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We all want a healthy relationship — and when you want to establish a spiritual relationship, one that focuses on praying together, having deep conversations, and getting to know each other’s true character, you end up becoming acquainted on a much more intimate level. This can be challenging enough when you see someone every day and can see how they react to the good — like when they’re doing service in the community with you — or the bad, like when they’re going through a difficult time. But how do you manage to investigate someone’s character when you don’t live in the same city?
My two Baha’i friends Zia, who originally lived in Tennessee, and Wilfred, who lived in the Washington, D.C. area, share how they got to know each other long distance. As Baha’is, Zia and Wilfred believe in getting to know the spiritual side of a potential partner. Before they tied the knot, they spent a year and a half prioritizing getting to know each other’s character.
Zia and Wilfred created a daily habit of listening attentively to each other’s thoughts and feelings — they cherished every phone call and the fleeting moments they had in person. When it was time for them to finally marry and live together, they had already established their spiritual connection, which is what Baha’is believe will make their union last throughout eternity.
Baha’is believe in thoroughly getting to know someone’s character. The Baha’i writings say the following about marriage:
Baha’i marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity… — Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp. 117-118.
Zia and Wilfred first met in Virginia. Baha’is and their friends from all around the world often expand their capacity to serve their communities by participating in “study circles” where groups of friends study Baha’i inspired books together. These books apply the Baha’i teachings to the transformation of society at the individual and community levels. They met at a seminar that covered several of these books.
“The material does get pretty dense. [One book] talks about [the] pretty big and universal concept [of] life and death,” Wilfred says. He told me that “being able to hear [Zia’s] point of view and just seeing the lightbulbs go off in her eyes,” made him interested in her.
Initially, Wilfred says, he tried not to pay attention to how he felt. “I wasn’t going there to go get a girlfriend or anything like that,” he says. “From there it was just an uphill battle for me to not keep romanticizing everything she did. There was just something about her voice and mannerisms and just in [her] eyes.”
It turns out, the feeling was mutual. A month after they met, they decided to start getting to know each other better.
Focusing on Service
“The wider society likes to say that you need to know every difficult situation you and your significant other might go through, so you’ll actually know if y’all can make it,” Zia says. “The interesting thing about service is that you actually get to know someone on a much deeper level.” That’s because by serving with someone, you learn what issues they are passionate about solving in society and get to see what acts of service really bring them joy. Since they weren’t living in the same place, Zia and Wilfred regularly talked on the phone about their service. This doesn’t mean they didn’t talk about things you talk with any friend about. They say they talked for hours about “everything and anything,” including their day and each other. Sometimes, they would also plan meals to cook together, so they could have virtual dinners. But they knew learning and sharing each other’s deep commitment to service mattered most.
Building Family Unity
Since Zia and Wilfred really care about maintaining family unity, they made sure to get their parent’s advice about whether or not a long-distance relationship was a good idea.
“It was really important for us to make sure that our parents were on board. We wanted to make sure that no one thought this was going to be a bad idea,” Zia says.
Wilfred also came to visit and met Zia’s entire family. “That following winter, I went and met his entire family,” Zia says, which helped her learn about their family dynamic. “Both his parents have different characters of their own and Wilfried is very much his own person. He would act according to what was expected by his parents and with respect.”
Learning to Consult
Zia and Wilfred shared that they often gave and took each other’s advice during their daily phone calls.
“Through service, we learned about consultation and because of that we were able to apply that to our conversations and everyday interactions in order to be conscious and aware of each other,” Zia says. “As service itself implies, we were of service to each other by holding ourselves and one another accountable.”
Centering Themselves in Prayer
Wilfred focused on “building a very spiritual and tight routine of school, service, praying with the Baha’is I was staying with at the time — I call that family time — and making sure Zia and I had our nightly conversation over the phone.”
“We did a lot of praying,” he says of those conversations.
Baha’is believe that the sweetest state is the state of prayer. The Baha’i writings say:
There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer. Man must live in a state of prayer. The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication. Prayer is conversation with God. The greatest attainment or the sweetest state is none other than conversation with God. It creates spirituality, creates mindfulness and celestial feelings, begets new attractions of the Kingdom and engenders the susceptibilities of the higher intelligence. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 5, p. 41.
Wilfred can attest to the “mindfulness and celestial feelings” that a habit of prayer gave him. The Baha’i writings ask “us to get in a daily habit of reading the writings and saying prayers. I find [the writings] to be deeply, utterly, uplifting, and cell burning words,” he says.
Indeed, Baha’u’llah wrote:
Gather ye together with the utmost joy and fellowship and recite the verses revealed by the merciful Lord. By so doing the doors to true knowledge will be opened to your inner beings, and ye will then feel your souls endowed with steadfastness and your hearts filled with radiant joy. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.
Now that Zia and Wilfred are married, this habit has become the bedrock of their relationship.
They pray together daily starting in the morning before Zia leaves for her college classes. “Every time she gets back, right before we start planning [for our service projects], after we finish planning, before we reflect, after reflection, at night,” Wilfred says. They also pray about day-to-day things like budgeting. “[We] sit down and relax our minds and get our minds in the right zone in a humble, cool, calm, collected, understanding, loving mindset, [which] has helped us tremendously.”
To make a long-distance relationship work, Zia and Wilfred say they’ve learned you need “respect, patience, strong clear communication, understanding, honesty, love, friendship, and faithfulness.”
Perhaps long-distance relationships are a blessing in disguise to avoid taking loved ones for granted. Zia and Wilfred have been married for four and a half years and continue to live lives filled with prayer and service.