Religion has sure come in and messed a lot of us up! And, worse off, they’ve done it in the name of God, creating an opinion of Him that is formed from man and our screwed up thoughts and not who He really is and what He really stands for.
I was born and raised into the Jehovah’s Witness organization. A lot of you many know them as the “door knockers” or the “watchtower and awake” group, I simply knew it as my life and my family. I knew I was different at a very young age and I knew that I couldn’t do a lot of the things that almost all of the other kids were doing, but it was what I knew so I learned how to deal with the teasing, name calling and bullying throughout my school years. I couldn’t celebrate any birthdays at school, couldn’t stand up for the pledge of allegiance, couldn’t participate in holiday functions and had very limited association with anyone that wasn’t a JW like myself. Don’t feel too sorry for me though, I felt at the time that I was surrounded by people who for the most part loved me, I had a doting mom and all of the other people that were JW’s, (which wasn’t a big number so I had a lot of friends).
Once I got baptized into the religion is when things got way more serious for me. It was just my mom and I at the time, my father had left us when I was young and then my sister went and moved in with him when I was around 11, so the pressure to perform and perform well was incredibly intense. JW’s function like a well oiled machine and seem to do a really great job at organizing, controlling and manipulating its members.
Once you are baptized, you are under the rigid rules and religious scrutiny of the elders within the particular church you attend. They keep a very, VERY strict eye on you and this unspoken “watchman” mentality is felt within the entire organization – it’s like everyone is under some sort of spell that controls even basic common sense. Nothing is missed, nothing can be hidden and if anything goes wrong, you will be disciplined…ahhh, but there’s the key IF you’re caught, IF you’re discovered and only IF you confess. It’s a flawed system and here’s why; I was not doing anything different than any of my friends were doing, but I carried a lot of weight of conviction and guilt on my shoulders. I wanted to always impress my mom and never let down this Church that had established such a crazy standard over me that I felt like I could never live up to it. My mentality was, if I confess everything then there won’t be any hidden sins or mistakes. All of my peers were doing similar things, just not getting caught and therefore, not getting in trouble. I quickly realized that the more they know about you, the more trouble you are in and by the time I was 19 I had gotten excommunicated from the Church.
Excommunicate – ” to cut off from communion with a church or exclude from sacraments of a church by ecclesiastical sentence”. – dictionary.com
I lost everything and everyone from my life in a single instant that my name was announced on that pulpit and what felt like a tearing of my very heart from my body, I was left abandoned, rejected, alone and confused. That’s what religion does!! Religion stands in the name of God and says, “You couldn’t live up to our demands, you didn’t make the mark, you are flawed, sinful and disappointing to us”. This religion WAS my God, I worshiped everything about it, the rituals, practices, people and guidelines that kept me safe and protected from anything out in the world that could harm me. What I didn’t realize is, I was enslaved to a system that I failed and it then turned it’s back on me and I blamed God for it!
I hated God and anything to do with religion after that. I had spent my entire life trying to live up to a standard and expectation that was set before me constantly. I figured out how to “pose” and “fake” my way through almost any situation, how to put on a face or a mask to appease whomever it was that I was with in that moment. I was a chameleon to my environment and mastered the art of deception but not really knowing exactly what my true identity was. To be separate from this religion was in a way to begin figuring out who I was behind the mask, to stop living for a checklist of rules I had to abide by and start running the course of my own life! I had NO idea how to do that and honestly it scared me to death.
Some experts have estimated the rate of suicides associated with the Jehovah’s Witnesses Society to be five to ten times the rate of the general population. ~ Christian Peper, “Cult Awareness”
I couldn’t describe the loneliness, emptiness and anguish I felt over the course of the next year and it honestly doesn’t surprise me to learn the above statistic about suicides within the religion. When you are a slave to a system and know nothing or nobody else outside that system and then get removed from it with nowhere to go is incredibly frightening. You know and understand the expectations within the system, you know how to operate and function within the walls of its doors and how to maintain your “pose”. Outside the walls is too big, too massive and scary and sadly some people feel so overwhelmed by it that they take their own lives. I came very close to attempting to take mine but managed to get the help I needed and made some changes in my life that moved me into good places.
I met Jesus for the first time in an apartment bedroom at 3am in the morning after I had been released from the hospital. I had been out with my friends for the evening, drinking and partying. I did one too many lines of cocaine, passed out and was rushed to the hospital where they brought my vitals to normal, released me and told me to get help. The cab ride home was one of the longest I’ve ever experienced, I questioned everything about myself, my life, what I had become…..what mask was I wearing now?? Who was I? Is this really the person I had become? I hadn’t prayed to God since the night I got excommunicated and let me just say that any prayers I had prayed while I was a JW were very impersonal and carried a lot of fear in them.
I went into my room, closed the door and started sobbing, I didn’t care and I didn’t even know what or who I was screaming to but I started screaming at God. I poured my heart out, got real, removed the mask and drew close in to the possibility that maybe God didn’t hate me and was out there listening to me. I cursed at him, every obscenity you could imagine and questioned my life to Him! Why was I placed on this planet if it was only to be rejected alone and unloved? “ I have not rejected you, I love you, I have called you mine and I have plans and a purpose for you!” It was as if the voice was in the room with me and it sent chills up my spine. I begged for more, asking Him over and over again to tell me that I was accepted, forgiven and loved and He was so faithful to do that! He laid there holding me for the rest of the night, comforting me, encouraging me and loving me. That night was the beginning of my freedom and the journey of having a life of intimacy with my creator and no longer be a slave to a system or a religion.
My dear friends, I cannot wait to share more of my heart with you and all that God has shown me over the years of what a relationship with Him looks like and what it doesn’t look like. He continues to remind me on a daily basis that I am no longer a slave to a system of rules and regulations and that all He desires from any of us is a relationship with Him that is true and authentic. He wants your heart sweet friends, not your works!
Much love and always in Him