One of the keys to overcoming any sin, including fear is to forgive:
- The person who caused the fear
- Yourself for believing the lie and keeping yourself on the hamster wheel
- God for sending you the test
And then we ask God for His forgiveness for blaming Him and others, and for holding on to the fear.
We do this for every single incident we can think of.
It’s a simple process but unbelievably powerful, effective and life-changing. I encourage you to try it once and you’ll be hooked!
For the first 17 years of my life, I was subjected to some of the worst forms of abuse possible, at the hands of my parents. By the standards current today, particularly in the abuse recovery movement, what was done to me was unforgiveable, and yet I forgave!
I came to realize that the abuse perpetrated on me by myself, was far worse than anything my parents had done to me, and I did it every minute of every day for the next 36 years. How? By believing I was unworthy; a worthless piece of s**t; unwanted; unloved; and unlovable.
I believed these lies I told myself about what it meant that my parents could treat me in such an abhorrent manner; as though I was a “thing”. I told myself that if they treated me that way, they must not love me, therefore, I must not be loveable. These lies kept me from being able to seek out friendships and a second marriage; kept me from fulfilling my potential in the work-world, because they filled me with self-doubt, self-loathing, self-hatred and self-pity.
In short, I came to realize that I was full of self, which is exactly what the Bahá’í Writings teach us we need to let go of:
If the fire of self overcome you, remember your own faults and not the faults of My creatures, inasmuch as every one of you knoweth his own self better than he knoweth others. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 66)
If Baha’u’llah is right that:
The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 328)
Then maybe I need to look at what’s going on through God’s eyes, instead of the eyes of the current world. He tells us:
Close one eye and open the other. Close one to the world and all that is therein, and open the other to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words)
With that in mind, everything I consider and reflect on is now done totally through the eyes of the Bahá’í Writings. I certainly don’t have all the answers and I welcome other people to share their understanding of the Writings related to any given issue in a humble posture of learning, so that we can all advance the process of better understanding how to recover from abusive situations.
So, back to forgiveness.
I’ve gone through several stages in my understanding of if or why or how to forgive my abusers. In the early days, I found a quote which I assumed was the Bahá’í standard:
If some one commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 453)
I certainly wasn’t in a position to do that, but I sincerely wanted to be obedient, so my prayers in those days were: “OK God, I can’t forgive them, but You can, so please do!”
Then in one of my letters from the House of Justice, they told me:
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. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to this author, 9 September, 1992)
This was totally liberating! I loved their string of adjectives “strive to develop”, which suggested that it could take a lifetime, and even if I never got there, as long as I was striving to develop, that was OK with God.
Secondly, I had to develop forgiveness “in my heart”, not between us! So if I was never able to spend time with them again, it was enough to develop it in my heart, between God and I.
Finally, they wanted me to separate my parents from their sin – a concept I’ve just learned recently, but when I come back to this quote now, I can see what this means “to attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature”. By refusing to forgive them, I was not honoring the perfect beings that God created, I was only seeing the monsters of their lower natures. That truly was liberating!
I thought that forgiving my parents would be the hardest thing, but once I understood this quote, it became easier:
To forgive him will not be easy, and this is not something to which either you or the members of your family can force yourselves. Nevertheless, you should know that forgiveness is the standard which individual Baha’is are called upon to attain. It is an essential part of the spiritual growth of a person who has been wronged. To nurse a grievance or hatred against another soul is spiritually poisonous to the soul which nurses it, but to strive to see another person as a child of God and, however heinous his deeds, to attempt to overlook his sins for the sake of God, removes bitterness from the soul and both ennobles and strengthens it. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 5 January 1992)
It’s not enough to forgive someone once, or even a few times. The Baha’i standard is to forgive someone a hundred thousand times:
Show ye an endeavor that all the nations and communities of the world, even the enemies, put their trust, assurance and hope in you; that 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 Baha’. This is the foundation of the most high pathway! (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v2, p. 436)
Looking at how ‘Abdul-Bahá did it will help:
The peerless example of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá merits close scrutiny in your quest for a sense of forgiveness; His abiding love for humanity, despite its waywardness and perversity enabled Him to manifest sincere compassion and magnanimity to those who had brought Him distress and hardship. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
He forgave without speaking about it:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s signet ring disappeared during his Western journey. The Master had confided His loss to Florence and Khan, and named the thief but He did not wish them to speak of it. (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 228)
He forgave by looking at situations with love:
During this second stay in Chicago, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá chose to stay in Corrine True’s home for a day or two before moving to a hotel. When He arrived with His secretaries, Corrine serve them all tea. Unfortunately, it was a type of tea that Persians don’t like, and some of them remarked that “there was a better tea”. But the Master drank it anyway, saying, “This tea is very good because it is been prepared with love.” (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 192)
He forgave with kindness:
There was a time when the Covenant-Breakers ‘gave away the garments and personal effects of Bahá’u’lláh to government functionaries, to serve as chattels of bribery and to provide as well the means of humiliating ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. At their instigation the Deputy-Governor of Haifa would, whilst visiting ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ostentatiously wear Bahá’u’lláh’s cloak and brazenly use His spectacles. Before long this man was dismissed from his post and fell on evil days. Then he went to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and begged His forgiveness. He had acted, he said, in the manner he did, because he was prompted by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s own relatives. The Master showed him utmost kindness and generosity…’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 84)
He forgave through generosity:
Juliet Thompson and other Bahá’ís decided to give the Master a birthday party, and a few of them baked a cake. She reported, ‘We took several taxis to the Bronx, with the Master riding in the first one. As soon as His taxi had arrived there, the Master got out and walked into the park ahead of the rest of us. ‘A group of young boys gathered around Him and started to laugh. Two or three of them threw stones at Him. With natural concern many of the friends hurried towards the Master, but He told them to stay away. The boys came closer to the Master, jeered at Him and pulled at His clothes. The Master did not become cross. He merely smiled at them radiantly, but the boys continued to behave as before. Then the Master turned towards the friends. ‘Bring me the cake,’ He said. No one had mentioned to Him that we had brought a cake. ‘Some of us said, “But ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the cake is for your birthday.” He repeated, “Bring me the cake.” A friend uncovered a large sponge cake, with white icing, and gave it to the Master. As soon as the boys had seen the cake they began to calm down, and stared at the cake hungrily. ‘The Master took it in His hands and looked at the cake with pleasure. The boys were now standing quietly around Him. “Bring me a knife,” said the Master. A friend brought Him a knife. The Master counted the number of boys who were standing around Him and then cut the cake into the same number of pieces. Each boy eagerly took a piece, ate it with relish, and then ran away happily.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 45)
He forgave by giving gifts:
At one time the Master had a fine cloak of Persian wool, which had been given to Him. When a poor man appealed to Him for a garment, He sent for this cloak and gave it to him. The man took it but complained, saying it was only of cotton. ‘No,’ ‘Abbas Effendi assured him, ‘it is of wool‘; and to prove it He lighted a match and burned a little of the nap. The man still grumbled that it was not good. ‘Abbas Effendi reproved him for criticizing a gift, but He ended the interview by directing an attendant to give the man a mejidi (a coin then worth about four francs). It was observed that if someone vexed the Master, He always gave him a gift. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 75)
He forgave by spending time with them:
If you could have seen the brute, Juliet, mumbling out his miserable excuses! But the Master took him in His arms and said: ‘All those things are in the past. Never think of them again.’ Then He invited Zillu’s-Sultan two sons to spend a day with Him. (Misc Bahá’í, The Diary of Juliet Thompson)
On the other hand, there were times when He too, ran out of patience:
After returning to the holy land ‘Abdu’l-Bahá sent Dr. Baghdadi a Tablet, and directed that copies be distributed to every community so that all could read it. The Master wrote here that during his stay in America he had forgiven a certain member of his suite four times, but that he would forgive the man’s misdeeds no longer. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá returned to Haifa, he proceeded directly to the room with His wife, Munirih Khanum, and said in a feeble voice, “Dr. Fareed has ground me down!” (Earl Redman, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Their Midst, p. 228)
Having forgiven someone, you might still I wonder how much contact to have with those who have hurt you. The House of Justice offered me the following three steps, which you might find helpful:
Such an attitude [forgiveness] does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as:
- their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past
- the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings
- the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them.
In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist. (Universal House of Justice, to the author, 9 September 1992)
I took each individual act of abuse that had ever happened, for each person who had abused me. I looked at the lies I’d believed as an outcome of each single event. I forgave myself for each one; asked God for His forgiveness; and forgave each perpetrator. Immediately a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I’ve been free of anxiety (which is really fear) and depression (which is really self-pity) ever since.
Asking God to Forgive Me:
Once I understood that God loved me and created me perfect, I realized I had to forgive the lies emanating from my lower nature about my being unworthy and unlovable. They weren’t God’s truth, therefore why would I make them mine?
With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 12)
Then I had to look at the veils that had come between me and God as a result of my lack of forgiveness (anger, pride, self-pity, mistrust); and ask God for His forgiveness. I knew that I was forgiven because I started to feel lighter and happier, and because of quotes like:
Thy generous Lord will . . . forgive thee thy sins and change them to good deeds. Verily the Lord is the Forgiving, the Merciful (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 89)
Expecting others to ask you for Forgiveness
It’s entirely possible that the person who committed the sin is unwilling to ask for forgiveness. In any case, they are required to confess it and ask for God’s forgiveness, not man’s.
The sinner, when in a state wherein he finds himself free and severed from all else save God, must beg for forgiveness and pardon (from God). It is not allowable to declare one’s sins and transgressions before any man, inasmuch as this has not been, nor is conducive to securing God’s forgiveness and pardon. At the same time such confession before the creatures leads to one’s humiliation and abasement, and God — exalted is His glory! — does not wish for the humiliation of His servants. Verily He is compassionate and beneficent! A sinner must, between himself and God, beseech mercy from the Sea of Mercy and ask forgiveness from the Heaven of Beneficence. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 142)
They may even have passed on to the next world, and you are unable to talk to them about the impact their sin has had on you. It’s still important to forgive.
As the spirit of man after putting off this material form has an everlasting life, certainly any existing being is capable of making progress; therefore it is permitted to ask for advancement, forgiveness, mercy, beneficence, and blessings for a man after his death, because existence is capable of progression. That is why in the prayers of Bahá’u’lláh forgiveness and remission of sins are asked for those who have died. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 329)
Getting out of Unsafe Situations
When the offense is ongoing, for example where there is ongoing abuse or violence of any kind, you will need to get to a place of safety before starting the process of forgiveness.
Sometimes people are a little confused about the Christian teaching to “turn the other cheek.” ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:
Then what Christ meant by forgiveness and pardon is not that, when nations attack you, burn your homes, plunder your goods, assault your wives, children and relatives, and violate your honour, you should be submissive in the presence of these tyrannical foes and allow then to perform all their cruelties and oppressions. No, the words of Christ refer to the conduct of two individuals toward each other. If one person assaults another, the injured one should forgive him. But the communities must protect the rights of man. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, pp. 270-271)
It’s important to speak out to the Assemblies who can provide guidance:
This motivation [to change] is often propelled by the courage of those who report the offence, even in the face of the possibility of temporarily increasing the danger to the victim. Allowing the situation to continue, by silence, may very well be the greater evil. (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, Canadian Bahá’í News, Kalimát, B.E. 150, p. 44)
A brief note on justice:
There is a difference between justice and forgiveness. We all have to meet our Maker and justice is in the hands of God.
Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 31)
He promises He notices everyone’s sins:
Think not the secrets of hearts are hidden, nay, know ye of a certainty that in clear characters they are engraved and are openly manifest in the holy Presence. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 59)
Verily I say, whatsoever ye have concealed within your hearts is to Us open and manifest as the day; but that it is hidden is of Our grace and favor, and not of your deserving. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 60)
Know, verily, that while the radiant dawn breaketh above the horizon of eternal holiness, the satanic secrets and deeds done in the gloom of night shall be laid bare and manifest before the peoples of the world. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 67)
He’s promised to never forgive another man’s injustice:
I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice. This is My covenant which I have irrevocably decreed in the preserved tablet and sealed with My seal. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words)
Justice is also in the hands of the institutions:
. . . the Universal House of Justice underscores the responsibility of the Institutions of the Faith in unequivocal language: “It is inevitable that this community will, at times, be subject to delinquent behaviour of members whose actions do not conform to the standards of the Teachings. At such times, the institutions of the Faith will not hesitate to apply Bahá’í law with justice and fairness in full confidence that this Divine Law is the means for the true happiness of all concerned. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 24 January, 1993)
Forgiveness is in the hands of the individual. It’s important that we not get the two mixed up:
It should be realized that there is a distinction drawn in the Faith between the attitudes which should characterize individuals in their relationship to other people, namely, loving forgiveness, forbearance, and concern with one’s own sins, not the sins of others, and those attitudes which should be shown by the Spiritual Assemblies, whose duty is to administer the law of God with Justice. (Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 110)
There’s a big temptation to focus on the injustices, to want to bring “the other guy” to justice, but this is not our job.
The Writings tell us that:
We are all sinners. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 176)
Knowing ourselves is our responsibility and a full time job. Baha’u’llah tells us:
The first Taráz and the first effulgence which hath dawned from the horizon of the Mother Book is that man should know his own self and recognize that which leadeth unto loftiness or lowliness, glory or abasement, wealth or poverty . . . (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh Revealed after the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 34-35)
So we are to focus all of our attention on ourselves, and to not even breathe the sins of others:
Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 27)
Each of us is responsible to God for our own lives; and none of us is perfect. Catching our own sins and asking God for forgive us requires all of our attention:
Each of us is responsible for one life only, and that is our own. Each of us is immeasurably far from being “perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect: and the task of perfecting our own life and character is one that requires all our attention, our will-power and energy… On no subject are the Bahá’í teachings more emphatic that on the necessity to abstain from fault-finding, while being ever eager to discover and root out our own faults and overcome our own failings.” (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)
So it’s not appropriate to look to the abuser and focus on what they did to us, but to focus all of our energy on perfecting our own souls and looking after our own spiritual development. Shoghi Effendi succinctly tells us what happens when we focus on the sins of others:
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)
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