The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.
If you’re like me, you’ve spent some time in recent months and years feeling ineffective – because of the seemingly intractable problems we humans face as a result of endemic injustice and disunity.
Those problems, complex and enormous, each tie to all the others like a huge ball of impossibly tangled yarn. As we survey climate change, a global pandemic, racism, civil unrest, inequity, and long-standing wounds on every side, it seems easy to feel small and powerless, and to want to curl into a ball and hide.
Add to these shared communal problems all our individual heartaches — illness, broken relationships, loneliness, work problems, financial woes — and we can feel overwhelmed, as if nothing we do makes a much of a difference. Our world obviously requires a massive amount of change to heal, and so many people feel they can’t muster what it takes.
But the Baha’i writings tell us that in such moments, powerful actions we can each take really do exist. These five inner and outer actions are available to everyone:
1. We can remind ourselves that God is in control and has a plan for humanity:
Like a loving parent, the Baha’i teachings tell us, the Creator has never left humanity without spiritual and practical guidance, and His divine messengers continue to bring a sequential, regularly renewed, and evolving plan for our individual and collective growth at ever higher levels of development. We are on the cusp of our collective adulthood, and adolescence is a turbulent time. We can choose to alleviate our suffering by aligning ourselves with the side of justice. When we act selfishly, outside our collective good, we will suffer and cause the suffering of others, both physically and spiritually.
… these great oppressions that have befallen the world are preparing it for the advent of the Most Great Justice. … These fruitless strifes, these ruinous wars, shall pass away, and the Most Great Peace shall come.
Understanding our struggles as necessary for our development and learning may give us some perspective and keep us from despair.
2. We can pray for ourselves, for others, for the healing of this world:
We may feel we can do little to help in this world. But God is All-Powerful, and prayer is our link to that power. We can always ask God’s assistance and know that in His mercy, He will provide what we need, and assist others as well.
When I am low and feel helpless, I sometimes recite this short Baha’i prayer to remind me Who is in charge: “Armed with the power of Thy Name, nothing can ever hurt me. And with Thy love in my heart, all the world’s afflictions can in no wise alarm me.”
3. We can focus on what brings us joy and energy, and limit what drags us down:
I find that while I need to be concerned with and aware of what is happening in the world — and working hard to bring positive change — excessive focus on the brokenness of old systems and ways of thinking tends to disempower and drain me. So I’m careful to limit my exposure to negative and divisive media outlets, partisanship on either side, gossip and backbiting, debased entertainment, and shocking clickbait. I don’t feed my body a diet of junk food; why would I fill my head with garbage?
There is no human being untouched by these two influences [joy and pain]; but all the sorrow and the grief that exist come from the world of matter – the spiritual world bestows only the joy!
We also know that when we are uplifted ourselves, we create happiness in those around us. Abdu’l-Baha encouraged this: “I want you to be happy … to laugh, smile and rejoice in order that others may be made happy by you.”
4. We can look for the signs of the Divine in every aspect of the Creation:
The Baha’i writings say, “Every created thing is a door to the knowledge of God.” The sun speaks to God’s illumination and power. A seed stands for humility, sacrifice, and potential, a flower for beauty and sweetness, a mountain for the Creator’s might and steadfastness. So time spent outdoors may well lift our spirits and help us gain perspective.
With regard to us humans, God has made all these essentially spiritual attributes latent within us. We all have the capacity for steadfastness, humility, generosity, forgiveness, and love. Also, when we look for and recognize others’ divine qualities, we feel hopeful. We can see and nurture these qualities in ourselves, in our children, and in each other. They are the essence of who we are meant to be.
5. Finally, we can look beyond ourselves and dedicate ourselves to serving others:
Our misery is often increased by our focus on our own pain. We might be anxious about the future, or sad about the past. We may have suffered great traumas and losses. This life is full of such tests – but we can alleviate some of our pain by helping someone else. Abdu’l-Baha was reported to have suggested:
Be not the slave of your moods, but their master. But if you are so angry, so depressed and so sore that your spirit cannot find deliverance and peace even in prayer, then quickly go and give some pleasure to someone lowly or sorrowful, or to a guilty or innocent sufferer! Sacrifice yourself, your talent, your time, your rest to another, to one who has to bear a heavier load than you — and your unhappy mood will dissolve …
Serving others can mean volunteering your time and talents for a socially-minded organization, although it can also take many simpler forms: listening to a friend, checking in on someone you haven’t heard from in a while, offering assistance to a neighbor or relative, thinking of your job as the highest service you can render to humanity, and reaching out in love to all who cross your path.
We live in transformative and volatile years of great suffering and great possibilities for real and positive change, personally and collectively. But we are not powerless, and the small things we do to keep our perspective and to spread God’s love and healing message can have a huge effect.