Living to Do Good – A Personal Reflection

Recently my whole life has been turned around. Correction: I have turned my whole life around. Correction: I have let God guide my life in a better direction.

Just the way you phrase it changes the entire narrative. My ego can be very loud. It wants to boss me around. I feel like I have to be constantly vigilant — tweaking that inner voice, writing my true narrative. How I tell my story is powerful. It’s how I perceive my life. Where I start, what motivates me, what my goal is.

But when your ego is loud, where do you look to find perspective? To find your goal?

Recently I was asked on camera what the Baha’i Faith meant to me and I fumbled and was inarticulate and said some vague words. But as I walked away it rang in my heart that what I wanted to say was that, “It is my deepest foundation, my highest aspiration, my inner core and my outer armor. It is ‘living to do good.’” Too bad that hadn’t rolled off my tongue during the rolling camera. Abdu’l-Baha tells us:

You live to do good and to bring happiness to others. Your greatest longing is to comfort those who mourn, to strengthen the weak, and to be the cause of hope to the despairing soul.1

It is not easy to walk through life even when you do have a strong sense of purpose like this quotation so beautifully expresses, but the Baha’i Faith has offered me an unshakeable foundation. It allows everything else to settle firmly on its solid truth and can frame the narrative of any story in my life. Abdu’l-Baha says:

In this wondrous Revelation, this glorious century, the foundation of the Faith of God, and the distinguishing feature of His Law, is the consciousness of the oneness of mankind.2

A foundation based on the oneness of mankind can seem simultaneously frivolous and profound. I remember back in school being told I was a “hippie” and had unrealistic “utopian” dreams. But if I truly embody the concept of the oneness of mankind, what does that look like in my day to day? What does that look like as I manage my career, my family, how I spend my time and money? To me it looks less hippie-utopian and more like a solid sounding board against which to test every thought and decision. Everyone has equal value, including me and including you.

When asked what it meant to be a Baha’i, Abdu’l-Baha once replied,

To be a Baha’i simply means to love all the world; to love humanity and try to serve it; to work for universal peace and universal brotherhood.3

This is my highest aspiration: to love and serve humanity. It is the perspective that my heart strives for, that I hope will shape my life. I know, when I let it, it guides me. Like in my opening line, most of the time my ego steps in first and it takes work to stand up to it. But having a clear goal to constantly serve humanity sets my bar higher than my own self and desires and beyond my own wellbeing. It helps me to feel detached from the personal ups and downs I can experience and when things get messy I can remember it is not about me.

Although there are mystical aspects that are not easily explained, the spiritual dimension of human nature can be understood, in practical terms, as the source of qualities that transcend narrow self-interest. Such qualities include love, compassion, forbearance, trustworthiness, courage, humility, co-operation and willingness to sacrifice for the common good—qualities of an enlightened citizenry, able to construct a unified world civilization. The profound and far-reaching changes, the unity and unprecedented cooperation, required to reorient the world toward an environmentally sustainable and just future, will only be possible by touching the human spirit, by appealing to those universal values which alone can empower individuals and peoples to act in accordance with the long-term interests of the planet and humanity as a whole. Once tapped, this powerful and dynamic source of individual and collective motivation will release such a profound and salutary spirit among the peoples of the earth that no power will be able to resist its unifying force.4

Remembering that the inner core of who I am is spiritual, is profoundly important in giving me perspective. That my true reality is beyond my life circumstances and current condition. That I can be guided by spiritual qualities and that exercising them through my words, with my choices, with the path I take in life can not only shape my own experience, but that of everyone around me. I have to admit this can seem daunting, or even crushing, when I see my many, many inner failings. And most days I’m not sure where to start. Abdu’l-Baha counsels us:

Rely upon God. Trust in Him. Praise Him, and call Him continually to mind. He verily turneth trouble into ease, and sorrow into solace, and toil into utter peace. He verily hath dominion over all things.5

My armor during these crushing times is reliance on God. Trust that I am not alone in my struggles. That if I do my work there is powerful support guaranteed to help. This trust is maybe the hardest part for me. We live in a world where we are taught self-reliance is the only way to success. That cooperation from others is not a guarantee much less reliance on a higher force in the universe. But the Baha’i Faith gives me solace in this truth and a resilience to face my challenges with faith.

Right now my life looks a lot like when you clean out the garage and you look at it mid-clean, rubbish piled up everywhere, haphazard stacks of random useless items that resemble anything but order. I am sure all the passers-by in my life are thinking, “What a disaster!” and honestly I am thinking that most of the time too. And I ask why and get angry and frustrated and disappointed.

I wish I could shout out, “No, really, I’m just mid-clean!”

I’m trying to learn that life is constantly about checking on my ego before it drags me away from clarity. And that using my own definition of what the Baha’i Faith means can guide me. And not being afraid of the messy cleanup during that process… We have to dismantle in order to rebuild. And we have to rebuild on a solid foundation. Maybe some people dismantle gracefully. Not me. And right now my “garage” is a mess. It is going to take a lot of reorganization and de-cluttering and that may look like a lot of bad choices and ugliness to the outsiders and passers-by.

But I hope I know better.

I’m rewriting my narrative. Reflecting on my deep foundation, letting God help rebuild that inner core, banging out dents in my armor. I am working my hardest towards my highest aspiration – living to do good to myself and to others.


 

  1. Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p.184 []
  2. Abdu’l-Baha, cited in The Promised Day is Come []
  3. J. E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p.286 []
  4. Baha’i International Community, 1993 Apr 01, Sustainable Development Human Spirit []
  5. Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 320 []

About the Author

Brittany Betts

Brittany is CEO of The International Educator and has a background in educational content and publishing. A fourth-generation Baha'i, she grew up in Portugal where she settled and started her family of three boys. She now resides in the Bay Area, California, USA.

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Discussion 13 Comments

  1. Yes, God has come for us poor. Baha’u’llah said that He came for the poor in this world. He has entrusted the Baha’i to the poor! Muhammad also says so in the Qur’an and Jesus! One should think deeply about this divine, entrusted pledge in the Baha’i Faith. Baha’u’llah will judge us by the poor! The poor are the greatest grace in the Baha’i faith for faith. One should never underestimate the wisdom of Baha’u’llah! Good night

  2. yes, with all good intentions, it is always important-Baha’u’llah to ask for humility, because the love must not be euphoria but always great humility and awareness that Baha’u’llah always do what he wants!

  3. Such a soulful reaction to what we all are experiencing in this distracting, soul-atrophying world.
    The words of Abdu’l-Baha are the guiding light in the darkness. Thank you for reminding us.

  4. Thank-you Brittany! You articulated spiritual struggles that are difficult to express. The quotations complement the flow of your essay and helped me see the guideposts to your journey.

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