Modern life can seem so confusing at times: working all day, taking care of family, dealing with all the mundane responsibilities we have, along with the extra duties on after-hours committees and organizations. Countless leisure pursuits pursue us, too. Frantically moving amid this complex array of activities can be overwhelming and confusing. Even if you’ve previously come to the clarity of knowing your true purpose in life, now you may have become forgetful and conflicted, not knowing what to focus on. If only life were simpler!
All too often I feel this way, in case you didn’t guess. In these moments I really wish I had just one thing to do in life.
Ironically, however, I feel certain of what that one thing is: to draw closer to God.
In a prayer from Baha’u’llah, he explains the purpose of life:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. – Baha’i Prayers, p. 3.
This is the fundamental purpose of my existence. This is all I have to do.
The Sufi poet Rumi, who Baha’u’llah himself praised for his spiritual insight, had a beautiful analogy to stress this point. He said it is just as if a king had sent his servant on an important mission to complete one specific task. If the servant did a hundred different tasks, he would have actually accomplished nothing at all, because the only thing that mattered was the task the king had asked him to perform.
So it is clear! God has given us only one task here on earth: to know and to worship him.
This clarity about the ultimate purpose of life, though, should also not lead us to over-simplification. Yes, my purpose in life is to draw closer to God through knowing and worshiping him. However, what this entails in the material world is more than just sitting around thinking about God all day. So what does a life devoted to God look like?
The answer to this question has to do with the nature of the physical world and its connection to God.
According to the Baha’i view, God created the eternal universe and His spirit manifests itself in every aspect of His creation. He created human beings in His image and endowed them with free will. As Baha’u’llah explained:
Out of the wastes of nothingness, with the clay of My command I made thee to appear, and have ordained for thy training every atom in existence and the essence of all created things. – The Hidden Words, p. 32.
Our purpose here is not to deny the physical world, but to engage with it.
As social beings we were created to have friends and family and build social ties with one another. As creative beings we ever strive to better our situations in life. As just beings we constantly move towards a civilization based on equality. So as spiritual beings living a material life, we participate in all of this. The difficulty lies in getting swept away in the complexity and pace of things in the modern world, our senses bombarded with a wild array of stimuli. Tasks and activities need completion, and we submit.
The solution? We can’t stop participating in a social life—instead, we need to understand physical and social existence as a manifestation of the spiritual life. We need to look more deeply into the inner meaning of every human interaction we have. Essentially: we need to make God our sole focus and utilize every moment, whatever we do, to help us draw nearer to him. Baha’u’llah says of the true spiritual seeker: “In every face, he seeketh the beauty of the Friend; in every country he looketh for the Beloved.” – The Seven Valleys, p. 7.
Finally the solution! But still, it is easier said than done. Because we grow up with material existence as our spoon-fed goal in life, it’s difficult to see God in everything and everyone. When we kick our toe on the table, we don’t see God, we see red! When someone yells at us in anger, we don’t see the divinity in them, we either shrink in fear or fight back with equal anger. Life is not meant to be easy—it functions as a training ground for us to move higher spiritually—so we have to work at seeing God in everything every day.
I have so far to go on my journey. But I firmly believe that the more I place God at the center of my life, the more I will see Him manifested in His creation, and the simpler and happier my life will become. I will no longer see an array of confusion. I will no longer feel continually swept away by life’s demands. I will just focus on God, which will make me passionately and lovingly engaged in the world, without being tied to it or controlled by it.