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Integrating Spiritual Principles into Our Work Life

Recently I was listening to a talk called “A Baha’i Perspective on the Meaning of Work” by Dr. Tiffani Razavi and as someone in recovery from workaholism and work anorexia (also called underearning or under-being), it got me wanting to know more about what the Writings have to say about work.

What is the Bahá’í Standard for Work?

 I think many of us are familiar with this quote: 

[Bahá’u’lláh exalts] work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship.  (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 281-282)

But how do we know if we are performing our work in the spirit of service?  And what is service?  These are the questions I started with.

First of all, the best definitions of work done in the spirit of service I’ve found are:

Bahá’u’lláh has even said that occupation and labor are devotion. All humanity must obtain a livelihood by sweat of the brow and bodily exertion, at the same time seeking to lift the burden of others, striving to be the source of comfort to souls and facilitating the means of living. This in itself is devotion to God . . . But the energies of the heart must not be attached to these things; the soul must not be completely occupied with them. Though the mind is busy, the heart must be attracted toward the Kingdom of God in order that the virtues of humanity may be attained from every direction and source.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)

It is the commandment of the Blessed Beauty, may my life be a sacrifice at His Threshold, that whosoever engageth in a craft, should endeavour to acquire in it utmost proficiency. Should he do so, that craft becometh a form of worship. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 3)

In the Baha’i Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are (counted as) worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 176-177)

This suggests that:

  • paid employment requires both exertion and seeking to lift the burden of others
  • neither should be the focus of our attention
  • our attention should be focused on drawing closer to God and acquiring the virtues we’ll need in the next world
  • if we do our jobs with utmost proficiency we will be worshipping God
  • if we do our job to the best of our ability, conscientiously, concentrating all our forces on perfecting it, we are giving praise to God
  • all effort and exertion must come from the fullness of our hearts and be prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity

The dictionary suggests that service is:

  • an act of helpful activity; help; aid
  • ready to be of help or be of use to someone
  • something made or done for the public benefit and without regard to direct profit

So the implication is that we do our jobs, with an attitude of helpfulness, usefulness and of benefit to others, without expectation of payment.  Can that be true?  The Bahá’í Writings seem to suggest that it is.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us:

All government employees, whether of high or low rank, should, with perfect integrity, probity and rectitude, content themselves with the modest stipends and allowances that are theirs. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 344)

Let them be content with their wages, and seek distinction in truthfulness, straightforwardness, and the pursuit of virtue and excellence; for vanity in riches is worthy of none but the base, and pride in possessions beseemeth only the foolish.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 344)

So far from acting thus, he should content himself with his salary and allowances, seek out the way of righteousness, and dedicate his life to the service of state and people. Such must be the conduct and bearing of the Bahá’ís. Whoso transgresseth these bounds shall fall at length into manifest loss.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 344)

They should … content themselves with the salaries they are receiving, taking pride, rather, in the degree of sagacity, competence and judgement that they can bring to their work. If a person content himself with a single loaf of bread, and perform his duties with as much justice and fair-mindedness as lieth within his power, he will be the prince of mortals, and the most praiseworthy of men. Noble and distinguished will he be, despite his empty purse! Pre-eminent will he rank among the free, although his garb be old and worn!  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 343)

So to summarize, these quotes seem to suggest that we should:

  • be content with our wages, salaries and allowances, no matter how modest
  • take pride in the degree of competence and sound judgement we bring to our work
  • seek distinction in truthfulness, straightforwardness, and the pursuit of virtue and excellence instead of delighting in riches

If we achieve this, even if our purses are empty and our clothes old and worn, we will be the prince of mortals, the most praiseworthy of men, noble, distinguished and pre-eminent

And if we don’t do it, we will fall into manifest loss.

Similarly, this quote applies specifically to teachers, who occupy so high a station in the Bahá’í Faith, that they receive a portion of a person’s estate, if they die without leaving a will (see the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 254).  In neither quote do we understand the meaning of the word “teachers”.  Could it be “teachers of the Cause”?  Teachers of Children?  Teachers of Higher Education?  We don’t know, and maybe it doesn’t matter.  The principle is the same:

This matter of teachers requires the greatest condition; that is, they should never stain themselves with the world, they should not look for the least pecuniary reward from any soul; nay, rather they should bear the utmost poverty and with the perfect wealth of nature [a state wherein man can dispense with things and be happy in their absence], through the bounty of God, may they associate with the people. They should seek no reward nor recompense. Freely have thy received, freely should they give.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 359-360)

Teachers should not look for a financial reward or recompense but bear the utmost poverty and be happy.

Let’s look at what else the Writings can tell us about our work.

What are the Principles?

Bahá’u’lláh’s solution of the social question provides for new laws, but the different social classes are preserved. An artisan remains an artisan; a merchant, a merchant; a banker, a banker; a ruler, a ruler; the different degrees must persist, so that each can render service to the community. Nevertheless, every one has the right to a happy, comfortable life. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 83-84)

Work is to be provided for all and there will be no needy ones to be seen in the streets. The vocational labor adjustment provided by BAHA‘O‘LLAH precludes there being people too poor to have the necessaries of life on the one hand, nor the idle rich on the other.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 83-84)

Bahá’u’lláh has even said that occupation and labor are devotion. All humanity must obtain a livelihood by sweat of the brow and bodily exertion.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)

So from these quotes we learn that under Bahá’u’lláh’s new laws:

  • everyone has the right to a happy, comfortable life
  • everyone must obtain a livelihood by sweat of the brow and bodily exertion
  • work is to be provided for everyone
  • there will not be people too poor to have the necessaries of life or too rich they can be idle
  • the different social classes are preserved, so that everyone can render service to the community

What is the Standard?

Let’s start by looking at some quotes:

Bahá’u’lláh enjoins work on all. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 462).

No one need ever be ashamed of his job.  (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 462).

In the Cause of Bahá’u’lláh, it is incumbent upon every soul to acquire a trade and an occupation. For example, I know how to weave or make a mat, and you know some other trade. This, in itself is an act of worship, provided that it is conducted on the basis of utmost honesty and faithfulness. And this is the cause of prosperity.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 19, No. 7, p. 219)

It is necessary for all to learn a craft, through which the people may earn their living. This commandment is universal.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 3)

It is the commandment of the Blessed Beauty, may my life be a sacrifice at His Threshold, that whosoever engageth in a craft, should endeavour to acquire in it utmost proficiency. Should he do so, that craft becometh a form of worship. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 3)

Perfection in worldly things is a joy to the body of a man but in no wise does it glorify his soul.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62-63)

Please God, the poor may exert themselves and strive to earn the means of livelihood. This is a duty which, in this most great Revelation, hath been prescribed unto every one, and is accounted in the sight of God as a goodly deed. Whoso observeth this duty, the help of the invisible One shall most certainly aid him. He can enrich, through His grace, whomsoever He pleaseth. He, verily, hath power over all things.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 202)

Service to humanity is a primary motivation for those employed by Bahá’í institutions. In addition, the attitude that work is a form of worship is one of Bahá’u’lláh’s healing remedies for mankind which should permeate Bahá’í institutions. (Universal House of Justice, Guidance for Bahá’í Radio, p. 14)

The most despised of men in the sight of God are those who sit idly and beg. Hold ye fast unto the cord of material means, placing your whole trust in God, the Provider of all means. When anyone occupieth himself in a craft or trade, such occupation itself is regarded in the estimation of God as an act of worship; and this is naught but a token of His infinite and all-pervasive bounty.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 26)

The work done by the individual in trade, craft, art or profession is the core of his life and not merely the source of his living. Work performed in the spirit of service can today be accounted as an act of worship. The obligation to work is essentially a moral obligation and one not discharged by possession of wealth.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1947 Feb, A Bahá’í Declaration of Human Obligations and Rights)

Thus the right to work, the right to contribute to society, takes on a spiritual dimension, and the responsibility to be productive applies to everyone. This attitude toward work profoundly influences the Bahá’í approach to social and economic development.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Feb 12, Human Rights Extreme Poverty)

The Teachings are most emphatic on this matter, particularly the statement in the Aqdas to this effect which makes it quite clear that idle people who lack the desire to work can have no place in the new World Order. As a corollary of this principle, Bahá’u’lláh further states that mendicity should not only be discouraged but entirely wiped out from the face of society. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 12-13)

It is the duty of those who are in charge of the organization of society to give every individual the opportunity of acquiring the necessary talent in some kind of profession, and also the means of utilizing such a talent, both for its own sake and for the sake of earning the means of his livelihood. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 12-13)

Every individual, no matter how handicapped and limited he may be, is under the obligation of engaging in some work or profession.  (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 12-13)

It is obvious, therefore, that the inheritance of wealth cannot make anyone immune from daily work. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 12-13)

There are no solitaries and no hermits among the Baha’is. Man must work with his fellows. (‘Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 93)

This seems to suggest:

  • those in charge of the organization of society must give everyone the opportunity to acquire and use a necessary talent in some kind of profession
  • everyone must acquire a craft, trade and an occupation, even the handicapped, the rich and the poor
  • this is the core of our life and not merely the source of our living
  • perfection in worldly things doesn’t glorify our souls
  • the obligation to work is a moral obligation, not discharged by possession of wealth
  • the most despised of men in the sight of God are those who sit idly and beg
  • idle people who lack the desire to work can have no place in the new World Order
  • we need to work with others
  • prosperity comes from conducting our jobs with the utmost honesty and faithfulness
  • when we strive to earn the means of livelihood, we can count on the help of the invisible One

When we apply all of these principles in our work life, there’s no need for anyone to ever be ashamed of his job

Why Do We Work?

Let’s look at some quotes:

Every person must have an occupation, a trade or a craft, so that he may carry other people’s burdens, and not himself be a burden to others.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 3)

If a man is successful in his business, art, or profession he is thereby enabled to increase his physical wellbeing and to give his body the amount of ease and comfort in which it delights. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 62)

To engage in some profession is highly commendable, for when occupied with work one is less likely to dwell on the unpleasant aspects of life.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 175)

With reference to Bahá’u’lláh’s command concerning the engagement of the believers in some sort of profession: the Teachings are most emphatic on this matter, particularly the statement in the Aqdas to this effect which makes it quite clear that idle people who lack the desire to work can have no place in the new World Order. As a corollary of this principle, Bahá’u’lláh further states that mendicity should not only be discouraged but entirely wiped out from the face of society. It is the duty of those who are in charge of the organization of society to give every individual the opportunity of acquiring the necessary talent in some kind of profession, and also the means of utilizing such a talent, both for its own sake and for the sake of earning the means of his livelihood. Every individual, no matter how handicapped and limited he may be, is under the obligation of engaging in some work or profession, for work, specially when performed in the spirit of service, is according to Bahá’u’lláh a form of worship. It has not only a utilitarian purpose, but has a value in itself, because it draws us nearer to God, and enables us to better grasp His purpose for us in this world. It is obvious, therefore, that the inheritance of wealth cannot make anyone immune from daily work. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 12-13)

Ye are the trees of My garden; ye must give forth goodly and wondrous fruits, that ye yourselves and others may profit therefrom. Thus it is incumbent on every one to engage in crafts and professions, for therein lies the secret of wealth, O men of understanding! For results depend upon means, and the grace of God shall be all-sufficient unto you. Trees that yield no fruit have been and will ever be for the fire. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 281)

You should also endeavour to engage in some useful occupation, or by training yourself to have such an occupation, as work in itself another means at our disposal, in accordance with our Teachings, to draw nearer to God, and to better grasp His purpose for us in this world. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 282)

The attitude that work is a form of worship is one of Bahá’u’lláh’s healing remedies for mankind . . . (Universal House of Justice, Guidance for Bahá’í Radio, p. 14)

When anyone occupieth himself in a craft or trade, such occupation itself is regarded in the estimation of God as an act of worship; and this is naught but a token of His infinite and all-pervasive bounty.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 26)

These seem to suggest that we work because by working we:

  • carry other people’s burdens instead of being a burden to others
  • are able to increase our physical wellbeing and give our bodies the amount of ease and comfort in which it delights
  • are less likely to dwell on the unpleasant aspects of life
  • draw nearer to God and are better able to grasp His purpose for us in this world
  • find the secret of wealth
  • benefit from one of Bahá’u’lláh’s healing remedies
  • obtain a token of God’s infinite and all-pervasive bounty

How do we choose a career?

We assess our talents, skills, specialized training and material resources, and then we consider how much time and energy we want to expend, and whether or not we can apply Bahá’í principles:

Let them step forth to take their places in the arena of service where their talents and skills, their specialized training, their material resources, their offers of time and energy and, above all, their dedication to Bahá’í principles, can be put to work in improving the lot of man.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 546)

We weigh the earning capacity of the job with the benefit of the work to mankind:

Every Bahá’í has a duty to work and earn his living, and in choosing a career a Bahá’í should consider not only its earning capacity but also the benefit of the work to his fellowmen. All over the world Bahá’ís are rendering outstanding services in this way.  (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 513)

We choose a field of science that profits the people of the world:

Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth . . . Great indeed is the claim of scientists and craftsmen on the peoples of the world.  (Tablets of Baha’u’llah Revealed After the Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 51-52)

This includes craftsmanship:

One of the names of God is the Fashioner. He loveth craftsmanship. Therefore any of His servants who manifesteth this attribute is acceptable in the sight of this Wronged One. Craftsmanship is a book among the books of divine sciences, and a treasure among the treasures of His heavenly wisdom. This is a knowledge with meaning…. (from a Tablet of Baha’u’llah’s, translated from the Persian)

We place our whole trust in God:

Concerning the means of livelihood, thou shouldst, while placing thy whole trust in God, engage in some occupation. He will assuredly send down upon thee from the heaven of His favour that which is destined for thee. He is in truth the God of might and power.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 267)

In the Workplace, What Attitudes Should We Have Towards Work?

To the extent that work is consciously undertaken in a spirit of service to humanity, Bahá’u’lláh says, it is a form of prayer, a means of worshipping God.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1995 Mar 03, The Prosperity of Humankind)

True reliance is for the servant to pursue his profession and calling in this world, to hold fast unto the Lord, to seek naught but His grace, inasmuch as in His Hands is the destiny of all His servants. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 155)

We have enjoined upon all to become engaged in some trade or profession, and have accounted such occupation to be an act of worship. Before all else, however, thou shouldst receive, as a sign of God’s acceptance, the mantle of trustworthiness from the hands of divine favour; for trustworthiness is the chief means of attracting confirmation and prosperity. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 335)

Every man of discernment, while walking upon the earth, feeleth indeed abashed, inasmuch as he is fully aware that the thing which is the source of his prosperity, his wealth, his might, his exaltation, his advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men. There can be no doubt that whoever is cognizant of this truth, is cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 44)

It behoveth the craftsmen of the world at each moment to offer a thousand tokens of gratitude at the Sacred Threshold, and to exert their highest endeavour and diligently pursue their professions so that their efforts may produce that which will manifest the greatest beauty and perfection before the eyes of all men. (Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 144)

Having taken up an occupation, youth naturally try to contribute to their field, or even to advance it in light of the insights they gain from their continued study of the Revelation, and they strive to be examples of integrity and excellence in their work. (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)

The right attitudes seem to include:

  • performing our jobs with diligence, in order to produce results that manifest beauty and perfection
  • performing work that is consciously undertaken in a spirit of service to humanity
  • contributing to their field or advancing it in light of insights gained from study of the Revelation
  • having true reliance on God, holding fast and seeking nothing but His grace
  • trusting that in God’s Hands lies our destiny
  • being grateful
  • receiving the mantle of trustworthiness from the hands of divine favour, as the chief means of attracting confirmation and prosperity
  • striving to be examples of integrity and excellence in their work
  • being fully aware that the source of our prosperity, wealth, might, exaltation, advancement and power is, as ordained by God, the very earth which is trodden beneath the feet of all men

If we are aware of this truth, we will be cleansed and sanctified from all pride, arrogance, and vainglory.

How Do We Handle Problems at Work?

When problems arise at work, and we want to overcome them, we need to first of all to centre our whole hearts and minds on service:

An individual must center his whole heart and mind on service to the Cause, in accordance with the high standards set by Bahá’u’lláh. When this is done, the Hosts of the Supreme Concourse will come to the assistance of the individual, and every difficulty and trial will gradually be overcome.  (Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 20)

Then consult in a spirit of unity and love, without ego and without insisting on your own opinion:

Strive with all your hearts and with the very power of life that unity and love may continually increase. In discussions look toward the reality without being self-opinionated. Let no one assert and insist upon his own mere opinion; nay, rather, let each investigate reality with the greatest love and fellowship. Consult upon every matter, and when one presents the point of view of reality itself, that shall be acceptable to all. Then will spiritual unity increase among you, individual illumination will be greater, happiness will be more abundant, and you will draw nearer and nearer to the Kingdom of God.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 183)

And then be content and resigned to whatever God has ordained.

However, one of the most important attributes for one who earns his living is to be content and resigned to whatever God has ordained for him. ‘The source of all good,’ Bahá’u’lláh states, ‘is trust in God, submission unto His command, and contentment in His holy will and pleasure. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 281)

What About Mothers and Homemakers?

In relation to your specific queries, the decision concerning the amount of time a mother may spend in working outside the home depends on circumstances existing within the home, which may vary from time to time. Family consultation will help to provide the answers.  (Universal House of Justice, Compilation on Women)

Mothers can now be the primary agents for empowering individuals to transform society. They alone can inculcate in their children the self-esteem and respect for others essential for the advancement of civilization. It is clear, then, that the station of mothers, increasingly denigrated in many societies, is in reality of the greatest importance and highest merit.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1995 Aug 26, Girl Child A Critical Concern)

You ask about the admonition that everyone must work, and want to know if this means that you, a wife and mother, must work for a livelihood as your husband does… . You will see that the directive is for the friends to be engaged in an occupation which will be of benefit to mankind. Home-making is a highly honourable and responsible work of fundamental importance for mankind. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 625-626)

The principles seem to be:

  • the station of mothers is of the greatest importance and highest merit
  • home-making is a highly honourable and responsible work of fundamental importance for mankind
  • decisions about the amount of time a mother may spend in working outside the home depends on circumstances existing within the home
  • this may vary from time to time
  • this should be decided by family consultation

What About Those Who Can’t Work?

 The House of Justice will provide him with a monthly allowance for his subsistence:

In one of His Tablets, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá states that “if a person is incapable of earning a living, is stricken by dire poverty or becometh helpless, then it is incumbent on the wealthy or the Deputies to provide him with a monthly allowance for his subsistence … By ‘Deputies’ is meant the representatives of the people, that is to say the members of the House of Justice.” (Bahá’u’lláh, Kitáb-i-Aqdas, Notes, p. 193).

What About Retirement?

The House of Justice will have to legislate on this matter in the future:

Concerning the retirement from work for individuals who have reached a certain age, Shoghi Effendi in a letter written on his behalf stated that “this is a matter on which the International House of Justice will have to legislate as there are no provisions in the Aqdas concerning it”.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 192)

Earning Money

We do earn money while working, so what do we do with it?

We spend it first on ourselves, then on our families for the love of God:

The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words, 82)

When we get into debt, there are five things we have to do:

Thou hast asked regarding the means of livelihood. Trust in God and engage in your work and practice economy; the confirmations of God shall descend and you will be enabled to pay off your debts. Be ye occupied always with the mention of Bahá’u’lláh and seek ye no other hope and desire save Him.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 375)

  • trust in God
  • engage in our work
  • practice economy
  • always be occupied with the mention of Bahá’u’lláh
  • seek no other hope and desire but God

How Do We Have Work/Service/Life Balance?

In this materialistic world, where employers demand more of our time and attention, where one person does the work of three, it’s hard to not become a workaholic.  This is compounded by the demands of the Faith, which are so urgent and demand many sacrifices and a herculean effort.  So how do we have a work-life balance?

Here are some suggestions:

Now I shall tell you the essence of service. Share your time with God. Spend half of the day in search of livelihood, guaranteeing your material life and dignified appearance and dedicate the other half in the acquisition of moral virtues and service at the threshold of God (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. 17, Mar. 1927, p. 365)

It is a compromise between the two verses of the “Aqdas”, one making it incumbent upon every Bahá’í to serve the promotion of the Faith and the other that every soul should be occupied in some form of occupation that will benefit society. In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh says that the highest form of detachment in this day is to be occupied with some profession and be self-supporting. A good Bahá’í, therefore, is the one who so arranges his life as to devote time both to his material needs and also to the service of the Cause.  (Universal House of Justice, The Importance of the Arts in Promoting the Faith)

The delicate balance between the claims of the Cause of God and the claims of one’s profession is an intensely personal matter which can only be resolved eventually in the heart and soul of each individual. Many Bahá’ís have become, and are, distinguished in their professions and at the same time have rendered and are rendering great services to the Cause and it is obviously possible to achieve distinction in one’s profession and calling and to serve the Cause of God at the same time. The House of Justice realizes, however that circumstances can conspire at critical times in the fortunes of the Faith, to require individuals to make the heart- searching decision of sacrificing one’s own prospect for the apparent good of the Cause. Here again, the history of the Cause provides many examples of believers who have willingly forgone promotion in, or even the continued practice of, their professions in order to meet the needs of the Faith. As in all difficult decisions facing individual officer, such as a Counsellor or Board member, or even one or two friends of his own choosing. Even then, however, the eventual decisions rests with the individual himself.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 31-32)

These seem to suggest:

  • a good Bahá’í devotes time both to his material needs and also to the service of the Cause
  • it is possible to achieve distinction in one’s profession and calling and to serve the Cause of God at the same time
  • a guideline to aspire to is to spend half the day in your profession and half the day in service
  • it’s a delicate balance and an intensely personal matter
  • it requires us to make heart-searching decisions
  • it requires us to sacrifice our own prospects for the apparent good of the Cause
  • we can study the history of the Cause for examples of those who have willingly forgone promotion in, or even the continued practice of, their professions in order to meet the needs of the Faith
  • we can consult a Counsellor or Board member, or even one or two friends
  • the decisions rests with the individual
  • it can only be resolved eventually, and in the heart and soul of each one of us

Conclusion:

I’d like to end with this quote from the Bahá’í International Community:

Thus the right to work, the right to contribute to society, takes on a spiritual dimension, and the responsibility to be productive applies to everyone. This attitude toward work profoundly influences the Bahá’í approach to social and economic development.  (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Feb 12, Human Rights Extreme Poverty)

What would you add to this discussion?  Post your comments below.

Ruhi Book 10: Talks to Prepare for a Conversation with Youth

In Ruhi Book 10.1, (Accompanying One Another on the Path of Service) pages 86-87, we are asked to put some passages together on the themes Enidia identified. These included:

  • Period of Youth
  • Twofold Moral Purpose
  • Relationship Between Personal and Social Transformation
  • Constructive and Destructive Forces Operating in Society
  • Material and Spiritual Progress
  • Service to the Community
  • Educating Younger Generations
  • Early Adolescence as a Critical Stage of Life
  • The Institute Process and the Educational Process it Promotes

Our study circle, consisting of long-term deepened Bahá’ís, did some research and combined our collective quotes and posted them in this article, hoping that these would help others going through Book 10.

The next step was to undertake a thorough exploration of each theme.  We each chose a topic, researched it using the quotes we’d gathered and prepared a small talk, to help us get familiar and comfortable using the language and concepts, in preparation for having a conversation with some youth on these themes.

Although everyone prepared an oral talk, they were invited to submit their talks for publication here, to again help others with this assignment and with elevating the levels of discourse in society.

What follows is a couple of those submissions.  We’d be very grateful to have you add your own presentations, so we can have an even better compilation.  We hope you find our efforts helpful!

The Younger Generations by Jane Macmillan

In the following talk, Jane assumes she is talking to Chantal.

Hello Chantal – I am so glad that you were able to come and meet me today – lets go and have a hot bowl of soup at the Grind!!

You remember last time you were asking me about our programs for children in the community and I mentioned that we have four core activities that we offer – Devotional, Study Circles, Junior Youth Empowerment and Children’s classes – I think you were particularly interested in the children’s classes because Rosie is 6 years old.

We really believe that the younger generations are the most precious treasures that a community can possess and that in our material world it is so easy for children to be overwhelmed by the aggressive pursuit of materialistic ends – so the moral and spiritual education of children assumes vital importance.

All children have capacity and are noble beings – so we like to think of them as a mine filled with precious gems that can be discovered and polished – so that they see with both their inner and outer eyes and become aware and learn to express themselves.

I know that you were interested in the lesson plans too – so a typical lesson might start with a prayer or reflection and then an exploration into some of the words contained in that prayer – for instance: “O God! Guide me, protect me, illumine the lamp of my heart and make of me a brilliant star…” So we would look at the words guide, protect, illumine and discuss their meaning and gain a little more awareness of what we are praying for. This might then be followed with a story that further illustrates these sentiments and virtues and then a song which would have some bearing on the lesson.

By letting them discuss and experience the word of God they will gradually foster habits and patterns of conduct that are a reflection of those spiritual qualities and become more aware of their interactions with others.

Children are like young plants that need to be nurtured, respected, and treated as noble beings, all have talents and faculties that can be encouraged along.

Maybe next time we meet we can have a chat about the Junior Youth Empowerment program as I know you also have an 11 year old at home.

Material and Spiritual Progress by Susan Gammage

 Central to the Bahá’í teachings is a belief that that there must be a dynamic coherence between the material and spiritual requirements of life.

At this crucial point in the unfoldment of the Plan, it seems appropriate that we reflect on the nature of the contributions which our growing, vibrant communities will make to the material and spiritual progress of society.

Material and spiritual progress are two very different things

  • Material progress comes from the dictates of a material civilization
  • Spiritual progress comes from following the laws of God

Material progress ensures the happiness of the human world. Spiritual progress ensures the happiness and eternal continuance of the soul.

We need material progress.  For example, if a man is successful in his business, art, or profession, he is able to increase his physical wellbeing and give his body the amount of ease and comfort in which it delights.  If we aren’t careful, we can surround ourselves with every modern convenience and luxury, and deny ourselves nothing.

It’s OK to have wealth, but it must serve humanity and its use must accord with spiritual principles.  Material advantages do not elevate our spirits, so we need to be careful not to forget the things of the soul.

In material civilization good and evil advance together and maintain the same pace. For example, consider the material progress of man in the last century. Schools and colleges, hospitals, philanthropic institutions, scientific academies and temples of philosophy have been founded, but hand in hand with these evidences of development, the invention and production of means and weapons for human destruction have correspondingly increased.

Motivated by the desire to serve humanity, Bahá’ís are improving the material and spiritual conditions in their surroundings, by multiplying the core activities, involving themselves in social action projects and participating in the prevalent discourses of society.  These activities contribute to constructive social change as we learn to combine the teachings of Baha’u’llah with knowledge accumulated from different fields of human endeavor.

There’s a children’s prayer I like to say to balance my own material and spiritual progress:

I am earthly, make me heavenly; I am of the world below, let me belong to the realm above; gloomy, suffer me to become radiant; material, make me spiritual, and grant that I may manifest Thine infinite bounties.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá (Baha’i Prayer Book, page 29)

Only by improving spiritually as well as materially, can we make any real progress, and become perfect beings.  Only when material and spiritual civilization are linked and coordinated, will happiness be assured. Then humankind will achieve extraordinary progress, the sphere of human intelligence will be immeasurably enlarged, wonderful inventions will appear, and the spirit of God will reveal itself; all men will consort in joy and fragrance, and eternal life will be conferred upon the children of the Kingdom.

O God, hasten the day!

Understanding Being vs Doing

A few years ago we started to see the House of Justice refer to “being and doing”, both words I thought I understood.  Indeed the dictionary defines them as:

Being:  to exist or live

Doing:  to perform (an act, duty, role, etc.); to accomplish; finish; complete; to put forth; exert

It seems to me that one is passive and the other is active.

 

In a materialistic culture obsessed with “doing”, it is believed that as we “do” the correct things, success will follow.  In fact who we are while “doing” is more important than “being”.

I wondered:  Is there a dangerous side of goal-setting, to-do lists, and being efficient?  How much time do we need to spend in “doing” at the expense of just “being”?

As a recovering workaholic and perfectionist, the concepts of being and doing are synonymous in my mind!  Working is my form of play!

It’s been pointed out by many people over the years that I need to slow down and take time for rest and recreation.  They tell me that work and play are different and it’s hard for me to get my head around this concept. In fact Shoghi Effendi tells us:

You should . . . force yourself to take time, and not only for prayer and meditation, but for real rest and relaxation.  (Shoghi Effendi, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 53)

As always, whenever I’m puzzled about something, I take my question to the Baha’i  Writings.

In contrast to the dictionary definition, “being and doing” seem to have different meanings in the Faith.

Here’s how the House of Justice describes the two:

The importance of “doing”, of arising to serve and to accompany fellow souls, must be harmonized with the notion of “being”, of increasing one’s understanding of the divine teachings and mirroring forth spiritual qualities in one’s life.  (Universal House of Justice, to the Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors, 29 December 2015)

So here we see:

Being is increasing our understanding of the divine teachings and mirroring forth spiritual qualities in our lives

Doing is arising to serve and to accompany fellow souls

Unlike the dictionary definition, both of these definitions seem to be active.

The House of Justice tells us that “being” has to do with the acquisition of knowledge (studying the Writings) and “doing” is applying what we’ve learned.

They warn us against false dichotomies:

Every effort is being exerted to ensure that the process reflects the complementarity of “being” and “doing” the institute courses make explicit; the centrality they accord to knowledge and its application; the emphasis they place on avoiding false dichotomies . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)

Closely related to the habit of reducing an entire theme into one or two appealing phrases is the tendency to perceive dichotomies, where, in fact, there are none. It is essential that ideas forming part of a cohesive whole not be held in opposition to one another. In a letter written on his behalf, Shoghi Effendi warned:

We must take the teachings as a great, balanced whole, not seek out and oppose to each other two strong statements that have different meanings; somewhere in between, there are links uniting the two.   (Universal House of Justice, Letter to the Continental Board of Counsellors, 28 December 2010)

So they want us to find the link between the two.

Ruhi Book 5 was the first place I found that really addressed this issue head on, and I had a total meltdown going through that section!

In the section “Releasing the Powers of Junior Youth, pages 18-20 of the Pre-Publication Edition — Version VI.B” It says:

If we are not careful and adopt such a fragmented approach to our lives, we can create all kinds of dichotomies that are largely imaginary. Work, leisure, family life, spiritual life, physical health, intellectual pursuits, individual development, collective progress, and so on become pieces that together make up our existence. When we accept such divisions as real, we feel pulled in many directions, trying to respond to what we consider to be the demands of these different facets of life.

In my training as a life coach, I learned that it’s important to have a balance between the materialistic view of “being and doing” in life.  In fact, I often help people set goals in each of these areas, to help people live a life in moderation.  And now you’re telling me these divisions aren’t real?  That got my attention.  Of course, it’s the opinion of Ruhi and not from the Sacred Writings of our Faith, so that brought me some comfort.

The quote in book 5 continues:

We are bewildered by apparently conflicting aims: Should I sacrifice my family life to serve the Cause? Will not serving the Faith interfere with my efforts to raise my children? These are two examples of the myriad of questions that can arise.

These questions certainly arose in my life and I’ve spent many decades trying to resolve them.  As a single mother with clinical depression, serving as an assistant to the auxiliary board member in 2 clusters, I frequently sacrificed my family life to serve the Cause.  I would get up in the morning, get my son fed and made sure we said prayers together.  Once he was on the school bus, I would go back to bed, pull the covers over my head and stay there until it was time to meet the school bus again.  Many nights I would take him to Baha’i meetings.  He could see I wasn’t well, and at times he just wanted to hang out with me, but the Faith always came first.  I would make a herculean effort to rouse myself from my depression to make sure his needs were met and put a smile on my face as I went to the Baha’i meetings.  I frequently wonder if this is why he didn’t become a Baha’i.

Maybe there are ways to serve the Faith while raising children as a single parent, but I do wonder, especially in light of the fact that the World Centre will not accept single parents, and when there is a couple with children, only one parent will serve.

If I had my life to do over again, I would spend more time with my child, and focus the bulk of my service after he’d left home.   That would be how I would balance being (time with my son) and doing (time for service, later on).  Service to my son would also be “doing” as I was fulfilling the most important work there is – raising the new generation.

The quote in book 5 continues:

To resolve the dichotomies we have created, we sometimes try to divide our time equally among the various demands placed on us. On other occasions, we attempt to prioritize responsibilities and focus our energies on those we believe to be the most important at any particular moment. A careful allotment of time and energy is of course necessary. But it is only fruitful when we remain conscious of the interconnectedness of the many aspects of our lives. If we fail to see the whole, the tension created among all the parts can give rise to anxiety and even confusion.

I certainly feel anxiety and confusion whenever I struggle to understand this concept.  Shoghi Effendi, the best example of a goal-setter and planner on a grand scale, has told us we need to:

. . . leave the important for the most important.  (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 109-110)

So he focused his energy on what he believed to be the most important at any particular moment.

What follows is a series of questions to consider in our example from Ruhi Book 5.  Here are the instructions we were given:

Below are various aspects of life placed in pairs that should reinforce each other, but which are sometimes thought to be in conflict. For each one of the sentences that follow the pair, decide whether it represents the kind of thinking that is conducive to an integrated way of life or whether it is indicative of a tendency towards fragmentation.

Family and Work

  • My family life will suffer if I work hard at my job.

This may be a fragmented way of thinking but I believe it to be true.  How can we possibly fulfil the roles set out for parents while working hard at a job?  You just have to look at the rate of divorce in the Baha’i community to see that family life is suffering; and educating our children is so important that ‘Abdu’l-Baha warns us:

Should they neglect this matter, they shall be held responsible and worthy of reproach in the presence of the stern Lord.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 126)

For more on the role of parents, you might find these articles helpful:

The Role of Parents in Training us to be Obedient   http://susangammage.com/the-role-of-parents-in-training-us-to-be-obedient

The Responsibilities of Parenthood:  http://susangammage.com/the-responsibilities-of-parenthood

The Role of Fathers in a Bahá’í Family:  http://susangammage.com/the-role-of-fathers-in-a-bahai-family

  • I often discuss with my family my accomplishments at work and the challenges I face there.

Yes, this is an integrated way of thinking.

  • Of course women can excel in their careers, but the children always pay the price.

This may be a fragmented way of thinking, but again, I believe it to be true, based on the information in this article:

Should Bahá’í Mothers Stay at Home?  http://susangammage.com/should-bahai-mothers-stay-at-home

  • If I want to raise my children well, I will have to forget about my profession.

Yes, this is a fragmented way of thinking.  I think we can do both well, at different times in our lives.  If children are being encouraged to marry young (sometimes as early as 15) and understand that the purpose of marriage is to have children, it’s easy to see that the parenting role could be fulfilled with plenty of time to build a career later.

  • I can advance in my profession and fully attend to my family responsibilities.

Yes, this is a fragmented way of thinking and I believe it’s not possible.

‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us we can combine service with marriage:

As to the terminology I used in my letter, bidding thee to consecrate thyself to service in the Cause of God, the meaning of it is this: limit thy thoughts to teaching the Faith. Act by day and night according to the teachings and counsels and admonitions of Bahá’u’lláh. This doth not preclude marriage. Thou canst take unto thyself a husband and at the same time serve the Cause of God; the one doth not preclude the other. Know thou the value of these days; let not this chance escape thee.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 100)

I think this means rethinking how we can make our family life a priority by thinking of it as the most important service we can render to humankind.

Education and Service to the Cause

  • I have to choose between pioneering and education, since it is not possible to do both.

Of course it’s possible to gain an education in a pioneer post, so this can easily be integrated.

  • Academic achievement is a prerequisite for entering the field of service.

Absolutely not!  Junior youth are being encouraged to enter the field of service long before they’ve completed their academic education.

  • The knowledge I gain through my studies is an asset in the field of service, and the experience I gain in the arena of service enhances my abilities.

Yes, this is an integrated way of thinking.

  • I have to abandon my studies if I really want to devote myself to the Cause.

Not true!  You can easily find ways to be of service while continuing your studies.  For example, studying with others; sharing meals; trading chores; being a friend; living the life; teaching the Cause, etc.  Service to humanity comes in many forms, not just participation in the core activities.  It’s all part of community building.

Here’s a quote to consider, to make this more integrated:

All humanity must obtain a livelihood by sweat of the brow and bodily exertion, at the same time seeking to lift the burden of others, striving to be the source of comfort to souls and facilitating the means of living. This in itself is devotion to God. Bahá’u’lláh has thereby encouraged action and stimulated service. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 186)

  • One of my greatest aspirations is to learn to apply the teachings of the Faith in endeavors that promote the betterment of the world.

Of course, this is an integrated approach.

  • The period of service that I dedicate to promoting the Faith or participating in a Bahá’í-inspired social and economic development project will assist me in choosing a suitable field of study.

Of course!  Here is a quote to balance these ideas:

It is a compromise between the two verses of the “Aqdas”, one making it incumbent upon every Bahá’í to serve the promotion of the Faith and the other that every soul should be occupied in some form of occupation that will benefit society. In one of His Tablets Bahá’u’lláh says that the highest form of detachment in this day is to be occupied with some profession and be self-supporting. A good Bahá’í, therefore, is the one who so arranges his life as to devote time both to his material needs and also to the service of the Cause.  (Universal House of Justice, The Importance of the Arts in Promoting the Faith)

Intellectual Development and Development of Spiritual Qualities

  • The independent investigation of truth requires the cultivation of the intellect, as well as the acquisition of spiritual qualities.
  • In teaching the Faith to others, we should just show them love; what we say is not important.
  • Intellectual development requires justice, honesty, and lack of prejudice.
  • To develop spirituality, one has to let go of one’s intellect.
  • Our minds and hearts are not separate from each other; they represent complementary and mutually interactive aspects of one reality—our soul.
  • Spiritual qualities are developed through conscious knowledge and the exercise of good deeds.

These all make sense to me and it’s easy to distinguish integrated from fragmented.

Material Life and Spiritual Life

  • I must deny myself material pleasure in order to develop spiritually.
  • Spiritual matters should be put aside until we are old; during our youth we should take advantage of every opportunity to advance materially.
  • The material needs of people have to be satisfied before they are ready to pay attention to spiritual matters.
  • The purpose of my life on this material plane is to develop my spiritual qualities and powers.
  • We should enjoy all the bounties that the world has to offer but should not allow earthly desires to take hold of our hearts and prevent us drawing nearer and nearer to God.

Here is something to consider:

In Paris Talks (p. 98), ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us that some people’s lives are occupied only with the things of this world, and their minds are so constrained by exterior manners and traditional interests that they are blind to any other realm of existence or to the spiritual significance of all things.  He gives us examples I’m sure we can all relate to:

  • they think and dream of earthly fame, of material progress
  • sensuous delights and comfortable surroundings bound their horizon
  • their highest ambitions centre in successes of worldly conditions and circumstances
  • they don’t curb their lower propensities
  • they eat, drink, and sleep! like the animal, they have no thought beyond their own physical well-being

Although we need to take care of the necessities of life (eat, drink, sleep), the cares of the lower things of life should not monopolize all our thoughts and aspirations. Our heart’s ambitions should ascend to a more glorious goal, our mental activity should rise to higher levels and we should hold in our souls the vision of celestial perfection so we can prepare a dwelling-place for us in the next world.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 98)

Conclusion

This issue of being and doing as presented in Ruhi Book 5 certainly arises anxiety and confusion in my life, particularly in the area of family life, and now as I face my life as a workaholic in burnout, I’m even more confused!

I took book 5 with a group of youth who weren’t parents, so they couldn’t help me with my dilemma, and since then, I’ve tutored to groups who couldn’t help me resolve these questions, so I’m sincerely interested to hearing what you, my readers have to contribute on these issues.  Please, post your comments below.

 

Tell the Rich of the Midnight Sighing of the Poor

 

 

One of my readers posted the following story as a comment on my blog posting about Disaster Planning  but it was so poignant I wanted it to stand on its own.  This is printed with her permission, and she has asked to be anonymous.

There is another type of disaster that is in a different category than those caused by natural disasters. That is financial ruination and difficult for people with serious health handicaps.

I can speak from personal experience. Our story is similar to the stories of most working middle class Americans whose lives have drastically change due to medical catastrophe or a serious illness in oneself or the family.

We are Baha’is, and find that the Baha’is who are understandably not equipped to handle serious social/financial problems among the friends, but who also lack the knowledge to be resourceful in finding unconventional ways to be of assistance.  So, I share my story with you, just to give one person’s narrative and efforts for solution.

My husband and I do work and research from the home which means we have a huge library. We also inherited lovely furniture and china.  Work involves his professional consulting, my returning student’s school work and stuff, our Baha’i Books, spiritual literature, inspiring and help yourself types of books, books about illness, mental health and addiction (all related to my schoolwork).

We have made some mistakes along the way concerning our economic plight.  When my husband underwent a major life changing surgery (the type that is physical to the point where everything changes: ambulation and how to do activities of daily life, etc.).   I have major disabilities myself, physical and neurobiological which precludes us from working at most jobs.

Our Social Security income is not enough to live on and spouse’s business has taken a drastic downturn.  Especially with his illness, like many Americans, our advice is, “Don’t get sick in America; you will lose your shirt.”  Good bye house, good bye savings, good bye capabilities that non-handicapped people take for granted, good bye financial stability.  Hello, depression, some bad decisions along the way, not wanting to downsize and give up comfortable lifestyle, debt.  Bills dog us all the time.

We have drastically “downsized” our lifestyle, especially compared to most people, although still have some luxuries.  We refuse to give up our dirt cheap wonderful health insurance, with no co-pays, not given our complex problems.  Even if we applied for government poor peoples’ medical coverage which we may not even qualify for we would receive crappy care and have to pay co-pays for everything with fewer services and medications.

I have told my husband on more than one occasion that we are no longer economically sustainable.  Sometimes he gets it and sometimes he doesn’t. He has profound grief and many losses due to his illness, which I believe are more devastating than mine.  He is used to being boss of the house, stubborn, and understandably in a lot of fear.  The resources of the Faith and 12-step programs don’t seem to be “in his vocabulary.”  I have those resources but still slip into fear and worry.  I also have a lousy short term memory.

I have been resourceful in getting as many free services as I can outside normal social services channels and being a part-time older student for dirt cheap opens a lot of possibilities for assistance and, believe it or not paying work!  Work I can actually do, despite my many disabilities and not having worked at a paying job for several years.  However, my work can be sporadic but it has helped a lot.  It actually earns us money for me to be a student.

When we moved to our new town,  our LSA saw our predicament.  They helped us move things to a storage unit, and then to a new house when our landlord wanted to move back into the home we were renting.

Here is our part:  we never adequately went through our possessions and there were a lot of things we should have thrown away and didn’t.  Truthfully, we were too ill and depressed to do it, and I think I did not make certain decisions wisely.  I opted for finding ways to be happy and find a new purpose in life, but that led to certain critical  practical considerations being overlooked.

Now we are faced with another move, are both disabled, and are a few hundred dollars per month above the “poverty line” so we don’t qualify for most social services. My husband has dragged his feet, and obtained help from a professional disability counselor.  On his suggestion, he put my husband in charge of house hunting since I was doing everything else and needed help. So we are now faced with moving again and, like before, at the last minute.

After my cancer last year, I spent hours looking for help with things like housecleaning.  Several friends have been generous and have helped financially and with their free labor.  Our friends, for some strange reason, have not given up on us and are still there (is God watching out after us?)  For months we have had trouble paying our rent and often paying it late.  We have had trouble financing mowing the lawn which our lease said we were supposed to do.  We get the lawn moved by neighbors and a friend who loans us his lawnmower, a God send (He seems to be watching out after us); but that is not enough lawn care to please the landlord.  He refused to renew the lease.

At one point I requested assistance from the National Assembly and they gave us a one-time grant to pay rent for a month.  They had also talked to our Assembly about us and don’t know what was said in that conversation.  In their letter with the grant, they advised me to focus on getting out of the financial mess and set school aside.  Apparently, they did not know that school was a mental necessity for me that actually made us money and gives me a future, for the first time of better things to come.  I consulted 5 of my medical professional care givers, and they all agreed that it was important for me to stay in school and that it would be bad if I quit.  I have stopped most of my volunteer activities except for hosting a Ruhi class at one point and doing Baha’i teaching on my campus, with no college club!  The teaching actually makes me happy and energizes me and I think it would be bad to give that up.

One member of the Assembly scolded me for not following advice of NSA.  Eventually I got up the courage to write NSA with copy of letter to LSA, explaining my position.

In fairness to the LSA, I can see why they might not know how to help us.  Most of them are either disabled themselves or to tapped out with family, work, and service commitments to do much of anything.

I don’t drive, so two members always make sure I get to Feast.  That is a good thing.

One member accepted government poor peoples’ insurance and did lots of things to uplift herself from poverty and after several years got a part-time and then full-time job.  Unfortunately, her way is not workable for us, and especially not for my husband.  She has gotten good care with poor peoples’ insurance, with a very complex and difficult medical history.  She has downsized and from what I can tell has more common sense and planning skills than we do.

I even went to the LSA on two occasions, asking for help.  One idea was to sell things on the internet (I just don’t have the time or energy to do that; I would give away most of things first!  A professional organizer was recommended to us, who would have helped us and when I talked to her seemed caring and good at her job, however, we couldn’t afford the down payment to get started.  Our Disability counselor is now helping us with that stuff, and the services they can provide only go so far.

One Social Service agency that is highly recommended is purported to help people with housekeeping and other services.  I have called or seen them on more than one occasion.  They offered nothing too people who weren’t below the poverty line.  We are in the same class as the “working poor,” who don’t get as many services as the poor people get.

I make no bones about the fact that I go to some food banks and am grateful to them.  Most have great people, especially the one at the University.  I see nothing wrong in talking about this as a very normal thing for people to do, as there is a lot of shame and stigma about this sort of thing.

My offers to help be of service in some way are generally turned down; I should be sensible and pay my debts first.  However, per twelve step guidelines, a sensible amount of service activities is good for ones survival and especially one’s soul.  One LSA member, and probably his wife, support my idea to start a College Club.  The first activity is very simple; a monthly prayer meeting and making friends.  I am happy with a meeting over the phone while I pray on campus.  After months, I finally found another Baha’i on campus who is too busy to attend most things.

What can the LSA or even the NSA do for someone like me? 

For one thing, they or community members could keep me company while I work.

They are praying for me, and one community member offered to help.

They could help me make phone calls.  They wouldn’t have to do all my calls, just take some of the load off my back.

They can let everyone know that the Regional Council might have some resources (I didn’t know that until I read your post).  I will be contacting them.

I am doing everything I can to help my profoundly depressed husband who is actually going to a Psychiatrist and staying on his medication.  LSA members have tried to reach out to my husband, but he has not reciprocated.  They have not given up on him.  That is a wonderful thing.  These good people need help too!

Another great thing they did: they moved a person who had cancer and no close family to a new apartment.  They found an apartment for him too.  They drove him to doctor’s appointments and found good medical help for him.  These are all things he could not have done on his own.  They invite them to see rented movies at their house.  They found a beautiful apartment for him and he has even hosted a feast.  So obviously these good people are doing something right.

There has to be a way, we can be helped by the same LSA but I don’t know what it is. Is it because my husband and I don’t appear to be making good decisions or have a different and incomprehensible sense of needs?  Do we appear to be not letting go of our old life style or still making decisions that they don’t consider to be good ones?

If there is even an answer to dilemmas like ours, I say “bring it on.”

Perhaps the Regional Council could have a Ruhi class on how to help poor people with physical and mental limitations!  Especially on helping poor people who are making what they consider to be bad choices.  Also, do they know the whole story?

How to Start Selflessly Serving Others

By Badi Shams

In our community we had a soul-searching discussion about the role that service to humanity can play in teaching the Faith. That heart-felt consultation and realization that some friends wanted to do something but did not know where to start, encouraged me to write these few lines and make a list of possibilities of service open to us.

As Baha’is, we are often struggling to balance our time among our own efforts at spiritual growth, our family life, our work, our commitments in the Baha’i community, and our core activities and teaching. And no thanks to technological advancement with so many gadgets that enable us to multi-task more and more, we have been transformed from human beings to human doings. Added to that is also the rampant spread of materialism that is consuming our spiritual growth and draining our energy. How can we have time for one more thing- one more social action, one more commitment? Though providing a service may sound like one more thing to fit into our already busy lives, in reality it does not necessarily need to become a big project. Any look, gesture, word or action that helps others is an act of service.

The concept of service is nothing new to people of all religions and as Baha’is we have the wealth of Writings on this subject and we have read how Abdu’l-Baha exemplified service throughout His life.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.  (Mark 10:45)

And do not forget to do good to one another.  (Quran 2:238)

That one indeed is a man who, today, dedicateth himself to the service of the entire human race. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 250)

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. (Mahatma Gandhi)

Service to humanity is service to God.  (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 8)

How else can our world become united if, as citizens, we don’t try to help each other? How else can the sufferings of the world be reduced? The ordinary people of the world like you and me will ultimately make a difference, and make this earth a better and more peaceful place—if we take one more extra step to help our fellow human beings.

The Baha’i Teachings encourage all people to extend themselves into the arena of service to others:

A Baha’i who serves others is like unto a candle which burns and sheds light upon all those who circle around it. The highest attainable station of the candle is to burn and brighten the dark room, and the loftiest pinnacle of our progress and perfection is to be confirmed in service… (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 8, p. 61)

Serving others has the added benefit of healing and can give peace and contentment to our souls. It helps us to deal with our problems and tests which can destroy or undermine our happiness.

Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you — and your unhappy mood will dissolve into a blessed, contented submission to God.  ([The Research] Department has found that these words were attributed to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in an unpublished English translation of notes in German by Dr. Josephine Fallscheer taken on 5 August 1910. As the statement is a pilgrim note, it cannot be authenticated)

So perhaps it is a good idea to revisit this concept and with the help of the list below look at the possibilities of service open to us. Maybe we can get involved with some kind of service that fulfils our commitment and connects us to the larger community. This may also create more opportunities for enhancing the conversation and introducing Baha’u’llah’s message in the best light possible, through our actions. The list below may help you to find a service matching your talent or your passion:

  1. Doing one’s job the best way possible is not only a great service but an act of worship
  1. A kind gesture, a kind word, a kind act
  1. Random acts of kindness e.g. paying for someone’s coffee, paying for someone in front of you in line, giving your place in line for someone in a rush, presenting a stranger with a bouquet of flowers, mowing the neighbour’s lawn. Your imagination is the limit.
  1. Paying for the education of children who are poor
  1. Paying or contributing towards hospital bills
  1. Visiting in senior facilities
  1. Visiting in hospitals
  1. Volunteering to serve residents in group homes
  1. Driving people to appointments
  1. Shopping for your neighbours in need
  1. Cleaning homes
  1. Volunteering in women’s centres
  1. Volunteering for the Red Cross/ Red Crescent
  1. Volunteering in treatment facilities and organizations
  1. Cleaning roads and highways or cleaning garbage in your neighbourhood or on trails
  1. Teaching: Dance / Music / Painting / any other forms of the arts
  1. Coaching sports
  1. Picking fruits
  1. Calling or visiting those in need
  1. Offering companionship to lonely people
  1. Connecting with Baha’is outside of Baha’i meetings
  1. Offering services to literacy agencies
  1. Volunteering at homeless shelters and halfway houses
  1. Manning school crossings
  1. Teaching yoga / Tai Chi / martial arts/ any other exercise classes
  1. Self-help classes
  1. Teaching product-making classes like soap-making
  1. Teaching gardening classes
  1. Teaching farming classes
  1. Teaching woodwork classes
  1. Providing jewellery making classes
  1. Teaching bead work
  1. Teaching home decoration
  1. Providing food preserving classes
  1. Providing driving lessons
  1. Providing foreign language lessons
  1. Teaching house repairs
  1. Teaching appliance repair
  1. Teaching basic car repairs
  1. Teaching computer classes
  1. Helping refugees and newcomers
  1. Teaching adult education
  1. Volunteering with the Welcome Wagon for newcomers
  1. Picking up medicine or food
  1. Translating written materials or interpreting
  1. Cutting grass or doing landscaping
  1. Baby sitting
  1. Doing taxes
  1. House cleaning
  1. Giving financial advice
  1. Offering counseling
  1. Providing medical services
  1. Providing legal services
  1. Doing the makeup or costumes for plays
  1. Teaching others to apply makeup
  1. Volunteering in community gardens
  1. Connecting with volunteer organizations for possibilities
  1. Volunteering with food programs in schools
  1. Providing accommodation for the sick and needy
  1. Cooking for the sick
  1. Remembering in your prayers and supporting those who are going through a difficult time

As you embark on your quest to serve humanity, a few words of caution: Please make sure, while offering your services, that you respect the boundaries of agencies, individuals and families. Also, focus on why you’re there serving rather than the motives of others. Some people volunteer in organizations for self-recognition or out of boredom, and don’t really capture the essence of serving others with selfless intention. Be aware of this in any voluntary situation, so that it doesn’t discourage you or influence you in a negative manner.

If you approach the opportunity to serve others with a radiant countenance and the pure motivation of kindness and love, you’ll find that the gifts you give will come back to you a thousand fold.