In the Bahá’í Faith, saints are those who have achieved the highest degree of mastery over their ego.
By this definition, any of us can become saints. All we have to do is:
- obey the laws of God
- seek to live the life laid down in the Bahá’í Teachings
- pray and struggle
The ego is the animal in us, the heritage of the flesh which is full of selfish desires. By obeying the laws of God, seeking to live the life laid down in our teachings, and prayer and struggle, we can subdue our egos. We call people ‘Saints’ who have achieved the highest degree of mastery over their ego. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)
In order to achieve this mastery, though, saints (and all of us) have to go through tribulations and suffering in order to purify our hearts and souls for receiving the light of God:
All the Saints that shine in the history of society had to pass through tribulations. Their form was various but their effect has always been the same, namely, the purification of our heart and soul for receiving the light of God. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 203-204)
Suffering because of a broken heart also seems to be part of the equation:
We as Bahá’ís cannot but believe that suffering is often an essential part of our service. The Prophets suffered bitterly, so did all the Saints and Martyrs, and often ‘fed on the fragments of those broken hearts’, as Bahá’u’lláh says in one of His beautiful prayers. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 579)
It’s not enough to go through suffering, though – saints also have to feel joyous and happy in the midst of our severest tests and trials!
Physical pain is a necessary accompaniment of all human existence, and as such is unavoidable. As long as there will be life on earth, there will be also suffering, in various forms and degrees. But suffering, although an inescapable reality, can nevertheless be utilized as a means for the attainment of happiness. This is the interpretation given to it by all the prophets and saints who, in the midst of severe tests and trials, felt happy and joyous and experienced what is best and holiest in life. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 280)
How to Become a Saint
Here’s how to become a saint – the guidance is embedded in this one quote!:
Saints are men who have freed themselves from the world of matter and who have overcome sin. They live in the world but are not of it, their thoughts being continually in the world of the spirit. Their lives are spent in holiness, and their deeds show forth love, justice and godliness. They are illumined from on high; they are as bright and shining lamps in the dark places of the earth. These are the saints of God. The apostles, who were the disciples of Jesus Christ, were just as other men are; they, like their fellows, were attracted by the things of the world, and each thought only of his own advantage. They knew little of justice, nor were the Divine perfections found in their midst. But when they followed Christ and believed in Him, their ignorance gave place to understanding, cruelty was changed to justice, falsehood to truth, darkness into light. They had been worldly, they became spiritual and divine. They had been children of darkness, they became sons of God, they became saints! Strive therefore to follow in their steps, leaving all worldly things behind, and striving to attain to the Spiritual Kingdom. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 60-61)
You can use this checklist as you work towards your goal!
- Have you freed yourself from the world of matter?
- Have you overcome sin?
- Do you live in the world but are not of it?
- Are your thoughts continually in the world of the spirit?
- Is your life spent in holiness?
- Do your deeds show forth love, justice and godliness?
- Are you illumined from on high?
- Are you a bright and shining lamp in the dark places of the earth?
You may think you are far from achieving these things, but every single effort you make is magnified by God.
An act, however infinitesimal, is, when viewed in the mirror of the knowledge of God, mightier than a mountain. Every drop proffered in His path is as the sea in that mirror. (Bahá’u’lláh, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 4)
You don’t have to be ‘Abdu’l-Bahá to attain this station! And you don’t have to be perfect at any of them either . . . you just have to strive!
Great mysteries happen when we become Bahá’í! As ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us in the quote above, the disciples of Jesus Christ, were just as other men (just as we are the disciples of Bahá’u’lláh):
- They were attracted by the things of the world
- Each thought only of his own advantage
- They knew little of justice
- They had none of the Divine perfections
But when they followed Christ (when we follow Bahá’u’lláh) and believed in Him:
- Their ignorance gave place to understanding
- Cruelty was changed to justice
- Falsehood was changed to truth
- Darkness was changed into light
- They had been worldly and became spiritual and divine
- They had been children of darkness, they became sons of god
They became saints! And we can too!
God wants us to become saints. He tells us that it’s a praiseworthy course of action; and well worth striving for!
There are two kinds of Bahá’ís, one might say: those whose religion is Bahá’í and those who live for the Faith. Needless to say if one can belong to the latter category, if one can be in the vanguard of heroes, martyrs and saints, it is more praiseworthy in the sight of God. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 78)
Many of us have learned to hate ourselves and minimize our worth. We need to know the truth about how God sees us. To that end I’ve written a Love Letter from God, to remind us. You might like reading or listening to it!
Let’s all make up our minds to become saints! All it takes is to follow the Counsels of the Baha’i Writings:
Therefore I say unto you that ye should strive to follow the counsels of these Blessed Books, and so order your lives that ye may, following the examples set before you, become yourselves the saints of the Most High! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 200)
As well as dedication and will-power!
He urges you to make up your minds to do great, great deeds for the Faith; the condition of the world is steadily growing worse, and your generation must provide the saints, heroes, martyrs and administrators of future years. With dedication and will power you can rise to great heights. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 629)
How has this been helpful? Post your comments below!
One of my readers wondered:
Would an LSA be backbiting if they discuss the negative qualities of an individual at an LSA meeting when the individual was not present?
Do Assemblies have the right to hear and talk about community members’ negative qualities if the LSA is being asked to make a decision about this member, even when the community member is not present?
Can an Assembly make decisions about community members, by NOT listening to negative reports of bad character traits and praying for guidance instead?
First of all, dealing with this issue is working on the spiritual frontier of an Assembly’s growth, and patience is needed as we learn to rise to these challenges:
As you know, there can be many reasons for Assemblies not to respond to the believers. Undoubtedly, in some cases, it is because the friends and the Assemblies are struggling with issues on the frontier of their spiritual growth. Such a process can lead to tremendous development on both the individual and the collective levels. Sometimes we can facilitate this process of spiritual growth for individuals, and of maturation for Local and National Assemblies, by viewing these situations not as a problem but as opportunities for development. Taking part in this process should be a source of joy to us since we are, in effect, helping to build the kingdom of God on Earth. Nevertheless, patience is needed, particularly when it involves a subject that is close to our hearts, and when it seems that progress on the matter is lagging or has ceased entirely. We must maintain our confidence that the divinely ordained administrative system given to us by Bahá’u’lláh, and the inspiration of the Creative Word, will enable us to rise to these challenges. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
I’m glad you want to be a peace-maker in your community, helping the weaker members learn to function as true believers:
What the believers need is not only … to really study the teachings, but also to have more peace-makers circulating among them . . . It is one of the functions of the older and the more mature Bahá’ís, to help the weaker ones to iron out their difficulties and learn to really function and live like true believers! (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; since it strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community.
You are quite correct in your understanding of the importance of avoiding backbiting; such conduct strikes at the very unity of the Bahá’í community. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
In a letter written to an individual believer on behalf of the Guardian it is stated:
If we are better, if we show love, patience, and understanding of the weakness of others, if we seek to never criticize but rather encourage, others will do likewise, and we can really help the Cause through our example and spiritual strength. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 83)
This reinforces the role of the Assembly to act as loving parents. If we learn from the example shown by the House of Justice in their letters to individuals, they are always loving and encouraging.
However, learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and failing in this is area is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís, as you’ve discovered!
Learning not to concern oneself with the faults of others seems to be one of the most difficult lessons for people to master, and that failing in this is a fertile cause of disputes among Bahá’ís as it is among men and women in general. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
Unfortunately it seems easier to gossip and criticize than to put into practice love, constructive words and cooperation:
Unfortunately, not only average people, but average Bahá’ís, are very immature; gossip, trouble-making, criticism, seem easier than the putting into practice of love, constructive words and cooperation. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 89)
It’s an imperfect eye that beholds imperfections in others:
The imperfect eye beholds imperfections. (Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 93)
This is the standard we need to reach for:
One must expose the praiseworthy qualities of the souls and not their evil attributes. The friends must overlook their shortcomings and faults and speak only of their virtues and not their defects. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
One must see in every human being only that which is worthy of praise. When this is done, one can be a friend to the whole human race. If, however, we look at people from the standpoint of their faults, then being a friend to them is a formidable task. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 168)
Here’s a story of how to apply the standard:
It is related that His Holiness Christ—May my life be a sacrifice to Him!—one day, accompanied by His apostles, passed by the corpse of a dead animal. One of them said: ‘How putrid has this animal become!’ The other exclaimed: ‘How it is deformed!’ A third cried out: ‘What a stench! How cadaverous looking!’ but His Holiness Christ said: “Look at its teeth! how white they are!’ Consider, that He did not look at all at the defects of that animal; nay, rather, He searched well until He found the beautiful white teeth. He observed only the whiteness of the teeth and overlooked entirely the deformity of the body, the dissolution of its organs and the bad odour. This is the attribute of the children of the Kingdom. This is the conduct and the manner of the real Bahá’ís. I hope that all the believers will attain to this lofty station. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. IV, No. 11, p. 192)
In the next quote it looks pretty clear that discussing the faults of others in their absence is forbidden:
As regards backbiting, i.e. discussing the faults of others in their absence, the teachings are very emphatic. In a Tablet to an American friend the Master wrote: ‘The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting, more especially when it emanates from the tongues of the believers of God. If some means were devised so that the doors of backbiting were shut eternally and each one of the believers unsealed his lips in praise of others, then the Teachings of His Holiness Bahá’u’lláh would spread, the hearts be illumined, the spirits glorified, and the human world would attain to everlasting felicity.’ (Quoted in Star of West, Vol. IV. p. 192) Bahá’u’lláh says in Hidden Words; ‘Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command ACCURSED ARE THOU.’ The condemnation of backbiting could hardly be couched in stronger language than in these passages, and it is obviously one of the foremost obligations for Bahá’ís to set their faces against this practice. Even if what is said against another person be true, the mentioning of his faults to others still comes under the category of backbiting, and is forbidden. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 87)
In the following quote, the position is clear and it doesn’t say there are exceptions to the rule:
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.
(Bahá’u’lláh, The Arabic Hidden Words, 27)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism by name in discussion unless the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá does not permit adverse criticism of individuals by name in discussion among the friends, even if the one criticizing believes that he is doing so to protect the interests of the Cause. If the situation is of such gravity as to endanger the interests of the Faith, the complaint, as your National Spiritual Assembly has indicated, should be submitted to the Local Spiritual Assembly, or as you state to a representative of the institution of the Counsellors, for consideration and action. In such cases, of course, the name of the person or persons involved will have to be mentioned. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 90)
Here is a checklist we could all use!
- Would this detraction serve any useful purpose?
- Would it please the Blessed Beauty?
- Would it contribute to the lasting honour of the friends?
- Would it promote the holy Faith?
- Would it support the covenant?
- Would it be of any possible benefit to any soul?
The answer to all of these is No, never!
If any individual should speak ill of one who is absent, it is incumbent on his hearers, in a spiritual and friendly manner, to stop him, and say in effect: would this detraction serve any useful purpose? Would it please the Blessed Beauty, contribute to the lasting honour of the friends, promote the holy Faith, support the covenant, or be of any possible benefit to any soul? No, never! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
The consequences are clear – it makes the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more; the eyes would no longer behold the light of truth; it dampens the zeal of the friends; makes them indifferent; and is the leading reason why the friends withdraw:
On the contrary, it would make the dust to settle so thickly on the heart that the ears would hear no more, and the eyes would not longer behold the light of truth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
If any soul speak ill of an absent one, the only result will clearly be this: he will dampen the zeal of the friends and tend to make them indifferent. For backbiting is divisive, it is the leading cause among the friends of a disposition to withdraw. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Selections From The Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, pp. 230-231)
Even when an Assembly is dealing with an issue, backbiting causes more damage than the original offence:
If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant. Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
This one seems to have been written just for you, since you are standing for righteousness already!
Beware lest ye give ear to the words of those from whom the foul smell of malice and envy can be discerned; pay no heed to them, and stand ye for righteousness. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 200)
And you are doing your utmost to educate and prevent others from making complaints against others in your presence.
It is obvious that if we listen to those who complain to us about the faults of others we are guilty of complicity in their backbiting. We should therefore, as tactfully as possible, but yet firmly, do our utmost to prevent others from making accusations or complaints against others in our presence. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)
Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential:
Every believer must know that he can confide a personal problem to an institution of the Faith, with the assurance that knowledge of the matter will remain confidential. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
If a Bahá’í accepts confidential information, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality:
Members of Assemblies, whether they are assistants [to Auxiliary Board members] or not, are obviously in a position to receive confidential information as individuals from several sources. It is an important principle of the Faith that one must not promise what one is not going to fulfill. Therefore, if a Bahá’í accepts confidential information either by virtue of his profession (e.g. as a doctor, a lawyer, etc.), or by permitting another person to confide in him, he is in duty bound to preserve that confidentiality. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it:
Any information which comes to the notice of an Assembly member, solely by reason of his membership on that Assembly must not be divulged by that member, even though the Assembly itself may later decide to share it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Assistants have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member:
Assistants who are members of a National Assembly or a national committee do not function as assistants in relation to that body, and they have the same duty to observe the confidentiality of its consultations, and of matters considered by the Assembly to be confidential, as does any other member. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to:
If a member of the Assembly knows of a personal problem, and if he has not undertaken to keep it confidential, he may bring it to the Assembly’s attention if he feels it would be in the interests of the Faith for him to do so, but he is not obliged to. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it:
Every institution in the Faith has certain matters which it considers should be kept confidential, and any member who is privy to such confidential information is obliged to preserve the confidentiality within the institution where he learned it. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy:
Where no confidentiality is involved the institutions must strive to avoid the stifling atmosphere of secrecy. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
The Assembly must carefully consider which information should fall in the category of confidential information; which should not be shared with others, and which may be divulged under special circumstances, and how:
The Assembly must itself carefully consider which information should rightly fall in the category of confidential information and which should not be shared with others, and which information may be divulged under special circumstances, and how such information may be divulged. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed:
Should confidential matters regarding personal problems be freely shared with others, upon application, the confidence of the believers in the Assembly and its members will obviously be destroyed. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)
Several weeks later, another reader asked similar questions:
- Is an Assembly bound by the same prohibition against backbiting as an individual?
- Can an Assembly discuss an individual who is not present in the room?
- What are the implications for the Assembly as a Local House of Justice?
- Would a Local Assembly, National Spiritual Assembly and the Universal House of Justice
- all use the same guidelines?
- What is the Assemblies role/responsibility in protection? (for example in cases of child abuse)
- If an Assembly is not allowed to make a decision with someone who is not a member in the room – how could it rule on cases concerning individuals (again for example in the case of child abuse or marital disputes)? Does the Local Assembly actually have the right/responsibility to deal with such issues?
Great question! Thanks for asking! I’ve done a bit of thinking on this subject already! You might want to take a look (at what I wrote above)!
While it doesn’t deal specifically with some of the individual questions you ask, it will get you into the ballpark!
Here is the most pertinent answer I’ve been able to find:
If a believer faced with knowledge of another Bahá’ís conduct is unsure what course to take, he can, of course, always consult his Local Spiritual Assembly for advice. If, for some reason, he is reluctant at that stage to inform his Spiritual Assembly, he can consult an Auxiliary Board member or assistant. Whatever steps are taken, it is vital that the believers refrain from gossip and backbiting, for this can only harm the Faith, causing perhaps more damage than would have been caused by the original offense. (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)
In terms of reporting abuse, these quotes might give you what you’re looking for
I think what I was trying to say (in the article above) and perhaps didn’t do it very well as I’m just thinking on the spot . . .
We live in a society absolutely immersed in backbiting; to the extent that most of us get caught up in it as second nature; and we often don’t examine our participation in it very much, even though we’ve been told:
The worst human quality and the most great sin is backbiting. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 88)
So since most of us are immature in this way; when we come to Assemblies, we bring this tendency with us, and it’s easy to hide behind our role as Assembly members as permission to engage in backbiting.
I think a much higher spiritual principle is being called on us here. Perhaps a close study of these quotes on backbiting might result in a fruitful discussion for the Assembly.
Remember, when we come to a Spiritual Assembly meeting, it’s a “spiritual” meeting; not a “problem solving” one; so spiritual principles need to take ascendency. My hunch is that if whatever issue is before your Assembly now, could be better served if everyone became thoroughly acquainted with the quotes on backbiting; and for the Assembly to attempt to make a decision based on them. Even though it’s an unusual approach to decision making, I think both individually and as an institution, you’d see tremendous spiritual growth by applying them.
Does this make sense?
Another thing to consider is that the Assembly is called on to be “loving parents”; and we have absolutely no idea what a loving parent would do!
In an ideal world, both parents would consult together and arrive at a decision in unity.
In order for both parents to have the same information, it would be a more effective consultation if they were both present when all the information was gleaned from their wayward child and those who feel wronged by their behaviour.
Many Assemblies appoint counselling committees composed of a small number of Assembly members, and rely on them to give the information to the whole Assembly. While this might be expedient, surely it’s just another form of backbiting with institutional support!
The following quote suggests that every Assembly member needs to have access to the same information, heard directly from the source, so that they can attain make an informed decision:
O SON OF SPIRIT!
The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 2)
When every individual Assembly member has heard all the facts, directly from the source, there will be no need for backbiting. Consultation and decision making done this way will be a lot easier and more effective.
I’d really be interested in continuing a dialogue with you and your Assembly about this; as it’s a very important topic for the whole world!
It may even be time to consult the House of Justice on it!
Hope you find this helpful! I realize most of it talks about individuals; but I believe that it applies to individual Assembly members as well.
How has this been helpful? What’s been your experience? What would you add?
Turn to Baha’u’llah:
In truth the Blessed Perfection was . . . a shelter for every fearing one. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 221)
In the Tablet of Ahmad Baha’u’llah asks us to:
Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison. (Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 210)
When I was in the deepest despair, remembering traumatic events of my childhood, I came across this quote, which helped to lift me out of my “self”. I was feeling a lot of “poor me” and “why did this have to happen to me”, and then I had to stop and remember Bahá’u’lláh’s days.
Bahá’u’lláh was born into a wealthy family and was expected to follow his father into an important position in the government of Persia (Iran). He didn’t want the position or the power. Instead He wanted to dedicate Himself to helping the oppressed, sick and poor and to champion the cause of justice.
As a result, his life included a series of imprisonments, and banishments. At one point He was imprisoned for four months in an underground reservoir for a public bath, with its only outlet a single passage down three steep flights of stone steps. He sat with his feet in stocks and a 100-pound iron chain around his neck. He and His fellow prisoners (150 thieves, murders and highwaymen) huddled in their own bodily wastes, languishing in the pit’s inky gloom, subterranean cold and vermin and stench-ridden atmosphere.
When he was freed from prison, He and His family were banished to Bagdad (Iraq), a 3 month journey on foot over the mountains in the middle of winter without enough food.
“The throat Thou didst accustom to the touch of silk Thou hast, in the end, clasped with strong chains, and the body Thou didst ease with brocades and velvets Thou hast at last subjected to the abasement of a dungeon. Thy decree hath shackled Me with unnumbered fetters, and cast about My neck chains that none can sunder . . . How many the nights during which the weight of chains and fetters allowed Me no rest, and how numerous the days during which peace and tranquility were denied Me . . . Both bread and water . . . they have, for a time, forbidden unto this servant . . . and Thy behest summoned this servant to depart out of Persia, accompanied by a number of frail-bodied men and children of tender age, at this time when the cold is so intense that one cannot even speak, and ice and snow so abundant that it is impossible to move”. (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 109)
He stayed in Bagdad for 7 years, and then was banished again to Constantinople (Turkey), where he stayed for four months, and then was exiled again to Adrianople (Turkey). Again it was in winter and they didn’t have the proper clothes to protect them from the harsh weather. In order to drink, they had to light a fire to thaw ice from springs along the way. He stayed there for four and a half years and then was banished to the prison city of ‘Akká (Israel), to which the worst criminals were sent. He remained there for the rest of His life (24 years).
He was discredited by His uncle, poisoned by his jealous half-brother and witnessed the death of His son. He was betrayed by people He trusted, stoned, and isolated from the Believers. For a time, to protect the Faith from the efforts of His half-brother, He lived as a hermit. He was the victim of ignorance, injustice, cruelty and fanaticism.
But every crisis was followed by victory, and this, I believe, is what is important to remember.
Although my repressed memories included all the positive and neutral memories too, once they came back I was able to see that like Bahá’u’lláh, there were times in my life that were peaceful, and activities that weren’t abusive. From anger I learned to find my voice and take action. From poverty I was protected from materialism and learned to rely on God. From estrangement I gained knowledge of myself, and through it, knowledge of God. From being silenced, I was protected from backbiting and gossip.
So when you’re feeling in the pit of despair, I urge you to remember not only the negative things that happened to you, and to Bahá’u’lláh, but to remember the victories that came from them as well.
Turn to the Blessed Spot:
Verily, I read thy letter which indicated that thou hast turned unto the Blessed Spot, that the Truth (of God) hath revealed itself to thee, that thy fear is quieted and that thou hast attained to composure, assuredly believing in this great Cause. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 71)
Turn to ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
I wish to add a few words of assurance and sympathy in view of the heavy burden of responsibility that rests on your shoulders in these difficult and trying times. My fervent and increasing prayer is that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá may show you the way that will enable you to continue your splendid pioneer work effectually, peacefully, free from every earthly care and anxiety. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 30)
Haji Mirza Haydar-‘Ali writes in the Bihjatu’s-Sudur of the hopes of the Bahá’ís that, as the heir to Bahá’u’lláh, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá would, with the passage of years, come to resemble Him physically as well; but their hopes did not materialize, because sorrows and tribulations pressed hard upon ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, afflictions weakened His frame and made Him a prey to a number of ailments. He goes on to say that ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, in order to protect His followers from worry and anxiety, would not expose them to the knowledge of His maladies which at times were severe. (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Baha – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 133)
Recently I’ve been reading the newly released “Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá'” which is filled with His answers to questions people put to Him. It’s so full of love, I feel that reading them is like reading love letters to me too!
Remember the suffering of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá:
In times of disappointment, stress and anxiety, which we must inevitably encounter, we should remember the sufferings of our departed Master. Your work, your energy, your vigilance and care, your loving-kindness are assets that I greatly value and prize. Keep on, persevere, redouble in your efforts, repeat and rewrite the admonitions and instructions of our Beloved in your communications with individuals and Assemblies until they sink in their hearts and minds. This was truly our Beloved’s way and method and none better can we ever pursue. Your present pioneer work will surely be remembered and extolled by future generations. My prayers will always be offered for you. In matters of contribution we should not use any compulsion whatsoever and ascertain clearly the desire of the donor. We should appeal to but not coerce the friends. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 532)
In times of disappointment, stress and anxiety, which we must inevitably encounter, we should remember the sufferings of our departed Master. (From a letter written by Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 9 July 1926) (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
Turn to the Central Figures of the Faith:
Again, in God Passes By, he tells us of the anxieties of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, called upon to undertake a succession of colossal tasks throughout the entire period of His Ministry. Most recently, The Priceless Pearl has drawn aside the curtain on the life of the Guardian, and revealed to us the anxieties and agonies of the solitary and heroic figure who charted our course in service to the Cause for centuries to come. Yet who can doubt that all the central Figures demonstrated to the whole of mankind an assured and happy way of life? Here is where their example seems particularly precious. To rise above the disappointments, obstacles, and pain which we experience in serving the Cause is difficult enough, but to be called on, in doing so, to be happy and confident is perhaps the keenest spiritual test any of us can meet. The lives of the Founders of our Faith clearly show that to be fundamentally assured does not mean that we live without anxieties, nor does being happy mean that there are not periods of deep grief when, like the Guardian, we wrap ourselves in a blanket, pray and supplicate, and give ourselves time for healing in preparation for the next great effort. (Universal House of Justice, Quickeners of Mankind, p. 116)
Study the life of Bahiyyih Khanum:
The memory of the beloved Khanum will, assuredly, prove to be your great comfort in your moments of sufferings and anxiety and will guide your steps and strengthen your spiritual power and insight. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to the Indian Subcontinent, p. 86)
How staunch was her faith, how calm her demeanour, how forgiving her attitude, how severe her trials, at a time when the forces of schism had rent asunder the ties that united the little band of exiles which had settled in Adrianople and whose fortunes seemed then to have sunk to their lowest ebb! It was in this period of extreme anxiety, when the rigours of a winter of exceptional severity, coupled with the privations entailed by unhealthy housing accommodation and dire financial distress, undermined once for all her health and sapped the vitality which she had hitherto so thoroughly enjoyed. The stress and storm of that period made an abiding impression upon her mind, and she retained till the time of her death on her beauteous and angelic face evidences of its intense hardships. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 33-34)
Study the Lives of the Martyrs and the Courage of the Baha’is in Iran:
But, thanks to the strengthening grace of Bahá’u’lláh and the demonstration of steadfastness by these noble friends (the Bahá’ís of Iran), we shall know how to meet the shafts of the enemy without fear. (The Universal House of Justice, Ridvan 153, 1996)
Read the Dawnbreakers:
It is interesting to note as well that Shoghi Effendi encouraged the believers to study the Dawn-Breakers, which he described as an “unfailing instrument to allay distress.” (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 October 1994)
Sometimes it’s not enough to turn to books for comfort – you need a real person to talk to. That’s when you can use the Institutions of the Faith.
Turn to the Continental Board of Counsellors:
When you have doubts and concerns about your own plans, confide in the Counsellors; when something they do causes you worry, talk to them in the proper spirit of Bahá’í consultation. Remember that they, like yourselves, are burdened with the work of the Cause and are beset with many concerns in its service, and they need your sympathetic understanding of the challenges they face. Open your hearts and your minds to them; regard them as your confidants, your loving friends. And be ever ready to extend to them your hand in support. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
Turn to the Auxiliary Board:
Training alone, of course, does not necessarily lead to an upsurge in teaching activity. In every avenue of service, the friends need sustained encouragement. Our expectation is that the Auxiliary Board members, together with their assistants, will give special thought to how individual initiative can be cultivated, particularly as it relates to teaching. When training and encouragement are effective, a culture of growth is nourished in which the believers see their duty to teach as a natural consequence of having accepted Bahá’u’lláh. They “raise high the sacred torch of faith,” as was ‘Abdu’l- Baha’s wish, “labour ceaselessly, by day and by night,” and “consecrate every fleeting moment of their lives to the diffusion of the divine fragrance and the exaltation of God’s holy Word.” So enkindled do their hearts become with the fire of the love of God that whoever approaches them feels its warmth. They strive to be channels of the spirit, pure of heart, selfless and humble, possessing certitude and the courage that stems from reliance on God. In such a culture, teaching is the dominating passion of the lives of the believers. Fear of failure finds no place. Mutual support, commitment to learning, and appreciation of diversity of action are the prevailing norms. (The Universal House of Justice, 2001 Jan 09, Conference of the Continental Boards of Counsellors)
For More in this Series:
What is Fear?
What are we Afraid Of?
Reactions to Fear
Fight, Flight or Freeze
Doubt and Fear
What is the Purpose of Fear?
What about the Fear of God?
What Makes us Susceptible to Fear?
Understanding the Link Between Fear and Sin
Overcoming Fear – Introduction
Overcoming Fear By Turning to God
Overcoming Fear with Prayer
Overcoming Fear By Reading the Writings
Overcoming Fear By Focusing on the Virtues
Overcoming Fear Through Love
Overcoming Fear with Faith
Overcoming Fear with Patience
Overcoming Fear through Courage
Overcoming Fear through Teaching and Service
Overcoming Fear By Changing your Thoughts
Overcoming Fear through Forgiveness
Overcoming Fear through Tests and Difficulties
What Can Others Do, To Help Those Who Are Afraid?
Prayers to Eliminate Fear
How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments here:
Musical Selection: Karen singing – please click on title: Special One
I feel privileged that you invited me here today to tell my story. I hope that what I have to say will have some meaning for you so that you may not have to take the same path yourselves! This is my truth as I see it. Others may have a different perspective. I have changed people’s names out of respect for their privacy.
I can honestly say that the vast majority of my earliest memories are good ones. There was always something fun happening – Christmas dinners at grandma’s house, family parties with cousins to play with, and lots of music and laughter. My dad was the life of the party – he was always horsing around doing something funny and all the kids loved him. He could play his mandolin and tell jokes all night. My family was musical, so my sister and I were encouraged from an early age to pick up an instrument and join in. We didn’t have a ton of money, but enough to have a little cottage on a lake with an old boat and a couple of snowmobiles. We kids made mud pies and played hide and seek and made forts in the woods, tied toboggans up behind the snowmobiles, skated on the lake, and had cookouts. While the adults partied, the kids got to run until we dropped. I remember falling asleep under a pile of coats at various hunt camps while the fiddles sawed away in the next room and the floor bounced with the stomping. What did we care if the neighbours thought we were hillbillies? It was fun! The troubling thing is that there are big chunks of time I can’t account for. I just don’t remember. And it’s not because I’m getting old! I feel like my mind has blocked out something very troubling.
During the week we had a pretty normal, quiet family life. Both my parents had good jobs and worked full-time. But on the weekends there were parties – parties at our house, parties at my cousins’ houses, parties at my parent’s friends’ houses, and always there was booze. One night my dad’s cousin got so drunk they had to tie him to the birch tree so he could stand up to play the fiddle. They had to carry the neighbour into his boat so his wife, who had been drinking herself, and had never driven a boat, could drive home to their cottage on an island across the lake. I remember several mornings getting up to find dad asleep in the truck with his feet stuck out the window – he had had driven us home in the middle of the night but was too drunk to walk into the house and go to bed. Sometimes if he had been out by himself, we would find him in the morning halfway out the cottage road, passed out in the truck, blocking the way for any of the neighbours who might want to get in or out. It all seemed funny at the time, and I didn’t think it was out of the ordinary. It’s just the way it was for us.
There was also drama and tragedy – when I was 7 my cousin, Greg, whose cottage was next door, died in a boating accident. He and his buddy, Roy, from two doors down, had been playing chicken in his little boat at night with no lights. Roy sustained serious head injuries from which he never fully recovered. They didn’t find Greg’s body until several days later. The police said alcohol was involved. They were 16. One day my dad was racing his skidoo down the lake in icy conditions after a cookout where the adults had been drinking. He caught a piece of crust and rolled his sled end over end I don’t know how many times. He spent the next two weeks in bed. One spring day our close friend and neighbour put his snowmobile through the ice right in front of our house. Luckily, he got out. It seemed he was always having mishaps, and he was usually drunk. Then there was the day my dad nearly died when his chainsaw jumped out of the log he was cutting and slashed his throat, barely missing his jugular vein. He had been drinking.
As the years passed, there were increasingly more arguments and fights. I remember intervening one winter night during a particularly bad incident between mom and dad. He had his hands around her neck and had her backed into the tub. I thought he would kill her and the only way I could think to get him off her was to punch him in the balls. When he turned on me, I ran into the bush in my sock feet and once I knew I was safe I puked behind a tree. I remember being so scared I didn’t even notice how cold my feet were. I was 14. In another incident years later, mom had left dad to come and stay at my house but she decided to give him another chance. When we arrived at the cottage on Friday night, he was really drunk and started getting violent. We tried to leave, but by the time we got in the car, dad was standing in the middle of the only road out of the place with a gun firmly held across his chest, trying to stop me from driving away with mom. In that moment of terror I had to choose between running my father over with my car, or standing the chance of one or both of us getting shot. He made the decision for me; as he stepped around to my mother’s side of the car I gunned it and ducked, waiting for the shot. I remember the car screaming and red lining in first gear at 40 mph because it had a standard transmission and I was so scared I had forgotten to shift gears. The cops refused to go and arrest him that night because they said it was too dangerous. They confiscated his guns the next day. I had very disturbing violent nightmares for a long time after that in which I was bashing his head in with a rock. Even after all that, incredibly, mom went back to him. At the time I couldn’t understand why. The day my grandma died in 1988, he was at it again. This time the cops warned mom to get away. She showed up at my house. I had to lie about her whereabouts at the funeral to protect her safety.
THAT’S WHAT IT FINALLY TOOK TO BREAK OUT OF THE DENIAL AND REALIZE MY FATHER WAS AN ALCOHOLIC.
I was always pretty outgoing and I had friends, but I was not one of the popular girls in high school. I had skipped a grade so I was younger than my classmates and I was a “late bloomer” with a fall birthday. I turned 14 in the first semester of Grade 10, and I didn’t start to develop physically until well into my high school years. I was a really good student and I guess somewhere along the line I figured out that it was safer to get good marks and stay out of the way. I adopted the role of the super-responsible kid, perfectionistic, with a hyper-awareness of other’s feelings and needs, putting pressure on myself to overachieve, and somehow feeling like I was never good enough. I spent long hours in my bedroom doing assignments, but music was my life. I was in 3 bands and practiced sometimes 2 or 3 hours a night. I played several instruments, and I thought I was pretty good!
I started dating Frank at 17. I went to Ottawa to go to university and he came along to attend college there. He was smart and handsome, he came from a well-established, upstanding family, and it didn’t hurt that he had a nice car! His father was a well known and respected politician. WE WERE IN LOVE AND WE THOUGHT WE HAD THE WORLD BY THE TAIL. We got married when I was 19.
Looking back, I was interested in everything he did but he was NOT interested in the things that were important to me; we ate the foods that HE liked, we listened to the music that HE liked, we did the things that HE wanted to do. I had always wanted to travel, but he was afraid to fly, so we didn’t. At the time it seemed far easier to do things his way than to deal with the conflict that would be created by my asserting my needs or desires. You see, I had no idea what HEALTHY BOUNDARIES were. So, a little bit at a time, I sold out, and every time I did, I would get a little bit hurt and a little bit angry, and each time I gave away a little piece of myself. It happened so gradually, and over such a long period of time, that I hardly noticed it was happening. It’s like that story about the frog and the pot of water- if you drop a frog into a pot of hot water, he will jump out. He might get burned, but he will survive and probably stay away from the pot! But if you drop a frog into a pot of cold water and turn up the heat so gradually that he hardly notices the change, he will stay in the pot until he dies. Eventually we stopped hanging around with MY friends, I stopped playing music, I did almost all of the chores – piece by piece, without my realizing it, my identity became eroded and I seemed to disappear. If something went well, he took the credit for it, even if it was my doing. But, when something went wrong, it was ALWAYS my fault. He would twist stories around until it was so confusing I began to doubt my own memory. It was crazy making! He had expectations in the bedroom and I was made to feel it was MY shortcoming if I failed to meet them. I just kept trying to please him, but nothing ever seemed to be enough.
It wasn’t all bad. We had some fun times. We went snowmobiling in the winter and went to his family’s cottage in the summer. We visited regularly with both our families. We both had successful careers, mine in teaching and his in construction. We set goals, had a nice house, and were saving money for retirement. But in 1989 my world shifted, as if I was standing on a rug and someone pulled it out from under me. We had gone to his brother and sister-in-law’s house to give a birthday gift to our oldest niece, but instead of a celebration, there was a confrontation. Their daughters had just accused Frank of molesting them – the older one years before when she was little, before I even knew him. The younger one, who was by now 15, accused him molesting her just two years before IN OUR KITCHEN WHILE EVERYONE ELSE WAS JUST OUTSIDE, WITHIN SIGHT!!! It must have happened in a matter of seconds, a few minutes at the most! I remember thinking during the confrontation, “this happens in the movies – this doesn’t happen TO ME!” and realizing that my whole first 7 years of marriage were based on a lie. Here was the man I loved, admitting to molesting the older girl years before, but he never did admit to molesting the younger one. I can’t begin to describe the shock and confusion I felt! It was the first time I ever really thought about leaving him, but I was so CODEPENDENT by that time that I couldn’t imagine being on my own. My FEAR kept me trapped. For several months I had a hard time eating or sleeping, but eventually with some therapy I settled enough to decide to stay – we went on to have two great boys who were born in the early nineties, but it seemed like we were dancing around in a circle. Tension would build up, we would fight, then make up, and for a while things would seem to be OK, then tension would build again, over and over. And every time there was another fight, the issue of his molesting his nieces would come up – I could never get over that.
Little did I know it was going to get worse!
One day in the mid nineties, when having internet in the house was a relatively new thing, he asked me to look for a calculator in his brief case and in the bottom I found a picture of a naked little girl – Asian, maybe 10 or 12 yrs old –that he had printed off the computer. I was shocked and I confronted him. I thought about his nieces, and of course there was yet another fight. I destroyed the picture and he assured me that he had just been curious. He apologized and promised it had never happened before and it would never happen again. I was in DENIAL. I loved him. I wanted so desperately for everything to be OK. I stayed.
We were both workaholics. Things were getting so rotten between us that we both felt good when we worked. I had become a perfectionist control freak – because my relationship seemed like it was out of control. It takes a huge amount of energy to try and control everything in your life – especially when it is uncontrollable! To survive emotionally I stayed in my head and pushed down the feelings, at all cost. By that time, I was teaching full time, racing home every night with a briefcase full of lessons to plan and papers to mark in time to pick up the kids from daycare at 6 pm. I had two little boys under the age of 8 who were active with swimming lessons, soccer, Cub Scouts, etc. Frank was away a lot of the time working out of town, but when he wasn’t away, on weekends and evenings we would work on another new house for ourselves and move just about every year. We had a very good lifestyle in terms of material things, but I was miserable, exhausted, and empty inside. It seemed like every time we started fighting again, we would go and buy something new like a truck or a new snowmobile or a 4 wheeler, and for a little while it made us feel a bit better, but the feeling never lasted. I kept trying harder to make him happy but it was impossible, and I was so out of touch with myself that I had no idea what it would take to make me happy.
On Easter weekend in 2000 I had a very sudden life-threatening health crisis that ended up being the catalyst I needed to start making some positive changes in my life. Looking back, I realize that I was completely burned out. It was a miracle that I was alive; most people don’t survive the diagnosis I was given. I was never religious, but that night for the first time in my life I prayed and meant it. I said, “God, if you’re even there, apparently the way I have been directing my life up to this point in time has not been working too well. If I am meant to die here tonight, then my crying and fussing about it isn’t going to change anything, SOOOOOOOO here I am – you can take it from here, just please, if I am meant to live, show me what I am supposed to do!” I’m not suggesting you should believe what I believe; I am just saying that’s what I did, because that’s all I had left to do. After a week in intensive care, I went home to recuperate, but I had to stop working. It was the first time I really started to wonder why I was here on the planet. On the outside everything looked great – nice house, good career, two great kids – but there was nothing left inside. I felt like a completely vacant empty shell. I started going back to therapy, but this time I was really ready to do the work and find out what was going on. One of the many valuable things I learned in therapy is that the difficulties that we face in our major relationships reflect back to us unresolved issues of our own. Over time and with help, I began to really look at things in a new perspective.
During this time, I discovered that our beloved babysitter/housekeeper had forged my signature on several cheques to the tune of almost $2000.00. She and her husband had been like adopted grandparents for our boys. I felt so betrayed! I also found out that Frank had been having an ongoing affair with one of my friends. Others in the community, including my best friend, knew about it but no one told me. I felt double betrayed! He showed me humility and convinced me of his sincerity when he apologized, and promised it had never happened before and it would never happen again. I was in DENIAL. I loved him. I wanted desperately for it to be OK. I stayed. And I got more counselling to try and help me deal with this latest crisis. Then, on the day the World Trade Centre was attacked, Sept 11, 2001, my own twin towers fell, so to speak. Our computer in our home office had broken and I had a technician come to the house to fix it. As I sat beside him, he opened files with dozens of pornographic pictures of children. I was mortified, shocked, and embarrassed to have such images in my home and furious that my little boys could have inadvertently opened one of those files. There was yet another fight, this time in which I threatened to get rid of the computer, and once again, Frank apologized and promised never to do it again. By now we both realized he had a problem. He also began to get therapy, which was enough to keep me hanging on. After all, I loved him and I wanted desperately for everything to be OK! In therapy, he began to analyze his sexual addiction and discovered that, although he could not remember anything, he had most likely been molested as a child. Now, realizing that I was married to a sex addict, and knowing that major relationships are reflective of my own issues, I began to look at my own childhood and suspect that I, too, had been molested. I had absolutely no memories of anything happening, but I also learned that as a coping mechanism, during traumatic incidents, the brain can literally block out all memory of the incidents. These are called REPRESSED memories. They help you to function on a day to day basis and go on with your life. The body remembers, though, and it stores unexpressed anger and grief in its cells. All kinds of studies have shown that there is a very real mind-body connection. When you accumulate years of toxic emotional stress your body responds in a very real way. If you don’t clear it, eventually it can lead to chronic illness or disease. When you clear that stress, your body is free to respond with good health and vitality. It’s like sweeping dirt under the carpet, or throwing your garbage into the basement – it keeps building up and building up until one day you get to a point where you just have to do some housecleaning. My body had told me the year before that it was time to do some housecleaning, but I still only partially listened. I was gradually working through my issues and becoming more aware, to be sure, but I was staying in a relationship that was becoming increasingly more toxic.
By then my father was a raging alcoholic – the town drunk who I kept at arm’s length. I felt guilty if I didn’t see him from time to time, but I felt shame and sadness when I did see him, because of the way he was living his life. My dad died of cancer in 2002 but something shifted between us in the last few weeks of his life. As he was coming to terms with the fact that he was dying I saw an authenticity in him I had never seen before. I stopped being quite so angry and start feeling some compassion for him. A few days before he died, I told him that I had forgiven him. He responded, “Well, wonders never cease”. The day he died, I sat by his bed and I held his hand as he passed. After he was gone I mourned the loss not so much of the man but of the relationship I always wished we could have had and now never would. Strangely, I feel closer to my father now than I ever did when he was alive.
I was still married, but our situation was becoming increasingly toxic. By now I had left my teaching career for good to work full time building big waterfront houses with Frank. I was in charge of site administration, hiring subcontractors, payroll and accounting, purchasing materials, AND I worked on site doing things like painting (sometimes on scaffolding or ladders 24 feet high), insulation, shovelling gravel, carrying lumber, picking up garbage, and helping the carpenters with framing. I enjoyed the physical work, and quite frankly, I enjoyed taking the men on the job by surprise with strength and ability that they did not expect to see in a woman. Even though we were making far more money than I could ever have made teaching, Frank constantly belittled my contribution to our business and accused me more than once of being lazy and not wanting to work, because I had left my teaching career after that health crisis. Frank had stopped going to therapy, probably because he realized that once again, the latest crisis had been averted and I was back on the hook. I still loved him, but I suppose by this time I really had lost most of the respect I had had for him. I tried to see the hurt little boy and the sensitive man buried deep down inside all those layers of anger, and I waited for him to fulfill the potential that I saw in him. I would get glimpses of him every now and then when he had to show humility to avert another crisis. I knew he had an addiction, but by now I was so expert at covering up for him that I didn’t even realize that I was doing it. I understand now that what I was doing was ENABLING him to continue to act out his addiction. So why did I keep staying after all the crises and the grief? Maybe it was LOVE, but more likely it was FEAR and CODEPENDENCE. Living with “the devil you know” somehow seemed less frightening than stepping into the unknown. Even though I was doing most of the work to run the household, I couldn’t imagine being alone – I felt like I was only ½ of a circle – if you took away the other half I would be incomplete and unable to cope.
I had started to play music again. Just a little at first, but over time it became a bigger and bigger part of my life, because I realized that it was an important part of me that I had given up all those years before, and I wanted it back because it made me feel good. We started going to music festivals and despite the fact that we had a lot of fun camping with our new musical friends, Frank often made it clear that he didn’t like my playing music. You see, I was having fun and feeling good. It wasn’t for him or about him, and he was jealous. I often told him that I wished for his sake that he could find something in his life that he could feel as passionately about as I felt towards playing music, but he never really showed interest in anything outside his work. By the time I started a band and began to play semi-professionally, he would come to some festivals with me, but it was a favour to me that I could never really repay; he would make my life absolutely miserable, and often my band would have to rally around me when I would show up backstage before a show in tears. I would try to attend to his needs – did he have a drink? Was he hungry? Did he have someone to talk to? Was he happy? If he didn’t come, I found out later that he would say things to my children like “Your mother doesn’t want to be here with you. Her music is more important to her.” In 2006 he came to one of the larger festivals with me. I made especially sure to give him extra attention, as he often accused me of ignoring him when I was playing music. We had had a great day together, and ended the evening with a jam session with friends around a campfire. I had been super vigilant to see that he was having a good time. When it was time to go to bed, I put my instrument away and wondered why he hadn’t come into the trailer with me. I went back out to find him necking with a young woman half his age. I rubbed my eyes to make sure. I had had a few drinks over the course of the evening, but I was definitely not drunk. I locked myself in the trailer and started angrily packing up while he got a security guard to come and knock on the door and tell me I had been seeing things. We drove home in silence, and he slept in the spare bedroom that week, but I allowed him to come back because the next weekend we were expecting company and I still wasn’t ready for the truth to come out to our friends. You see, I was still trying to push down the feelings, smooth things over, and make everything appear normal when in fact we were in yet another crisis. I went back for more counselling to help me try and deal with this latest incident, but I was still enabling him to continue in his addiction.
By November 2007, 18 1/2 years after I had first seriously considered leaving, I had finally and truly had enough and was looking for a way out. Although he had never raised a hand to me, I was exhausted from the ongoing emotional abuse and drama, and I had long since lost my respect for Frank. I had threatened for years to leave and had never followed through, so why would he believe me now? But this time it was different. I had been faithful to Frank through all those years, but now I had met someone at a music conference in Nashville that I was very attracted to. I told Frank about it and he actually encouraged me to be with him, thinking it might be some kind of sexual game. But I was not playing any kind of game. I began talking to this man on the phone and I was falling head over heels in love. I told Frank up front that I intended to pursue my relationship with this man, and that I intended to leave – this time for real. That was when things began to get dangerous.
I was still living in the matrimonial home, and I had told my boys, teenagers of 15 and 13 by now, that I was planning on leaving, but that I was hoping to hold out until after Christmas. I couldn’t possibly tell them all the things that had led up to my decision – I felt they were too young to know about such adult problems, and I still wanted them to have some respect for their father even if he no longer had it from me. Of course, they were confused and angry with me. I had tried so hard all those years to cover up the problems between their father and me that they really hadn’t known how bad it was, but now that “the cat was out of the bag”, so to speak, it was impossible to hide the fighting and the arguments. It got so bad that a couple of weeks before Christmas, my younger son pulled me aside and said, “Mom, why don’t we just go?”, but I was determined to hang on until after Christmas, if at all possible. My older son decided to live with his dad, which broke my heart, because his dad really had not been there for them. He was away so much when they were growing up, and when he was home he was usually either too busy working, too angry, or too tired to interact with them. It was that heartbreak that inspired my very first song.
Musical Selection: Karen singing – please click on title: I won’t Give Up On You
Things were escalating to the point where I was sleeping with my coat and boots and purse by my side because I feared that things might get really nasty and I would have to get out in the night. I locked the bedroom door because by this point I was afraid of Frank, and he would pick the lock just to show me that he could. I got my own cell phone and opened a new personal email account. He later admitted that he had been stalking me; I would come out of the grocery store or the bank and there he was, waiting. He was checking my odometer, obtaining my cell phone statements, and attempting to hack into my email account. He froze the bank accounts and cancelled the credit cards. He would tell me private information about the band’s business – it made everyone uncomfortable to the point that they considered calling the police. I started going to the local women’s shelter for counselling. They gave me strategies for staying safe, and information on community resources, but most importantly, they reassured me that I was not crazy! Then one night, while I slept, he broke into the bedroom and began to sexually assault me. He had imagined that I had been talking to this new man while he was out of town, which I wasn’t, but by the time he got home at 2 am he was beside himself with rage. He must have snapped out of his fury long enough to realize what was happening, because I was able to fight him off, but that was the last straw. On Boxing Day I drove away from my beautiful waterfront home to go and live in the basement of my mother’s house. And although I was an emotional wreck, I was finally free, and I never looked back.
Shortly after I left, Frank went into a residential treatment programme where he could get help with his sex addiction issues. I hope he benefited from his time there, but I suspect his motivation for going was to lure me back into the relationship as he had done so many times before. Within a few weeks of my leaving he was dating a woman from Oregon who he had met on an online dating site.
It’s funny how you learn how very little value your “stuff” has when you drive away from it in a situation like that. You think you are attached to your “stuff”, so you fight for it, and you mourn the loss of it, but in the end, it’s just “stuff”. By the time I got ½ of our “stuff” back in the settlement a year later, I didn’t even want it any more. I had something far more precious – PEACE. And I was finally starting to find MYSELF.
I want to make it clear that neither my dad nor my ex-husband were monsters! I loved them both. Dad was an easy going and fun-loving guy. He was the kind of guy who would help a stranger on the side of the road. And Frank had many good qualities, or I would never have married him! He was a good provider and a perfect choice for showing me what I needed to know about myself. And every time he put up a hurdle for me, I jumped higher. It made me stronger and more independent in the long run. The point is that ADDICTION MAKES GOOD PEOPLE DO BAD THINGS, and addiction and abuse are insidious; they creep up on you very slowly and quietly. You often don’t notice it’s happening until it’s too late. I have a friend who was a cop. She says, based on her observations, where domestic violence is concerned, escalation is inevitable. In other words, if he hit you once, it is very likely that he WILL hit you again, even if he’s really sorry and he says he won’t. There was one piece of advice she always gave to girls and women who were dealing domestic violence – “keep your girlfriends!” You need a support system and a sounding board. I wish I had known this.
I don’t any longer blame people for the things I have experienced – that would be staying stuck in victimhood. After all, how could my parents have possibly taught me about healthy boundaries when they didn’t have any themselves? Instead I prefer to think of life like a big theatre production – we all have our parts to play. We just don’t realize that we are in a play until we step back and take a look at the big picture. Our parents were also unconsciously playing their roles, and so were their parents, and so on and so on. Addiction and abuse don’t just start up out of the blue. More likely they are patterns of behaviour that have been handed down for many, many generations. If you look at it that way, there’s no one left to blame. The question is; what are YOU going to do about it? You can stay angry and play the martyr or the victim, but that just gives your power away. You can try to stay drunk or high, and make it seem to go away for a little while, but that’s all it is – a little while, then it comes back with a fury, and I don’t need to tell you the long term effect that will have on your life. CLEARLY IT DOESN’T WORK! Both of those choices almost guarantee that you will pass the abuse on down to the next generation. Or, you can step up to the plate, as I have done, and begin to do the healing work necessary and make the changes that could potentially break the chain for future generations. It’s not easy – sometimes it hurts like HELL, and it can be downright ugly what you expose when you have an honest look inside. But I guarantee you it’ll be worth it!
My sister tried to cope by drowning her problems in alcohol and prescription pills. She has had ongoing health issues and she has struggled with addiction off and on for over 20 years. I learned that giving her money to help with the latest crisis only enabled her to continue drinking. NOT giving her money made me feel terribly guilty because she was suffering so much, and had very real problems. I love her because she is a gentle soul and she is my sister, but I still haven’t really figured out how to handle my relationship with her, so mostly I try to keep my distance, and that’s a real shame because we could have been such good friends! But I also try hard not to judge – it could’ve easily been me. It will be up to her to make the changes she needs to make to overcome her addiction and improve her life. I have told her that when she makes those changes, I will be there for her, but I also have to come to terms with the possibility that she may never make them.
My mom and I are now as close as we have ever been. I understand a whole lot better now what she went through and why she made the choices she did, because I ended up going through much the same thing.
As for the man I started dating, well, it’s been 4 years now, and we still love each other, but I think we both realize that our lives are going in different directions. I will always be grateful to him for helping me find the strength to leave an extremely toxic situation, and I will always cherish the time we had together, but I was not in an emotionally healthy place to begin a new relationship at the time. Was it what is called a “rebound relationship”? In retrospect, the answer is probably yes, although I did not see it at the time. No matter what the future does or does not hold for us, I’m OK, and I think that’s the main thing.
I have to take responsibility for the part I played in the drama of my life. I understand now that, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I contributed to my situation by NOT maintaining healthy boundaries; every time I gave in for the sake of not angering Frank, I gave him a little more power over me. He didn’t take it – I gave it away. And every time I covered up for him, I took away an opportunity for him to take responsibility for his own behaviour. When I began to understand this, the first person I had to forgive was myself! I couldn’t possibly know then what the consequences of my choices would eventually be. And for that matter, in retrospect, I couldn’t possibly expect to be able to make decisions at 19 that were still valid at 49. People change! When I learned to forgive myself, then by extension I realized I needed to forgive my parents – they didn’t know any better what they were doing than I did. They were just trying to figure it out and survive the best they could. How could I expect them to be perfect when I wasn’t perfect myself? My ancestors were too busy trying to put food on the table and keep the house warm – they did not live in a culture of growing self-awareness that we can choose to take advantage of today. After generations of addiction and abuse, I have the privilege and responsibility of attempting to break the chain. It’s like we’ve all been sleepwalking, but now it’s time to wake up!!!!
Abuse can happen to ANYONE. It crosses all boundaries – economic, religious, age, gender. I was a well educated person with a good career and decent financial resources and it still happened to me! Remember: violence can take many forms – it doesn’t have to be physical. Pain in and of itself is not a bad thing. It teaches us to pay attention. When you stub your toe, for example, you pay full attention to that part of you – you rub it, maybe get some ice, but you take care of it until the pain goes away. The same can be true of emotional pain – it’s there to tell us that we’ve been hurt, but we need to learn to pay attention to it and not just ignore it. Learning these skills doesn’t mean you won’t ever feel pain again – life happens! Sometimes people do things that hurt. It’s a process I expect to be working on for a long time. I didn’t learn these behaviours over night, and it may take a while to unlearn them. BUT I have learned to honour my feelings, to listen to the messages I get from my gut and my heart, not just the thoughts in my head.
I feel so fortunate and grateful – for the good things that have happened to me in my life, AND for the insights and the strength I have gained from the challenges I have had to overcome. I not only survived, but I developed a greater level of self-awareness, and I am thriving now more than ever before. The funny thing about forgiveness is that you might think it’s for the benefit of the person you are forgiving, and surely they DO benefit from it, but more importantly it benefits the person who is doing the forgiving. When you release all that anger and righteousness, it’s like a huge weight being lifted off your spirit, and for the first time, maybe ever, you are truly free to discover who you really are. That’s what I’m doing now. I have found my own personal way to do my spiritual housecleaning with a combination of exercise, spending time in nature, writing and performing music, counselling, reading spiritual and self-help books, and lots of introspection (some might call it prayer or meditation). Others will find different ways to do their personal work. I’m 49 years old now and I am just getting to know Karen, and I really like the person she is becoming. I don’t know how it’s all going to turn out, but I have huge hope for my future! And because of the work I am doing, I have a great deal of hope that my children will not have to repeat the pattern.
My sincere wish for you is that you do whatever it takes to stay connected to your source, realize how beautiful and perfect you are, draw on your amazing inner strength, and discover and celebrate your wonderful gifts, and in doing so, show by example that others can too, no matter what blows life has dealt them.
Musical Selection: Karen singing – please click on title: Now I Fly
Studying the lives of the Central Figures of the Faith gives us a model to use in how they dealt with situations which would plunge any of us into self pity:
When Baha’u’llah was in the Síyáh-Chál with his fellow prisoners, He recounts this story. If ever people had a right to feel sorry for themselves, these prisoners did, but instead, look what they chose to do instead:
We were all huddled together in one cell, our feet in stocks, and around our necks fastened the most galling of chains. The air we breathed was laden with the foulest impurities, while the floor on which we sat was covered with filth and infested with vermin. No ray of light was allowed to penetrate that pestilential dungeon or to warm its icy-coldness. We were placed in two rows, each facing the other. We had taught them to repeat certain verses which, every night, they chanted with extreme fervour. ‘God is sufficient unto me; He verily is the All-sufficing!’ one row would intone, while the other would reply: ‘In Him let the trusting trust.’ The chorus of these gladsome voices would continue to peal out until the early hours of the morning. Their reverberation would fill the dungeon, and, piercing its massive walls, would reach the ears of Násiri’d-Dín Sháh, whose palace was not far distant from the place where we were imprisoned. ‘What means this sound?’ he was reported to have exclaimed. ‘It is the anthem the Bábís are intoning in their prison,’ they replied. The Shah made no further remarks, nor did he attempt to restrain the enthusiasm his prisoners, despite the horrors of their confinement, continued to display. (Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 631-632)
The Báb also immersed Himself in the Writings:
As He lay confined within the walls of the castle, He devoted His time to the composition of the Persian Bayan, the most weighty, the most illuminating and comprehensive of all His works. [. . . the writings which emanated from His inspired pen during this period were so numerous that they amounted in all to more than a hundred thousand verses]. (Shoghi Effendi, The Dawn-Breakers, p. 247)
Bahá’u’lláh paid the price for our suffering when He consented to be bound in chains “that mankind may be released from its bondage”. Bondage is a kind of slavery – in this case to self pity; and liberty is freedom. He “drank the cup of sorrow” so that we could be filled with joy and gladness, so by staying stuck in the prison of our self-pity, we’re rejecting His gift.
The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness.
Bahá’u’lláh wants us to “Remember my days during thy days”, and perhaps one reason for this is so that we can see how he handled his time in prison:
I sorrow not for the burden of My imprisonment. Neither do I grieve over My abasement, or the tribulation I suffer at the hands of Mine enemies. By My life! They are My glory, a glory wherewith God hath adorned His own Self. Would that ye know it! The shame I was made to bear hath uncovered the glory with which the whole of creation had been invested, and through the cruelties I have endured, the Day Star of Justice hath manifested itself, and shed its splendor upon men. My sorrows are for those who have involved themselves in their corrupt passions, and claim to be associated with the Faith of God, the Gracious, the All-Praised. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99)
Because then He goes on to tell us how we should behave, knowing all this. He wants us to detach from all earthly things, which includes all of our disappointments and hurts, so that something much better might transpire:
It behoveth the people of Baha to die to the world and all that is therein, to be so detached from all earthly things that the inmates of Paradise may inhale from their garment the sweet smelling savor of sanctity, that all the peoples of the earth may recognize in their faces the brightness of the All-Merciful, and that through them may be spread abroad the signs and tokens of God, the Almighty, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99)
You didn’t see ‘Abdul-Bahá fall into self pity. He could both sigh out in grief, then turn to God:
For thirty long years, from the hour of Bahá’u’lláh’s ascension until His own immaculate spirit passed into the light of the all-highest realm, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá rested neither night nor day . . . All His life long, that quintessence of eternal glory, that subtle and mysterious Being, was subjected to trials and ordeals. He was the target of every calumny, of every false accusation, from enemies both without and within. To be a victim of oppression was His lot in this world’s life, and all He knew of it was toil and pain. In the dark of the night, He would sigh out His grief, and as He chanted His prayers at the hour of dawn, that wondrous voice of His would rise up to the inmates of Heaven. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khánum, p. 152-153)
When life dealt Him hardship, He saw what needed to be done and He did it.
Single and alone, a prisoner, a victim of tyranny, He rose up to reform the world — to refine and train and educate the human race. He watered the tree of the Faith, He sheltered it from the whirlwind and the lightning bolt, He protected God’s holy Cause, He guarded the divine law, He defeated its adversaries, He frustrated the hopes of those who wished it ill. (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khánum, p. 152-153)
And even in prison, He chose to be cheerful:
Then know ye that Abdul-Bahá is in cheerfulness and joy and in the happiness of great glad-tidings though being in the far distant prison . . . this prison is my supreme paradise, my utmost desire, the joy of my heart and the dilation of my breast, my shelter, my asylum, my inaccessible cave and my high protection. By it I glory among the angels of heaven and the Supreme Concourse. Be rejoiced, O friends of God, with this confinement which is a cause of freedom, this prison which is a means of salvation (to many) and this suffering which is the best cause of great comfort. Verily, by God, I would not change this prison for the throne of the command of the horizons and would not exchange this confinement for all excursions and enjoyments in the gardens of the earth. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 4)
‘Abdul-Bahá, in prison, used to find things to laugh about every day:
He referred to His years in prison. Life was hard, He said, tribulations were never far away, and yet, at the end of the day, they would sit together and recall events that had been fantastic, and laugh over them. Funny situations could not be abundant, but still they probed and sought them, and laughed. (H.M. Balyuzi, Abdu’l-Bahá – The Centre of the Covenant, p. 31)
When Mírzá Mihdi (Bahá’u’lláh’s son) fell from the skylight of the prison in ‘Akká, you didn’t see him fall into self pity. Instead, he begged Bahá’u’lláh to let him die, so that people could come and visit Bahá’u’lláh.
The Purest Branch, the martyred son, the companion, and amanuensis of Bahá’u’lláh, that pious and holy youth, who in the darkest days of Bahá’u’lláh’s incarceration in the barracks of ‘Akká entreated, on his death-bed, his Father to accept him as a ransom for those of His loved ones who yearned for, but were unable to attain, His presence. (Shoghi Effendi, Messages to America, p. 31)
And we’ve been given the story of Bahiyyih Khánum, the Greatest Holy Leaf to use as our example:
You should, however, take courage and resign to the will of God when you see what the Greatest Holy Leaf had to face during her life. All you may suffer is nothing compared to what she had to endure; and yet how joyous and hopeful she used always to be! (Shoghi Effendi, Bahiyyih Khánum, p. 87)
We must struggle with such promptings from within, setting our sights on the lofty example set by the Greatest Holy Leaf who, throughout a life replete with severe tests, chose not to take offence at the actions or lack of actions of other souls and, with full and radiant heart, continued to bestow on them love and encouragement. (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)
The stories of the martyrs are also inspiring insights into how they dealt with situations that might plunge others into self pity. For example, Mona Mahmudnizhad kissed the noose before she was hung to death:
Well imagine being 16 years old and you and other women and girls have been teaching Baha’i children’s classes. You and nine other women and girls are arrested and charged with teaching children’s classes on the Baha’i Faith (Sunday School), Well, that is one happened in Shiraz, Iran on June 18, 1983. Mona Mahmudnizhad was teaching her religion (the Baha’i faith) to children, something we in the U.S. take for granted every day. In an attempt to make the women and girls recant their belief in the Baha’i Faith and Baha’u’llah, they were physically and mentally tortured. Yet, these ten women and girls, like most Baha’is arrested and tortured refused to recant their faith. The women knew that if they didn’t recant that they would be executed. The time came and the women were escorted from their cell, some could hardly walk, their feet had been beat until they were a bloody mess. The women cried quietly and stood steadfast to their knowledge that they would be reunited in heaven. When it was time for the first to be hung, Mona Mahmudnizhad a brave young girl walks forward, choosing to lead the way to Heaven, God and Baha’u’llah, and to give the others’ courage walked up to the rope. She kissed the noose reverently and placed it over her head, before the executioner had a chance. The remaining women and girls followed Mona Mahmudnizhad into heaven and forever in every Baha’is’ heart. (http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art27767.asp)
What other role models have helped you overcome self pity? Post your comments here:
Other articles in this series:
What is Self Pity?
How do we know if we’ve got it?
Where does it come from?
What are the effects?
Why should we stop feeling sorry for ourselves?
How can we transform it?