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Every day we encounter others—we start things, we stop taking action, we keep or break commitments. We hurt someone’s feelings, or we offer acts of kindness.
As we move through this daily process, we all make mistakes. We have the choice to complete what we start, or we can leave strings dangling, and reap the regrets that inevitably follow.
The Baha’i teachings ask everyone to review this process with a daily assessment of our lives:
Set before thine eyes God’s unerring Balance and, as one standing in His Presence, weigh in that Balance thine actions every day, every moment of thy life. Bring thyself to account …. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 236.
Sometimes people use this guidance of bringing oneself to account in a self-critical way, pointing out to themselves all the mistakes they made that day. I’ve done that myself—which taught me that it can be more useful to use this daily practice as a way to determine whether the fabric of life is complete or whether there are strings left dangling.
So now, I ask myself every day: What have I left undone, that if it were done would move self, life, and relationships forward? What strings have I left dangling?
At times, I notice that I’ve been impatient and judgmental towards someone. Tucking in that loose string involves understanding what contributed to my unhappy response and disunity, what spiritual quality (like patience!) I missed, forgiving myself, and making amends in some way to the other person to re-build unity where possible. If I don’t do this, the uneasy feeling of having hurt someone else lingers, another string left dangling. Too many dangling strings leaves me with a frayed, unraveling, and very messy fabric of life. Strings that I leave unresolved for a period of time tend to unravel even further, becoming long strings that trip me up and make me fall on my face.
I noticed, in the process of my previous husband dying of cancer over a two-year span of time, that it worked for us to do a daily check-in with each other. We reviewed what went well that day–we called them “rose” moments. If things went poorly, we called them “sludge” moments. We called the amazing things “rainbow” occurrences. That review gave us an opportunity to understand the day and our actions, and to tidy up anything that didn’t go well or say what needed to be said. Each day we tucked the strings into the fabric of our life and left our relationship in balance.
In addition to our daily check-in, we ensured that family and friends had opportunities to say and do whatever they needed to with him. Visits, acknowledgements, forgiveness, hang-out time, musical moments, and appreciations for his actions in the past all contributed to family and friends feeling like nothing was left unsaid or undone. When he passed away, no strings were left dangling to trip us into unnecessary guilt, regret, or excessive grief.
Over the last two years as I have gone through the dying process with a close friend and my mother, I noticed the benefit of tucking in the strings with them as well. In addition to saying what needed to be said, I also had the opportunity to be of service to them both. Doing acts of service for them, women who had done so much for me, was precious and helped me feel like our relationships were “complete” when they passed. With all three of these people, they seemed to have done what they needed to do to prepare their souls for the next world:
That world beyond is a world of sanctity and radiance; therefore it is necessary that in this world he should acquire these divine attributes. In that world there is need of spirituality, faith, assurance, the knowledge and love of God. These he must attain in this world so that after his ascension from the earthly to the heavenly Kingdom he shall find all that is needful in that life eternal ready for him.
That divine world is manifestly a world of lights; therefore man has need of illumination here. That is a world of love; the love of God is essential. It is a world of perfections; virtues or perfections must be acquired. That world is vivified by the breaths of the Holy Spirit; in this world we must seek them. That is the Kingdom of life everlasting; it must be attained during this vanishing existence. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 237.
A big question for many people, and a vital one for those following the Baha’i teachings, is “Where did I make a positive difference for others today?” We all take an eternal journey of the soul through this life and beyond. Service to others is a skill set and strength that builds with daily practice.
If I bring my husband a glass of ice water, check in to see if my daughter is feeling better after an illness, or move a new work project forward, I have had a positive effect on the relationships and work that are part of the fabric of my life. If I sit around complaining that the floor is dirty, my mother-in-law spoke rudely to me, and the store clerk dropped my grocery bag, my focus is on the negative. I am not contributing to the welfare of others. It’s as if I’m creating holes in my fabric and causing many strings to dangle.
Sometimes taking an account of our life and actions can lead us to almost immediate action to rebalance a relationship or circumstance. Some circumstances in life can be dealt with easily in the space of a day. However, in the balance of wisdom, some situations require time to work out. It is wise to reflect, pray, and build understanding about our actions. Sometimes we need to calm our emotions before we can deal with what is happening. If we rush too quickly into attempting to resolve a situation, we can cause worse harm.
It can be easy to simply say, “I’m sorry” to someone and assume that the string has been tidied up. However, to really repair the fabric, we have to be clearly sincere in the apology, and change our actions so the problem does not repeat. We may need to forgive ourselves. We may need to ask for forgiveness, and then leave the choice whether to forgive in the other person’s hands. Skillful repair helps the fabric of our lives to stay strong.
The moment-by-moment choices we make throughout each day, and our efforts to keep relationships intact with loving actions, the fewer strings we leave dangling, and the fewer lifelong regrets we generate. We don’t have to worry about what is undone, and we can focus on moving forward in unity with purpose, grace, and ease.