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The Conflict Within – Spiritual versus Emotional

One of the challenges in belonging to, and more specifically being “raised up in” a particular religion or spiritual environment is balancing our natural born need for independence with adherence to set principles.

A youth may be said to be indoctrinated in the culture he or she is being raised up in. I don’t believe indoctrination is necessarily a bad thing depending on what’s involved. At its most basic, it simply means being trained or taught. So, although it sounds a bit disconcerting, we are all indoctrinated in something, be it a cultural environment, education, work, etc.

The complication as I see it is when, as you grow up, you begin to have a conflict within your mind and heart as to what you want to do. Sensing what you feel comfortable with against what gives you that awkward sense of feeling not quite right.

Good parents make an effort to train their children in the laws and principals needed to lead “better” lives. Then, at some point, most likely when they sense that strong pull of independence, they encourage their kids to do what is in their “hearts”. To me that can be a little confusing. The kid wants to do the right thing. However, his mind and his figurative heart may want to do something his parents or peer group may frown upon. Can he really do what is in his heart? Or do so without having been made to feel guilty about it?

That’s the irony in being raised in a fundamentally Christian household. Ok, more specifically being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Despite the best intentions of folks, parents included, if you train up a child one way, then tell the child they have freedom of choice but when they make the choice you don’t agree with, punish them or pour on the guilt, what good outcome can there be?

It’s a very confusing dilemma to grow up that way and paves the way for resentment to develop. Conversely, and to be fair, I’ve known and seen some parents within the faith effectively raise their children with a healthy dose of self-esteem who don’t (or at least publicly don’t seem to) display any sense of confusion or disagreement with the choices before them.

I recall I used to envy kids like that. They seemed to walk the line between what might be considered good behavior and bad behavior within the congregation with the greatest of ease. Now I can look back and understand they were allowed to develop in a healthy environment that fostered communication and expression – something sorely lacking in the house I grew up in.

I don’t want to dump on my parents for the way they raise us kids, they did the best they could with what they knew. Nor do I want to trash the Watchtower organization (the parent corporation of Jehovah’s Witnesses), because really what they encouraged was simply adherence to a better way of living – based on their view of the Bible’s teachings. My quest is to explain that despite best intentions, confusion can set in a young heart if what they hear doesn’t jive with what they see. There is nothing new here just another point of view from someone who lived the life.

I think the truth is what it is. You can’t deny it, you shouldn’t run from. Just accept it and if needed deal with it. Looking back on years gone by I can detail in my mind the reasons for the conflict that created so much turmoil within me. I can wallow in the “what ifs”: what if my parents had fostered a more open communication environment in our family, what if I had the courage to speak out about the things that bothered me then, what if I had just said “no” to the assignments that I really didn’t want but felt obligated to accept?

Yes, life would have been so much different; but, that’s not my reality. My parents didn’t foster open communication, I didn’t speak out and more often than not, said yes despite feeling otherwise.

We can’t change our past. The future hasn’t been written yet. We have the present and can shape it as we want. From my past, I’ve learned that conflict is a part of life. How we deal with it can affect our lives for better or worse and possibly for a long time. I’ve learned to confront issues as they arise and speak my mind when necessary.

I don’t always make the right choices, but I can say ‘these are my choices’ and that’s a very liberating feeling to have.

© Marc Townsend


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