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It’s natural to feel uncertain about your compatibility with a potential partner. So, I am really impressed with the way my friends Nefertiti and John Christman went about making sure they were right for each other.
Nefertiti and John, who are both Baha’is living in Irvine, California, told me how serving their community together gave their relationship a deeper, more meaningful foundation.
“I don’t think there were ever any questions that I had about our compatibility on a deeper level, which had been an issue for me in past relationships where I didn’t feel like ex-girlfriends were able to delve deeper and get really reflective or introspective,” John says. “I definitely knew that wasn’t going to be an issue with Nefertiti because we had many deep, meaningful conversations that were built into our friendship.”
Nefertiti and John met and had these conversations by participating together in a study group — Baha’is call this a “study circle”. Together, they went through a sequence of Baha’i inspired books, which cover a wide range of topics, from mentoring preteens to reflecting on their spiritual health. Worldwide, Baha’is and their friends complete these courses together to expand their personal capacities and build their ability to be of service in their neighborhoods. “[Our study circles] keep me on track of trying to continue to do service and live a balanced life,” Nefertiti says.
The Baha’i teachings gave John a clear understanding of what service is. “It’s the idea of doing your daily work in the name of God or with that spirit of service, [so] service is a lifestyle or an approach to living, and you [serve] to elevate and uplift the people and community around you,” he says.
Indeed, the Baha’i writings say:
Senses and faculties have been bestowed upon us, to be devoted to the service of the general good; so that we, distinguished above all other forms of life for perceptiveness and reason, should labor at all times and along all lines, whether the occasion be great or small, ordinary or extraordinary, until all mankind are safely gathered into the impregnable stronghold of knowledge. We should continually be establishing new bases for human happiness and creating and promoting new instrumentalities toward this end. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization.
Nine months after meeting in their study circle, Nefertiti and John started to get to know each other outside of the group. Nefertiti says her love for John and service are interconnected. “When I think of service, I think of my service partner John,” she explains.
Along with the study circles, the two have also mentored middle school-age kids. “I feel like my capacity to serve and to carry out the work of the Faith is intertwined with my capacity to be a good partner — and now husband — because they’re two things that I’ve been engaged in regularly and continually throughout our relationship,” John says. “It is hand-in-hand for me. I can’t think about my relationship and not think about the Baha’i Faith, and I can’t really think about the Baha’i Faith without thinking about our relationship either.”
John believes serving together made it easier to get to know each other. “Other couples [that] are getting to know each other usually take a lot of steps to build trust and bonds before [they] really get to know the deeper part of someone’s character,” he says. “I’m just thankful that by being in the Faith and building our relationship out of the Faith, we were able to sort of expedite that process.”
Nefertiti and John got married in September 2019. They continue to serve and have meaningful conversations together and are always striving to improve their spiritual lives. As the Baha’i writings say:
The true marriage of Baha’is is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Baha’i marriage. – Ibid.
“Marriage isn’t just two people in love who are just spending time together being happy. It’s this spiritual bond that you’re building that will extend not just in this world, but beyond to the next world,” John says. “I’m excited by the fact that I know that I will have a bond, or connection [with Nefertiti], that began here and will continue on.”