When we’ve been the victim of injustice, it’s easy to want to separate ourselves from the perpetrator. Sometimes there is a good reason to do so, and sometimes it’s an opportunity to exercise our forgiveness muscle.
God wants us to live peacefully with all men. Easier said than done!
If something happens to us which we feel is unforgiveable, it can lead to estrangement and as you know from Ruhi Book 1:
Nothing whatsoever can, in this Day, inflict a greater harm upon this Cause than . . . estrangement . . . among the loved ones of God. (Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 8)
This quote goes on to tell us what to do, if we notice ourselves falling into this trap (as I am, as I write a piece on bitterness for my blog!) What follows is a personal reflection on how to apply the Writings to a rather minor situation in the present.
My son has promised to do something I asked him to do, and nearly two weeks have passed and he still hasn’t done it. Every day I look for evidence that he’s done it and every day I imagine a counter-action I could take as a result of my resentment. Here God’s giving me a better way:
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)
So I understand that my job is to turn away from my first reaction (flee it); and trust that in doing so, the power of God’s aid will help me. But how do I “knit our hearts together” when he is 3 hours away and doesn’t return phone calls or answer emails? By thinking that way, I’m trying to take control instead of giving it to God. I can’t make him do anything he doesn’t want me to do, but do I trust that God will? And if so, how would my actions be different? One way is to put aside what’s happened in the past. Sure, he doesn’t answer calls and emails nearly as often as I’d like, but he sometimes does. If I assume from past behavior that he won’t answer this time, I’m planting the seeds of estrangement and moving away from love and trust in the Unifier, the All-Knowing, the All-wise. God knows what’s preventing him from doing what he said, and God is giving me tests designed for my spiritual growth. So if my son did what he said he’d do when he said he would do it, I wouldn’t have a chance to stretch my “loving, forgiving, trusting and patience” wings or to prove to God that I trust Him.
But let’s also look at what else might be going on. We can learn a lot about what ‘Abdu’l-Bahá says about “war” when we expand our understanding of this word to include the internal war raging within. He tells us:
When all mankind shall receive the same opportunity of education and the equality of men and women be realized, the foundations of war will be utterly destroyed. Without equality this will be impossible because all differences and distinction are conducive to discord and strife. Equality between men and women is conducive to the abolition of warfare for the reason that women will never be willing to sanction it. Mothers will not give their sons as sacrifices upon the battlefield after twenty years of anxiety and loving devotion in rearing them from infancy, no matter what cause they are called upon to defend. There is no doubt that when women obtain equality of rights, war will entirely cease among mankind. (Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 175)
How might equality be playing a part in this problem between my son and I? First of all, you need to remember that there was no equality demonstrated in my childhood, so I didn’t grow up knowing that everyone in a family has rights:
The integrity of the family bond must be constantly considered and the rights of the individual members must not be transgressed. The rights of the son, the father, the mother – none of them must be transgressed, none of them must be arbitrary. Just as the son has certain obligations to his father, the father, likewise, has certain obligations to his son. The mother, the sister and other members of the household have their certain prerogatives. All these rights and prerogatives must be conserved. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 168).
Because of this, I don’t know how to set good limits; or consult properly or even how to not take offense. So whenever something happens to trigger a certain response, or push my buttons, I react out of fear, allowing thoughts such as these to emerge from my lower nature and then I dwell on them:
- He doesn’t love me
- He doesn’t have any respect for my needs and wishes.
- He promises things he has no intention of fulfilling.
- He isn’t listening to me.
- He’s treating me the way I was treated as a child.
- I ask too much of him.
- He doesn’t want my help.
I’m focused on “plowing his field” instead of plowing my own. If I was, I would first focus on equality and consider how I would handle the situation differently if there wasn’t a power imbalance between us. I might think such thoughts as:
- He’s proven to me over and over that he loves me.
- He’s said he would do it, so I can give him the time and space to do it.
- There might be factors going on in his life of which I have no knowledge.
- My relationship with him is not the same as my relationship with my parents.
- He’s still young and self-absorbed. It isn’t a personal attack.
Changing my thoughts to these allows me to get on with my day in a much more peaceful way.
Forgiveness is the key to letting the bitterness go, so that God can step in and solve the problem:
Pray to God day and night and beg forgiveness and pardon. The omnipotence of God shall solve every difficulty. (Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 116)
Asking God’s forgiveness is a good place to start. So this is what I need to ask forgiveness for:
O God, please forgive me for:
- Assuming the worst about my son.
- Assuming I know what’s in his heart.
- Assuming that he won’t respond to my calls and emails.
- Wanting to hurt him as much as he hurt me.
- Wanting to punish him instead of letting you take care of the justice.
- Thinking I know what he needs to do.
- Plowing his field instead of my own.
- Dwelling on this issue instead of focusing my energy on teaching and service
- Not trusting You to solve the problem.
Once I got that far, I went on to do something else, truly believing that the problem was in God’s hands, and that now that I’d passed the test (here’s my ego!), he would do what he promised. I had to be patient, though, because it took nearly 2 weeks for it to happen, and I had to keep trusting God.
For more in this series: