Course: Building Resilience: Meeting Tests and Difficulties (2023)
Faculty Mentor: Wendi Momen
When I enrolled in Building Resilience: Meeting Tests and Difficulties my goal for the course was to develop the resilience needed to not be a burden to my community as life’s catastrophes are thrown in our path. I wanted to be able to help carry others through rather than them having to carry me. To do this, I needed to research and incorporate Bahá’í Writings on resilience into my being so as to be able to cling to that life-saving rope from God. I hoped that I could identify spiritual perspectives that would help me take a strong step toward achieving that goal.
This course has helped me to delve deeper into what resilience and suffering actually mean. First, I needed to chip away at my resentment toward the Creator for setting up a system that only allows us to learn through suffering. A quote from the course compilation has really helped me reflect on this:
What man considers to be evil turns often to be a cause of infinite blessings. And this is due to his desire to know more than he can. God’s wisdom is, indeed, inscrutable to us all, and it is no use pushing too far trying to discover that which shall always remain a mystery to our mind.(Shoghi Effendi, Unfolding Destiny: The Messages from the Guardian of the Bahá’í Faith to the Bahá’í Community of the British Isles, Letter dated 29 May 1935) [my emphasis]
If I am trying to understand a mystery that is beyond my ability to understand, of course, I will become frustrated and angry. It’s similar to the oft-used Bahá’í analogies of the painting trying to understand the painter or the table trying to understand the carpenter. I will never be able to understand why God set us up to suffer, or at least not as long as I am a human (“man”—maybe it will become clearer in the next world). I just need to be patient and trust that God knows what He is doing and that God created the universe through love and not meanness.
The second challenge this class helped me to reflect on is the purpose of prayer. Actions have consequences, and it is through the consequences that we learn. To pray and ask God to take away the consequences means I am asking God to take away the learning I (or others) need to do. For example, take Abdu’l‑Bahá’s prayer for aid and assistance:
Turn the distressing cares of Thy holy ones into ease, their hardship into comfort, their abasement into glory, their sorrow into blissful joy…”(Bahá’í Prayers, National Assembly of the US, 2002, p. 24).
If I decide to jump off a cliff and pray on the way down for God to take away the law of gravity just for me, I doubt He would do that! Another way to look at it, perhaps, is that the prayer is not asking God to take away the consequences now, but to continue with His plan for my learning so that I can come out on the other side of my time of tests having learned what I am supposed to have learned, and reap the benefit of that learning. This seems a little redundant because that is what is going to happen anyway, as long as I remain faithful to the Covenant.
A third way to look at it is that, by asking God for joy and ease, I am really asking God to give me tests to help me to get to that state. Ouch! Makes me not want to pray!
But then I look at the first quotation above and tell myself that I am, again, trying to understand the inscrutable. The present compromise I have come to is that prayer is just a way for me to connect to that rope of safety so I can feel His love (and share His love with others when they need it) while I am (and they are) going through the suffering. To open myself to His love is a way I can affect the outcome of the suffering and maintain the resilience needed to get through the pain.
With all that being said, I am not ready to make a presentation on these learnings to others. I think most people are farther along in their understanding of this than I am. My atheist background makes me ask “why” when others from religious backgrounds have already learned to accept. Also, I feel that, although this class has given me the priceless gift of helping me scratch the surface of my dilemma, I will need to delve into it on a much deeper level before I am ready to share with others in a formal way.