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A young Baha’i couple has an imaginative eight-year-old daughter who spends her birthday each year painting a picture of her family on a large canvas, which they proudly display above the dining room table. Throughout the years, the couple has helped her to experiment with different artistic mediums and taken her to community workshops and classes.
For the last six months, this same couple has been hosting a junior youth group. They start with seven youth, but eventually only four come regularly, and the couple is disheartened that they must go around the neighborhood each week to invite them to attend. Alas, they report at an annual reflection meeting that they are failing to find receptive youth and are not sure that the group should continue.
In situations such as this, what motivates the couple to support their daughter’s artwork year after year, yet become disheartened by the group after six months? Surely they have come across challenges in encouraging their daughter’s developing interest.
The answer, in one word, is “perspective”.
The growth of children gives us a telling example of how our perspective of success and failure develops over time. The couple rejoices in the artwork of their daughter, though full of scribbles and smudges, because they recognize that developing the skills necessary to create art is a process, and each experimental stroke is a step toward becoming a talented painter.
The Universal House of Justice, in its Ridvan 2014 message, encourages Baha’is to recognize that our communities, too, function best when progressing along a path:
The most dynamic clusters are those in which, irrespective of the resources the community possesses or the number of activities being undertaken, the friends appreciate that their task is to identify what is required for progress to occur—the nascent capacity that must be nurtured, the new skill that must be acquired, the initiators of a fledgling effort who must be accompanied, the space for reflection that must be cultivated, the collective endeavor that must be coordinated—and then find creative ways in which the necessary time and resources can be made available to achieve it…. This entire approach is completely at odds with narrow conceptions of “success” and “failure” that breed freneticism or paralyze volition.The Universal House of Justice, 2014 Ridvan message
So, how can we, on a practical level, redefine our perspective and continue toward new horizons?
Operate in a Mode of Learning
Thomas Edison stated: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” More than a simple look on the bright side, Edison saw ineffective inventions as opportunities to acquire more knowledge. In the Faith, we see this as operating in a “mode of learning”. When we face a challenge, we are likely to feel discouraged and fall into blaming others or self-blaming. Instead, we can turn the focus to learning. The Universal House of Justice, in The Institution of the Counsellors explains:
If learning is to be the primary mode of operation in a community, then visions, strategies, goals and methods have to be re-examined time and again. As tasks are accomplished, obstacles removed, resources multiplied and lessons learned, modifications have to be made in goals and approaches, but in a way that continuity of action is maintained.The Universal House of Justice, The Institution of the Counsellors, Baha’i World Centre, 2001, p. 14
While in the mode of learning, whether it be in pursuit of higher education or career goals, family life, or involvement in community activities, we can seek confirmations. Most Baha’is have likely heard the story of how Abdu’l-Baha was given money from admirers to buy a ticket on the infamous Titanic, but instead donated the funds to charity. Sometimes opportunities that are offered to us, and even the ones we ourselves desire deeply, are not the best for us. When we are holding on to society’s idea of success, instead of being open to the many opportunities for spiritual fulfillment, we can focus our energies on realigning our will with the Will of God.
O friends! Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you, and approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings.Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, Persian, No. 19
But we ask for things which the divine wisdom does not desire for us, and there is no answer to our prayer. His wisdom does not sanction what we wish. We pray, “O God! Make me wealthy!” If this prayer were universally answered, human affairs would be at a standstill. There would be none left to work in the streets, none to till the soil, none to build, none to run the trains. Therefore, it is evident that it would not be well for us if all prayers were answered. The affairs of the world would be interfered with, energies crippled and progress hindered. But whatever we ask for which is in accord with divine wisdom, God will answer. Assuredly!Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, U.S. Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1982, p. 247
Finally, stay confident. According to an article from Pysch Central, fear of failure is the “#1 block to success for most people, most of the time.”
Of course, as Baha’is we know that we need not be confident in our own selves. We can turn to the Sacred Writings for stirring reminders of our divine assistance:
Arise with every power to assist the Covenant of God and serve in His vineyard. Be confident that a confirmation will be granted unto you and a success on His part is given unto you. Verily, He shall support you by the angels of His holiness and reinforce you with the breaths of the Spirit that ye may mount the Ark of Safety, set forth the evident signs, impart the spirit of life, declare the essence of His commands and precepts, guide the sheep who are straying from the fold in all directions, and give the blessings. Ye have to use every effort in your power and strive earnestly and wisely in this new century. By God, verily the Lord of Hosts is your support, the angels of heaven your assistance, the Holy Spirit your companion and the Center of the Covenant your helper. Be not idle, but active and fear not.Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha Abbas, Baha’i Publishing Committee, 1909, p. 162
While putting this new outlook into action, we cannot help but recognize that “when effort is expended wholly for the sake of God…every victory won in His Name is an occasion to celebrate His praise.” 1 Much like the family portrait hanging in the dining room, we will rejoice in opportunities to share our energizing stories of progress with our communities and loved ones.
- The Universal House of Justice, 2014 Ridvan message
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