Believing is Seeing: Reflecting on prayer and service

Posted: 2021/07/02

In the following story, Subrina Bhullar, a youth in the Springdale neighbourhood in Brampton, Ont., writes about the effects of service on her perspective of life and the decisions she makes for her future.

Subrinas Childrens Class 300x146

Subrina with her children’s class, in 2018 (left) and in March of 2020 (right), before the pandemic.

The activities in the neighbourhood have helped me learn so much about myself. In the worst moments of my life, I could always count on my friends in the junior youth program. I had a hard time with some family matters, but the junior youth group was always there.  Now that I teach a class, I feel like I have a purpose and can help others on their own journey. I also accompany two other children’s class teachers. This service has helped me stay detached and to help others instead of just thinking about myself. It has also shaped what I want to do in university, I want to study to become a social worker that works with children.

My children’s class participants are almost junior youth now and I’m excited to begin studying the junior youth texts with them. We are starting to get into deeper themes from the Ruhi Book 3:Teaching Children’s Classes curriculum and to think about service. The discussions are good, and the children’s understanding is so profound. I had this dream one night that I was in university and helping them through their study of Ruhi Book 1: Reflections on the Life of the Spirit. I’m really grateful to be involved in the children’s classes. I’ve been involved since I was in grade five, and eventually, as a youth I started teaching a children’s class with my younger sister and her close friends.

It is through my service also that my relationship with God began. In my family, we were expected to think in a specific way – that you say prayers, God is there, you just do it, and you don’t ask questions. The fact that I was allowed to ask and explore questions in my junior youth group, such as, “there’s no way God is real, right?” and then receiving some sort of answer, it really helped me.

When I started teaching children’s classes, I still didn’t believe in God, but seeing the transformation in the participants I thought to myself, oh wow, there’s something there. I feel it in my heart. There’s no way this could be a lie. The transformations I saw in those kids was amazing, and it helped subside some of the doubt and fear I felt. Saying prayers and learning to foster the love of God in my heart was strengthening my faith and trust.

When the children were in grade three in school, we started the grade one children’s class curriculum. At first, the children liked to keep to themselves, but little by little, as they learned the lessons, they opened up to each other. They became more inclusive in their friendships overall and began to include other kids into their friend groups at school.

When I began teaching my children’s class, I was going through my own challenges at the same time. Book 3: Teaching Children’s Classes talks about how it’s not just about teaching the younger children, but really putting what you’re teaching into practice in your own life. When I asked my tutor, “How do we know God is real?” I realized I couldn’t really know, but I had to just trust. I thought, if God‘s teachings are like the Sun and warmth, why would I hide myself away and not want to feel it?  I started to believe that God was always there, and it gave me all this strength. It seemed natural to realize that if I was teaching the Word of God, then I believed in it as well.

I started going to devotionals and felt so much love and joy. In our team, we asked ourselves, “How can we bring that joy to every household?” We learned that saying one prayer with our neighbour at their doorstep can have the same impact as an hour-long devotional once a week. This was also more doable for some neighbours and team members. Acting on that insight, we decided to share as many prayers as possible with the people in our neighbourhood.

At first, it was still a bit scary and nerve-wracking to talk to parents and share prayers with families. At any moment they could have said, “I don’t like this!” So, I often prayed that visits and sharing of prayers with families would serve to strengthen our relationships with them. After a visit, one parent researched the similarities between the Bahá’í and Sikh Faiths. There are so many similarities that it seems like they come from the same Source.

Now, I can confidently call any of the families and talk about the spiritual education of their children and at the end say, “Let’s share a prayer together.” I can see that praying together really uplifts us.

In my personal life, there are a few prayers that I always turn to – I try to pray morning and evening and say the obligatory prayers. One of my favourite prayers is “Create in me a pure heart…” and I meditate on it at night.

On Thursdays, before the pandemic, we would have devotionals either at the community centre or in a friend’s basement. We would say prayers for an hour and have deep discussions. Now, a few teachers are consulting about how to start a devotional gathering for the children. Knowing I had doubts about the existence of God helps me to understand how others may struggle with their own questions. The important thing is being able to ask these questions, and then exploring them with other people.

I am lucky to have this amazing group of girls in my children’s class who love to say prayers. We have become real friends now and our very loving relationship helps us to say prayers together. I can feel how our true happiness comes from service and prayer. Though it gets hard, and the expansion phase is even harder, seeing the community we’re helping to build makes me never want to leave it.

– Subrina Bhullar, originally written for the Ontario Bahá’í website newsletter.