Something Even Better!
The thought didn’t occur to me until the question was asked.
The feelings were there. And the subconscious acknowledgement I was now in a better place emotionally and spiritually.
I just hadn’t articulated it in my head until that moment.
It was the dreaded conversation I imagine every child hates to have with a parent. The conversation wherein the child tells the parent what they least want to hear — that they’re doing something completely contrary to what was hoped for.
Thing is in my situation, I’m not just a child anymore. I’m a grown-ass man speaking as a son to a father.
The twist in my story is I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, or as it’s more hip to say nowadays – a “JW”. Baptized at 10, but as I see it dedicated at 19, because that’s when I began to really take my faith as a JW seriously.
My parents passed along the JW torch to carry on, always expecting me to remain in the faith. Either until the promised new world we hoped for came, or my death — whichever one came first.
As of this writing, neither one has come
And… I dropped the torch.
In 2008, I was kicked out of the community for doing things I shouldn’t have— JW or not. That may sound like a bad thing — the worst thing ever. I suppose it could have been if I only dwelled on the negative. Instead, I used it as an opportunity for growth. It led me to examine my motivations for the wrongs I had done. And, more than that, what the hell I was doing with my life.
With reflection, I came to realize the decision to worship as a JW was made, not so much by me as it was by my parents. After all, my 10 year old brain didn’t really have a full grasp of what comes along with dedication and baptism. I just knew it was a serious thing to do.
When I was 10, a serious thing to do meant having to miss “New Zoo Revue” and “The Banana Splits” on Saturday morning so we could knock on doors. (Hey, don’t laugh, if you recall those shows then you’re old too!)
Most kids simply adopt the religion of their parents. Odds are they didn’t have the chance to decide on what they really wanted until they reached a mature age. Even then, if the decision is to go another way, it may ruffle a few feathers
In the JW community, a baptized member deciding to go another way likely means he or she will lose virtually all contact with their loved ones. Going another way as a JW is considered the dog going back to its vomit.
When I found myself on the outside looking in, instead of stewing and complaining, I focused on working out my own personal issues and getting my act together. I took the time to pray — a lot. I would spend hours sometimes, just in prayer to God, pondering and reflecting on my experiences; comparing my knowledge and background as a JW to the scriptures I knew.
I let go of preconceived notions of right and wrong floating around in my head the best I could, and allowed myself to think objectively about life.
Before I knew it, I was back on the right track, having let go of the personal baggage weighing me down. Life was good. So good, one day I woke up and realized several years had gone by since I’d been kicked out. For some reason that realization hit me hard. Sadness came over me and I felt lonely. I missed the JW community. It was time to go back. That must be the cure.
Six months into the reinstatement process (the process a JW who’s been kicked out goes through to be reinstated as a community member), I realized I had a situation.
The situation was that being outside the community actually taught me how to think for myself.
All I had known was life as a JW. However, the years on the outside opened up a totally new perspective. I was mentally free. Spiritually free. For the first time I was fully and freely ME! It felt so strange, yet so good, like sucking up a breath of fresh air after holding your breath to the limit. The closer I got to reinstatement, the more I could see that freedom diminishing. It wasn’t a freedom to live a life full of uninhibited sin and debauchery. It was a freedom to gain a true intimacy with my God; my higher power, on my own with no middleman.
If I hadn’t been kicked out, I would never have known this type of freedom. Being outside the community allowed me to think objectively on everything for the first time — ever. On the inside, this type of thinking is discouraged as being “independent” and “spiritually” damaging.
Strict unity of thought is adhered to on the inside. That’s what pleases Jehovah.
But on the outside I had nothing to lose. I had already lost everything. If anything, this ability to think on my own made me feel even closer to God. N0, I had everything to gain!
Preaching and bringing people to the faith is one of – if not THE most important feature in the worship of JW’s. One day I looked in the proverbial mirror and asked myself the honest question: “Could I in good conscience, knowing this freedom as I do now, encourage someone to join this community?”
If I went back in I’d have to. Unlike the 10 year old me, I now understood what “a serious thing to do” meant — especially on Saturday mornings.
I couldn’t. Not in good conscience at least. And if I couldn’t invite others to join— what was I doing? That day I knew I couldn’t go back to the JW way. There was no malice, no bitterness. Simply, a personal decision made after deep reflection and prayer. I felt completely at peace with my decision.
Unfortunately, my peace doesn’t translate into peace with those within the JW community. It doesn’t matter if I gave up the badness. I gave up on the community. I was a dog that returned to its vomit.
This is the view which confronted me on the fateful day I told Dad that, despite the months of attending congregation meetings and being on the brink of reinstatement, I wasn’t going back.
It wasn’t just the being free thing. I actually enjoyed growing up JW. I never had those bad experiences many ex-JWs speak of.
And when you’re in, you’re love bombed. But you’re love bombed because you conform. Conformity is blanketed by the drape of unity in the JW community.
Thing is. Once you outgrow the community think, it’s hard to revert back to it. If I hadn’t thought too much maybe I would have gone back. Ah, but that “independent” thinking is dangerous. Being objective, from the outside looking in, I saw too many things were just not right. Things which caused too much harm and in which too little was done to fix.
Dad and I had a brief conversation. At the end of it he took his stand, and told me if I chose not to come back to the JW community, he could no longer talk to me.
A couple weeks later I called back. I wanted to make sure Dad knew I respected his decision and apologize to him if he felt otherwise. When I called this time though, his wife answered.
She explained as kindly as she could, that if I didn’t want to come back to the JW community, she wouldn’t talk to me either. Then, she asked me — “Are you happy?” Spontaneously, I replied “Yes, I’m happy. Probably happier than I’ve ever been.” That comment threw her for a loop as she gasped and replied “I don’t see how anyone could be happy outside of Jehovah’s organization.” I could only speak to how I felt and what I knew at the moment, so I simply said “Well, it’s like I found a better happiness.”
It was the first time the expression “a better happiness” had even crossed my mind yet alone my lips, but it made sense.
In that moment, the universe revealed to me what I had known deep within me. After all I had gone through, after all the processing of things learned and examined; I had reached a point of peace. I had grown simply by looking at things objectively and prayerfully.
In its verb tense, “Better” is defined as to improve on or surpass an existing or previous level or achievement. And “Happiness” is the emotion that comes from the possession or attainment of what one considers good.
If I had been happy before, what I found was something even better: Freedom of mind and heart. The truth is, we are happiest when we can think for ourselves.
I had found my better happiness.
I’ve thought a lot about it and I keep coming back to 3 actualities in our lives. The 3 things each and every man and woman who has ever walked this earth have shared in common:
1. We’re born 2. We live for a period of time 3. We die
In the time we exist, who or what will we live for? It’s up to us, and if we chose a way or path people close to us don’t agree with, we have a choice to make. To live our life as we want to, or live our life as others want us to. Many are born into circumstances, or their lives develop circumstances, where freedom to live as they choose is taken away from them.
For those of us fortunate to be able to make our own choices in life, how prudent to live each day in a way that brings out our full potential of happiness! Our brief lives are challenging enough. To live our lives as others dictate, or to allow others to take away our potential for a fuller, richer happiness is simply a sad state of being.
Many have opted for religious intimacy instead of intimacy with God. But, they really are two distinct things. It’s easy to allow ourselves to become enslaved to a system of worship. So easy, we likely won’t even realize it if someone told us straight out. That’s the lure of organized religion. It’s like fast food for our soul. It tastes good while we’re eating it, even though we know it does a number on our body.
Religious intimacy is rooted in fear. Fear of doing the wrong thing. Fear of not doing enough. Fear of how others see us. Fear of dying. Fear of being who we really are. Fear of man.
True intimacy with God erases fear of anything. It knows if God is on my side who or what can be against me? It moves us to do what is right, not because someone gave us the approval, but because we know it’s the right thing to do.
Happiness is a state of mind. We can be as happy as we want to be. It should be our goal to be as happy as we NEED to be! We often put limitations on the amount of happiness we allow into our lives. And because we are limited, we project those same limitations on others, then find ourselves thinking in terms of “how could anyone be happy outside of Jehovah’s organization?”
Indeed, with that mentality how could we be happy outside of any limiting box we allow ourselves to stay in.
If we are to live freely as ourselves we must expand our point of view to something better. Don’t let others choose what makes you happy. Instead, choose to do life right. Follow the road to something even better.
Find that road to your better happiness!
© Marc Townsend
Follow me on Twitter @maloanthonyby