For much of my life, I felt a responsibility that burdened me beyond endurance, which was that somehow I had to save the world. I can’t say for sure, but I think that sense of responsibility came from reading Abdu’l-Baha. He emphasises how Baha’is must help others, must sacrifice themselves for others, must always be doing good somehow to others. He exemplified this in his own life. I also read somewhere that he slept only four hours a day. The result was that I neglected my own needs and focused on the duty I had for others.
It didn’t go well. People have their own minds and ways of doing things. They have their own paths to walk and sometimes, or even often, they don’t want to be helped. They’re not interested in what do-gooders think they ought to be doing. They may be miserable, but that’s their choice and, sometimes, they want to remain unhappy. They see interventions from others who think they know better as intrusions. What to do? Obviously, you leave these people alone. On the other hand, those who actually do want to be helped sometimes are people who never help themselves. They live their entire lives dependent on others sorting them out and providing for them. In this case, helping others means you take on a permanent burden. You became locked into their decisions – if they don’t help themselves, then that leaves you always having to help. This leads to resentment.
In the past couple of years, I have begun to see this issue in a new light. The change happened when I made a serious decision to finish writing the book I am currently working on. It’s a book about the Faith, which I am writing for a mass audience. I found that the focus required to achieve my goal required all my energy. I had to channel all my resources inwardly not outwardly. I had to start looking after my own needs. From this new perspective, I reflected on how my life had been and saw how much of my time and effort had been about fixing things on someone else’s patch and not my own. I saw that what I thought was helping people, while looking good on the outside, was not really that at all. It was more about me and my inability to figure out and bring into reality what Baha’u’llah had created me to do. It was me avoiding real service to humanity. I was acting out of low self-esteem. I had never entertained the thought that I was able to write a book or complete any goal of significance. To compensate, I had told myself that I always had to be doing what others wanted me to do because Abdu’l-Baha said I was to help others and sacrifice myself for them. Unfortunately, it was destroying me. I was losing myself and it didn’t seem like people could be helped.
Focusing on the book has lead to me turning over a new leaf, and life is a great deal better. I no longer rush in to help people where I think they need it and I no longer feel like I have to save the world. I recognise that saving the world is Baha’u’llah’s job and that he may or may not decide to save someone, depending on what he decides is their fate. I balance my needs and the possible needs of others and make considered decisions about my time and energy. In mental health terms, I have established boundaries and try to respect them. The ultimate good that has surfaced from this is that I am now getting close to finishing my book and I feel like, this time, I will indeed do something worthy. I will have learned a great deal about patience and perseverence and the joy of serving the cause, and may have produced something that will help people.
“We have traversed the stage of expending the self for others. Arise to expend justice and fairness upon the souls that pertain to you.”Baha’u’llah: Tablet of the Holy Mariner, from the Persian, paragraph 5