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The Relationship Between Suffering and Happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hardship and Tribulation Are Necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Reassurance

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Tell the Rich of the Midnight Sighing of the Poor

 

 

One of my readers posted the following story as a comment on my blog posting about Disaster Planning  but it was so poignant I wanted it to stand on its own.  This is printed with her permission, and she has asked to be anonymous.

There is another type of disaster that is in a different category than those caused by natural disasters. That is financial ruination and difficult for people with serious health handicaps.

I can speak from personal experience. Our story is similar to the stories of most working middle class Americans whose lives have drastically change due to medical catastrophe or a serious illness in oneself or the family.

We are Baha’is, and find that the Baha’is who are understandably not equipped to handle serious social/financial problems among the friends, but who also lack the knowledge to be resourceful in finding unconventional ways to be of assistance.  So, I share my story with you, just to give one person’s narrative and efforts for solution.

My husband and I do work and research from the home which means we have a huge library. We also inherited lovely furniture and china.  Work involves his professional consulting, my returning student’s school work and stuff, our Baha’i Books, spiritual literature, inspiring and help yourself types of books, books about illness, mental health and addiction (all related to my schoolwork).

We have made some mistakes along the way concerning our economic plight.  When my husband underwent a major life changing surgery (the type that is physical to the point where everything changes: ambulation and how to do activities of daily life, etc.).   I have major disabilities myself, physical and neurobiological which precludes us from working at most jobs.

Our Social Security income is not enough to live on and spouse’s business has taken a drastic downturn.  Especially with his illness, like many Americans, our advice is, “Don’t get sick in America; you will lose your shirt.”  Good bye house, good bye savings, good bye capabilities that non-handicapped people take for granted, good bye financial stability.  Hello, depression, some bad decisions along the way, not wanting to downsize and give up comfortable lifestyle, debt.  Bills dog us all the time.

We have drastically “downsized” our lifestyle, especially compared to most people, although still have some luxuries.  We refuse to give up our dirt cheap wonderful health insurance, with no co-pays, not given our complex problems.  Even if we applied for government poor peoples’ medical coverage which we may not even qualify for we would receive crappy care and have to pay co-pays for everything with fewer services and medications.

I have told my husband on more than one occasion that we are no longer economically sustainable.  Sometimes he gets it and sometimes he doesn’t. He has profound grief and many losses due to his illness, which I believe are more devastating than mine.  He is used to being boss of the house, stubborn, and understandably in a lot of fear.  The resources of the Faith and 12-step programs don’t seem to be “in his vocabulary.”  I have those resources but still slip into fear and worry.  I also have a lousy short term memory.

I have been resourceful in getting as many free services as I can outside normal social services channels and being a part-time older student for dirt cheap opens a lot of possibilities for assistance and, believe it or not paying work!  Work I can actually do, despite my many disabilities and not having worked at a paying job for several years.  However, my work can be sporadic but it has helped a lot.  It actually earns us money for me to be a student.

When we moved to our new town,  our LSA saw our predicament.  They helped us move things to a storage unit, and then to a new house when our landlord wanted to move back into the home we were renting.

Here is our part:  we never adequately went through our possessions and there were a lot of things we should have thrown away and didn’t.  Truthfully, we were too ill and depressed to do it, and I think I did not make certain decisions wisely.  I opted for finding ways to be happy and find a new purpose in life, but that led to certain critical  practical considerations being overlooked.

Now we are faced with another move, are both disabled, and are a few hundred dollars per month above the “poverty line” so we don’t qualify for most social services. My husband has dragged his feet, and obtained help from a professional disability counselor.  On his suggestion, he put my husband in charge of house hunting since I was doing everything else and needed help. So we are now faced with moving again and, like before, at the last minute.

After my cancer last year, I spent hours looking for help with things like housecleaning.  Several friends have been generous and have helped financially and with their free labor.  Our friends, for some strange reason, have not given up on us and are still there (is God watching out after us?)  For months we have had trouble paying our rent and often paying it late.  We have had trouble financing mowing the lawn which our lease said we were supposed to do.  We get the lawn moved by neighbors and a friend who loans us his lawnmower, a God send (He seems to be watching out after us); but that is not enough lawn care to please the landlord.  He refused to renew the lease.

At one point I requested assistance from the National Assembly and they gave us a one-time grant to pay rent for a month.  They had also talked to our Assembly about us and don’t know what was said in that conversation.  In their letter with the grant, they advised me to focus on getting out of the financial mess and set school aside.  Apparently, they did not know that school was a mental necessity for me that actually made us money and gives me a future, for the first time of better things to come.  I consulted 5 of my medical professional care givers, and they all agreed that it was important for me to stay in school and that it would be bad if I quit.  I have stopped most of my volunteer activities except for hosting a Ruhi class at one point and doing Baha’i teaching on my campus, with no college club!  The teaching actually makes me happy and energizes me and I think it would be bad to give that up.

One member of the Assembly scolded me for not following advice of NSA.  Eventually I got up the courage to write NSA with copy of letter to LSA, explaining my position.

In fairness to the LSA, I can see why they might not know how to help us.  Most of them are either disabled themselves or to tapped out with family, work, and service commitments to do much of anything.

I don’t drive, so two members always make sure I get to Feast.  That is a good thing.

One member accepted government poor peoples’ insurance and did lots of things to uplift herself from poverty and after several years got a part-time and then full-time job.  Unfortunately, her way is not workable for us, and especially not for my husband.  She has gotten good care with poor peoples’ insurance, with a very complex and difficult medical history.  She has downsized and from what I can tell has more common sense and planning skills than we do.

I even went to the LSA on two occasions, asking for help.  One idea was to sell things on the internet (I just don’t have the time or energy to do that; I would give away most of things first!  A professional organizer was recommended to us, who would have helped us and when I talked to her seemed caring and good at her job, however, we couldn’t afford the down payment to get started.  Our Disability counselor is now helping us with that stuff, and the services they can provide only go so far.

One Social Service agency that is highly recommended is purported to help people with housekeeping and other services.  I have called or seen them on more than one occasion.  They offered nothing too people who weren’t below the poverty line.  We are in the same class as the “working poor,” who don’t get as many services as the poor people get.

I make no bones about the fact that I go to some food banks and am grateful to them.  Most have great people, especially the one at the University.  I see nothing wrong in talking about this as a very normal thing for people to do, as there is a lot of shame and stigma about this sort of thing.

My offers to help be of service in some way are generally turned down; I should be sensible and pay my debts first.  However, per twelve step guidelines, a sensible amount of service activities is good for ones survival and especially one’s soul.  One LSA member, and probably his wife, support my idea to start a College Club.  The first activity is very simple; a monthly prayer meeting and making friends.  I am happy with a meeting over the phone while I pray on campus.  After months, I finally found another Baha’i on campus who is too busy to attend most things.

What can the LSA or even the NSA do for someone like me? 

For one thing, they or community members could keep me company while I work.

They are praying for me, and one community member offered to help.

They could help me make phone calls.  They wouldn’t have to do all my calls, just take some of the load off my back.

They can let everyone know that the Regional Council might have some resources (I didn’t know that until I read your post).  I will be contacting them.

I am doing everything I can to help my profoundly depressed husband who is actually going to a Psychiatrist and staying on his medication.  LSA members have tried to reach out to my husband, but he has not reciprocated.  They have not given up on him.  That is a wonderful thing.  These good people need help too!

Another great thing they did: they moved a person who had cancer and no close family to a new apartment.  They found an apartment for him too.  They drove him to doctor’s appointments and found good medical help for him.  These are all things he could not have done on his own.  They invite them to see rented movies at their house.  They found a beautiful apartment for him and he has even hosted a feast.  So obviously these good people are doing something right.

There has to be a way, we can be helped by the same LSA but I don’t know what it is. Is it because my husband and I don’t appear to be making good decisions or have a different and incomprehensible sense of needs?  Do we appear to be not letting go of our old life style or still making decisions that they don’t consider to be good ones?

If there is even an answer to dilemmas like ours, I say “bring it on.”

Perhaps the Regional Council could have a Ruhi class on how to help poor people with physical and mental limitations!  Especially on helping poor people who are making what they consider to be bad choices.  Also, do they know the whole story?

Compensation for a Life of Suffering

 

 

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