How can one keep their motivation and sincerity while doing good works and services—and keep it as fresh as at the beginning? What can be done to inspire new generations to devote their lives to lofty goals?
It is true that people usually start off with utmost sincerity and devotion in their acts of charity, expecting nothing but God’s good pleasure. At least, this was the case a few decades ago in our generation. People that gathered around a certain lofty cause used to have a very strong sense of solidarity and friendship with their colleagues on their shared journey. They used to read a lot and had intense discussions with a sense of curiosity and desire to learn more and explore the truths about human life. They would study different works and analyze them with a scholarly endeavor. I don’t remember ever departing a gathering in the past without reading a book and praying together. We would study a holy verse or a Prophetic saying and contemplate on the truths of faith. People were usually very enthusiastic to learn these truths—first for themselves, and secondly to teach others. Such a process of learning and teaching kept people well-nourished and fresh. Of course, the results out of this nourishment and freshness were abundant and satisfactory.
Sadly, we have lost that desire to read and learn, and this has caused the gap between us and our sources of knowledge to grow wide. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep one’s motivation for charitable work as high as it used to be. Some continue to have that desire, but the number of such people has not increased, at least not proportionally to the growth of their community. One reason for this has to do with the fact that in the past, people used to take a deep sense of pleasure from what they were reading; today, the same text does not sound as novel as it did before. There is a need to introduce a new style of reading, but those who are in a position to teach knowledge to others have not transformed their content to be more appealing.
What is more, as individuals have started to assume higher positions and status, their charitable work has become somewhat routine. They might have been deceived by people’s attention on what they had to say. They mistook this attention as if there was no need to change anything in the content they offered, so they went on repeating the same things over and over, which in time resulted in even the best truths seeming stale.
It is very important to find new methods and formats to rekindle the enthusiasm to read, explore, and do research. A mobilization is needed for this; otherwise, our spiritual motivation will not survive.
The first followers of God’s messengers and those that came after them had unique qualities. They studied in the circle of such giants and witnessed their qualities firsthand; and this enabled them to reach distant horizons. Take students of Bediuzzaman: not only did they read his works very carefully, but they also asked questions to benefit from him even more. Perhaps, the fact that his students turned to him with full attention and concentrated their efforts in his works might have inspired him to say new things.
This level of excellence cannot be expected from everybody. It really requires an intellectual surgery, so to speak. How to do that is another question, but the main objective should be to analyze the subject matter we are reading with all its nuances, metaphors, and implications as comprehensively as possible. An effort in this direction will reveal the fact that we actually do not know enough of what we thought we already knew. This may ignite a spark in our soul, spurring us to save ourselves from the suffocating atmosphere of familiarity.
Today, we are not reading as seriously as we should. As a result, many lack knowledge even about essential matters. Many do not have a sense of curiosity to learn. It is really surprising to see people who call themselves believers but do not wonder at all about the message God sent for them. It is disturbing when people flip carelessly through scholarly works which normally demand serious contemplative effort. We act like we understand when in fact we do not. Superficial knowledge, shallow convictions do not answer the needs of our time, nor do they convince others and appear appealing.
Stuck with formalities
Along with losing an enthusiasm to read, another problem is that we are taken aback by many formalities. In the past, nobody had any titles, statuses, or ranks. There were no administrative boards, no inspectors, no management roles. Everyone was considered to be in the same rank. Everyone respected and cared about one another. The main concern was always to educate ourselves so that we could convey our message across in the best way possible. All efforts were directed at cultivating the “perfect person” and teaching others about faith. Everything else was just secondary or unimportant.
However, in time, someone has become a representative of a certain organization; others took on the responsibility of a place; while others still became members of a board. Meetings followed meetings. Perhaps, these were unavoidable consequences of growth and institutionalization. Yet, the real problem was when people forgot that these were in fact secondary issues and they made them turn away from the main objective. They even wasted their time and the time of others by engaging themselves with an agenda that did not really matter. They deceived themselves by assuming that they were doing something important, for the sake of which they in fact gave up on reading and prayer.
Administrative positions are there to facilitate charitable work and services for faith. They should never be the ultimate goal or given precedence over more important work. Everybody, regardless of their status, should see themselves like a messenger who is expected to deliver a message, a letter, or a greeting to the addressee. His or her duty is to fulfill their role so the system can operate as efficiently as possible. For those who devote themselves to a lofty cause, no worldly status or position can be something to attach our hearts to. These positions are nothing more than mere tools to help us convey the Divine message to those needy souls.
If we take these positions as the main objective, then we mistake instruments as the target. If we turn them into opportunities for fame, then we abuse what has been entrusted to us. If we abuse these positions and statuses for personal benefit, this becomes treason. What is it worth to hold these positions compared to the lofty cause of seeking God’s good pleasure? What is it worth to be famous when we have obtained our true objective in life? Maybe it is even better to be unknown so we can be safe from weaknesses like ostentation and self-conceit.
Reasons for loss of navigation
One major factor that has distanced us from our sources of knowledge has been our engagement with diverse social affairs. Many projects, which we think are necessary, engulf us so deeply that we always speak about them; we are even occupied with them in our dreams. When we get together, we spend time on these projects assuming they are our good work, but we forget what we should in fact devote ourselves to. In time, we lose our enthusiasm to read and understand—even that we need them. “Why do I need to read them?” we start asking with a false sense of self-sufficiency. The outward form, shell, and formalities replace the essence and meaning. As people get further away from truths of faith, many problems and shortcomings ensue.
Many activities that serve as an expansion of good services turn out to produce some unfavorable consequences. Now busy with opening cultural centers, dialogue institutions, schools, being employed in these organizations as a manager or as a teacher, meeting with other community leaders or public officials, even coming together with representatives of other faith groups, we distance ourselves from our own world, from our sphere of thinking. Many of us are now going through such a volatility, a loss of navigation.
To conclude, in order to rekindle our sense of enthusiasm, it is important to open ourselves up to the love of knowledge, research, seeking truth, and reconnect with our sources, as “the firsts” did in the best fashion in their time. We need to develop new methods to attract people’s attention to our works, those sweet wellsprings of treasure. This is how a new generation who can devote their lives to lofty causes can be raised.
Of course, there will be organizations and programs we put together for our mission. But these are secondary matters. Our meetings, organizations, etc. should primarily be about reading and studying, learning, and teaching, improving ourselves and helping others improve, and offering our prayers together in order to seek God’s good pleasure and spread His word.