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Why do Good Relationships Go Bad; and What Can we Do to Get them Back?

 

I’ve had a LOT of experience with this experience and judging by the divorce rate alone, I know I’m not the only one!  We were created to be in relationship with one another, because that’s how we grow.

Taking Offense:

The Bahá’í standard is that we don’t give or take offence, but how many of us fall into this “habit of thought and speech)?

Bahá’í consultation is not an easy process. It requires love, kindliness, moral courage and humility. Thus no member should ever allow himself to be prevented from expressing frankly his view because it may offend a fellow member; and, realizing this, no member should take offence at another member’s statements.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 179-180)

One person does something (an event) which causes us to get upset or take offence (the meaning we give to it); and we believe they are the cause of our upset (the lie).  For example:  This weekend I was hoping to see my son while I was in the city he lived in.  I love him very much and I know he loves me.  I extended the invitation and he didn’t respond.  (an event).  I took offence and my lower nature had a lot of fun feeding me these lies:

  • Judgements:  He’s thoughtless, inconsiderate, hurtful.
  • Suspicion:  He doesn’t love me anymore; he doesn’t want me in his life
  • Anger and Bitterness:  I’m never going to ask him again; or answer his calls again.
  • Resentment:  Why does he always do this to me?  Why do I always set myself up for his rejection?
  • Envy and Jealousy:  Why do other people have frequent interactions with their children and I don’t?

The Bahá’í Writings tell us how hard it is to free ourselves from these worldly thoughts which attract us to the centre of our selves.  If we aren’t assisted by the divine power, we’ll escape from one and fall into another.  We try to soar upward, but the density of the love of self, like gravity, pulls us back into the prison of self.  The only thing that can keep us ever on the path of upward ascension is the power of the Holy Spirit:

Just as the earth attracts everything to the centre of gravity, and every object thrown upward into space will come down, so also material ideas and worldly thoughts attract man to the centre of self. Anger, passion, ignorance, prejudice, greed, envy, covetousness, jealousy and suspicion prevent man from ascending to the realms of holiness, imprisoning him in the claws of self and the cage of egotism. The physical man, unassisted by the divine power, trying to escape from one of these invisible enemies, will unconsciously fall into hands of another. No sooner does he attempt to soar upward than the density of the love of self, like the power of gravity, draws him to the centre of the earth. The only power that is capable of delivering man from this captivity is the power of the Holy Spirit. The attraction of the power of the Holy Spirit is so effective that it keeps man ever on the path of upward ascension.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 241)

Blame

How often do we blame others for our feelings, instead of owning them ourselves?  My son didn’t make me feel any of those negative thoughts above – his action was just an action, until I gave it meaning, and the meaning came from my lower nature, it didn’t come from God.

It behoveth you, therefore, to attach blame to no one except to yourselves, for the things ye have committed, if ye but judge fairly.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 222-223)

The more we blame each other for our feelings, the more we take offence, even though no offence might have been meant at the beginning, when the other person was just trying to state what happened and what it would take to get their needs met, but when this happens, the whole relationship can start to fray.

Let’s look at some other examples:

  • Your husband leaves the toilet seat up after you’ve told him a million times to put it down, and it seems like his failure to do so is causing your anger and upset.
  • A friend doesn’t agree with something you said and you think her lack of agreement is causing your upset.
  • Your boss gets angry with you and you blame your anxiety on what she said and how she said it.

Each of these things is just an event:

  • Your husband leaves the toilet seat up
  • A friend disagrees with you
  • The boss is angry at something you did

The upset we feel comes from believing the lies we tell ourselves about what happened.

  • He has no respect for me; he never listens; nothing I want is important to him . . .
  • If she doesn’t agree with me she’s no friend of mine; why isn’t my point important?  how could she be my friend and disagree on this important issue? . . .
  • She must be PMS’ing; she’s made me look bad; she’s shamed me in front of my coworkers . . .

So if most of the problems between us come from taking offence, believing the lies we tell ourselves and blaming others, what can we do to free ourselves from these habits of thought?

Learning how to distinguish between what happened and the meaning we give to it is important if we don’t want to keep drinking poison and staying stuck in our lower natures.  Instead of blaming them for making us angry, we need to learn to love them for the imperfect sinners they are, and see their actions as arising from their lower natures.

As a devoted believer you are urged to . . . attain a level of insight which sees them as captives of their lower nature, whose actions can only lead them deeper into unhappiness and separation from God. By this means, you can liberate yourself from the anger to which you refer in your letter, and foster your own spiritual development.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)

We can’t change what happened; but we can learn to stop believing the lies we tell ourselves about what it means; and learn to think more positively instead.

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content.  Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness.  (Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29)

If just one person learns to dissolve their negative feelings, the whole argument will come to an end.  The other person can’t push our buttons and there is no one to argue with; and if you aren’t busy arguing with each other, it’s easy to be more loving.

Instead of personalizing my upset about my son’s lack of response, I could just as easily tell myself:

  • His phone might have been lost, stolen or broken and he didn’t get the message
  • He was away
  • He was busy with his own life
  • He just forgot

None of those beliefs have the negative charge the others ones did, and allowed me the freedom to overlook his faults and forgive him; which makes it much more likely we’ll have a more positive, loving interaction the next time we speak.

Changing a habit of thought or speech is not necessarily easy.  It requires us to be vigilant and persistent, and practice until we get it right.  Don’t worry!  If you’re sincere in wanting to change this habit, God will increase the number of tests to give you an opportunity!  Don’t lose heart!  The more we work at changing our thoughts and reactions, the more we move the world towards peace!

Freeing ourselves from the bondage of blame is such an important topic, I’ve written a whole ebook on it, called Letting Go of Fault-Finding, Blame and Accusation, which you can download by clicking on the title

Letter to a Former Baha’i

By Lynn Starr

Dear Friend,

I see your sadness about withdrawing from the Baha’i Faith.  It seems like you gained something from wonderful friendships, prayers, teachings, songs, and that those still touch your heart in a positive way.  And yet, something drove you to remove yourself from the rolls of the Baha’i Faith.  I wonder if you became a Bahá’í because you found in it, ideals that were close to your heart?

It is not unusual for people to be drawn to the Faith because they see in it the fulfilment of the ideals which are dear to their hearts. (The Universal House of Justice, 1989 Jun 21, ‘Dialogue‘, ‘A Modest Proposal’ etc)

After listening to you talk, reading articles, and watching the videos on YouTube, all from disenfranchised Bahá’ís, I still do not fully understand what it was in the Faith that you no longer can affiliate with.  It seems to have something to do with things about the Faith you felt separated from.

It might be good to ask yourself whether it is Baha’u’llah and the Central Figures you felt separated from or whether it was your local community, the Baha’is you knew, or some other reason.

To deny that one is a Bahá’í while one still believes in Bahá’u’lláh is not withdrawal . . .  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 57-58)

Before you leave, there are some things I hope you’ll draw comfort from.  Focusing on deepening your understanding of the teachings could really help you see that your ideals are facets of the Purpose of God, which will help you endure all manner of suffering and frustration:

But, if a soul truly recognizes Bahá’u’lláh, and his understanding of the teachings deepens, he will gradually see how his own ideals are but facets in the all-embracing Purpose of God, and will be willing to endure all manner of suffering and frustration for the sake of the fulfilment of that divine Purpose. If, however, the believer allows his own ideals and purposes to retain their pre-eminence in his thinking, and he finds he cannot pursue them as he wishes, it may result in his leaving the Faith to pursue them in other ways. This is what would seem to have happened to the friends you speak of.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1989 Jun 21, ‘Dialogue‘, ‘A Modest Proposal’ etc)

Interestingly, in recent years, I have felt that I could not go along with whatever the purpose is in the Baha’i community/area where I reside.  So, I chose to stop attending local meetings or events, and get more understanding of who the Central Figures were, and to find positive and supportive experiences with Baha’is who were not in my community.  I ended up going  to Facebook and the internet to explore other Baha’i situations. Through these avenues I ended up finding there were Baha’is I could relate to where I did not feel separated from them.  The following quote comforted me.  Baha’u’llah himself withdrew from a toxic situation in His community where disunity prevailed.

Embarking on an action reminiscent of His solitary retirement to the mountains of Kurdistan when the unfaithful were shamefully destroying the Cause of God, Bahá’u’lláh, who at this time was residing in the house of Amru’llah, withdrew with His family to the nearby house of Rida Big which was rented by His order, and refused to associate with anybody. This was on 10 March 1866. The reason for this withdrawal, which fortunately was of short duration, was similar to that which had motivated Him to retire to Kurdistan a decade earlier: namely, to relieve the tension and alleviate the feelings of enmity which during the course of years had been engendered in the hearts of some by Mírzá Yahyá and were fanned into flame by his latest actions.  (Adib Taherzadeh, The Child of the Covenant, p. 120)

What I have discovered is that many clusters in my state (California, United States) are going through a very scary process of deterioration.  I have been saying something about this for more years than I would like to admit!  Our cluster structure has fallen apart and it is hard to get the friends to volunteer for necessary services.  There are many possible reasons for what appears to be a process of deterioration in a Bahá’í community or geographical area.

Neglecting the education of new believers can lead to people leaving the Faith.  It might be valuable to compare what happened in your Bahá’í situation to what the Universal House of Justice describes in the following quote:

It is not enough to bring people into the Faith, one must educate them and deepen their love for it and their knowledge of its teachings, after they declare themselves. As the Bahá’ís are few in number, especially the active teachers, and there is a great deal of work to be done, the education of these new believers is often sadly neglected, and then results are seen such as the resignations you have had recently.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 567)

Perhaps you turned to other work than the Cause because you weren’t given the help, stimulation, teaching, opportunity to serve, or comradeship that you needed.

If some of these isolated and inactive people gradually turn to other work than the Cause we should not always blame them—they probably needed more help, more stimulating more teaching and Bahá’í comradeship that they received.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 84)

Perhaps you were no longer able to draw upon spiritual strength or vitality from the community or Faith, or stayed away for some other reason, as described below:

Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

Were you dealing with a problem that seemed to be too much to handle?  Could this mean that you did not pass a test that you were given?

Sometimes, of course, people fail because of a test they just do not meet.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)

Or maybe you turned to an Assembly for assistance and didn’t find in them, the “loving parents” they were meant to be.  It’s possible that both of you are struggling with issues on the frontier of your spiritual growth.  It is also possible that if you continue to work with the Assembly or other Institutions to resolve this painful situation, both you and the Assembly could experience tremendous development.  In the compilation, Issues Concerning Community Functioning,  there are several approaches outlined for dealing with malfunctioning Assemblies or other institutions.  Trying these approaches could lead to a surprisingly good outcome.  I have encountered situations where I strongly disagreed with an Assembly decision, that I took it to another Institution, and we all worked together to resolve the matter.  In the process, we all grew from the experience!

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. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

Helping build the Kingdom of God on earth is definitely not easy.  However, when you realize that something wonderful can happen when you participate  in communicating honestly and lovingly with the Institutions and the friends, you might actually feel joy in your accomplishment.

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. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

This is definitely not an easy process.  It is hard to be patient when our concerns have something to do with a subject that is very close to our hearts, and when progress seems to be lagging or to have ceased.  However, patience is a tool that can yield positive results.  Patience does not mean ignoring a problem.  It can mean knowing when to take action and when to give others the right amount of time to process new information.

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. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 25 October, 1994)

One thing that has worked for me at times like this is to look to the Writings for comfort, for ideas, for examples to follow, and for encouragement:

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)

Also, if you are sick in my area, you will not get helped out by a supportive community and that has been a very heart-breaking thing. I don’t think this is done out of cruelty or malevolence, but the results can feel cruel.  It seems like many of the Friends haven’t yet learned how to either give or draw on each other’s strength and consolation in times of need:

Indeed the believers have not yet fully learned to draw on each other’s love for strength and consolation in time of need. The Cause of God is endowed with tremendous powers, and the reason the believers do not gain more from it is because they have not learned to draw fully on these mighty forces of love and strength and harmony generated by the Faith.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 93)

In many cases, though, the cause is backbiting, which is not only divisive, but is the leading cause of all withdrawals from the Faith.  I remember that as a young Baha’I, I had a dear friend who would say she was “analysing the situation” when she was really backbiting against someone.  At the time, I did not know that this was backbiting.  The community members ended up becoming angry with one another, and factions even formed among the Friends.  I was so upset that I stayed away from community events for several months.  I then had an opportunity to leave that area, which I did.  Subsequently, I began to suspect that backbiting had occurred. Consequently, I spent a lot of time deepening on the subject.  I looked to the Writings to find the definition of backbiting and to learn what sorts of behaviours could be construed as backbiting. I still cry to this day about some of the sad things that could have been prevented had I known better. The following quote gives an excellent description of what happens when backbiting occurs:

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)

The Baha’is, like many others in our society face difficulties just living and working in a crazy world and I think this overwhelms most of us.  It can be hard to know what the right thing to do is. We might think we are doing the right thing, only to discover later that it was not in keeping with what Baha’is are supposed to do.  According to Shoghi Effendi:

Generally speaking nine-tenths of the friends’ troubles are because they don’t do the Bahá’í thing, in relation to each other, to the administrative bodies or in their personal lives.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

When a community is not drawn together when everyone is going through difficult life challenges, it becomes hard to maintain one’s Faith.  When people say and do hurtful things, or don’t act sympathetically when someone is hurting, it can be extremely upsetting.  Perhaps we might not realize that the people involved have not reached a point of maturity to act differently.  Such problems can interfere with teaching, harmonious relationships, and can cause the Friends to discourage one another:

One of the greatest problems in the Cause is the relation of the believers to each other; for their immaturity (shared with the rest of humanity) and imperfections retard the work, create complications, and discourage each other. (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)

In order to deal with such difficult and even heart-wrenching situations, a forgiving and loving attitude are needed.  That does not mean that we should allow unfair or unkind situations to continue indefinitely.  At a certain point, taking administrative action may be called for.  However, this should be done with love, kindness, compassion and a desire for all the Friends to come away from the situation feeling like they are loved and have been treated fairly.

And yet we must put up with these things and try and combat them through love, patience and forgiveness individually, and proper administrative action collectively.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)

Enduring the intolerance of others can be very painful.  However, if we continue to strive for loving interchanges with others, such efforts are not wasted, for as Shoghi Effendi points out:

The energy we expend in enduring the intolerance of some individuals of our community is not lost. It is transformed into fortitude, steadfastness and magnanimity.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 603)

I have read things by Shoghi Effendi that remind me that the Baha’is are not perfect, and that they can be a test and trial, but that the Faith and its Manifestations of God, and their writings are the real thing, inspiring, move a person’s heart, and change their behavior for the better. Dealing with interpersonal difficulties in a community or other problems that may crop up can be very frustrating.  A lot of patience is needed while a remedy for the problems is being sought.  When we are patient and kind to one another, we have a better chance of resolving our difficulties.  This creates the opportunity for everyone to learn and grow, which will contribute to the growth of the entire community.  As Shoghi Effendi has stated:

The friends must be patient with each other and must realize that the Cause is still in its infancy and its institutions are not yet functioning perfectly. The greater the patience, the loving understanding and the forbearance the believers show towards each other and their shortcomings, the greater will be the progress of the whole Bahá’í community at large.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 9)

There are times when the actions of others really test our patience and understanding.  By learning how to love the people that bother us the most, we can help mend broken hearts and relationships.  In Baha’u’llah and the New Era (Bahá’í Publishing Trust), 1980, p. 82-83, ‘Abdu’l-Baha has spoken to how we can remedy such a situation by being loving:

  • To be silent concerning the faults of others, to pray for them, and to help them, through kindness, to correct their faults.
  • To look always at the good and not at the bad. If a man has ten good qualities and one bad one, to look at the ten and forget the one; and if a man has ten bad qualities and one good one, to look at the one and forget the ten.
  • Never to allow ourselves to speak one unkind word about another, even though that other be our enemy.

At the same time, I put up with a lot of malfunctioning communities and people because I thought I had to or I would be a bad Baha’i; I think differently now.  I don’t plan to lose any more years of my life being unhappy or afraid to say what is on my mind.  Although I believe in being kind and careful in articulating my feelings, opinions and what I agree and disagree with, I do not think it is healthy for me to hold such information inside, and I refuse to do so from here on out.

I am planning to write some hard-hitting letters to all the Institutions about this, because many good people have left a Faith that I believe is a wonderful thing, because they could no longer be part of a community where they did not believe in “doing” what was being done or not being done in the spheres of Baha’i activity that they were involved in.

I am doing this because I believe it is the right thing to do, as per the quote from Shoghi Effendi in Issues Concerning Community Functioning 1.2.1 Individual Example:

Shoghi Effendi, in a letter dated 30 September 1949 written on his behalf to an individual believer, states that “the first and best way” to remedy the malfunctioning of a Bahá’í community is for the individual to “do what is right”.

I’m also doing this because Shoghi Effendi has told us:

And yet we must . . . try and combat them through . . . proper administrative action collectively.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Bahá’í Community, p. 449)

Furthermore, the House of Justice has said we have the right to take doubts and concerns to the 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)

One Auxiliary Board Member I have shared with expressed concerns about a “congregational attitude” that exists with many Baha’is in North America.  They kind of go along with the crowd and don’t think “out of the box.”  This sort of attitude has been a real turn off to both my husband and me, as well as a few other people that I know.

Learning what “universal participation” means in a Faith that has no clergy is new for all of us.  It involves learning to love, a hard skill to acquire when so many of us have grown up in a world riddled with violence and abuse:

The real secret of universal participation lies in the Master’s oft expressed wish that the friends should love each other, constantly encourage each other, work together, be as one soul in one body, and in so doing become a true, organic, healthy body animated and illumined by the spirit.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 43)

Until now, I have not known how to talk about this in a manner which I think is not angry or pointing any fingers at anybody.  And yet, people who are fine people, who have left the Faith for what apparently are very good reasons, pull at my heartstrings.  After all, ‘Abdu’l-Baha, himself, said that it was better to have no religion than to have one where hypocrisy reigned, where service to others was not the main focus, or where unfair and unkind things were done to people often enough to be of concern.

Abdu’l-Bahá says: ‘If religion be the cause of disunity, then irreligion is surely to be preferred.’  (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 202)

I think that situations in many communities have reached this unhappy state of existence.  However, the videos, Frontiers of Learning, people I have met at the Wilmette Institute, BNASSA, and books like Helping Joe Strong and the like, have shown me that there are good Bahá’í communities and clusters out there, where the Faith is influencing people in positive ways and where the friends are united and happy.

I hope you believe me when I say that I have respect and empathy for you and can’t begin imagine how hard it was to sort out what the right thing for you to do was.  If you want to talk with me about anything I have said in this post, I would be more than happy to do so.  Contact me through this website and I promise to respond!

With prayers and loving greetings,

Lynn Starr

Will the Sorrow and Pain ever Stop?

A lot of people have come to me in despair, wanting to know:  Will the pain and sorrow ever end?  I just want my life back!

I tell them there’s hope!

Yes, your sorrow and pain can definitely stop!  The choice is entirely within your hands.

Right now, you may be choosing to be a captive of your negative thinking, but the Bahá’í Writings offer lots of clues as to how to turn this around.  The best known is through this prayer:

O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.  O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i Prayers, p. 150)

It’s not just a beautiful prayer, but a prescription from the Divine Physician, which should be taken seriously and applied every single time you have a negative thought or emotion.

This prayer gives us specific actions we can take:

  • I lay all my affairs in Thy hand.
  • Thou art my Guide and my Refuge.
  • I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being.
  • I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me.
  • I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.

When you start to do all of these things, your sorrow and pain will end.  The choice is yours to make.

Every time you start to feel sorrow and grief, tell yourself:

  • I WILL be a happy and joyful being.

Every time you start to feel anxious and filled with panic, tell yourself:

  • I WILL no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me.

There is a purpose for your sorrow and pain, and that’s so that you will remember God, and so that you will acquire the virtues you will need for the next world:

Grief and sorrow do not come to us by chance, they are sent to us by the Divine Mercy for our own perfecting.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 50)

While a man is happy he may forget his God; but when grief comes and sorrows overwhelms him, then will he remember his Father who is in Heaven, and who is able to deliver him from his humiliations.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, pp. 50-51)

When grief and sorrow come, then will a man remember his Father Who is in Heaven, Who is able to deliver him from his humiliations. The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him.  (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 96)

Grief and sorrow are inevitable.  Even though this is true, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá tells us not to give in to them:

Yield not to grief and sorrow; they cause the greatest misery.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 13)

This means not to accept thoughts such as “I have so much anxiety I can’t think”:

By saying this, you are making it true; you are “yielding” to it.

With the help of the Writings, you can make a different choice!

Here are some other quotes to meditate on:

All our sorrow, pain, shame and grief, are born in the world of matter; whereas the spiritual Kingdom never causes sadness.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 110)

Again this tells us that these things come from our lower nature.  The more time we spend close to God, the less we will feel these negative emotions.

O my well-beloved, deeply spiritual sister! Day and night thou livest in my memory. Whenever I remember thee my heart swelleth with sadness and my regret groweth more intense. Grieve not, for I am thy true, thy unfailing comforter. Let neither despondency nor despair becloud the serenity of thy life or restrain thy freedom. These days shall pass away. We will, please God, in the Abhá Kingdom and beneath the sheltering shadow of the Blessed Beauty, forget all these our earthly cares and will find each one of these base calumnies amply compensated by His expressions of praise and favour. From the beginning of time sorrow and anxiety, regret and tribulation, have always been the lot of every loyal servant of God. Ponder this in thine heart and consider how very true it is. Wherefore, set thine heart on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty and be thou filled with abiding joy and intense gladness.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 4)

Don’t you feel loved and taken care of when you read this quote?  Don’t you feel totally understood by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá?  He wants to be our comforter!  He promises us these days will pass.  We need to believe God!

He tells us how to do this:  You have to make a choice again, to:  “set thine heart on the tender mercies of the Ancient Beauty and be thou filled with abiding joy and intense gladness.”  You can do this!

I also want you to read the Tablet of Ahmad every day, because in it, God promises:

Should one who is in affliction or grief read this Tablet with absolute sincerity, God will dispel his sadness, solve his difficulties and remove his afflictions.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablet of Ahmad, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 211)

Sorrow and pain can be both physical and psychological.  It usually originates from thoughts in your mind (psychological); and is expressed as pain in the body (physical).

Do you know the book “Heal your Body” by Louise Hay?  You can read about it by clicking on the title.

In it, she lists the mental causes for physical illnesses.  For example:  She says that neck pain is caused by refusing to see the other side of a question; stubbornness and inflexibility.  You might find your neck pain goes away if you can figure out whose side of a situation you need to pay attention to; and do everything in your power to become more flexible in this issue.  Of course, once you realize the source of your stubbornness and inflexibility, you’ll want to ask God for His forgiveness, so you can detach from it and move on.

Louise Hay says that lower back pain relates to a lack of financial support and in the upper back it’s caused by a lack of emotional support, feeling unloved; and holding back your love.

Can you relate to her diagnosis?  What can you do to change these things?  Once you start to do this, your pain will get better, I promise!

From a spiritual perspective, your pain comes from faulty thinking; from believing the lies of your lower nature instead of believing God.

For example:

 

Your Thoughts

God’s Thoughts

When I have problems with my husband I’m filled with anger. If we allow our attention and energy to be taken up in efforts to keep others right and remedy their faults, we are wasting precious time. We are like ploughmen each of whom has his team to manage and his plough to direct, and in order to keep his furrow straight he must keep his eye on his goal and concentrate on his own task. If he looks to this side and that to see how Tom and Harry are getting on and to criticize their ploughing, then his own furrow will assuredly become crooked.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 92)
I can’t handle it anymore. O Lord! Thou art the Remover of every anguish and the Dispeller of every affliction. Thou art He Who banisheth every sorrow and setteth free every slave, the Redeemer of every soul. O Lord! Grant deliverance through Thy mercy, and reckon me among such servants of Thine as have gained salvation.  (The Báb, Baha’i Prayers, p. 27)
God doesn’t love me. I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words)
He wants to communicate with his mom every night by Skype and talk for 1 hour and I want him to pay attention to me. Say, O My people! Show honour to your parents and pay homage to them. This will cause blessings to descend upon you from the clouds of the bounty of your Lord, the Exalted, the Great . . . Should anyone give you a choice between the opportunity to render a service to Me and a service to them, choose ye to serve them, and let such service be a path leading you to Me. This is My exhortation and command unto thee. Observe therefore that which thy Lord, the Mighty, the Gracious,hath prescribed unto thee.  (Baha’u’llah, Lights of Guidance, p. 229)

 

This is why it’s so very important to both pay attention to your thoughts; and to immerse yourself in the Writings; so that your mind can be filled with the words of God, and if you concentrate and meditate on them, they will grow.

There’s a story I like that illustrates what I mean:

A Cherokee elder was teaching his children about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to them. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandchildren thought about it and after a minute one of them asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

When you can learn to feed the spiritual side of your nature; by giving it more attention than you give your fears and negative emotions, you will get well, I promise!  And the sorrow and pain will dissipate, I promise that too!

How has this helped you understand sorrow and pain differently?  Post your comments here:

 

The Dark Night of the Soul

 

A comment on Bahá’í Forums the other day caught by attention and got me thinking.  The post read:  “The Dark Night of the Soul is a phase which people who have come to spiritual maturity go through, when they feel utterly forsaken by God, absolutely miserable, with no “nice feelings”, no comfort, no pleasure from faith or good works. It is complete, excruciating spiritual, emotional and mental agony”.

I’ve certainly been there several times and I’m sure many of you have too!

Life frequently goes in directions that aren’t pleasing to us, but Bahá’u’lláh tells us it shouldn’t matter:

If, however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter. (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)

He promises better days ahead, both in this world and the next:

O my servants! Sorrow not if, in these days and on this earthly plane, things contrary to your wishes have been ordained and manifested by God, for days of blissful joy, of heavenly delight, are assuredly in store for you. Worlds, holy and spiritually glorious, will be unveiled to your eyes. You are destined by Him, in this world and hereafter, to partake of their benefits, to share in their joys, and to obtain a portion of their sustaining grace. To each and every one of them you will no doubt attain.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p. 69)

Nothing lasts forever.  Everything in nature has its own cycle.  The seasons are a good example.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá explains each:

At one time it is the season of spring; at another it is the season of autumn; and again it is the season of summer or the season of winter.  In the spring there are the clouds which send down the precious rain, the musk-scented breezes and life-giving zephyrs; the air is perfectly temperate, the rain falls, the sun shines, the fecundating wind wafts the clouds, the world is renewed, and the breath of life appears in plants, in animals and in men. Earthly beings pass from one condition to another. All things are clothed in new garments, and the black earth is covered with herbage; mountains and plains are adorned with verdure; trees bear leaves and blossoms; gardens bring forth flowers and fragrant herbs. The world becomes another world, and it attains to a life-giving spirit. The earth was a lifeless body; it finds a new spirit, and produces endless beauty, grace and freshness. Thus the spring is the cause of new life and infuses a new spirit.

Afterward comes the summer, when the heat increases, and growth and development attain their greatest power. The energy of life in the vegetable kingdom reaches to the degree of perfection, the fruit appears, and the time of harvest ripens; a seed has become a sheaf, and the food is stored for winter.

Afterward comes tumultuous autumn when unwholesome and sterile winds blow; it is the season of sickness, when all things are withered, and the balmy air is vitiated. The breezes of spring are changed to autumn winds; the fertile green trees have become withered and bare; flowers and fragrant herbs fade away; the beautiful garden becomes a dustheap.

Following this comes the season of winter, with cold and tempests. It snows, rains, hails, storms, thunders and lightens, freezes and congeals; all plants die, and animals languish and are wretched.

When this state is reached, again a new life-giving spring returns, and the cycle is renewed. The season of spring with its hosts of freshness and beauty spreads its tent on the plains and mountains with great pomp and magnificence. A second time the form of the creatures is renewed, and the creation of beings begins afresh; bodies grow and develop, the plains and wildernesses become green and fertile, trees bring forth blossoms, and the spring of last year returns in the utmost fullness and glory. Such is, and such ought to be, the cycle and succession of existence. Such is the cycle and revolution of the material world.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 73-74)

We love spring, summer and even the early parts of fall, but when we’re in winter, most of us find it difficult, if not impossible to believe that spring will follow.  Winter feels so dark and cold, it’s hard to imagine feeling good again.  The dark night of the soul is like winter, with all its attendant death and relentless tests.

Without the proper attitude, it’s easy to slide into depression and we become weak and unable to think clearly:

But when sadness visits us we become weak, our strength leaves us, our comprehension is dim and our intelligence veiled. The actualities of life seem to elude our grasp, the eyes of our spirits fail to discover the sacred mysteries, and we become even as dead beings.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 109)

It’s important that we understand the purpose of tests and to know that God has sent them to us for the perfection of our souls.

You are encouraged to continue to keep in mind the spiritual dimension of your struggles. We are assured by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in the following words:  “The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one be­comes. That is why, in all times, the Prophets of God have had tribula­tions and difficulties to withstand. The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the greater his knowledge be­comes. Therefore I am happy that you have had great tribulations and difficulties… Strange it is that I love you and still I am happy that you have sorrows.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Star of the West, Vol. XIV, No. 2, p. 41)

We’re not alone in our suffering.  Even the Prophets of God suffered:

As we suffer these misfortunes we must remember that the Prophets of God Themselves were not immune from these things which men suffer. They knew sorrow, illness and pain too. They rose above these things through Their spirits, and that is what we must try and do too, when afflicted. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)

In the Tablet of Ahmad, we’re asked to:

Remember My days during thy days, and My distress and banishment in this remote prison.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 210)

One way to remember is to consider that Bahá’u’lláh was clearly having His own “dark night of the soul” when He wrote the Fire Tablet, pouring out His pain to God.  One of the opening lines is:

Those who are near unto Thee have been abandoned in the darkness of desolation: Where is the shining of the morn of Thy reunion, O Desire of the worlds?  (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 213)

In the middle of your “dark night” I’m sure you too feel abandoned in the “darkness of desolation”!

The Dark Night separates the wheat from the chaff. Those who cannot endure it, may lose faith altogether.

Many of those who drift away from the Cause do so for the reason that they had ceased to go on developing. They became complacent, or indifferent, and consequently ceased to draw the spiritual strength and vitality from the Cause which they should have. Sometimes, of course, people fail because of a test they just do not meet.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 114)

It’s easy to say we believe, but much harder to prove it:

It is easy to approach the Kingdom of Heaven, but hard to stand firm and staunch within it, for the tests are rigorous, and heavy to bear.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 274)

So what will get us through these tests?

  1. Trust God and the process:

Whatever hath befallen you, hath been for the sake of God. This is the truth, and in this there is no doubt. You should, therefore, leave all your affairs in His Hands, place your trust in Him, and rely upon Him. He will assuredly not forsake you. In this, likewise, there is no doubt. No father will surrender his sons to devouring beasts; no shepherd will leave his flock to ravening wolves. He will most certainly do his utmost to protect his own. If, however, for a few days, in compliance with God’s all-encompassing wisdom, outward affairs should run their course contrary to one’s cherished desire, this is of no consequence and should not matter.  (Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 10)

  1. Be patient and composed, trusting in God’s grace:

When calamity striketh, be ye patient and composed. However afflictive your sufferings may be, stay ye undisturbed, and with perfect confidence in the abounding grace of God, brave ye the tempest of tribulations and fiery ordeals.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 73)

  1. Grin and bear it is God’s advice to Bahá’u’lláh in the Fire Tablet!

Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. 218)

  1. Turn towards God and cling to the Writings:

Our intent is that all the friends should fix their gaze on the Supreme Horizon, and cling to that which hath been revealed in the Tablets.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire and Light, p. 10)

  1. Understand that it’s not forever and we will emerge more spiritual and closer to God.

The troubles of this world pass, and what we have left is what we have made of our souls; so it is to this we must look—to becoming more spiritual, drawing nearer to God, no matter what our human minds and bodies go through.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 297)

 The post concludes:  “At the end of the experience the person is purified from all attachments to emotion, sense, feeling and thoughts. It is the ultimate state of union with God wherein they rest in Him devoid of any “great feelings” or pleasures or sense perceptions or emotions in a state of imperturbable Nothingness.”  Indeed Bahá’u’lláh tells us:

After scaling the high summits of wonderment, the wayfarer cometh to the valley of true poverty and absolute nothingness.  This station is the dying from self and the living in God, the being poor in self and rich in the Desired One.  (Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 35)

Surely seeing the end in the beginning, will make going through it all worthwhile!

 

What helped you get through your own “dark night”?  Post your comments here:

 

Letting Go of Stress

Once a professor began his class by holding up a glass with some water in it. He held it up for all to see and asked the students, “how much do you think this glass weighs? ’50gms!’?…’100gms…’125gms’….

Put the Glass Down

By Dr.Claude Shema-Rutagengwa, Pr.Dr.Udaya Kumar and Pr.Dr.Dietrich

Once a professor began his class by holding up a glass with some water in it. He held it up for all to see and asked the students, “how much do you think this glass weighs? ’50gms!’?…’100gms…’125gms’….

The students answered, “I really don’t know unless I weigh it.”

The professor said, ‘now, my question is: What would happen if I held it up like this for a few minutes?’

‘Nothing’ the students said.

“OK what would happen if I held it up like this for an hour?” the professor asked.

“Your arm would begin to ache” said one of the students.

“You’re right, now what would happen if I held it for a day?”

“Your arm could go numb; you might have severe muscle stress & paralysis; have to go to hospital for sure! Ventured another student”, all the students laughed.

“Very good. But during all this, did the weight of the glass change?” Asked the professor.

“No” was the reply of all the students.

“Then what caused the arm to ache; the muscle to stress?” After a pause the professor asked “Before my arm ache, what should I do?”

The students were puzzled.

“Put the glass down!” said one of the students.

“Exactly!” said the professor, “Life’s problems are exactly like this. Hold it for a few minutes in your head; they seem OK. Think of them for a long time; they begin to ache. Hold it even longer; they begin to paralyze you. You will not be able to do anything.”

It’s important to think of the challenges (problems) in your life, but EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to ‘put them down’ at the end of every day before you go to sleep. That way, you are not stressed, you wake up every day fresh; strong; can handle any issue, any challenge that comes your way!

Remember to put the glass down everyday!

 

Married to Dr. Jekyll

I was talking to someone the other day, about a problem she was having with her husband.  She felt that she was married to 2 different men, who she called Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  You could tell that she loved Mr. Hyde very much, but when he switched into Dr. Jekyll she was afraid of him, and didn’t know what to do.

Her therapist was explaining the “cycle of abuse”, characterized by a predictable repetitious pattern of abuse, whether emotional, psychological or physical, with psychological abuse nearly always preceding and accompanying physical abuse.   We know that sustained periods of living in such a cycle may lead to learned helplessness and battered person syndrome.  So far, her marriage hadn’t reached this stage, and she had taken very creative steps to keep herself safe.  She was reaching the end of her resources, though, and wondered what she could do.

Originally I responded (as follows) to her situation, which still had hope.  Several of my readers wrote to point out that this looked like I was condoning abuse by suggesting she remain with an abuser.  I apologize for the misperception!  The Bahá’í Faith is very clear on this matter!

The National Spiritual Assembly will not tolerate domestic violence and condemns its existence. Violent acts are forbidden. The Universal House of Justice has said: “Acts of violence might properly be regarded as a negation of the persistent emphasis on concord, understanding and unity which are at the heart of the Bahá’í Teachings.” (Letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 22 September, 1983)

In that light, I have decided to write this article in two parts:

  • When there is still hope (below)
  • When it becomes abusive  (click here)

Only you can know which perspective is right for you.  If your marriage is abusive, please get help to leave, right away!

When There is Still Hope:

The abuse recovery model and the Bahá’í model can look very different.  On the one hand, both models agree that this is intolerable.  The Bahá’í Writings say:

Bahá’í men have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world around them a new approach to the relationship between the sexes, where aggression and the use of force are eliminated and replaced by cooperation and consultation. The Universal House of Justice has pointed out in response to questions addressed to it that, in a marriage relationship, neither husband nor wife should ever unjustly dominate the other, and that there are times when the husband and the wife should defer to the wishes of the other, if agreement cannot be reached through consultation; each couple should determine exactly under what circumstances such deference is to take place.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

Where the Bahá’í Faith differs, relates to transformation:

As you know, the principle of the oneness of mankind is de­scribed in the Bahá’í Writings as the pivot round which all the Teach­ings of Bahá’u’lláh revolve. It has widespread implications which affect and remold all dimensions of human activity. It calls for a fundamental change in the manner in which people relate to each other, and the eradication of those age old practices which deny the intrinsic hu­man right of every individual to be treated with consideration and respect.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 24 January, 1993)

But what is the “fundamental change in the manner in which people relate to each other”?  It’s easy to identify virtues such as love and forgiveness, but the more difficult ones of patience, resignation and long-suffering are not on most therapists’ radar.

On the one hand, the Bahá’í Writings clearly say:

Hold thy husband dear and always show forth an amiable temper towards him, no matter how ill tempered he may be. Even if thy kindness maketh him more bitter, manifest thou more kindliness, more tenderness, be more loving and tolerate his cruel actions and ill-treatment.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 226)

Now that you realize that your husband is ill, you should be able to reconcile yourself to the difficulties you have faced with him emotionally, and not take an unforgiving attitude, however much you may suffer.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 227)

We also know that when there is spousal abuse in the marriage, the feelings of one partner – maybe both – break. Those broken feelings destroy the trust and eat away at the foundations of the fortress.  If we look at abuse as a beast, this quote shows us what it does:

It is said, “The beast made war against these two witnesses” — that is to say, a spiritual war, meaning that the beast would act in entire opposition to the teachings, customs and institutions of these two witnesses, to such an extent that the virtues and perfections which were diffused by the power of those two witnesses among the peoples and tribes would be entirely dispelled, and the animal nature and carnal desires would conquer. Therefore, this beast making war against them would gain the victory — meaning that the darkness of error coming from this beast was to have ascendency over the horizons of the world, and kill those two witnesses — in other words, that it would destroy the spiritual life which they spread abroad in the midst of the nation, and entirely remove the divine laws and teachings, treading under foot the Religion of God. Nothing would thereafter remain but a lifeless body without spirit.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 51)

This may be a rather confusing passage, but I think what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is saying is that when one partner acts in ways that are against the Bahá’í laws, the virtues possible in the marriage are dispelled, and the abuser’s lower nature kills the marriage and destroys the spiritual life of both, causing nothing to remain of the marriage but a “lifeless body without spirit”.

Can a marriage be saved if it’s a “lifeless body without spirit”?  Here is where the abuse model and the Bahá’í Faith differ.  The abuse model would say “no” and “get out now for your own sanity.”  And it would be right.

The Bahá’í Faith would say that when the emotional abuse in a marriage gets to be intolerable, you have 2 choices:  start a year of patience, during which time your spouse can work on his/her anger issues so that you can trust him/her again (or vice versa); or stay in the marriage and work on developing the virtues which will help you in the next world.

Obviously this decision will be between the individual and God and between the two partners, but here are some quotes to consider for both decisions.

On the one hand, the Bahá’í Writings say:

It is a great pity that two believers, united in this glorious Cause, and blessed with a family, should not be able to live together really harmoniously, and he feels you should take constructive action and not allow the situation to get worse. When the shadow of separation hangs over a husband and wife they should leave no stone unturned in their effort to avert its becoming a reality.  He urges you both to devote more of your time to teaching the Cause and to pray together that Bahá’u’lláh may give you a real and lasting love for each other.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 451)

But what if one partner wants to obey the spirit of this injunction and the other one doesn’t?  Is it possible for the marriage to continue?  The answer is yes.  The only grounds for divorce in the Bahá’í Faith is irreconcilable antipathy, so as long as that point hasn’t been reached, there is still hope.

I was in that situation in my own marriage – I was willing to do everything in my power to avoid divorce, and my husband didn’t see anything wrong in the marriage.  I tried everything in my power to save it.  At the end, I knew that there was one thing I needed to hear, to help me stay, and when every therapist I consulted recommended divorce, I slipped into hopelessness and despair, and called it irreconcilable antipathy.  I carefully studied the meanings of antipathy:

1.  a natural, basic, or habitual repugnance; aversion.

2. an instinctive contrariety or opposition in feeling.

3. an object of natural aversion or habitual dislike.

The situation certainly felt irreconcilable to me, and I certainly had an aversion in his presence.  When a Bahá’í I trusted suggested that it might be God’s will for me to divorce, I finally consulted the Local Spiritual Assembly for a year of patience, and the marriage ultimately ended in divorce.  Years later, I heard the one thing that might have kept me in my marriage.  It was the idea that marriage is like the seasons.  ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes it well:

At one time it is the season of spring; at another it is the season of autumn; and again it is the season of summer or the season of winter.  In the spring there are the clouds which send down the precious rain, the musk-scented breezes and life-giving zephyrs; the air is perfectly temperate, the rain falls, the sun shines, the fecundating wind wafts the clouds, the world is renewed, and the breath of life appears in plants, in animals and in men. Earthly beings pass from one condition to another. All things are clothed in new garments, and the black earth is covered with herbage; mountains and plains are adorned with verdure; trees bear leaves and blossoms; gardens bring forth flowers and fragrant herbs. The world becomes another world, and it attains to a life-giving spirit. The earth was a lifeless body; it finds a new spirit, and produces endless beauty, grace and freshness. Thus the spring is the cause of new life and infuses a new spirit.  Afterward comes the summer, when the heat increases, and growth and development attain their greatest power. The energy of life in the vegetable kingdom reaches to the degree of perfection, the fruit appears, and the time of harvest ripens; a seed has become a sheaf, and the food is stored for winter. Afterward comes tumultuous autumn when unwholesome and sterile winds blow; it is the season of sickness, when all things are withered, and the balmy air is vitiated. The breezes of spring are changed to autumn winds; the fertile green trees have become withered and bare; flowers and fragrant herbs fade away; the beautiful garden becomes a dustheap. Following this comes the season of winter, with cold and tempests. It snows, rains, hails, storms, thunders and lightens, freezes and congeals; all plants die, and animals languish and are wretched.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 73-74)

This is where my marriage ended.  It was clearly winter and everything was dead and lifeless.  I don’t think I’m alone here!  Who wants to stay in such a cold and bleak environment, when it looks like there is no hope?  Most of us (myself included), forget that:

When this state is reached, again a new life-giving spring returns, and the cycle is renewed. The season of spring with its hosts of freshness and beauty spreads its tent on the plains and mountains with great pomp and magnificence. A second time the form of the creatures is renewed, and the creation of beings begins afresh; bodies grow and develop, the plains and wildernesses become green and fertile, trees bring forth blossoms, and the spring of last year returns in the utmost fullness and glory. Such is, and such ought to be, the cycle and succession of existence. Such is the cycle and revolution of the material world.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 73-74)

Another thing to remember is that the transition from winter to spring is also very ugly – as the snow melts and everything becomes muddy, it’s hard to remember that new life is soon to come.

I think that staying in a marriage through this time helps us develop many virtues, including:

Patience:

Were it not for calamity, how would the sun of Thy patience shine, O Light of the worlds?  Lament not because of the wicked. Thou wert created to bear and endure, O Patience of the worlds.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Fire Tablet, Baha’i Prayers, p. 217)

He, verily, rewardeth beyond measure them that endure with patience.  (Baha’u’llah, Gems of Divine Mysteries, p. 71)

I think what Baha’u’llah is telling us here is that he created us to “bear and endure” and when we endure whatever life throws at us with patience, our rewards will be immense.  Short-term pain for long-term gain!

‘Abdu’l-Bahá understands how difficult it might be for some of us to have patience, particularly when we’ve been raised with poor role models ourselves:

For example, you see that children born from a weak and feeble father and mother will naturally have a feeble constitution and weak nerves; they will be afflicted, and will have neither patience, nor endurance, nor resolution, nor perseverance, and will be hasty; for the children inherit the weakness and debility of their parents.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 319)

This isn’t a justification for not having patience, but a way to be patient with ourselves when we haven’t been patient in the past, and something to overcome now that we know it.

Long Suffering:

The concept of “long suffering” is not one that is currently popular in our society, or in the abuse recovery field, so here are some quotes you might not have seen:

Bahá’u’lláh has clearly said in His Tablets that if you have an enemy, consider him not as an enemy. Do not simply be long-suffering; nay, rather, love him. Your treatment of him should be that which is becoming to lovers. Do not even say that he is your enemy. Do not see any enemies. Though he be your murderer, see no enemy. Look upon him with the eye of friendship.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 267)

If you’re looking for a role model of long-suffering you might want to read about the life of Bahiyyih Khanum.  The Universal House of Justice tells us:

Her meekness, her unassuming nature, the purity of her soul, the sensitivity of her heart, the calmness of her demeanour, her patience and long-suffering in trials, and above all, her unshakeable faith, her tenderness and love, and the spirit of self-renunciation which she evinced throughout her blessed life, are outstanding characteristics that we can well emulate.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 557)

Here’s a prayer you can say to help acquire the virtues of patience and long-suffering:

I beseech Thee, O my Lord, by the sighs of Thy lovers throughout the world, and by their lamentation in their remoteness from the court of Thy presence, and by the blood that hath been shed for love of Thee, and by the hearts that have melted in Thy path, to protect Thy loved ones from the cruelty of such as have remained unaware of the mysteries of Thy Name, the Unconstrained. Assist them, O my Lord, by Thy power that hath prevailed over all things, and aid them to be patient and long-suffering.   Thou art the All-Powerful, the Almighty, the All-Bountiful. No God is there but Thee, the Generous, the Lord of grace abounding.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 35-36)

Tolerance:

Be mindful that you do not consider him as an enemy and simply tolerate him, for that is but stratagem and hypocrisy. To consider a man your enemy and love him is hypocrisy. This is not becoming of any soul. You must behold him as a friend. You must treat him well. This is right.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 267)

Resignation:

Resignation is another virtue which is not very popular in today’s society but helps strengthen marriages.  Here are some quotes you may not have seen:

Such hath been the patience, the calm, the resignation and contentment of this people that they have become the exponents of justice, and so great hath been their forbearance, that they have suffered themselves to be killed rather than kill, and this notwithstanding that these whom the world hath wronged have endured tribulations the like of which the history of the world hath never recorded, nor the eyes of any nation witnessed. What is it that could have induced them to reconcile themselves to these grievous trials, and to refuse to put forth a hand to repel them? What could have caused such resignation and serenity? The true cause is to be found in the ban which the Pen of Glory hath, day and night, chosen to impose, and in Our assumption of the reins of authority, through the power and might of Him Who is the Lord of all mankind.  (Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 74-75)

They that yearn for the abode of the Beloved, they that circle round the sanctuary of the Desired One, are not apprehensive of trials and adversities, nor do they flee away from that which is ordained by God. They receive their portion from the ocean of resignation and drink their fill from the soft-flowing stream of His mercy. They would not surrender the good-pleasure of the Friend in exchange for the kingdom of both worlds, nor would they barter that which the Well-Beloved hath decreed in return for dominion over the realms of the infinite. They would eagerly drink the venom of woe as if it were the water of life and would drain deadly poison to its bitter dregs just as a sweet and life-giving draught. In the arid wastes of desolation they are stirred with enthusiasm through the remembrance of the Friend, and in the dreary wilds of adversity they are eager and impatient to offer themselves as a sacrifice. Unhesitatingly have they renounced their lives and directed their steps towards the abode of the Best Beloved. They have closed their eyes to the world and fixed their gaze upon the beauteous countenance of the Friend, cherishing no desire but the presence of the loved One and seeking no attainment save reunion with Him. They fly with the feathers of trust in God and soar with the wings of adherence unto His Will. In their estimation a blood-shedding blade is more desirable than finest silk and a piercing dart more acceptable than mother’s milk.  (Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 11)

The abuse recovery model suggests that there is something wrong with spouses who fall back into love, forgiveness and mercy, after every one of their husband’s outbursts, as though it was part of the problem.  Unfortunately this is where they differ from the standards of the Faith.  Here are some quotes which might help you think of it differently:

All these purified hearts and sanctified souls hastened with perfect resignation to the call of destiny. During occasions of complaint, nothing proceeded from them except thanksgiving, and in time of affliction, only submission was visible. It is an evident fact how much hatred, animosity and enmity the people of the earth entertained toward these companions, for they considered tormenting and oppressing these holy ideal countenances conducive to prosperity, salvation and everlasting success and gain . . . Notwithstanding all their sufferings and injuries, they became the objects of the curses of the people and the subject of censure by all the servants. It seemed as if patience originated in the world of existence from their self-restraint, and faithfulness appeared in the regions of the earth from their actions.  (Compilations, Baha’i Scriptures, p. 61)

This suggests that no matter what happens to us, we need to be resigned and not complain; we need to thank God and submit to His decree; we need to realize that if we can acquire these virtues, it will lead to prosperity, salvation and everlasting gain.

The following quote gives us some practical tools we can use:

Those, however, who have been trained and educated in the school of God, even when coming to such a pass, are resignation itself, and to the brutal aggressor they are as the living waters of Heaven. They are rivers of pure mercy and peace. Though powerful and well able to defend themselves, they never raise a hand to strike, nor do they open their lips to protest. They confront the others’ taunts and curses with prayers that God will forgive them, and their reply to the wounds of bullet and sword is to offer milk and honey. They kiss the murderer’s hand; as intoxicated lovers, they drain the martyr’s cup.  (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 165)

They give us a standard to work towards:

They that yearn for the abode of the Beloved, they that circle round the sanctuary of the Desired One, are not apprehensive of trials and adversities, nor do they flee away from that which is ordained by God. They receive their portion from the ocean of resignation and drink their fill from the soft-flowing stream of His mercy. They would not surrender the good-pleasure of the Friend in exchange for the kingdom of both worlds, nor would they barter that which the Well-Beloved hath decreed in return for dominion over the realms of the infinite. They would eagerly drink the venom of woe as if it were the water of life and would drain deadly poison to its bitter dregs just as a sweet and life-giving draught. In the arid wastes of desolation they are stirred with enthusiasm through the remembrance of the Friend, and in the dreary wilds of adversity they are eager and impatient to offer themselves as a sacrifice. Unhesitatingly have they renounced their lives and directed their steps towards the abode of the Best Beloved. They have closed their eyes to the world and fixed their gaze upon the beauteous countenance of the Friend, cherishing no desire but the presence of the loved One and seeking no attainment save reunion with Him. They fly with the feathers of trust in God, and soar with the wings of adherence unto His Will. In their estimation a blood-shedding blade is more desirable than finest silk and a piercing dart more acceptable than mother’s milk.  (Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 11)

This is a tough standard, indeed!  It suggests even if your life is being poisoned by someone’s behaviour; even if your marriage is desolate; even if the abuse hurts as much as a piercing dart, God still wants us to change our attitude to one of resignation, offering up our pain as a sacrifice, and looking to God for mercy.

Even in moments of catastrophe, we are to attain patience, resignation and submission:

O ye Cohorts of God! In the moment of catastrophe, find ye patience, resignation and submission.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)

God wants us to be patient, and to not complain about our suffering.

Blessed are the steadfastly enduring, they that are patient under ills and hardships, who lament not over anything that befalleth them, and who tread the path of resignation.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 129)

We are to submit ourselves without complaining, so that others won’t even know that anything is wrong:

However, relying upon God, we conducted ourselves with the utmost patience and submission, resignation and calmness; so much that if one did not know anything about these matters, he would have thought that we were in perfect ease of soul, enjoying the tranquility of heart mind, and were engaged in happiness and felicity.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 45)

He wants us to detach ourselves from others, to resign ourselves to whatever happens without talking about our pain; without exalting ourselves over the person who is hurting us.

That seeker must, at all times, put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, must detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords. He must never seek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 264-265)

He wants us to thank Him for our tests, and submit ourselves to them.

All these stainless hearts and sanctified souls have, with absolute resignation, responded to the summons of His decree. Instead of complaining, they rendered thanks unto God, and amidst the darkness of their anguish they revealed naught but radiant acquiescence to His will.  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Iqan, p. 234)

His purpose in all of this is for us to acquire a saintly character, adorned with holy and goodly deeds.

The purpose of the one true God in manifesting Himself is to summon all mankind to . . . resignation and submissiveness to the Will of God, to forbearance and kindliness . . . His object is to array every man with the mantle of a saintly character, and to adorn him with the ornament of holy and goodly deeds.  (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 298)

He promises that if we learn how to trust His decrees, no one’s bad behaviour will ever depress his spirits, his inner life will be revived and the pain will entirely subside.

In truth were man to attain the stage of certitude in his spiritual development, no affliction could ever depress his spirits, though he would undoubtedly be influenced by reason of his human susceptibilities. Nevertheless, man’s inner being will be so revived by the breeze of divinely-ordained woes and trials that the dust of wailing and lamentation will entirely subside and the light of submissive resignation unto His Will shall shine forth like unto a radiant morn.  (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Fire and Light, p. 25)

Look at the lives of the martyrs for inspiration.  Many of them died at the hands of their oppressors, and accepted death willingly.  That’s the spirit we are called to attain:

In physical strength and fortitude one of these Bahá’ís could have withstood many of their enemies, but they accepted martyrdom in the spirit of complete resignation and nonresistance. Many of them died, crying out, “O Lord! Forgive them; they know not what they do. If they knew, they would not commit this wrong.” In the throes of martyrdom they willingly offered all they possessed in this life.  (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 384)

Again we see Bahiyyih Khanum as a role model for resignation:

That heavenly being [Bahiyyih Khanum] displayed throughout her life such evidence of glory and dignity, such manifestations of majesty and greatness, such a degree of patience and resignation as bewildered the minds and souls. In the midst of trials her radiant face bore the likeness of a sweet rose and in moments of sore tribulation she was resplendent as a brilliant candle.  (Compilations, Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 84)

Here’s an affirmation you can use to help strengthen your resignation:

Thine is the command at all times, O Thou Who art the Lord of all names; and mine is resignation and willing submission to Thy will, O Creator of the heavens!  (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 95)

The standards set by the Faith are very high, but so are the rewards:

They that yearn for the abode of the Beloved, they that circle round the sanctuary of the Desired One, are not apprehensive of trials and adversities, nor do they flee away from that which is ordained by God. They receive their portion from the ocean of resignation and drink their fill from the soft-flowing stream of His mercy. They would not surrender the good-pleasure of the Friend in exchange for the kingdom of both worlds, nor would they barter that which the Well-Beloved hath decreed in return for dominion over the realms of the infinite. They would eagerly drink the venom of woe as if it were the water of life and would drain deadly poison to its bitter dregs just as a sweet and life-giving draught. In the arid wastes of desolation they are stirred with enthusiasm through the remembrance of the Friend, and in the dreary wilds of adversity they are eager and impatient to offer themselves as a sacrifice. Unhesitatingly have they renounced their lives and directed their steps towards the abode of the Best Beloved. They have closed their eyes to the world and fixed their gaze upon the beauteous countenance of the Friend, cherishing no desire but the presence of the loved One and seeking no attainment save reunion with Him. They fly with the feathers of trust in God. and soar with the wings of adherence unto His Will. In their estimation a blood-shedding blade is more desirable than finest silk and a piercing dart more acceptable than mother’s milk.  (Baha’u’llah, Fire and Light, p. 11)

In order to preserve a marriage to Dr. Jekyll, so that it lasts through all the worlds of God, the virtues needed the most (in addition to love and forgiveness) might include patience, resignation and long-suffering.

On the other hand, the Bahá’í Writings also say:

If a Bahá’í woman suffers abuse or is subjected to rape by her husband, she has the right to turn to the assembly for assistance and counsel, or to seek legal protection.  Such an abuse would gravely jeopardize the continuation of the marriage, and could well lead to a condition of irreconcilable antipathy.  (From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 24 January, 1993)

At present the prevailing method, within the Australian community, of treating domestic violence, is to advise the couple to sepa­rate and to seek treatment from professional counseling services. It is suggested that Assemblies follow this method of treating domestic violence also. If, alternatively, the couple is counseled to remain to­gether to try and reconcile their differences, there can be no guarantee that the violence will not recur, in which case the Assembly could appear, inadvertently, to be condoning it. If the couple separate, how­ever, the role of the Assembly can then become that of providing an independent forum within which the couple can come together and try to resolve their differences.  (National Spiritual Assembly of Australia’s Policy Regarding Domestic Violence, From Australian Bahá’í Bulletin, July 1990.)

Perhaps it’s time for a year of patience.  The purpose of it is to:

During the year the couple have the responsibility of attempting to reconcile their difference, and the Assembly has the duty to help them and encourage them. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 390)

Unfortunately most couples enter into it too late – when they have no intention of working on the marriage or the issues which led up to it falling apart.

Conclusion:

As we know, there are many seeming contradictions in the Writings. Examining them can lead to greater depth of insight and the understanding that reality is complex; some of these statements refer to different kinds of situations, or must be applied in combination. The juxtaposition of these seeming contradictions prevents us from turning the Writings into a “cookbook” with a simple recipe for every situation. These contradictions force us to engage our own minds and exercise judgment.

This quote says it nicely:

The personal transformation required for true equality will undoubtedly be difficult for men and women alike. Both must relinquish all attachment to guilt and blame and courageously assume responsibility for their own part in transforming the societies in which they live.  (Baha’i International Community, 1995 Sept 13, Role of Religion in Promoting Advancement of Women)

I’m not sure it’s the individual’s job to look for justice in a marriage, as these quotes suggest:

It should be realized that there is a distinction drawn in the Faith between the attitudes which should characterize individuals in their relationship to other people, namely, loving forgiveness, forbearance, and concern with one’s own sins, not the sins of others, and those attitudes which should be shown by the Spiritual Assemblies, whose duty is to administer the law of God with Justice.  (Universal House of Justice, Messages from the Universal House of Justice 1968-1973, p. 110)

Love is the standard which must govern the conduct of one believer towards another. The administrative order does not change this, but unfortunately sometimes the friends confuse the two, and try to be a whole spiritual assembly,  —  with the discipline and justice and impartiality that body must show,  —  to each other, instead of being forgiving, loving and patient to each other as individuals.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 403)

The greatest need it seems everywhere inside the Cause is to impress upon the friends the need for love among them. There is a tendency to mix up the functions of the Administration and try to apply it in individual relationships, which is abortive, because the Assembly is a nascent House of Justice and is supposed to administer, according to the Teachings, the affairs of the Community. But individuals towards each other are governed by love, unity, forgiveness and a sin-covering eye. Once the friends grasp this they will get along much better, but they keep playing Spiritual Assembly to each other and expect the Assembly to behave like an individual.  (Shoghi Effendi, Directives from the Guardian, p. 41-42)

Is there hope for this marriage?  I think there is.  As Shoghi Effendi said:

Marriage problems are often very involved and subtle, and we Bahá’ís, being enlightened and progressive people, should not hesitate, if it seems necessary or desirable, to turn to science for help in such matters. If you and your husband talked over your problems — together or separately — with a good physician you might find that you can cure your own husband, or at least try to do so. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 451)

By studying, understanding and applying the guidance in this posting, I think there’s hope!  What do you think?  Post your comments here:

 To See Part 2, When Marriage Becomes Abusive, please click here