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The Relationship Between Suffering and Happiness

“Then it is impossible to attain happiness without suffering?”

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. — “To attain eternal happiness one must suffer. He who has reached the state of self-sacrifice has true joy. Temporal joy will vanish.”  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 178)

This week I was reading an article about toxic positivity, which reminded me that Bahá’ís often joke about having a “Feast face” that we wear to community events, masking our real feelings.  I wondered when being truly happy, serene and satisfied with all that is in our lives, crosses over the bounds of moderation and becomes toxic.  When does being chipper prevent us from being authentic?  What prevents us from being authentic in our Bahá’í communities?

When I was going through a really tough time, no one in the Bahá’í community wanted to hear of it, and I felt lonely and abandoned by my community.  There are lots of places in the Writings which told me to “be happy”, but I just couldn’t force myself into that emotion, and I learned to stuff it down.  I read that teaching and service was the path to happiness, so I made sure that this was the focus of each day, until I burned out from trying too hard.  I felt like a mouse in a maze, searching for this chimera called happiness.  The more I tried to will it into being, the more elusive it felt.

To me, suffering and joy seemed poles apart until I read this quote and realized I couldn’t have one without the other.  I’ve spent a lifetime trying to deny or minimize the suffering arising from my traumatic childhood, and now that I’m starting to face what happened, allow the feelings to surface and recognize how unprocessed trauma effects my behavior, I’m starting to feel lighter and more peaceful.  Not happier, exactly, but I’m getting there.

Understanding there’s a link between suffering and happiness, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you when you read this passage?  Please share your thoughts below.

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

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Hardship and Tribulation Are Necessary

We should not, however, forget that an essential characteristic of this world is hardship and tribulation and that it is by overcoming them that we achieve our moral and spiritual development. As the Master says, sorrow is like furrows, the deeper they go the more plentiful are the fruits we obtain. (From a letter dated 5 November 1931 written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, in Living the Life, p. 7)

Recently someone asked me: “I thought I’d healed from anxiety and depression and I didn’t.  I had some tests and difficulties and I got very anxious again with panic attacks.  I don’t think I will ever heal.  Is it me or is it that God doesn’t want to heal me?”

I replied that whenever I fall back into anxiety, these are the things I remind myself:

  • When I let anxiety win, I’m in self-will, believing I have to solve all my problems and do everything by myself.
  • When I let anxiety win, I’m living in the future, imagining “what if’s” that may never happen. In this present moment, I have everything I need.  I am safe.
  • God loves me whether I’m anxious or not, but when I get scared, I am far from God and need to remember He’s way bigger than my problems and standing ready to solve them for me.

I also pull out this checklist, which is a summary of all the things I teach about overcoming anxiety.  I use it to see the areas which need strengthening, in order to overcome anxiety again.

It helps to remember that all of us have tests and difficulties.  Severe mental tests such as anxiety and depression are the polish God uses to help with my moral and spiritual development, but I often forget, and think I’m the only one suffering.  When I’m stuck in that prison of self, quotes like the one above remind me that there is a purpose, and I have a choice, and I can rededicate my life to God, and implore Him to use these tests so my fruit can nourish the people around me.

Knowing there’s a purpose to my suffering, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Fear into Faith:  Overcoming Anxiety

 

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Removing Difficulties and Obstacles

O Divine Providence! Perplexing difficulties have arisen and formidable obstacles have appeared. O Lord! Remove these difficulties and show forth the evidences of Thy might and power. Ease these hardships and smooth our way along this arduous path. O Divine Providence! The obstacles are unyielding, and our toil and hardship are conjoined with a myriad adversities. There is no helper save Thee, and no succourer except Thyself. We set all our hopes on Thee, and commit all our affairs unto Thy care. Thou art the Guide and the Remover of every difficulty, and Thou art the Wise, the Seeing, and the Hearing.  (‘Abdu’l-Baha, Newly Translated Prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, March 2021, number 6)

Have you had a chance to look at the 26 newly translated prayers of ‘Abdu’l-Baha yet?  If not, you can find them here.

In reading through them during the Fast, this was the first one which jumped out at me.  Maybe I’m more depressed than I realize!  I liked it because it speaks my language:

  • perplexing difficulties have arisen due to COVID and my apparent loss of purpose
  • formidable obstacles to my ability to teach or be of service in the ways the House of Justice are asking us to do, have arisen because of total exhaustion and burnout
  • the obstacles are unyielding and seem to be worsening instead of getting better
  • my toil and hardship are conjoined with a myriad adversities including 2 broken ribs that prevent me from doing a lot of what I would like to do

But I don’t have to stay stuck here.  I can ask God to:

  • Remove these difficulties
  • show forth the evidences of Thy might and power
  • Ease these hardships
  • smooth our way along this arduous path

And in case I think there’s something I have to do myself, I am reminded that:

  • There is no helper save Thee, and no succourer except Thyself
  • We set all our hopes on Thee and commit all our affairs unto Thy care
  • Thou art the Guide and the Remover of every difficulty, and Thou art the Wise, the Seeing, and the Hearing.

Knowing God can relieve me of my difficulties and hardships through His might and power, I am grateful!

 What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Fear into Faith:  Overcoming Anxiety

 

If You Like What You Read, Please Help Keep This Site Alive

Reassurance

 

I swear by My life! Nothing save that which profiteth them can befall My loved ones. To this testifieth the Pen of God, the Most Powerful, the All-Glorious, the Best Beloved.  (Shoghi Effendi, Advent of Divine Justice, p.  69)

This is a really hard quote for those who want answers to “why is this happening to me?”  No matter what life throws at us, the bottom line is that it’s happening to profit us.  Somehow, it’s for our good, and that can be hard medicine to swallow, especially when we’re going through really hard times.  I’ve come to understand that all of our tests serve 2 purposes:  to draw us closer to God and to help us acquire the virtues we’ll need in the next world.

When my brother was killed and my daughter died and I suffered through years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, I felt like a victim and even for many years, blamed God.  If there was a God, (and for many years I couldn’t accept that there was), how could He do these things to me?  I’ve come to realize that God doesn’t think the way we do.  I will never understand why He gave us free will and then stood by watching what mankind would do with it.  But with these quotes, and others like it, I’ve come to recognize that my life is better with God in it.  I can more easily handle everything that comes my way, I can appreciate that it’s strengthened my relationship to him, and no doubt I’ve developed a lot of virtues, resilience among them.

Knowing that all my tests are for my benefit, I can relax and I am grateful!  

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Fear into Faith:  Overcoming Anxiety

 

 

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Attitude Adjustment 

I hear thou art grieved and distressed at the happenings of the world and the vicissitudes of fortune. Wherefore this fear and sorrow? The true lovers of the Abhá Beauty, and they that have quaffed the Cup of the Covenant fear no calamity, nor feel depressed in the hour of trial. They regard the life of adversity as their garden of delight, and the depth of the sea the expanse of heaven.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 309)

I love to imagine ‘Abdu’l-Bahá writing this as a love note of encouragement to one of the earlier believers.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get this message in the mail?  It’s as though he could reach into her heart and understand the fear and sorrow she’s feeling.  Next he reminds her of who she is – a true lover of the Abhá Beauty – and the standard to reach for.  This applies to each one of us who are grieved and distressed at the hand that’s dealt us and what’s happening in the world.  We:

  • fear no calamity
  • don’t feel depressed in the hour of trial
  • regard the life of adversity as our garden of delight
  • regard the depth of the sea the expanse of heaven

Easier said than done, perhaps, but when we know where the bar is, we can reach towards it, like a plant reaching towards the sun.

Reminding myself of how to look at my troubles differently, I am at peace, and I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Learning How to Be Happy

 

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Unanswered Prayers

Although you seem to feel that your prayers have not so far been answered, and do no longer have any hope that your material condi­tions would ameliorate, the Guardian wishes you nevertheless not to allow such disappointments to undermine your faith in the power of prayer, but rather to continue entreating the Almighty to enable you to discover the great wisdom which may be hidden behind all these suf­ferings. For are not our sufferings often blessings in disguise, through which God wishes to test the sincerity and depth of our faith, and thereby make us firmer in His Cause? (Shoghi Effendi, The Importance of Prayer, Meditation and a Devotional Attitude, p. 239)

There have been times in my life when I believed that God hadn’t answered my prayers, and I fell into a great deal of self-pity.  I started questioning the sincerity of my belief, and even my faith in God himself.  As a result, it was easy to move away, little by little, from doing the things necessary for my spiritual growth and development.  I was going into this place recently, when I was praying for financial rescue that didn’t seem to come.  Fortunately a wise friend encouraged me to make a list of all the financial gifts that came my way every day.  Some days it might only be finding a dime on the ground.  Other days it was free food from being able to eat at the soup kitchen and have leftovers to take home.  Some days it was a bill that I’d budgeted for, and for some reason I didn’t have to pay.  Another time it was an unexpected cheque in the mail or a temporary job.  All in all, it added up and somehow the bills got paid.  When I allowed myself to think ahead about the big ticket items and couldn’t see how they would be covered, I fell into fear, but when I focused on all the blessings and bounties coming my way, my heart was full of gratitude and life was a lot more fun.

In today’s quote we see that there are several steps we can take when our prayers don’t seem to be answered:

  • Don’t allow disappointments to undermine your faith in the power of prayer
  • Continue asking God to enable you to discover the wisdom hidden behind your suf­ferings
  • Recognize that suffering is often a blessing in disguise so God can test the sincerity and depth of my faith, and make me firmer in His Cause

Recognizing that unanswered prayer is just another one of God’s tests, I am grateful!

What jumped out for you as you read today’s meditation?  I’d love it if you would share so we can all expand our knowledge of the Writings!

If you liked this meditation, you might also like my book Strengthening Your Relationship with God

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