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After months of studying the Baha’i Faith, praying about what I had learned and experienced, and evaluating the remarkable claims of Baha’u’llah, the founder of this spiritual path, I had come to the precipice of a life-altering decision. Should I become a follower of Baha’u’llah—a Baha’i?
I think I already knew the answer on the eve of the new millenium in December, 1999. My grandmother, Louise, unexpectedly passed away while undergoing treatment in the hospital. This remarkably sad period for my family pushed me to deeply consider that this earthly life will some day come to an end for all of us.
One of the most enduring appeals of religion throughout human history is its ability to offer comfort in the face of this unshakable certainty. Raised as a Baptist, I grew up believing that everyone would either go to heaven or hell, depending on whether they had accepted the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus to atone for their sins in this life. In that tradition, very little middle ground or wiggle room exists for the unsure.
Shockingly, the idea of eternal punishment in a place that resembled Florida without a beach didn’t sound that great.
By this point in my spiritual search, my heart felt insatiably attracted to the Baha’i vision of the oneness of humanity, the oneness of religion, and of the bright vision for humanity’s future. It seemed equally clear, however, that this decision would have ramifications far beyond anything else in my life so far–so I really, really didn’t want to screw this up. Was this Baha’u’llah for real? Was he truly who he said he was?
Baha’u’llah’s claims staggered me. He claimed to be the latest in a series of messengers that God had sent to humanity. Including Jesus in that line, Baha’u’llah asserted the essential oneness of the prophets and founders of all the world’s great Faiths. His challenge to me was clear: it wasn’t just intellectual, nor was it something that from which I could take the pieces that I liked and leave the rest. It was all or nothing. I had to decide–did Baha’u’llah really have the authority to say the things he said? Did his profound message represent the return of Christ’s message?
I took a few weeks to re-read the Baha’i Writings and to study my marked-up Bible. Each day I prayed to God, begging for an answer.
Then New Year’s Eve came, and I spent it at the house of a good friend. Taking our cue from Prince, we partied (in a pretty tame high school fashion) like it was 1999, because it truly was, for the first and last time in history. After everyone had finally crashed and gone to sleep, during the early hours of that first day in the year 2000, I found my mind wandering back to the question that had followed me everywhere I had gone for days, the question that kept burning in my heart.
Who is Baha’u’llah? Is the Faith he founded true?
I prayed more earnestly than ever, feeling like I needed resolution more than anything I had asked for in my whole life.
Slowly but surely, this calm I had been experiencing built into a quiet determination to follow this path wherever it led me, through all the vicissitudes of life and beyond.
At that moment, Baha’u’llah’s vision of uniting the human race, of calling us to attain our true potential, of changing this planet ultimately and irrevocably for the better struck me as the most beautiful and compelling vision ever.
The decision I made that night has helped shape most of the choices I’ve made in my life since. It informed my decision of what to study in college, encouraging me to keep an international focus in order to build connections between people all around the world. Additionally, the Baha’i teachings kept me from getting in too much trouble during those days, which I’m quite thankful for in trying to achieve my career goals as an adult.
My decision to become a Baha’i led me to have a compassionate heart for those who society excludes, and to respect the people I encounter who have views different from my own.
It helped me identify the kinds of qualities that I wanted in a wife, but perhaps even more importantly, it helped me understand the qualities that I needed to possess as a husband.
Perhaps more important than any single quality it has given me, though, is the assurance that no matter how many problems I find in my personal life or in the life of humanity, no matter how dark the present circumstances may seem, the future is inescapably beautiful and bright.
It’s pretty hard not to be happy when that sort of “big picture” is around every corner.