I recently gave a year of my life to serve humanity—and it was the best year I’ve ever experienced!
The concept of a “year of service” isn’t unique to the Baha’i community – many other Faiths similarly encourage young people to find their place in a life of service to humanity. Why? We know that we are spiritual beings whose purpose involves knowing and loving God, but this material world offers us many distractions that can test our commitment to that purpose. By dedicating even a brief period completely to service, we can fall in love with it. By momentarily putting aside some of life’s other concerns, our spirituality can find its true expression. When those veils lift, we catch a glimpse of our inner nature, discover our true reality, and understand the temporary nature of this life:
…in this world he must prepare himself for the life beyond. That which he needs in the world of the Kingdom must be obtained here. Just as he prepared himself in the world of the matrix by acquiring forces necessary in this sphere of existence, so likewise the indispensable forces of the divine existence must be potentially attained in this world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 63.
Love for God resides at the core of any service we can offer. When the fire of the love of God is ignited in our hearts, what can we do but serve Him? That, truly, is the purpose of our lives – to know God, to worship Him, and to love Him:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 3.
Thankfully, God has given us some guidance on what we can do. Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah and appointed Interpreter of Baha’u’llah’s teachings, says that “service to humanity is service to God.” Furthermore, Abdu’l-Baha tells us that “Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship,” so we know that what we do is not nearly as important as how we do it. However, as seekers on a “quest for God,” where do we start?
The global Baha’i community has engaged in a massive, long-term, collective undertaking to build the framework for a new worldwide civilization inspired by the teachings of Baha’u’llah. To do this, Baha’is everywhere engage in activities such as classes for the spiritual education of children, the junior youth spiritual empowerment program, and study circles for youth and adults. These activities include everyone, not just Baha’is, empowering them to educate others and affect social transformation. These activities form a core part of a developing community life – a community guided by principles such as the oneness of humanity, appreciation for the material and spiritual aspects of reality, equality of women and men, and the inherent nobility of all people. Baha’i youth inspired by such lofty ideals often choose to dedicate some period of time to advancing these aims of the Baha’i Faith.
To every generation of young believers comes an opportunity to make a contribution to the fortunes of humanity, unique to their time of life. For the present generation, the moment has come to reflect, to commit, to steel themselves for a life of service from which blessings will flow in abundance. – The Universal House of Justice
For many practical and mystical reasons, God has tied our individual development to the material and spiritual advancement of humanity. Doing a year of service (or a month, or 5 years) helps us develop essential qualities to work for that advancement: humility, generosity, patience, hope, and reliance on God, just to name a few.
It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One. Ponder ye in your hearts the grace and the blessings of God and render thanks unto Him at eventide and at dawn. Waste not your time in idleness and sloth. Occupy yourselves with that which profiteth yourselves and others. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 26.
When we conclude a period of full-time service to humanity, it doesn’t just mean we simply return to the “real world.” Instead, we can bring back the thoughts, motives, qualities, attitudes, and skills developed from service, incorporating them into our education, work, family life, and any other engagement with society. In this way, we see that through service, young people can learn to foster a life that contributes mightily to the unity of humankind.