When I was a child growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness, life certainly was no cake walk. Please don’t get me wrong…….it wasn’t horrific…..it just wasn’t good. I still had parents that cared about me. My dad provided for us financially and my mom loved me. Actually, I am happy to say that in the end, she really did love me unconditionally because although not presently disfellowshipped herself, she would never even consider severing ties or even limiting association. Family is her number 1 priority. And I thank her for that…..because it’s helped me to make my family my number 1 priority as well. Sadly, most Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot say that about their own mothers, because Jehovah’s Witnesses are taught to put obedience to the dictates of the organization ahead of even one’s own family.
When I talk to others about my life as a child, I usually get comments of sympathy or pity. While I appreciate the sentiment behind them, what I wish I could do is educate the public on what a Jehovah’s Witness child is REALLY missing out on as they grow up. So often, from an outsider’s perspective, all that is seen is the obvious. It is easy to observe and reason “Aw…….that poor kid will never get to celebrate his birthday. Never experience the thrill of blowing out the candles on a day where friends and family have gathered to show how happy they are that he is part of their lives. He’ll never get to experience the excitement……the ambience of Christmas. He’ll never feel what it is like to believe in Santa, or the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy or be allowed to let his mind wander to that blissful utopia that IS childhood fantasy. He won’t get to play sports or have close friends outside of the religion. He’ll draw the ire and shame of his peers as he remains seated through the playing of the National Anthem or Pledge of Allegiance. His chances of making it to adulthood while being well acclimated to society as a whole have been irreparably compromised.”
While all of that is true, in my humble opinion, those aren’t the issues that keep a JW child awake at night. What’s most distressing to a child is the guilt he feels. You see, there is a scripture that leadership likes to use to help keep the sheeple in line. It is Matthew 5:28. “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery in his heart.” This of course was a warning given by Jesus to men (and women for that matter) to watch what you wish for. That lusting after someone that is not your mate will likely end with horrific consequences if you allow it to continue. But JW leadership takes it much farther. First off, they like to apply the lesson here not just to cases of adultery but to ANYTHING a person may want. And they like to remind the flock that God sees everything and that He can read your heart. So although you may not act on it, and although you may not say anything about it, if you desire ANYTHING that is not holy…….God will know. The celestial security camera sees and knows everything.
To make matters worse, the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Armageddon is coming literally any day now. They have been saying it for over 130 years. And that those that are faithful Jehovah’s Witnesses will be saved…….while billions of outsiders will perish. (see this link for some pictures of what leadership wants its followers to believe Armageddon will look like. https://jwfacepalm.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/facepalm-moment-the-life-of-an-indoctrinated-jw-child/). But what makes YOU faithful? Is it years of living a good life? Is it taking care of those in need? No. What matters is how well you have followed rules, regulations and doctrine at the time of Armageddon. If you were faithful for 50 years, but fell away due to depression or “weakness” during the last year of your life prior to Armageddon…….you’re a goner. They like to compare it to running a marathon. If you sprint……you won’t make it. Rather, you must faithfully endure to the end……whenever that is.
Most of us that are adults now can look back to our childhood and remember watching a movie we shouldn’t have. One that scared the living bejesus out of us. We should have turned the channel…..but…..like a train wreck…….found ourselves unable to detach our eyes from the screen. For me, that movie was “It” by Stephen King. I will neither confirm or deny that this incident has anything to do with my disdain for clowns today. 😉 Just like that scary movie you watched when you were too young, the images you see in the link above stay in the forefront your mind as a child. They are frightening and intimidating. As a child you are horrified to die in such a terrible way. And you believe that day is right around the corner because that is what you are taught. It’s coming quickly…….like a thief in the night. You don’t want to be among the billions that will perish…….but……you’re still a child.
What do I mean by that? I mean that you still have wants and wishes. Sometimes you find yourself wishing you could feel what it is like to celebrate your birthday……just once. But you quickly correct yourself. Sometimes you wish you could just let your mind wander while you read a Harry Potter book. But that’s dangerous. It has magic…..and that’s how Satan enters your thoughts. Sometimes you wish you could avoid the looks of disbelief from your peers and just go ahead and stand for the National Anthem, but again…….that’s what Satan wants you to do. If the elders were present, they would ask you “Why do you even want to stand for the National Anthem? By standing, you are worshipping the flag! Only Jehovah is worthy of worship. Are you ashamed of Jehovah? Are you ashamed of your faith?” Sometimes you wish you could be friends with the kids you play with at recess. But then you remind yourself that they are “bad association” and Satan will use them to destroy your faith.
THAT is what I mean. You’re a child. You WISH you could be normal. You WISH you could fit in. You WANT to have what other kids have. But as a Jehovah’s Witness, you are taught that these things are abnormal for a true Christian. That by “fitting in” you will be on the road to destruction……and NOT the road to life. You are reminded that Jesus once said at Luke 21:17 that “everyone will hate you because of me”. But what your young mind is incapable of seeing is the shameless degree that the religious leaders you trust will go to in order to manipulate scripture to suit their needs. What needs? The need to keep you and everyone else in line. They make rules and regulations that go far beyond biblical law and dogmatically interpret scripture with extreme fundamentalism for the purpose of creating the very persecution they warn you about. So you struggle. You remind yourself of Matthew 5:28 and you say “WHY? Why do I desire to fit in? Why do I lust after these things? Why do I want to celebrate holidays? Why do I want to have “worldly” friends? Why do I want to play sports for my school? Why do I have no desire to read my bible every day like I am supposed to? Why don’t I value the Jehovah’s Witness books and magazines the way I am told I should? Am I not praying hard enough? Am I not praying often enough? Jehovah can read my heart and he knows that I want all these bad things.” And you feel guilt and remorse. You know how disappointed your parents would be if they knew what you secretly desired. And although your parents don’t know how you feel inside…….Jehovah does. He knows everything. There is no fooling him. What’s going to happen to me if Armageddon happens right now?
This is what I want the public to know. Yes, missing out on the fun of childhood kinda sucks. Last time I checked, time only moved in one direction, and once it’s gone, you can never get it back. A childhood lost is a childhood lost forever. But what concerns me much more than that is the mental and emotional scarring that occurs when a child feels guilt for wanting to be normal. It happens every day. Let me give you an example.
It was a chilly day in late October, 1988. Eastview elementary school was having its mock Presidential Election Day. It was Dukakis vs Bush. All students would get to walk down to the gym and cast an anonymous vote. The votes would be tallied and the winner announced. Our teachers would then have an opportunity to explain a little bit about how the real election process and in a general sense, how democracy works. I had been prepped by my mom that when my class was released to go down to the gym to vote, I needed to stay in my seat. Jehovah’s Witnesses are not permitted to vote for 2 reasons. The first reason is that the nations of this world, including our own, are a composite group that make up the “wild beast” that is standing in the way of God’s kingdom in the book of Revelation. (this according to JW teachings). A JW should strive to never identify him/herself with that “beast”. The second reason is that JWs believe that the only solution for the future of mankind is a kingdom by God. Any and all human governments that exist are currently standing in the way of God setting up that kingdom, therefore by voting, you are putting your trust in men instead of in God. Jehovah’s Witnesses do not get involved in any way, shape or form with politics……. even if it is a mock election…..because a mock election would show that you DESIRE to be involved in the politics of the world. Remember that Matthew 5:28 thing?
As my class was released……I was overcome with a desire to rebel and do my own thing. I got up out of my seat and marched down to the gym. I was nervous but confident. I cast my vote and returned to my classroom. Soon……..very soon after…….my confidence turned to panic and anguish. I had sinned. I had shown to the world that I trust in the government more than I trust in God. In fact……I had done the unthinkable. I had turned my back on God! I prayed…..and I prayed……and I prayed some more. I begged God to forgive me. I never told my parents because of the shame I felt and because of the guilt I would assuredly feel when they remind me that I had “hurt Jehovah” with my actions. That night I cried myself to sleep, albeit silently, so I wouldn’t have to admit what was wrong. I cried because I was upset with myself. I cried because I knew how disappointed my parents would be if they only knew what I had done. I cried because I knew I had upset God. I cried because I had jeopardized my eternal future. I wondered if Armageddon was coming the next day. I wondered if that was my big test from Jehovah to prove my loyalty to Him…….and I just blew it. So I prayed more. I prayed to say I was sorry and to beg and plead for more time to make it up……to ask God to PLEASE not let Armageddon come without a chance to forgive me. Days went by, and, like all “transgressions”, time made it easier to swallow.
What I went through that October day, and the days immediately following, is what I wish I could protect my children from and what thousands of Jehovah’s Witness youths go through regularly. So long as “Jehovah” is real to them, they will be mentally and emotionally shackled. The belief structure……the black/white thinking……the intolerance……the fear and intimidation all come together to control the mind of a small child, topped off with a side helping of guilt should the child fail the expectations set before him/her like I did.
The letter you see below was posted by a Facebook friend of mine in an Ex-JW recovery forum. It was written by her when she was just 9 years old. I cannot help but wonder how much guilt she felt for even allowing her mind wonder about such things? There is indeed mental and emotional scarring that occurs from growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness. But much of it isn’t from missing out on your childhood. It’s from the burden of guilt you carry on your tiny little shoulders for WISHING that you weren’t missing out.