Striving to put service at the centre of family life

Posted: 2018/08/17

What started as a few families in Toronto meeting in a nearby park for the Holy Day on 10 July turned into a large group of children, parents and youth commemorating the Martyrdom of the Báb together as part of an intensive training campaign. Photo: Ramin Rameshni

Through deepening, friendship and mutual support, a group of parents living in a Toronto neighbourhood is learning to make service the focal point of their families’ activities.

In the spring, a group of parents with young children met to reflect on their efforts to live coherent lives in light of guidance from the Universal House of Justice. Together they shared ideas on how their family units can become foundations of community life.

“This generation of youth,” the Universal House of Justice said, “will form families that secure the foundations of flourishing communities. Through their growing love for Bahá’u’lláh and their personal commitment to the standard to which He summons them will their children imbibe the love of God, ‘commingled with their mother’s milk’, and always seek the shelter of His divine law.”[1]

One parent, whose two children are under the age of five, said that once he had a child, his interactions with his neighbours changed drastically.

“The whole of the community opened up to us,” he said, “because we could talk to grandparents, parents, other kids – and youth because we are working and studying still – it didn’t feel like any part of the community was distant from us…A family, more easily that anyone else, will become more integrated because of school and playing together in the park. The family has a certain reach that an individual cannot have.”

His wife agreed. “Our neighbours see how we are raising our kids and they ask us what we are doing differently,” she said. “Then we get to talk about the Faith and invite them to children’s class.”

The group agreed that children’s classes are a major part of developing a Bahá’í culture for their children. “The society for our children is the five families we know,” said one mother. “We invite the children to come and play at our place…This lets your children see other children living with similar principles. We need to have children’s classes not only for our communities but for our own children too.”

They discussed some of the rights and responsibilities of children. One of these rights was that of education and, ultimately, the right for every individual to know and to love their Creator.

“If we think of the right of education…we have a right to a spiritual education and to know of the love of God,” said one mother. “If you are serving the Cause without educating them on the love of God, then you are neglecting the rights of your child. Even if you need to ask someone else to do it on your behalf, it must be done.”

The parents discussed how developing a life of service starts from birth and continues to progress through childhood, taking on new forms as the family unit grows and develops. The following guidance from the Universal House of Justice was particularly illuminating:

It should also be realized that a child, from early life, is a conscious and thinking soul, a member of his family with his own duties towards it, and is able to make his own sacrifices for the Faith in many ways. It is suggested that the children should be made to feel that they are given the privilege and opportunity of participating in the decisions as to the services their parents are able to offer, thus making their own conscious decision to accept those services with consequence for their own lives. Indeed, the children can be led to realize that it is the earnest wish of their parents to undertake such services with their children’s whole-hearted support.[2]

One mother noted how teaching her children the responsibility to serve others has helped them view their lives as an unfolding path of service. “When we rephrased things,” she said, “we said that everything we are doing in our life is so that we can serve better. For example, we learn piano so that we can bring joy to other people. It’s not to be on a stage or be better than someone else, but to bring joy. This changed everything and completely changed [my son’s] motivation to learn.”

The families also discussed how it’s important to treat service with the same enthusiasm that other activities receive, allowing each family member to look toward opportunities to serve with anticipation.

“How we look at holidays versus service matters,” said one participant. “Sometimes when we talk about a service we’re going to do together our tone can be that of a chore, but when we talk about vacation we are very joyful. Our attitude is very much a part of teaching our children about this love for Bahá’u’lláh and the eagerness we have to serve Him.”

Along with analyzing the outward-looking orientation Bahá’í families strive to adopt, the participants also discussed their responsibility to make “the collective life of the family a spiritual reality.” Central to this, they realized, was reading the Writings and saying prayers as a “daily family activity.”[3]

Many of the families mentioned that a devotional atmosphere in the home could be established through patterns that already exist in their regular activities, elevating their atmosphere and purpose. “We can use mealtimes as a space to help develop the reading of the Writings and reflecting on our reality to help make it spiritual,” said one father as an example.

It was also mentioned that collaborating with other families and community members to contribute to the devotional character of a neighbourhood helps to develop these habits within a family.

“During the expansion phase we were getting up early three times a week to go and pray with the other families,” said one mother. “I thought this was going to be very difficult but, in the end, it was actually very helpful to our family and made life easier. When we get together with other families like this we are building that collective life both in our family and community.”

These structures of support among the families, along with encouragement from the community and coordinators, helped to open the way for the participation of several parents in intensive teaching campaigns. Often parents of young children find these campaigns, in which participants meet from early morning to late in the evening for several weeks, challenging to participate in.

Many parents, several of them part of the deepening on family life, made creative arrangements to participate in the campaigns this summer. With the support of a handful of youth – acting as volunteers rather than campaign participants – their children were taken care of each day while they studied and served in neighbourhoods.

“We organized our family life so that my husband can take part in the neighbourhood activities every evening,” said one mother. “I get home from work, we share about our days and then my daughter and I wave goodbye saying, ‘have fun serving the Cause!’”

Knowing the children are happy and well supported as their fathers and mothers advance their service to the Cause has been a source of encouragement and great joy.

“I loved this so much,” one parent shared “Words cannot describe! Thank you all so much for taking such wonderful care of the kids. We are so lucky to have friends that treat our kids like their own. Thank you, thank you.”

 

[1] From the Universal House of Justice to the Conference of the Continental Board of Counsellors, 29 December 2015.

[2] From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 23 August, 1977.

[3] From the Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 17 April, 1981.