When my son was born, I was a new Bahá’í (of 2 years), and my husband was Anglican. I had a vague idea that Bahá’ís didn’t baptize their children, but believed that unity in the family was a higher principle, so my son was baptized in the Anglican church and raised as a Bahá’í.
It would have been helpful to know this guidance at that time:
Children of such a union may be baptized if the Christian parent so wishes; from the Bahá’í point of view the baptism has no effect. It must be emphasized, however, that the Bahá’í parent, while perfectly free to attend the baptismal ceremony, should not undertake any commitment or vow contrary to Bahá’í law and should not surrender her parental right to impart the Bahá’í teachings to her child. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 139)
I promised to raise my child in the Anglican church, believing that to raise a Baha’i child was also to raise a Christian, Moslem, Jewish child. Now I wonder if this is the same kind of dissimulation Baha’is in Iran are rejecting when they are asked if they are Moslem and they say no? On the surface, they could answer yes, because Baha’is believe in all Faiths, but they don’t. I didn’t have anyone I could talk to about this back then, so I was on my own. Fortunately I did not have to surrender any parental right to impart the Baha’i teachings to my son, otherwise I never would have gone through with it.
I wondered how many other families might be in the same situations, so I turned to the Writings to see what they had to teach us. Let’s have a look!
In the past, baptism was used to awaken people:
Reflect, also, that baptism in the days of John the Baptist was used to awaken and admonish the people to repent from all sin, and to watch for the appearance of the Kingdom of Christ. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 94-95)
Children don’t derive any spiritual benefit from baptism. In fact, many of them become agitated and ill.
But at present in Asia, the Catholics and the Orthodox Church plunge newly born children into water mixed with olive oil, and many of them become ill from the shock; at the time of baptism they struggle and become agitated. In other places, the clergy sprinkle the water of baptism on the forehead. But neither from the first form nor from the second do the children derive any spiritual benefit. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 95)
In this dispensation we don’t need a symbol of repentance and seeking forgiveness from sins:
No, this baptism with water was a symbol of repentance, and of seeking forgiveness of sins. But in the cycle of Bahá’u’lláh there is no longer need of this symbol; for its reality, which is to be baptized with the spirit and love of God, is understood and established. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Baptism doesn’t cause spiritual awakening or conversion – it’s only a custom we follow:
Other peoples are amazed and wonder why the infant is plunged into the water, since this is neither the cause of the spiritual awakening of the child, nor of its faith or conversion, but it is only a custom which is followed. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 95)
Religious laws are changed in accordance with the changes and alterations of the times:
Question. — Is the ablution of baptism useful and necessary, or is it useless and unnecessary? In the first case, if it is useful, why was it abrogated? And in the second case, if it is useless, why did John practice it?
Answer. — The change in conditions, alterations and transformations are necessities of the essence of beings, and essential necessities cannot be separated from the reality of things. So it is absolutely impossible to separate heat from fire, humidity from water, or light from the sun, for they are essential necessities. As the change and alteration of conditions are necessities for beings, so laws also are changed and altered in accordance with the changes and alterations of the times. (Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 93-94)
Material water doesn’t purify the heart:
For material water does not purify the heart of man; no, it cleanses his body. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Real baptism is through the divine teachings and the exhortations of Baha’u’llah:
The performance of baptismal celebration would cleanse the body, but the spirit hath no share; but the divine teachings and the exhortations of the Beauty of Bahá will baptize the soul. This is the real baptism. I hope that thou wilt receive this baptism. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Baha’i World Faith, p. 390)
It’s the heavenly water and spirit which makes the human heart good and pure:
But the heavenly water and spirit, which are knowledge and life, make the human heart good and pure; the heart which receives a portion of the bounty of the Spirit becomes sanctified, good and pure — that is to say, the reality of man becomes purified and sanctified from the impurities of the world of nature. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Real baptism removes evil qualities such as anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc.:
These natural impurities are evil qualities: anger, lust, worldliness, pride, lying, hypocrisy, fraud, self-love, etc. Man cannot free himself from the rage of the carnal passions except by the help of the Holy Spirit. That is why He says baptism with the spirit, with water and with fire is necessary, and that it is essential — that is to say, the spirit of divine bounty, the water of knowledge and life, and the fire of the love of God. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
When we’re baptized this way, we will become filled with eternal bounty:
Man must be baptized with this spirit, this water and this fire so as to become filled with the eternal bounty. Otherwise, what is the use of baptizing with material water? (Abdu’l-Bahá, Some Answered Questions, p. 91)
Baha’is don’t act as godparents either:
Your Assembly understands that a conscientious Bahá’í couple must not have their children baptized, nor should Bahá’ís ordinarily participate as godparents in a baptismal ceremony for this also may seem to imply their affiliation with the church. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 143)
For parents who are looking for a spiritual baptism ceremony to welcome the newly arrived babe, they can consider a naming ceremony:
Thou hast asked regarding the naming of children: When thou wishest to name a babe, prepare a meeting therefor; chant the verses and communes, and supplicate and implore the Threshold of Oneness and beg the attainment of guidance for the babe and wish confirmated firmness and constancy; then give the name and enjoy beverage and sweetmeat. This is spiritual baptism. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v1, p. 149-150)
This would not be an official public ceremony, and would not involve any ritual:
We have no ‘baptismal service’ in the Cause, such as the Christians have. There could be no objection, however, for the friends to come together on such happy occasions, provided they do not hold an official public ceremony, and provided also they strictly avoid any uniformity and rigidity in all such practices. We feel that this activity should be left to the discretion of the parents. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 138)
How has this helped you understand the topic better? What’s been your experience? Post your comments below.
When I began to speak about the abuse that happened in our family, I wrote to the House of Justice about how much contact I should have with them and they suggested:
Such an attitude (forgiveness and insight into their actions) does not preclude your being prudent in deciding upon the appropriate amount of contact with your parents. In reaching your decision you should be guided by such factors as their degree of remorse over what they inflicted on you in the past, the extent of their present involvement in practices which are so contrary to Bahá’í Teachings, and the level of vulnerability you perceive within yourself to being influenced adversely by them. In the process of reaching a decision, you may well find it useful to seek the advice of experts such as your therapist. (Universal House of Justice to me, 9 September, 1992)
Based on this, I wrote letters to my parents, asking them to take responsibility for their actions by paying for my therapy and assuring me that my son would never be subjected to the same thing. They tried to have me declared crazy and have my son taken away. When that didn’t work, I was shunned by my parents and siblings, and no matter what efforts I made to overcome it, my parents passed away still estranged and my brothers have shown no desire to heal the rift between us.
As someone working to bring unity to the world, the fact that I could not have unity within my own family has been a considerable source of pain for most of my adult life.
As I look around though, I realize that there has always been estrangement in families. I’m not as unique as I once believed. It seems we were created that way:
Souls are inclined toward estrangement. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
‘Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
The love of family is limited; the tie of blood relationship is not the strongest bond. Frequently members of the same family disagree, and even hate each other. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
How often it happens that in a family, love and agreement are changed into enmity and antagonism. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 79-80)
In Ruhi Book 1 we spent much time discussing the 5 things that inflict the greatest harm on the Cause, estrangement being one of the five:
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than dissension and strife, contention, estrangement and apathy, among the loved ones of God. Flee them, through the power of God and His sovereign aid, and strive ye to knit together the hearts of men, in His Name, the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-Wise. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
The Baha’i standard would have us love each other so much we’d spend our money and give up our own desires for each other:
Cause them to love one another so as to sacrifice their spirits, expend their money and give up their desires for each other’s sake! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)
That’s a hard standard to live up to!
What are the Causes?
This hatred and enmity, this bigotry and intolerance are outcomes of misunderstandings . . . This is the real cause of enmity, hatred and bloodshed in the world; the reason of alienation and estrangement among mankind. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Foundations of World Unity, p. 96)
Everything which conduces to separation and estrangement is satanic because it emanates from the purposes of self. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)
Effects of Estrangement:
This “Most Great Separation”, as Bahá’u’lláh referred to the severing of the relationship [between Himself and Mírzá Yahyá], perplexed and confused believers who were unfamiliar with Mírzá Yahyá’s conduct … The anguish it brought upon Bahá’u’lláh is reflected in the term He used to refer to this period – Ayyám-i-Shidád, the “Days of Stress”. (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)
Death and Dissolution:
Consider how clearly it is shown in creation that the cause of existence is unity and cohesion and the cause of nonexistence is separation and dissension. By a divine power of creation the elements assemble together in affinity, and the result is a composite being. Certain of these elements have united, and man has come into existence . . . But when these elements separate, when their affinity and cohesion are overcome, death and dissolution of the body they have built inevitably follow. Therefore, affinity and unity among even these material elements mean life in the body of man, and their discord and disagreement mean death. Throughout all creation, in all the kingdoms, this law is written: that love and affinity are the cause of life, and discord and separation are the cause of death. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 207)
‘Abdu’l-Baha becomes overwhelmed by grief:
I swear this by the beauty of the Lord: whensoever I hear good of the friends, my heart filleth up with joy; but whensoever I find even a hint that they are on bad terms one with another, I am overwhelmed by grief. Such is the condition of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Then judge from this where your duty lieth. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 231)
How to Prevent Estrangement:
Through love, respect and courtesy:
Where love, respect and courtesy are genuinely and mutually expressed, estrangement finds no accommodation and problems become soluble challenges. (The Universal House of Justice, 1994 May 19, response to US NSA)
You have asked, however, for specific rules of conduct to govern the relationships of husbands and wives … If, God forbid, they fail to agree, and their disagreement leads to estrangement, they should seek counsel from those they trust and in whose sincerity and sound judgement they have confidence, in order to preserve and strengthen their ties as a united family. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 456)
How to Live with Estrangement:
You may have to sever your ties:
Although Bahá’u’lláh tried to conceal Mírzá Yahyá’s attempt on his life from His companions, further acts of treachery and betrayal forced Him to sever all ties with His younger half brother. (Geoffrey W. Marks, Call to Remembrance, p. 132)
Steps should first be taken to do away with this estrangement, for only then will the Word take effect. If a believer showeth kindness to one of the neglectful, and, with great love, gradually leadeth him to an understanding of the validity of the Holy Cause, so that he may come to know the fundamentals of God’s Faith and the implications thereof—such a one will certainly be transformed. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 265)
Ways to Overcome Estrangement:
Through the powers of the Holy Spirit:
It is clear that limited material ties are insufficient to adequately express the universal love … No worldly power can accomplish the universal love … the Holy Spirit will give to man greater powers than these, if only he will strive after the things of the spirit and endeavour to attune his heart to the Divine infinite love. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
Bring them together again, O Lord, by the Power of Thy Covenant, and gather their dispersion by the Might of Thy Promise, and unite their hearts by the dominion of Thy Love! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 263)
Make every effort to remove any feelings of estrangement:
The people of the world are carefully watching the Bahá’ís today, and minutely observing them. The believers must make every effort, and take the utmost care to ward off and remove any feelings of estrangement. (Bahiyyih Khanum, p. 207)
Fix your gaze on unity:
Shut your eyes to estrangement, then fix your gaze upon unity. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 67)
Love each other in God and for God:
When you love a member of your family or a compatriot, let it be with a ray of the Infinite Love! Let it be in God, and for God! Wherever you find the attributes of God love that person, whether he be of your family or of another. Shed the light of a boundless love on every human being whom you meet. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
Through truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness:
Consort with all the peoples, kindreds and religions of the world with the utmost truthfulness, uprightness, faithfulness, kindliness, good-will and friendliness; that all the world of being may be filled with the holy ecstasy of the grace of Bahá, that ignorance, enmity, hate and rancor may vanish from the world and the darkness of estrangement amidst the peoples and kindreds of the world may give way to the Light of Unity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 445)
Through love, patience, resignation, forgiveness, friendship and reconciliation:
If the friends and relatives are keeping themselves at a distance from thee, be thou not sad, for God is near to thee. Associate thou, as much as thou canst, with the relatives and strangers; display thou loving kindness; show thou forth the utmost patience and resignation. The more they oppose thee, shower thou upon them the greater justice and equity; the more they show hatred and opposition toward thee, challenge thou them with great truthfulness, friendship and reconciliation. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v3, p. 557-558)
Promote amity and concord and secure an active and whole-hearted cooperation:
They must endeavor to promote amity and concord amongst the friends, efface every lingering trace of distrust, coolness and estrangement from every heart, and secure in its stead an active and whole-hearted cooperation for the service of the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Administration, p. 38)
Benefits of Overcoming Estrangement:
Heaven will support you:
Heaven will support you while you work in this in-gathering of the scattered peoples of the world … You will be servants of God, who are dwelling near to Him, His divine helpers in the service, ministering to all Humanity. All Humanity! Every human being! Never forget this! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 36)
The Grace of the Holy Spirit will be given and we will become the centre of the Divine blessings:
In short, whatsoever thing is arranged in harmony and with love and purity of motive, its result is light, and should the least trace of estrangement prevail the result shall be darkness upon darkness…. If this be so regarded, that assembly shall be of God, but otherwise it shall lead to coolness and alienation that proceed from the Evil One…. Should they endeavour to fulfil these conditions the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall be vouchsafed unto them, and that assembly shall become the centre of the Divine blessings, the hosts of Divine confirmation shall come to their aid, and they shall day by day receive a new effusion of Spirit. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 88-89)
Here’s a book you might find helpful:
How has this helped you understand this topic better? Post your comments below.
Continuing on the theme of recovery from low self-esteem, I think there are two more things we need to pay attention to – one is looking at how God sees us and understanding how much He loves us, just the way we are.
First of all, He created us because He loved us:
Veiled in My immemorial being and in the ancient eternity of my essence, I knew My love for thee; therefore I created thee, have engraved on thee Mine image and revealed to thee My beauty. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 3)
His love is inside of us:
My love is in thee, know it, that thou mayest find Me near unto thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 10)
His love for us cannot be concealed:
My grace to thee is plenteous, it cannot be veiled. My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 20)
He’s with us always:
With all my soul and spirit, I am thy companion at all moments. Know thou this of a certainty! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Vol. 3, pp.557-558)
Know thou that God is with thee under all conditions, and that He guardeth thee from the changes and chances of this world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.122)
No matter what we might think of ourselves, the way He created us was perfect:
With the hands of power I made thee and with the fingers of strength I created thee; and within thee have I placed the essence of My light. Be thou content with it and seek naught else, for My work is perfect and My command is binding. Question it not, nor have a doubt thereof. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 12)
He knows us better than we know ourselves, so we can trust Him when He tells us who we really are:
Ye are better known to the inmates of the Kingdom on high than ye are known to your own selves. Think ye these words to be vain and empty? Would that ye had the power to perceive the things your Lord, the All-Merciful, doth see–things that attest the excellence of your rank, that bear witness to the greatness of your worth, that proclaim the sublimity of your station! (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, pp. 316-317)
He sees the entire universe enfolded within us:
Do thou reckon thyself only a puny form when within thee the universe is folded? (Bahá’u’lláh, Seven Valleys, p.34)
He sees us as a “mine rich in gems”:
Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.260)
He’s given us the capacity to exercise a particular influence and given each of us a distinct virtue:
It is therefore important to appreciate that God in His bounty has endowed every created thing, however humble, ‘with the capacity to exercise a particular influence, and been made to possess a distinct virtue’. (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 2 December, 1985)
Our station is so glorious that if we wanted to see it, we’d never be able to live in this world:
Such is the station ordained for the true believer that if to an extent smaller than a needle’s eye the glory of that station were to be unveiled to mankind, every beholder would be consumed away in his longing to attain it. For this reason it hath been decreed that in this earthly life the full measure of the glory of his own station should remain concealed from the eyes of such a believer… If the veil be lifted and the full glory of the station of those who have turned wholly towards God, and in their love for Him renounced the world, be made manifest, the entire creation would be dumbfounded. (Bahá’u’lláh, The World Order of Bahá’u’lláh, pp.110-111)
God understands our low self-esteem:
Thou art even as a finely tempered sword concealed in the darkness of its sheath and its value hidden from the artificer’s knowledge. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 72)
I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty? Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself? Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me? Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another? (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 13)
Here’s my favorite rendition of this quote, by Nabil and Karim.
God understands how looking at our failures affects us:
Each one of us, if we look into our failures, is sure to feel unworthy and despondent, and this feeling only frustrates our constructive efforts and wastes time. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, page 447)
He shows us how to overcome it:
Remembrance of Me cleanseth all things from defilement, could ye but perceive it. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.294)
Forget yourself. God’s help will surely come! When you call on the Mercy of God waiting to reinforce you, your strength will be tenfold. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p.38)
Rise then unto that for which thou wast created. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 22)
Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 13)
Wherefore come forth from the sheath of self and desire that thy worth may be made resplendent and manifest unto all the world. (Bahá’u’lláh, Hidden Words, Arabic 72)
The thing for us to focus on is the glory of the Cause and the Power of Bahá’u’lláh which can make of a mere drop a surging sea! (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, page 447)
He wants us to eat from His heavenly table:
…the gate of boundless grace is opened wide, the heavenly table is set, the servants of the Merciful and His handmaids are present at the Feast. Strive ye to receive your share of this eternal food, so that ye shall be loved and cherished in this world and the next. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.77)
Shoghi Effendi has no patience with our self-indulgence:
You certainly have no right to feel negative; you have embraced this glorious Faith and arisen with devotion to serve it, and your labours are greatly appreciated by both the Guardian and your fellow-Bahá’ís. With something as positive as the Faith and all it teaches behind you, you should be a veritable lion of confidence, and he will pray that you may become so. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, page 447)
Finally, we are promised:
Now I say unto you, bear this on your hearts and in your minds. Verily your light shall illumine the whole world, your spirituality shall affect the heart of things. You shall in truth become the lighted torches of the globe. Fear not, neither be dismayed, for your light shall penetrate the densest darkness. This is the promise of God, which I give unto you. Rise! and serve the Power of God! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris TaIks, p.168)
Knowing all of this should bring us delight and happiness, gladness and joy:
By thy life, O my beloved! if thou didst know what God had ordained for thee, thou wouldst fly with delight and happiness, gladness and joy would increase every hour. (Bahá’u’lláh, Bahá’í World Faith, p.363)
And if this wasn’t enough, Bahá’u’lláh has given us one of the most comforting passages here:
Rejoice thou with great joy that We have remembered thee both now and in the past. Indeed the sweet savours of this remembrance shall endure and shall not change throughout the eternity of the Names of God, the Lord of mankind.
We have graciously accepted thy devotions, thy praise, thy teaching work and the services thou hast rendered for the sake of this mighty Announcement. We have also hearkened unto that which thy tongue hath uttered at the meetings and gatherings. Verily thy Lord heareth and observeth all things.
We have attired thee with the vesture of My good-pleasure in My heavenly Kingdom… At this moment We call to remembrance Our loved ones and bring them the joyous tidings of God’s unfailing grace and of the things that have been provided for them in My lucid Book.
Ye have tolerated the censure of the enemies for the sake of My love and have steadfastly endured in My Path the grievous cruelties which the ungodly have inflicted upon you. Unto this I Myself bear witness, and I am the All-Knowing. How vast the number of places that have been ennobled with your blood for the sake of God.
How numerous the cities wherein the voice of your lamentation hath been raised and the wailing of your anguish uplifted. How many the prisons into which ye have been cast by the hosts of tyranny. Know ye of a certainty that He will render you victorious, will exalt you among the peoples of the world and will demonstrate your high rank before the gaze of all nations. Surely He will not suffer the reward of His favoured ones to be lost. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p.245)
My claim on thee is great, it cannot be forgotten. My grace to thee is plenteous, it cannot be veiled. My love has made in thee its home, it cannot be concealed. My light is manifest to thee, it cannot be obscured. (Baha’u’llah, The Arabic Hidden Words 20)
Sometimes we’re very hard on ourselves, and can’t forgive our mistakes in certain areas of life. Many of us lack self-esteem and consequently lose sight of life’s big picture.
When that happens to me, I often forget that life represents a collection of my good and bad actions—sort of a balance sheet that keeps track of my deeds, both good and bad. The negative side or the bad deeds are like an open account I have at a store or with a credit card company that keeps track of my purchases and payments. The expectation? Payments must be made by the end of the week or month at the most.
Our life’s open account is no different—because we are spiritually brought to account by the end of our physical existence. So when we know this tab is open, and understand that we are going to make many mistakes till we die, then why do we suddenly pick one mistake and become obsessed with it to the extent that we cannot forgive ourselves? Why one, when many could be singled out and made to be the stumbling block on the way of our human journey?
Forgiving others for what they have done is much easier for me than forgiving myself. The Bahá’í Teachings have a wealth of insight and knowledge on this subject to help us to forgive others—and ourselves. But my problem has always been being unable to forgive myself. For whatever reasons, my self-esteem has rarely been high enough to take me to the happier side of self-forgiveness. Even after finding out some great people too felt like me, not feeling worthy did not help me with my struggles. But when I read the holy scripture of many different Faiths, they take away some of the pain.
Even the great apostle Paul looked at his past with great regret:
For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1 Corinthians 15:9)
Shoghi Effendi considered himself a failure to “Rise to the situation the Master’s passing had placed him in” – and this distressed him for many years. (Rúhíyyih Rabbání, The Priceless Pearl, p. 72)
Maybe we need to be reminded that our account with the Creator remains open, and not let one mistake stop us from moving on with our lives. He has not given up on us, so why are we writing ourselves off? We will eventually balance our account.
As the result of doing so many wrong things in my life, I sometimes feel unbearable and paralyzed, filled with deep regret. This negativity reaches so high that I have to find ways not to deal with it, postponing that intense and difficult reckoning to some future time so that hopefully by then I am better equipped to face it and deal with it. So when those intense guilt attack moments occur, I repeat this to myself: “Please God, put it on my tab.”
That way I buy myself some time to deal with it later—to pray, to silently ask God for forgiveness, to find the inner strength to resolve to be a better and more spiritual soul.
By using this method I have survived many moments of utter despair. It also proved to me that God’s account with us is very flexible. He is kind because he sees our weaknesses and gives us opportunities to try again. Were it not for His flexibility, we would have had to give up trying.
The Baha’i teachings say that the coming of Bahá’u’lláh can wash our consciences clean, if we let it:
Now hath the Truth appeared, and falsehood fled away; now hath the day dawned and jubilation taken over, wherefore men’s souls are sanctified, their spirits purged, their hearts rejoiced, their minds purified, their secret thoughts made wholesome, their consciences washed clean, their inmost selves made holy: for the Day of Resurrection hath come to pass, and the bestowals of thy Lord, the Forgiving, have encompassed all things. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 38).
I finally resolved this inner problem later in life, when I made a pilgrimage trip to the Baha’i World Centre in the Holy Land. There I met a very wise Bahá’í who noticed my troubles, when I could not find myself worthy enough to go to the Baha’i Shrines. This wise person asked me if I believed God is forgiving, and I said yes. He said do you think he has forgiven you for the bad things you have done? I said I am sure He has. Then he looked at me with a look of disappointment and said “then who the hell do you think you are? Are you higher than God? Forgive yourself! He has!”
In that moment, my spiritual eye opened for the first time and I could see my life clearly.
When we occupy our minds and souls obsessively with negative thoughts, we lose sight of the big picture and forget who runs the show. If God has forgiven all your shortcomings, please do yourself a favor and accept it with gratefulness. After all, our lives are God’s gift to us, and He wants us to live wisely, cheerfully and free from guilt and regrets.
First we forgive; then we repent and finally we make amends.
To make amends for something means:
To say you’re sorry
To do penance
Atonement Done by the Manifestations
Real atonement was done by the Manifestations of God (including Christ), who bear every difficulty and ordeal in order to make us dawnings of light and confer on us eternal life.
As to the souls who are born into this world radiant entities and who through excessive difficulty are deprived of great benefits and thus leave the world — they are worthy of all sympathy, for in reality this is worthy of regret. It is for this purpose (that is, it is with regard to this wisdom) that the great Manifestations (of God) unveil themselves in this world, bear every difficulty and ordeal — to make these ready souls dawnings of light and confer upon them eternal life. This is the real atonement that His holiness Christ made-He sacrificed Himself for the life of the world. (Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha v3, p. 542)
Baha’u’llah consented to be made a prisoner, abased and bound in chains, so that the whole world would attain true liberty, attain abiding joy; be filled with gladness; be exalted, prosper and flourish:
The Ancient Beauty hath consented to be bound with chains that mankind may be released from its bondage, and hath accepted to be made a prisoner within this most mighty Stronghold that the whole world may attain unto true liberty. He hath drained to its dregs the cup of sorrow, that all the peoples of the earth may attain unto abiding joy, and be filled with gladness. This is of the mercy of your Lord, the Compassionate, the Most Merciful. We have accepted to be abased, O believers in the Unity of God, that ye may be exalted, and have suffered manifold afflictions, that ye might prosper and flourish. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 99)
The death of Mirza Mihdi, Baha’u’llah’s son, is an act of atonement comparable to those great acts of atonement associated with Abraham’s intended sacrifice of His son, with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn:
In a highly significant prayer, revealed by Bahá’u’lláh in memory of His son — a prayer that exalts his death to the rank of those great acts of atonement associated with Abraham’s intended sacrifice of His son, with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the martyrdom of the Imam Husayn — we read the following: “I have, O my Lord, offered up that which Thou hast given Me, that Thy servants may be quickened, and all that dwell on earth be united.” And, likewise, these prophetic words, addressed to His martyred son: “Thou art the Trust of God and His Treasure in this Land. Erelong will God reveal through thee that which He hath desired.” (Shoghi Effendi, God Passes By, p. 188)
It’s possible for us to follow His example, and atone for the sins of others by offering our suffering as a sacrifice, but not at the expense of our own health.
The Bahá’ís, in spite of their self-sacrificing desire to give the last drop of their strength to serving the Cause, must guard against utterly depleting their forces and having breakdowns. For this can sometimes do more harm than good, because they are so bound up in the lives of others…. “There is no doubt that there is vicarious atonement for others, and our sufferings sometimes can be in the nature of a sacrifice accepted for others. But where to draw the line is a mystery. If you take better care of your own health, and build up your reserves, it would certainly be better for you and for your work. Then your sensitive, yearning heart, although you may still often suffer for and with others, will be better able to withstand its trials, and you will not get so exhausted, which is certainly no asset to your work for the Cause. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 279)
It’s not only better for us to atone to God for our failures, but a commandment:
Arise, and, under the eyes of God, atone for your failures in duty towards Him. This is My commandment unto you, were ye to incline your ears unto My commandment. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 293)
There’s no bargaining with God on this one – we have to do it with a pure heart:
When, at a later time, Bahá’u’lláh had been banished to Baghdad, Husayn Khan sent Him a letter in which he expressed repentance and promised to atone for his past misdeeds on condition that he should regain his former position. Bahá’u’lláh refused to answer him. Sunk in misery and shame, he languished until his death. (Nabíl-i-A`zam, The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, p. 197)
Atonement is between us and God; it’s not the same as asking another person for forgiveness.
Confession of sins and transgressions before human beings is not permissible, as it hath never been nor will ever be conducive to divine forgiveness. Moreover such confession before people results in one’s humiliation and abasement, and God — exalted be His glory — wisheth not the humiliation of His servants. (Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 24)
We can acknowledge we’ve done something wrong and ask someone for their forgiveness, but we aren’t obliged to do so:
. . . if we spontaneously desire to acknowledge we have been wrong in something and that we have some fault of character, and ask another person’s forgiveness or pardon, we are quite free to do so. The Guardian wants to point out, however, that we are not obliged to do so. It rests entirely with the individual. (From a letter written by the Universal House of Justice to a National Spiritual Assembly, 19 March, 1973)
If we’re punished for our misdeeds in this world it’s how we atone for our crime and we won’t be punished again in the next:
As to the question regarding the soul of a murderer, and what his punishment would be, the answer given was that the murderer must expiate his crime: that is, if they put the murderer to death, his death is his atonement for his crime, and following the death, God in His justice will impose no second penalty upon him, for divine justice would not allow this. (Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 178)
He wants us to bestir ourselves so that the brief moments we have left on earth will not be dissipated and lost.
Bestir yourselves, that the brief moments that are still yours may not be dissipated and lost. Even as the swiftness of lightning your days shall pass, and your bodies shall be laid to rest beneath a canopy of dust. What can ye then achieve? How can ye atone for your past failure? (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 321)
There’s a degree of urgency to this, since we can’t atone for our sins in the next world:
Even as the swiftness of lightning your days shall pass, and your bodies shall be laid to rest beneath a canopy of dust. What can ye then achieve? How can ye atone for your past failure? (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 321)
It’s possible that there could only be a small window of opportunity and we wouldn’t want to miss it, as this man found out:
Siyyid Abdu’l-Baqi sat and listened to the Báb. He heard His voice, watched His movements, looked upon the expression of His face, and noted the words which streamed unceasingly from His lips, and yet failed to be moved by their majesty and power. Wrapt in the veils of his own idle fancy and learning, he was powerless to appreciate the meaning of the utterances of the Báb. He did not even trouble to enquire the name or the character of the Guest into whose presence he had been introduced. Unmoved by the things he had heard and seen, he retired from that presence, unaware of the unique opportunity which, through his apathy, he had irretrievably lost. A few days later, when informed of the name of the Youth whom he had treated with such careless indifference, he was filled with chagrin and remorse. It was too late, however, for him to seek His presence and atone for his conduct, for the Báb had already departed from Kashan. In his grief, he renounced the society of his fellowmen, and led, to the end of his days, a life of unrelieved seclusion. (Nabíl-i-A`zam, The Dawn-Breakers: Nabíl’s Narrative of the Early Days of the Bahá’í Revelation, p. 221)
Be not despondent! As long as we’ve made efforts to forgive, repent and atone, He’s forgiven us and we are free from sin and error. God has purged us with His living waters and we’ve been born anew. We can be proud of ourselves for having attained this bounty.
We have attired his temple with the robe of forgiveness and adorned his head with the crown of pardon. It beseemeth him to pride himself among all men upon this resplendent, this radiant and manifest bounty. Say: Be not despondent. After the revelation of this blessed verse it is as though thou hast been born anew from thy mother’s womb. Say: Thou art free from sin and error. Truly God hath purged thee with the living waters of His utterance in His Most Great Prison. We entreat Him—blessed and exalted is He—to graciously confirm thee in extolling Him and in magnifying His glory and to strengthen thee through the power of His invisible hosts. Verily, He is the Almighty, the Omnipotent. (Bahá’u’lláh, Tablets of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 77)
Now we give thanks, magnify His glory, and strengthened by the power of His invisible hosts, it’s time to forgive ourselves and move on! Thank you God for this great bounty!
Coming to forgiveness can be a process! Sometimes there’s something someone has done to us that seems so big, and so bad, that we can’t imagine ever being able to forgive.
Perhaps the idea of forgiveness might seem intellectually worthwhile; but at a heart level, we aren’t yet ready to let go and forgive. It’s at these times we can ask God to forgive the person for us.
That’s what I had to do with my parents.
As a child I was the victim of their sexual, physical and ritualistic abuse, for which they ultimately had their rights of parenthood removed. I knew from reading the writings that the standard was that I must “instantly forgive”, and I wanted to be obedient. I just didn’t know how. Coming to that place required a lot of little steps; and a LOT of understanding of the Bahá’í Writings on the purpose of life; the nature of tests and difficulties; justice etc.
When I took my question to the House of Justice they said:
As a devoted believer you are urged to strive to develop forgiveness in your heart toward your parents who have abused you in so disgraceful a manner . . . (Universal House of Justice to this author, 9 September, 1992)
You’ll note the date of this letter was 1992; and it wasn’t until 2010 that I was finally able to let it go and forgive them completely.
In the meantime, I was comforted knowing that I could “strive to develop forgiveness in my heart”.
The heart is the place where God resides, and He wants us to sanctify it for His descent.
In the Hidden Words alone, there are 37 references to the heart which teach us something about God’s desire to live there. Here are a couple of my favourites:
In the first one, Baha’u’llah tells us He’s given us everything except our hearts, which He made for His beauty and glory. He sees that we’ve given it to other things, including our hurt and anger, and whenever he found them there, He left, concealing our secret and desiring not our shame!
All that is in heaven and earth I have ordained for thee, except the human heart, which I have made the habitation of My beauty and glory; yet thou didst give My home and dwelling to another than Me; and whenever the manifestation of My holiness sought His own abode, a stranger found He there, and, homeless, hastened unto the sanctuary of the Beloved. Notwithstanding I have concealed thy secret and desired not thy shame. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 27)
Because of this, we may never recognize that while we harbour unforgiveness, we can’t have God’s love too.
In the second one, Baha’u’llah says friend and foe can’t dwell in the same heart – or in this case, our love for him, and bitterness towards those who have hurt us. He’s asking us to cast out one, so we can have the other:
Ponder awhile. Hast thou ever heard that friend and foe should abide in one heart? Cast out then the stranger, that the Friend may enter His home. (Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words 26)
All of this is helpful in advancing us along the process of forgiveness.
I was also comforted knowing that I could pray for my parents.
As I learned from the Báb:
Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense! (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 94)
Obviously I wanted forgiveness for myself; so I recognized I had to ask forgiveness for them, and I did.
God can see our sincerity. He knows what’s in our hearts, and when we take one step towards becoming more in line with His teachings, He will take it from there; and start the healing and forgiveness process.
Here are two prayers you can use to ask God to forgive others:
O God, my God! Lowly, suppliant and fallen upon my face, I beseech Thee with all the ardor of my invocation to pardon whosoever hath hurt me, forgive him that hath conspired against me and offended me, and wash away the misdeeds of them that have wrought injustice upon me. Vouchsafe unto them Thy goodly gifts, give them joy, relieve them from sorrow, grant them peace and prosperity, give them Thy bliss and pour upon them Thy bounty. Thou art the Powerful, the Gracious, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Will and Testament, p. 19)
O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals of this Dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love, Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Prayers, p. 64)