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Failing to Grow
I love the English language! You can say just about anything you want, either directly or indirectly, if you search out the exact words and order them carefully, LOL.
"Failing to Grow," for instance, can mean no progress, even death. Or, for this title, it can explain how growth really happens in life--through successive failures. We don't pedal a bicycle flawlessly the first time, nor master a skateboard without losing some skin--not to mention pride--along the way.
Tom Jennings, of Make Magazine, puts it this way, "No one talks of failure as anything but shameful; this is wrongheaded and foolish...Mistakes are synonymous with learning. Failing is unavoidable. Making is a process, not an end. It is true that deep experience helps avoid problems, but mainly it gives you mental tools with which to solve inevitable problems when they come up." He argued that "the act of failing again and again" is the only way to equip oneself with the mental toolbox for success. - quoted in Made by Hand, p. 24
When I was a child, religion was about chastising and frightening us into behaving better than small children often do. It was not about love--at least, not the lenient and permissive kind, but more like tough love, as I was expected to be quiet, clean, and good, and definitely not disturb grown-up company.
It didn't occur to me that God was any different from my parents and the other relatives trying to tame me. Nobody sat me down to explain that loving parenting meant guiding and training, as well as supporting the effort to improve through mistakes along the way. Or that parenting for success meant that children wouldn't always like you very much. But you had to parent for their future happiness.
According to the theology of the Bahá'í Faith, God is a very good parent, indeed. Not that punishment is personal or even necessary, given a Creation that allows people to experience the logical consequences of--well--sin, for want of a better word. The laws of God are very much like the laws of nature: ignore gravity and be prepared to fall!
Further, obedience isn't about avoiding punishment or failure, but is the path to experiencing real joy. "The most important thing is to polish the mirrors of hearts in order that they may become illumined and receptive of the divine light. One heart may possess the capacity of the polished mirror; another be covered and obscured by the dust and dross of this world. Although the same Sun is shining upon both, in the mirror which is polished, pure and sanctified you may behold the Sun in all its fullness, glory and power revealing its majesty and effulgence, but in the mirror which is rusted and obscured there is no capacity for reflection although so far as the Sun itself is concerned it is shining thereon and is neither lessened nor deprived. Therefore our duty lies in seeking to polish the mirrors of our hearts in order that we shall become reflectors of that light and recipients of the divine bounties which may be fully revealed through them." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá, Baha'i World Faith, p. 218
Trying to live a spiritually based life when surrounded by a very material culture has been a challenge throughout mankind's history. Sacrificing immediate pleasure to have something better in the future is not innate, and takes faith to achieve.
What kind of faith? "There are three kinds of Faith: first, that which is from tradition and birth. For example: a child is born of Muhammadan parents, he is a Muhammadan. This faith is weak traditional faith. Second, that which comes from Knowledge, and is the faith of understanding. This is good, but there is better: the faith of practice. This is real faith." - 'Abdu'l-Bahá in London, p. 64
True growth also needs successful role models, particularly models of response to failure. It is especially helpful to have the support of a community of like-minded people who are aimed at similar goals. Bahá'u'lláh gave the goals, provided the role model(s) and laid out the plan for a social structure designed to assist in achieving success.
Bahá'ís are learning by doing, trying to cherish their failures and use them to "polish the mirrors of their hearts," and build a better world.
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