This morning, one of the clients in my Bahá’í-inspired life coaching practice asked me: “Are you familiar with loneliness?” She went on to explain the tests she’s had within her family and concluded by asking: “How do you manage to keep your spirits up so as to be a support to others? How do you manage to bring Baha’u’llah into your life? How do you manage to keep Him in the centre of your life? It seems like so much of who I am needs to be “re-created” … is there still hope?”
I told her that I am divorced and live alone with my two cats. I have been estranged from my family of origin for over 20 years. My 25 year old son is working and going to school full time in a city 3 hours away and isn’t able to make time for me. I’ve moved so often that all of my friends are in other cities (provinces, countries). In my community, there are only 2 of us who attend Assembly meetings and feasts and in our tiny cluster of 25 souls, most of them are inactive. In my darkest moments, I wonder: if I died, how long would it take for anyone to notice? And I think that at age 52, I have potentially another 40 years of living without love.
When I get thinking that way, I’m reminded of this lamentation of Bahá’u’lláh on page 18 of Prayers and Meditations, and frequently use it myself:
Hasten, by Thy grace and bounty, my passing, O my Lord . . .
Yes, I know a thing or two about loneliness!
To help me not fall victim to feeling sorry for myself too often, I have done some research in the Bahá’í Writings, for insights and guidance. What follows is my response to her.
The first thing to know is that:
There is no harm in thy loneliness in those regions; for verily, the hosts of confirmation are thy help, thy Glorious Lord is thy protector and the angels of the Kingdom are thy fellow-speakers. Glad-tidings be unto thee for this! Blessed art thou for this! (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 61)
Lonely with Unresponsive Family Members
God sees your loneliness and understands the pain you feel when you aren’t able to receive the love and companionship of those closest to you. I’m not sure from the reference, whose voice this is, or who it’s directed towards, but it’s easy to claim for ourselves:
O my Lord, Thou knowest my sighs, my cries and my anguish, the burning pain because of their separation; my great longing for their meeting; my yearning for their love; my desire for their remembrance and my anxiety to behold them. Day and night their remembrance is my treasure and my rose garden. When night comes my heart loves the memory of their illumined faces. I yearn for them as the nightingale yearns for the beautiful meadows. (Compilations : Baha’i Scriptures, p. 410)
Here’s a prayer you can pray for your family, who are unable to respond to your needs for companionship:
Behold, then, O my God, my loneliness among Thy servants and my remoteness from Thy friends and Thy chosen ones. I beseech Thee, by the showers of the clouds of Thy mercy, whereby Thou hast caused the blossoms of Thy praise and utterance and the flowers of Thy wisdom and testimony to spring forth in the hearts of all them that have recognized Thy oneness, to supply Thy servants and my kindred with the fruits of the tree of Thy unity, in these days when Thou hast been established upon the throne of Thy mercy. Hinder them not, O my Lord, from attaining unto the things Thou dost possess, and write down for them that which will aid them to scale the heights of Thy grace and favor. Give them, moreover, to drink of the living waters of Thy knowledge, and ordain for them the good of this world and of the world to come.
Thou art, verily, the Lord of Bahá, and the Beloved of his heart, and the Object of his desire, and the Inspirer of his tongue, and the Source of his soul. No God is there but Thee, the Inaccessible, the Most High. Thou art, verily, the Almighty, the Most Exalted, the Ever-Forgiving, the Most Merciful. (Baha’u’llah : Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 109-110)
Letting go of past traditions
Bahá’u’lláh came to teach us a new way of being, and despite what we hold most sacred, sometimes this means letting go.
This is the Day when the loved ones of God should keep their eyes directed towards His Manifestation, and fasten them upon what¬soever that Manifestation may be pleased to reveal. Certain traditions of bygone ages rest on no foundations whatever, while the notions entertained by past generations, and which they have recorded in their books, have, for the most part, been influenced by the desires of a corrupt inclination. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 171-172.)
I think that one aspect of letting go of past traditions is letting go of the notion of the idea that “blood is thicker than water.” Shoghi Effendi tells us:
Deep as are family ties, we must always remember that the spiritual ties are far deeper; they are everlasting and survive death, whereas physical ties, unless supported by spiritual bonds, are confined to this life . . . (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 218.)
Here is a prayer I often say, though some friends of mine say that the Báb is asking too much of us . . .
O my God, my Lord and my Master! I have detached myself from my kindred and have sought through Thee to become independent of all that dwell on earth and ever ready to receive that which is praiseworthy in Thy sight. Bestow on me such good as will make me independent of aught else but Thee, and grant me an ampler share of Thy boundless favours. Verily Thou art the Lord of grace abounding. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 209).
So what can you do instead? ‘Abdul-Bahá gives us some guidance and words of comfort to consider:
If the friends and relatives are keeping themselves at a distance from thee, be thou not sad, for God is near to thee. Associate thou, as much as thou canst, with the relatives and strangers; display thou loving kindness; show thou forth the utmost patience and resignation. The more they oppose thee, shower thou upon them the greater justice and equity; the more they show hatred and opposition toward thee, challenge thou them with great truthfulness, friendship and rec¬onciliation. Praise be to God, thou art near to the Kingdom of Abhá! Rest thou assured. With all my soul and spirit, I am thy companion at all moments. Know thou this of a certainty! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 557-558.)
Reflect on the Heroes and Martyrs
In the Writings, we’re often encouraged to reflect upon the heroes and martyrs of the Faith, to guide us in our lives, so this quote might help remind you that your loneliness has a bigger purpose and that God knows and understands, and will make something good come from it:
Furthermore, call to mind the shameful circumstances that have attended the martyrdom of Husayn. Reflect upon his loneliness, how, to outer seeming, none could be found to aid him, none to take up his body and bury it. And yet, behold how numerous, in this day, are those who from the uttermost corners of the earth don the garb of pilgrimage, seeking the site of his martyrdom, that there they may lay their heads upon the threshold of his shrine! Such is the ascendancy and power of God! Such is the glory of His dominion and majesty! (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Iqán, p. 128)
The following quote reminds us of the Greatest Holy Leaf, Bahiyyih Khánum, so reading the book about her life might help draw you closer to her and away from your loneliness:
She was a real mother to every one of us, a comforter in our pains and anxieties, and a friend in our moments of utter loneliness and despair. (Compilations : Bahiyyih Khánum, p. 68)
Understand your role as a spiritual “pioneer”
In this plan, the term “pioneer” is used more broadly than we have seen before. I know that you are a true pioneer of new ways of interacting with the institutions in your city, so here is a reminder of your “marching orders.
To remain at one’s post, to undergo sacrifice and hardship, loneliness and, if necessary, persecution, in order to hold aloft the torch of Bahá’u’lláh, is the true function of every pioneer. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 336)
Here is a prayer, which puts it into focus:
O Lord! Dispel the darkness of these corrupt desires, and illumine the hearts with the lamp of Thy love through which all countries will erelong be enlightened. Confirm, moreover, Thy loved ones, those who, leaving their homelands, their families and their children, have, for the love of Thy Beauty, traveled to foreign countries to diffuse Thy fragrances and promulgate Thy teachings. Be Thou their companion in their loneliness, their helper in a strange land, the remover of their sorrows, their comforter in calamity. Be Thou a refreshing draught for their thirst, a healing medicine for their ills and a balm for the burning ardor of their hearts.
Verily, Thou art the Most Generous, the Lord of grace abounding, and, verily, Thou art the Compassionate and the Merciful. (Abdu’l-Baha : Tablets of the Divine Plan, page 59)
Here is something you can say, when you have a hard time remembering to be thankful for your loneliness:
Unto Him do I render thanks and praise for the things He hath ordained, for My loneliness, and the anguish I suffer at the hands of these men who have strayed so far from Him. I have patiently sustained, and will continue to sustain, the tribulation that touched Me, and will put My whole trust and confidence in God. (Baha’u’llah : Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 274)
Here is a prayer that always brings me comfort:
O my Lord, my Beloved, my Desire! Befriend me in my loneliness and accompany me in my exile; remove my sorrow, cause me to be devoted to Thy Beauty, withdraw me from all else save Thee, attract me through Thy fragrances of holiness, cause me to be associated in Thy Kingdom with those who are severed from all else save Thee and who long to serve Thy Sacred Threshold and who stand to work in Thy Cause, and enable me to be one of Thy maid-servants who have attained to Thy good pleasure. Verily, Thou art the Gracious, the Generous! (Abdu’l-Baha : Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha Volume 3, p. 619)
Study prayers for clues
In the following prayer, we’re reminded that God sees our loneliness and can heal and transform it. As you study the prayer you will see that by asking for certain things, ‘Abdul-Bahá is telling us what we can do to allay it:
- Turn to God in prayer
- Let your heart overflow with love for His creatures
- Be a promoter of concord amongst His loved ones
- Nestle beneath the shade of His protecting wings
- Teach and praise God
- Remember God and be forgetful of self and ever mindful of what is His
The serenity prayer comes to mind:
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 (or in this case, to know what belongs to you and what belongs to God).
Here’s the prayer:
O Lord, my God and my Haven in my distress! My Shield and my Shelter in my woes! My Asylum and Refuge in time of need and in my loneliness my Companion! In my anguish my Solace, and in my solitude a loving Friend! The Remover of the pangs of my sorrows and the Pardoner of my sins!
Wholly unto Thee do I turn, fervently imploring Thee with all my heart, my mind and my tongue, to shield me from all that runs counter to Thy will in this, the cycle of Thy divine unity, and to cleanse me of all defilement that will hinder me from seeking, stainless and unsullied, the shade of the tree of Thy grace. Have mercy, O Lord, on the feeble, make whole the sick, and quench the burning thirst.
Gladden the bosom wherein the fire of Thy love doth smolder, and set it aglow with the flame of Thy celestial love and spirit. Robe the tabernacles of divine unity with the vesture of holiness, and set upon my head the crown of Thy favor. Illumine my face with the radiance of the orb of Thy bounty, and graciously aid me in ministering at Thy holy threshold.
Make my heart overflow with love for Thy creatures and grant that I may become the sign of Thy mercy, the token of Thy grace, the promoter of concord amongst Thy loved ones, devoted unto Thee, uttering Thy commemoration and forgetful of self but ever mindful of what is Thine.
O God, my God! Stay not from me the gentle gales of Thy pardon and grace, and deprive me not of the wellsprings of Thine aid and favor. ‘Neath the shade of Thy protecting wings let me nestle, and cast upon me the glance of Thine all-protecting eye.
Loose my tongue to laud Thy name amidst Thy people, that my voice may be raised in great assemblies and from my lips may stream the flood of Thy praise. Thou art, in all truth, the Gracious, the Glorified, the Mighty, the Omnipotent. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 30-31)
Be in Constant Communion with God
In the following prayer, we’re reminded of our need to focus on being of service and in order to do this, we need to be in constant communion with God. When we allow Him to be our companion, we live in the spiritual realms and our physical loneliness slips away.
O Lord! Strengthen my back, enable me to serve Thee with the utmost endeavor, and leave me not to myself, lonely and helpless in these regions. O Lord! Grant me communion with Thee in my loneliness, and be my companion in these foreign lands. Verily, Thou art the Confirmer of whomsoever Thou willest in that which Thou desirest, and, verily, Thou art the All-Powerful, the Omnipotent. (Abdu’l-Baha : Tablets of the Divine Plan, Page 47)
Use the Greatest Name
The original of the following passage has never been found, so it’s not considered authentic text, but it certainly grabbed my attention and helped me to understand the wisdom of its use.
In this cry, all the cries of the universe are sounded, and the chord of Divine Reality is struck. The shout “Yá Bahá’u’l-Abhá” in this, the Day of its birth is of more profit to thee than all the knowledge of science and all the wealth of the earth. It is the rhythm of progress, the chord of creation, the melody of eternity, and the password to the Kingdom of God. Therefore, use it to establish thyself in the realm of Divine Trust. Speak it in thy solitude, cry it in thy joy, murmur it in thy grief and chant it in thy weakest moments – and it will give thee strength.
It is the cry that will bring the Supreme Concourse to the door of thy life, and which stations the loving trust of Abhá about thy soul. It opens the heavenly mysteries, manifests the colours, and solves the riddles of life. It absorbs all, encircles all, includes all.
To cry that phrase “O Thou Glory of the Most Glorious: is to sing in harmony with the Supreme Concourse, and to harmonize thyself with the holy “I Am” in His Court of divine omnipotent truth. It holds all there is of form, of spirit and of the world of creative thought.
This, the most Great Name, carries the highest vibrations, which make manifest the wisdom of the spiritual worlds. This utterance produces a spiritual result beyond all idle fancies and vain imaginations.
Give it to God
Thou seest, O my Lord, my dwelling-place in the heart of this mountain and Thou dost witness my forbearance . . . Yet the sorrow of solitude and loneliness prompteth me to invoke Thee through this prayer, perchance Thy trusted servants may become aware of my lamentations, may supplicate unto Thee on my behalf, and Thou wouldst graciously answer their prayers as a token of Thy grace and Thy favour. (Fire and Light Excerpts from the Bahá’í Sacred Writings, p. V)
In conclusion, I don’t think it’s possible to escape from our loneliness. It’s but one of the tests we are given in this world, but perhaps this quote will help remind you of a context to put it into:
Men may be made in the image of God, yet (as the presents it) the history of the tribes and peoples and nations of the world, of the Hebrews and the Gentiles, reflects at no time the order and harmony and the happiness of a divine world. It is a tale of turmoil and vicissitude, of struggle and trouble, of sorrow and loneliness and penitence, of bitter shame, and hopes lost and hearts broken.
Men dream of heaven and peace, they long for a better order of things than that which they have made. Prophetic promises of a great felicity, of a sure deliverance from the fears of life, and from its discords and its wrongs and its despairs, buoy up the fainting hearts of the generations and grow with the passing centuries more full and clear. But no nation ever walks with a whole heart in the ways of God or in the sunshine of His presence; by the multitudes happiness is only seen if at all in faint and far-off glimpses [but] . . . A happy ending to the history of man is from the beginning assured by the might of the One Sovereign Will who brought all things into existence. (George Townsend, Heart of the Gospel, p. 20)
In the words of ‘Abdul-Bahá, “This too shall pass.”
For more information on material ideas for combatting loneliness, please see part 2, to be posted in a couple of days.
In the meantime, what are your thoughts? Post your comments here: