It was 33 years ago today, in the Richfield Coliseum, in Richfield, Ohio, that I changed the course of my history. I made a public show of my fateful decision by being baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. At the time, it never occurred to me that by making such a commitment I would seal my fate with regard to my relationship with both my mother and my father. There was no turning back; once I went under the door was closed. Stay inside and I could not speak to my mother, leave and I could not speak to my father. A no-win situation of my own making. I’ve lived with the consequences of that action ever since. I’ve struggled with a yearning for wholeness in my family circle. The schism in our midst is painful and obvious to all of us close to it. We hope and wish and pray for the other side to see our point of view. In that we are united.
I had a wonderful morning today. My wife and children prepared a healthy, scrumptious breakfast of french toast, fruit and coffee. I am blessed. My own father and I have not spoken with each other for over three years. He isn’t allowed to talk to me if he wanted to. He shouldn’t answer the phone if I call. He shouldn’t acknowledge my presence. This man, who had a hand in bringing me to life, must now act as if I’m unborn, not alive, nonexistent. Most people I share this with say this is his choice. In his world, it’s not a choice, it’s a command. An order from the literature published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, where content is devised and directed by a small group of mostly older men known as the Governing Body. They say there is biblical guidance to be followed. I’ve seen the infamous “shunning” video making the rounds on the Internet over the past month, where parents are shown refusing to even answer their cell phone when their disfellowshipped daughter calls. There is no freedom of choice for a loyal member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One must think and act like the rest of the flock at all times, with blind and unquestioning obedience to the shepherd. Those sheep separated from the flock cannot be associated with for they have made their bed. The harder it is for the separated, or lost sheep, the more they will desire to return, or so the thinking goes.
If you, like me, find yourself among the great crowd of sheep separated from the flock, know we are not alone, and quite possibly our collective flock may be greater than the one that continues to mindlessly follow the shepherd. You may, as I have at times, looked upon that flock, longing for the ease of following the shepherd without critical thinking, without individuality and without free will. The desire to belong, to feel loved and accepted is strong. I understand.
I’ve been quiet for a long time. Not because I wasn’t allowed to speak or because I was afraid to or even because I didn’t know how. I just haven’t been able to fully understand what has happened until now. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to connect the dots and come to terms with my addiction. Was I addicted to drugs, alcohol, or gambling? No. I’ve been addicted to a need for security, to a desire to belong, to a need to feel loved and accepted. At times I’ve felt like a lost sheep, separated and cut off from the rest of the human race, lost and trying to find my way. I’ve lived in fear of being alone in this world. I’ve spent a lifetime looking for guidance and direction. I’m not alone. For the questions that life presents us, there is great comfort to be had in finding some one or some thing with all the answers.
For many years I believed I had all the answers. I was part of a large, global organization that spoon fed its constituents all the answers to any questions they could possibly have. I willingly confessed to others my affirmation of my beliefs, letting them in on the secret that wasn’t so secret, that they too could know what I know. Nothing in life left to chance, hundreds, maybe even thousands, of friends, a dream of life eternal. How could anyone say no to this? The truth is most people did. I had far more doors slammed in my face than were ever opened. What a shame, I would say, they really don’t want to live forever. I just didn’t get why they didn’t get it.
Not all is as it seems. Beneath the smiles, happy faces and “brotherly love” lies a trail of tears, broken families, broken dreams, and broken people. Sometimes the weight of wanting to be perfect can crush the spirit. Like the parent we were never good enough for, we turn away, to other things to help us feel loved and accepted. The story doesn’t have to end there. When we realize we’re writing the script with every moment of our experience, we understand we are in control.
I separated from the Jehovah’s Witness nearly thirty years ago. In all that time I’ve struggled to find the truth. The siren call of my past tells me I had the truth, I just need to return. She sounds sweet. She means to coddle me in her arms and soothe my fears. I can easily return to a world where I no longer have to work toward any purpose of my own making and choosing. I can reunite with my family. But I wouldn’t be at peace.
If you are no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, struggling each day to find your way out in “the world,” know you’re not alone. We have this. Let’s talk about it. This space knows no judgement, no criticism and is blind to one’s religious convictions. I have faith and that’s my choice. What you believe is yours. Welcome to life separated from the flock.