth a prudent man of wisdom to speak with utmost leniency and forbearance so that the sweetness of his words may induce everyone to attain that which befitteth man’s station. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 172-173)
I often find it helpful to put a picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá where I can see Him, when I’m talking to people and I want Divine Assistance.
If you seek immunity from the sway of the forces of the contingent world, hang the ‘Most Great Name’ in your dwelling, wear the ring of the ‘Most Great Name’ on your finger, place the picture of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in your home and always recite the prayers that I have written. Then you will behold the marvellous effect they produce. Those so-called force will prove but illusions and will be wiped out and exterminated. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 520)
It reminds me that “Abdu’l-Bahá is here with me and willing to help; and it reminds me to:
Look at me, follow me, be as I am . . . (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 503)
If you pray before you talk to your daughter, asking God to put the right words into your mouth, He will help. I say the Tablet of Visitation for “Abdu’l-Bahá before difficult conversations, because He promises:
Whoso reciteth this prayer with lowliness and fervour will bring gladness and joy to the heart of this Servant; it will be even as meeting Him face to face. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 318)
When I say this prayer, I imagine bring Him into the meeting, so He can influence the discussion and move it to a spiritual plane.
I also often say the Long Healing Prayer, for the healing of painful relationships. In it, we call on over 200 attributes of God. I like to imagine that each attribute is a personality willing to bring a particular kind of help to the problem. For example:
- The “Comforter” comes to heal your heart
- The “Best Lover” and “Friend” reminds you to put God as your primary relationship
- The “All-Forgiving” forgives her for withdrawing from the Faith; and for creating estrangement between the two of you; and it also forgives you for your part in the problem.
- The “Omniscient”, “Most Wise” and “All-Knowing One” remind you that God has a plan and can be trusted.
- The “Sustaining One” gets you through the pain, one day at a time, sustaining you in the spiritual world instead of letting you get trapped in the prison of self.
- The “Concealing One” conceals your sins and those of your daughter, so that you can keep them to yourself and prevent you from falling into gossip and backbiting.
. . . you get the idea!
I recommend that you sit down with a journal and write out all the names of God mentioned in this prayer, and see how each one can help bring peace to this situation. It’s a very powerful meditation!
- Your daughter’s relationship with her fiancé: Because she is creating a fortress for well-being, her time and energy will naturally be spent in building up the institution of marriage.
The Lord, peerless is He, hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each other. If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of Divine grace and favour in the Kingdom of heaven . . . Strive, then, to abide, heart and soul, with each other as two doves in the nest, for this is to be blessed in both worlds. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 122)
As painful as it will be, you need to give her over to God, and to her new husband, so that she can build her fortress. Do everything you can to support this fledgling union, and help her achieve unity with her husband, so that her marriage can flourish and last through all the worlds of God.
The second issue which is no doubt concerning you, is the issue of her resignation from the Faith. The Writings tell us this happens for a number of reasons:
She might have needed more help and support than the Faith was able to give them:
If some of these isolated and inactive people gradually turn to other work than the Cause we should not always blame them — they probably needed more help, more stimulating more teaching and Bahá’í comradeship that they received. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 84)
She might have stopped developing her spiritual faculties and then couldn’t draw on the strength which the Faith has to offer (please don’t let this happen to you, or you won’t be able to help her at all!)
Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
Perhaps she couldn’t pass the test given to her around the issue of marrying a non-Bahá’í, and perhaps bowed to pressure from her fiancé, or perhaps even chose a single ceremony in the misguided belief that it would bring unity to the marriage.
Sometimes, of course, people fail because of a test they just do not meet, and often our severest tests come from each other. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
Does she still believe in Baha’u’llah? If so, she is still a Bahá’í.
To deny that one is a Bahá’í while one still believes in Bahá’u’lláh is not withdrawal, it is dissimulation of one’s faith, and Bahá’í laws does not countenance the dissimulation of a believer’s faith for the purpose of breaking the law. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57-58)
If a believer who did not like a particular law were to be permitted to leave the community to break the law, and then rejoin with impunity, this would make a mockery of the Law of God… It is abundantly clear from his letters that he has continually believed in Bahá’u’lláh, that he know the law that marriage is conditioned on the consent of parents, that he dissimulated his faith in order to be able to break this law with impunity. He must, therefore, be regarded as a Bahá’í without administrative rights… (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57-58)
I’m sure this must be of great concern to you, as her mother!
Judging her, lecturing her, nagging her – none of it will work. True Bahá’í consultation is a better choice.
The atmosphere within a Bahá’í family as within the community as a whole should express ‘the keynote of the Cause of God’ which, the beloved Guardian has stated, ‘is not dictatorial authority but humble fellowship, not arbitrary power, but the spirit of frank and loving consultation’. (Universal House of Justice December 28, 1980)
I highly recommend you take the issue to her Assembly, and request that they meet with her.
Often the most effective means to assist those who are wavering in their faith or having severe difficulties is to invite them to meet with the Assembly, or to send a mature and deepened believer to meet with them and discuss the nature of their belief and any other pertinent questions. (Universal House of Justice, NSA-USA, Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
When someone resigns from the Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly contacts the Local Spiritual Assembly for comments and request for assistance, where possible:
The National Spiritual Assembly at times receives letters directly from persons expressing a desire to leave the Faith. If they recant their faith, the National Spiritual Assembly will honor the requests to withdraw from Bahá’í membership. Likewise, if the person states that they have joined another Faith, the National Spiritual Assembly will accept their withdrawal since their action indicates that they no longer believe in Bahá’u’lláh. If no reasons are given and the persons live within the jurisdiction of a Local Spiritual Assembly, the Assembly will be asked for its comments and possible assistance in resolving whatever problems may have prompted the request. (Universal House of Justice, NSA-USA, Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
I’m sorry you’re having this test, and hope that you now have some ideas on how to handle it spiritually.
To conclude, here is a prayer you can say in moments of grief over the situation:
Dispel my grief by Thy bounty and Thy generosity, O God, my God, and banish mine anguish through Thy sovereignty and Thy might. Thou seest me, O my God, with my face set towards Thee at a time when sorrows have compassed me on every side. I implore Thee, O Thou Who art the Lord of all being, and overshadowest all things visible and invisible, by Thy Name whereby Thou hast subdued the hearts and the souls of men, and by the billows of the Ocean of Thy mercy and the splendors of the Day-Star of Thy bounty, to number me with them whom nothing whatsoever hath deterred from setting their faces toward Thee, O Thou Lord of all names and Maker of the heavens! Thou beholdest, O my Lord, the things which have befallen me in Thy days. I entreat Thee, by Him Who is the Day-Spring of Thy names and the Dawning-Place of Thine attributes, to ordain for me what will enable me to arise to serve Thee and to extol Thy virtues. Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the Most Powerful, Who art wont to answer the prayers of all men! (Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 247)