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Experiencing the Bahá’í Fast as a Parent

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As I savored a bowl of oatmeal before sunrise this morning in the waning days of the nineteen-day Bahá’í period of fasting, it struck me that fasting is a microcosm of parenting, or maybe of life itself. Both are long, arduous, spiritual processes that will sometimes bring you to your knees, bone-tired, begging God for assistance. But both are filled with inexplicable beauty and grandeur.

Bahá’ís are asked to fast from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the last month of the Bahá’í calendar leading up to the Bahá’í New Year, or Naw-Rúz, on the first day of spring. It is a time of spiritual renewal and preparation for the upcoming year.

For me, the first day of the fast is joyful. It’s all fresh again, year after year. There are special prayers for the fast that are so beautiful and buoyant, and I have energy reserves that power me through. I’m often proud of myself: hey, this is easy. I know I was dog tired by the end of last year’s fast, but maybe I’m more spiritually enlivened this year. Maybe I’ll just sail through!

The next few days, however, start to drag. I look at the calendar. Seriously? Nineteen whole days? That’s nearly three weeks! No break, either. How am I going to do that? I’ve got to eat some extra tonight to get through this. Lord, give me strength!

The days leading up to the mid-point drag even more. I thought I was above all this, this year? Those first days seemed so easy. I’m just so tired. It feels like there’s never enough time to get enough water, sustenance, and sleep between sunset and sunrise. Maybe I can sneak a nap on a weekend afternoon? This spiritual renewal stuff is hard work.

Then the mid-point hits, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. In Virginia where I live, the weather often serves up a relatively warm day around this time (it’s been positively balmy this year), and I remember that no matter how unlikely it seems as winter drags out, spring and Naw-Rúz will come. By this point, the fast has become almost routine. I am in the groove and better able to cope. Maybe I will cruise after all.

And then suddenly it’s day sixteen. Remember those special prayers for the fast? Well some of them are quite long. I realize I haven’t made the time to enjoy saying them as often I had hoped. Have I been as solid a role model to my kids as I would like? In one passage of one of those prayers, Bahá’u’lláh says of the fast, “This is the hour, O my Lord, which Thou hast caused to excel every other hour.” Only three more days to soak up that evanescent spirit! There’s so much more I had hoped to do.

And before you know it, it’s the afternoon of the nineteenth day, and it’s Naw-Rúz again. It’s always such a joyful moment, but then I feel a twinge of guilt: did I make the most of my opportunity? We only have one life, and only a certain number of fasts in this world. I can only hope and pray that mine will be acceptable. (But ah, how I relish that feeling knowing we have a whole year before we fast again.)

Like the first day of the fast, the first weeks of parenting are a dreamy, sleepless honeymoon period of gazing at your new baby, making baby talk, and figuring out what it means to parent.

The next several months of parenting, like the next few days of the fast, are when the reality settles in. Some of us (or maybe it was just me?) are hopelessly immature and self-involved when setting out on the parenting journey, and it can come as a shock to realize just what it means to suddenly be fully responsible for a helpless little human being. Thankfully they’re so adorable that it makes it all easier.

I remember the moment when our oldest was just a couple months old, carrying him to sleep for the umpteenth time, when I realized that we would be carrying him like this for a whole year or more. It seemed like such a long stretch of time to imagine when everything was so new and we were so sleep-deprived and my arms so tired. The years stretching out before you as a young parent seem so long.

They say that for parents the days are long but the years are short, and it is so true. Before long, the last one is weaned and you realize you’re already midway through the journey to the oldest’s adulthood. That’s kind of a scary realization. But there’s so much to do, so much to teach them, so much I want to experience with them, and there never seems to be enough time.

Now the oldest is sprouting up and becoming a young man. I realize with every cracking of his voice that our years together are numbered, and I want so desperately to cling to this moment when they are young and innocent. The great wide world is still out there, with all its promise and its hazards, and for now all is well under the shelter of our family’s roof. But just like the sixteenth day of the fast, that day will be gone in a glimmer.

That thought arrested me this morning as I finished my oatmeal. My throat clenched.

Soon after, as I finished my prayers and meditation, footsteps thumped down the stairs. “Good morning, Dad,” my oldest gave me a big hug. He’s now taller than my wife. He’ll be taller than me before I know it. “You okay?” he asked as I wiped a tear from my eye.

“Great,” I replied, smiling through tears. “The fast is just so beautiful. It’s bittersweet that Naw-Rúz will be here before we know it.”


Scott Mohajeri Norris is a writer, university administrator, co-founder of Tender Sapling, and the lucky father of three wonderful boys.

Updated on 3.15.16