Believing is Seeing: Reflecting on Prayer and Service

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

“There is no time to lose. There is no room left for vacillation…Such an opportunity is irreplaceable. Let the doubter arise and himself verify the truth of such assertions. To try, to persevere, is to insure ultimate and complete victory.” – Shoghi Effendi [1]

 By Subrina Bhullar

My children’s class participants are almost junior youth now and I’m excited to do the books with them. We’re starting to get into deeper themes and to think about service. They talk about it so well and their understanding is so profound. I had this dream one night that I was in university and helping them through Book 1. I’m really grateful to be involved in the children’s classes. I’ve been involved since I was in grade five, and then eventually I started teaching a children’s class with my younger sister and her close friends. 

It’s helped me learn so much about myself. I had a hard time with some family things but the junior youth group was always there. In the worst moments of my life, I could always count on my friends in the JY program. Now that I have 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. It’s helped me stay detached from myself and help others instead of just thinking about myself. This service has also shaped what I want to do in university, to be a social worker with children.

The long journey of my relationship with God began at the bottom. In my family, it was just like “you say prayers, God is there, you just do it, don’t ask questions.” The fact that I was allowed to ask questions in my junior youth group, like, “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 was like “oh wow, this is really…there’s something there. I feel it in my heart. There’s no way this could be a lie.”

Saying prayers and learning to foster the love of God in my heart was strengthening my faith, and trust. There was fear, and risk, but the transformations I saw in those kids were amazing. When they were in grade three, we started the grade one children’s classes. At first, the children liked to stay to themselves, but, little by little, as they learned the lessons, they opened up and would include other kids into their group at school.

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, but really living what you’re teaching. 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 so much joy. Our team asked, “How can we bring that joy to every household?” We learned that saying one prayer at a doorstep can have the same impact as an hour-long devotional once a week, and was more doable for some. Acting on that insight, we decided to share as many prayers as possible. 

It was still a bit scary and nerve-wracking to talk to parents and share a prayer with another family, at first. At any moment they could say, “I don’t like this!” so I often pray that the kids will stay in the class and it all goes well. After a visit, one parent researched the similarities between the Baha’i and Sikh Faiths. There are so many similarities that even in Punjabi, they sound like they come from the same Source. 

Now I can 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.” It really uplifts us. There are a few prayers that I always turn to. I try to pray morning and evening and say the obligatory prayer. 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 Centre or in a friend’s basement. We would say prayers for an hour and it got so deep. Now a few teachers are consulting about how to start a devotional for the children. Knowing I had doubts about the existence of God helps me to understand how others may struggle with their own questions, too. The important thing is being able to ask these questions, and explore them with people who want to do that, too. 

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

[1] Messages to America, 1947

Get in touch with the neighbourhood team in this story, or share your own learning with Ontario Baha’i here.