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Motherhood is described in the Baha’i Writings as a vital and elevated role. Being a mother is a noble aspiration and undertaking. Abdu’l-Baha tells us:
O ye loving mothers, know ye that in God’s sight, the best of all ways to worship Him is to educate the children and train them in all the perfections of humankind; and no nobler deed than this can be imagined. 1
In honor of Mother’s Day in North America, and based on an online course called “Embracing a Spiritual Identity of Motherhood” we recently gave through the Wilmette Institute, we’ve been reflecting on the role of motherhood and its links to service and true happiness.
What is true happiness? Abdu’l-Baha explains the sources of happiness. He says,
True happiness depends on spiritual good and having the heart ever open to receive the Divine Bounty. 2
Know ye, verily, that the happiness of mankind lieth in the unity and the harmony of the human race, and that spiritual and material developments are conditioned upon love and amity among all men. 3
…man’s supreme honor and real happiness lie in self-respect, in high resolves and noble purposes, in integrity and moral quality, in immaculacy of mind. 4
Based on our understanding of these quotations, we think that physical and material happiness are limited, and that spiritual growth and service to others are what will bestow true happiness on our souls. When we are happy, it’s easier to positively influence happiness in others, including our children. We are more likely to find useful ways to be of service in the world, and our relationships, marriages, and families are stronger and more unified.
It might be helpful to consider our role as mothers and how it relates to seeking and fostering happiness:
Among the greatest of all services that can possibly be rendered by man to Almighty God is the education and training of children, young plants of the Abha Paradise, so that these children, fostered by grace in the way of salvation, growing like pearls of divine bounty in the shell of education, will one day bejewel the crown of abiding glory. 5
It is essential that children be reared in the Baha’i way, that they may find happiness both in this world and the next. If not, they shall be beset by sorrows and troubles, for human happiness is founded upon spiritual behavior. 6
Mothers serve every day, often through caring for and educating their children, guiding them toward God, preparing food, cleaning the house, creating an orderly environment, and countless other tasks.
An individual must center his whole heart and mind on service to the Cause, in accordance with the high standards set by Baha’u’llah. When this is done, the Hosts of the Supreme Concourse will come to the assistance of the individual, and every difficulty and trial will gradually be overcome. 7
To follow a path of service, whatever form one’s activity assumes, requires faith and tenacity […] You know well that the habits of mind and spirit that you are nurturing in yourselves and others will endure, influencing decisions of consequence that relate to marriage, family, study, work, even where to live. Consciousness of this broad context helps to shatter the distorting looking glass in which everyday tests, difficulties, setbacks, and misunderstandings can seem insurmountable. And in the struggles that are common to each individual’s spiritual growth, the will required to make progress is more easily summoned when one’s energies are being channeled towards a higher goal—the more so when one belongs to a community that is united in that goal. 8
…every aspect of a person’s life is an element of his or her service to Baha’u’llah: the love and respect one has for one’s parents; the pursuit of one’s education; the nurturing of good health; the acquiring of a trade or profession; one’s behavior towards others and the upholding of a high moral standard; one’s marriage and the bringing up of one’s children; one’s activities in teaching the Faith and the building up the strength of the Baha’i community, whether this be in such simple matters as attending the Nineteen Day Feast or the observance of Baha’i Holy Days, or in more demanding tasks required by service in the administration of the Faith; and, not least, to take time each day to read the Writings and say the Obligatory Prayer, which are the source of growing spiritual strength, understanding, and attachment to God. 9
Being a mother offers an unending number of opportunities to serve, so we also have an unending number of opportunities to grow spiritually and strive for happiness! You might find it helpful to reflect on the last few acts of service you offered either to your family or to the wider community. What did you learn? What virtues did you practice and strengthen? What insights did you gain? Here are a few examples participants in the course shared from their learning experience:
- Preparing a meal for extended family: “I practiced consideration for various dietary requirements, learned organizational skills for preparing many different dishes at the same time, and developed more patience and gentleness with ongoing requests during the course of the meal.”
- Cleaning the household: “I practiced detachment while facing the reality of ongoing cleaning requirements every day, developed excellence in cleaning techniques, and learned how to empower children to help out and contribute to the running of the household.”
- Teaching a children’s class: “I practiced courage to invite the children of friends to join the class, fortitude in the face of challenging behavior, and steadfastness to continue the class even when it required a great deal of energy and commitment.”
Reflecting on how our acts of service help us develop spiritual qualities and learn new skills can heighten our understanding of our role as mothers. Reflection also helps us see when we are doing tasks that our children need to learn to do for themselves, when we need to ask for help, and when we might assume other adults in the household or family aren’t capable of taking over some of the jobs we have taken on ourselves. By acting, reflecting, and consulting, we can continually grow and develop not only as mothers, but as a family as well.
When we look at our service as mothers as being a humble gift to God and part of our commitment to our children’s welfare and future, it helps guard us against less desirable feelings such as resentment, dissatisfaction, or uncertainty whether we’re doing “enough.” Raising our children well is a source of happiness, a gift we give to Baha’u’llah, and a vital service to our families and humanity.
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 139
- Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 109
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, #225
- Abdu’l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 19
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 133
- Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, #100
- Shoghi Effendi, Living the Life, p. 20
- The Universal House of Justice, Framework for Action, #27.5
- The Universal House of Justice, December 7, 1992, European Baha’i Youth Council
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