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Let’s face it.  Bad things happen to all of us, but when it seems like we’ve had a lifetime of suffering, it’s hard to stay strong and have hope.  I thought I’d look to the Baha’i Writings and see what I could find out and share it with you.

We know that suffering leads to self-improvement:

Suffering is both a reminder and a guide. It stimulates us better to adapt ourselves to our environmental conditions, and thus leads the way to self-improvement. In every suffering one can find a meaning and a wisdom. But it is not always easy to find the secret of that wisdom. It is sometimes only when all our suffering has passed that we become aware of its usefulness. What man considers to be evil turns often to be a cause of infinite blessings. (Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny, p. 434)

But the suffering of children is the hardest for many of us to understand.  Many children are exposed to horrific events, and then spend a life-time dealing with the after-effects.

God can compensate the innocent:

He urges you to put these dark thoughts from your mind, and remember that if God, the Creator of all men, can bear to see them suffer so, it is not for us to question His wisdom. He can compensate the innocent, in His own way, for the afflictions they bear.   (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 237)

It’s comforting to know that for those souls, that suffering is the greatest mercy of God, and it will be far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world:

On this plane of existence, there are many injustices that the human mind cannot fathom. Among these are the hear-rending trials of the innocent … With regard to the spiritual significance of the suffering of children “who are afflicted by the hands of oppressors”, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá not only states that for those souls “suffering is the greatest mercy of God”, He also explains that to be a recipient of God’s mercy is “far better and preferable to all the comfort of this world”, and He promises that “for those souls there is a recompense in another world”.  (Universal House of Justice, Letter on the Oppression of Children, 1985)

If we knew what God has destined for us, our gladness and joy would increase every hour:

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)

We’ll have true wealth:

Even if all the losses of the world were to be sustained by one of the friends of God, he would still profit thereby… The friends of God shall win and profit under all conditions, and shall attain true wealth.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Crisis & Victory, p.154)

Our reward is better than all the treasures of the earth:

So great are the things ordained for the steadfast that were they, so much as the eye of a needle, to be disclosed, all who are in heaven and on earth would be dumbfounded, except such as God, the Lord of all worlds, hath willed to exempt… I swear by God! That which hath been destined for him who aideth My Cause excelleth the treasures of the earth.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Advent of Divine Justice, p.84)

God has promised us days of blissful joy, in this world and in the next!

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, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.329)

When we get to the next world, we’ll get to recount all the things we’ve been made to endure:

With them [the Prophets of God and His chosen ones] that soul will freely converse, and will recount unto them that which it hath been made to endure in the path of God, the Lord of all worlds.  (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p.156)

Here’s a story of how Juliet Thomson felt God’s love in this world:

Later in the morning He sent for me. My self-consciousness, my shyness had made me feel shut out from Him, but my heart had been continually crying out, with ever-increasing love, to Him. When I entered His little room and knelt at His feet and looked up into eyes of Love which I suddenly found I could meet, He put out His hand and said, “Now; now!”

I laid my head on His knee. The tears came. He lifted my face and wiped them away. “God shall wipe away all tears.” Ah, this blessed Day!  I cannot remember exactly what happened, only that Love immeasurable flowed out from Him and was reflected in my poor heart. One thing I do remember. When He lifted my face, while He was wiping away my tears, He said in a voice of infinite sweetness, like the sighing of the wind which “bloweth where it listeth and we know not whence it cometh or whither it goeth”: “Speak. Speak to Me!”  His words in English sink into your very soul. What I lose by not understanding Persian!  “O my Lord, may my life speak to you!” I cried.  (Diary of Juliet Thompson)

It seems to me that patience, long-suffering and resignation are 3 key virtues we’re developing through our suffering.

I’d like to look at the example of Bahíyyih Khánum, Shoghi Effendi’s great-aunt and the highest ranked woman in the Baha’i Faith.  Her story is a testimony to the power of the human spirit to triumph over adversity. Shoghi Effendi wants us to follow her example, so it only seems fitting to tell you about her here.

Bahíyyih Khánum was Bahá’u’lláh’s only daughter, and was also known as the “Greatest Holy Leaf”.  Her station is similar to the Virgin Mary (to Christians) and Fatimih Zahra (to Muslims).  She certainly led a life of continuous suffering.  She spent her early years in an environment of privilege, wealth, and love and described this period of her life as very happy. When she was 6, her father was arrested and imprisoned, the family’s home pillaged and Bahíyyih and her family were forced to live in poverty. She clearly remembered the shrieks of the Bábís awaiting their death, leaving a strong mark in her later life.  Later the same year her family were exiled over snow-covered mountains, to Baghdad and later to Constantinople, Adrianople and finally Acre. Her uncle (Mirza Yahya), forbade her to leave the house to play with other children or even to let a doctor visit her newly born brother who needed medical attention — instead leaving him to die.

Bahíyyih spent almost all of her adult life as a prisoner.  As a young girl she chose to remain single, so she could serve her parents, her brother and later, to serve Shoghi Effendi. This was very strange for a woman of her rank and era. After so many tests and difficulties in the early part of her life, the death of her youngest brother, Mirza Mihdi, destroyed any morale she had left, yet somehow, she found the strength to help her mother and father with serving the pilgrims who came to visit. She was very close to her mother and always concerned about her mother’s delicate heath and when her mother died, it left Bahíyyih with a huge void in her life.  Later, when Bahá’u’lláh passed away, it put her into severe mourning which caused her to become thin and feeble for a time.

When she was freed at age 62, Bahíyyih opened up an orphanage in her home for non-Bahá’í and Bahá’í children, oversaw their education and taught them “prayers, reading and writing, home management, embroidery, sewing and cooking. Women from Islamic backgrounds would ask Bahíyyih to cut the shrouds in which they would wear when they die so they could rest in peace.  Everyone turned to her for help and advice. During WW1, the inhabitants of Haifa flocked to the house of `Abdu’l-Bahá, where Bahíyyih cooked for them and gave them rations.

When ‘Abdu’l-Baha made his journeys to the West between 1910 and 1913, and then again when Shoghi Effendi was away on several trips between 1922 and 1924, she was the “acting head” of the Faith.  During these times, Bahíyyih Khánum dealt with the affairs of the Holy Land and outside, which included meeting dignitaries, making speeches on `Abdu’l-Bahá’s behalf, meeting officials of both sexes and offering medical help for the sick and poor. She also dealt with the spiritual and administrative guidance of the worldwide Bahá’í community by writing letters of encouragement to communities around the world. During the later years of her life, she was plagued by illness and pains and needed help to stand and sit.

Her reward?

Verily, We have elevated thee to the rank of one of the most distinguished among thy sex, and granted thee, in My court, a station such as none other woman hath surpassed.  (Bahá’u’lláh, The Bahá’í World, vol. V, p. 171)

You might want to read more about her:

Stories of the Greatest Holy Leaf

Bahiyyih Khanum: The Greatest Holy Leaf 

Prophet’s Daughter: The Life and Legacy of Bahiyyih Khanum, Outstanding Heroine of the Bahai Faith