Once in a while, I receive a non-hostile email from a current Jehovah’s Witness. Why would a Jehovah’s Witness write to me? Well, sometimes just because of a simple desire for a safe place to vent, or because something that I’ve written has resonated, or because they don’t really feel that they have many – or any – other options. There really isn’t anywhere to go – without fear of reprisal – for caring spiritual counsel within the organization.
JWs who write to me as part of a spiritual exploration, questioning and/or crisis usually do not want to share their thoughts on these matters with others. They are justifiably afraid of the repercussions if a fellow JW were to discover their communication and report it.
I am deeply honored by this kind of contact. It is the most significant validation I could possibly have and I am well aware of the level of trust that is required. It tells me that at least sometimes I’m on the right track. (Thank you.)
I hold as sacred the confidentiality of those who wish to remain unidentified for this reason. Often these communications are held between that person and myself.
In this case, I have permission to post this in an edited version. Names have been deleted and a couple of other details have been changed to protect the innocent. Thank you for allowing me to post it; it is my hope that this will also help others.
I came across your website today after looking for news reports about the Follow the Christ convention I recently attended, and read your blog concerning it with immense interest. I am writing to you as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses in crisis. I am sure you receive many emails a day from people with problems, and I may be just one more! I am feeling quite nervous but I don’t feel I can talk to anyone about my feelings and concerns with regard to my faith (yes, as you know, asking questions is discouraged). I really identify with your position and cannot ignore my doubts anymore. Your blog really hit home with me.
I was brought up in the faith, much like yourself, and my parents got divorced when I was 14. Dad was disfellowshipped as a consequence, and I wasn’t allowed to see him until he was reinstated (over 2 years) which helped me slide into depression, and when I questioned this, I was given a Watchtower reference to cuddle up to, and deal with it. Real comforting. I never got a ‘shepherding call’ from the elders regarding any of this, not even from my uncle who is also an elder. In contrast, I was visited by the Circuit Overseer when I started seeing a girl in High School who wasn’t a Witness, who attempted to barrage me with scriptures and ‘reason’. I thought this was a real double standard – being offered no support when I was in dire need, conversely being slammed when I put a foot out of line.
My mother, a stalwart Witness, taught me to keep a humble attitude and accept all of this, assuring me it would all work out in the end. It is only now that I’m 23 and I’m starting to see all the damage this system causes to people, myself included. I have deep-seated self worth issues, and constantly wonder if I’m going to make it through Armageddon because I feel like I keep screwing up. It’s a constant cycle.
I look around at brothers and sisters in the Kingdom Hall, wondering if they all live in this same constant fear, all the while keeping a firmly fixed ‘kingdom smile’ (which to me sometimes looks slightly disconnected and delusional) to ensure everything appears to be just fine.
Honestly, I could go on and on. I just really needed to get some of this off my chest and talk to someone, and I really appreciate your reading my rant! I am still attending meetings, but I seem to be finding more and more excuses not to go. I know I will have to make a decision eventually, but it will be quite a gradual process I think… I guess I feel like I’m in no-man’s land right now, neither here nor there. I would really value any thoughts or suggestions you might have, and would love to hear about your experiences too!
Again, I thank you for considering what I’ve written here, I feel like weight has been lifted from my shoulders just writing about it.
I look forward to your reply! Regards,
You are exactly right that the process of expressing your feelings has value in itself! You might think about keeping a (well-hidden) journal (perhaps a password-protected file on your computer).
The main thing I want to express to you is that you matter. You are not a stamped-out robot off some assembly line. You are a unique person – the only one of you in the entire history of the cosmos. There is nobody else exactly like you. (I know that might sound like a Mr. Rogers song, but what of it?) You are special. Millions of potentialities and synchronicities and actualities combine, moment by moment, to construct you. You have a mind, a body, a spirit – all of which are changing imperceptibly, all the time. The universe plays with you, and earth is your home and your school. As Alan Watts used to say, “the earth peoples.” To some extent, you can choose your direction, your flavor, your habits. You look, you see, you interpret, you act, you think.
Trust yourself. Listen to your heart. You sound very intelligent to me. You sense the wrongness in the air. The self-worth problems (yes, we all have them – it’s one of the most destructive aspects of the group) are hard to overcome. You may find that you bounce back and forth between feelings of worthlessness (you’ll never measure up) and an overinflated ego (self-righteousness, superiority to non-JWs).
Explore the possibilities in-between – the aim is to find your balance point. For myself, I have found that a focus on something else helps a lot for self-integration. Work on yourself, but also help others. Work on a project that you really care about. If you paint or do karate or play the piano or build things or sing or have any kind of skill like that where your mind, body and spirit have to learn to meld together seamlessly in order to do it well, you will see what I mean. Cultivate that. Practice it. Pay attention to the way the habits form and draw on that process of mind/body/spirit memory on other occasions.
At this point, I would advise that as you feel the desire and/or duty and/or pressure to attend, you continue to try to get what spiritual help you still can from meetings and so on. There are some good things, here and there. I don’t recommend a big public break anyway, unless it becomes unavoidable.
While you’re at meetings, though, pay attention to your own perceptions about what “doesn’t fly.” You have identified a lack of meaningful spiritual counsel, heartlessness and lack of compassion, fear-based worship, aggressive intervention for rule-breaking, the fake, fixed smile, so on. Notice more. You don’t have to react, just observe. Pay attention to how these things make you feel about yourself and others. Think that through a little. In the privacy of your own mind, replace what you are observing with more caring, loving alternatives. Actively imagine – and visualize – what it might look like, feel like, if your imagined alternatives were the reality. Change the look on someone’s face, the tone of voice.
Take note of the truly kind people you know and have known there – appreciate them. If you feel moved to do so, praise individuals for specific things. “That was a kind thing to do, helping her out of the car.” They rarely hear authentic praise, and it helps you too. Don’t limit this to JWs, either.
If you pray, pray more. If you feel comfortable talking to the God they have named “Jehovah” – do that (I never was, but that’s just me). However you address God, think about love – and reach in – and reach out – to love.
Orient yourself toward a god who truly loves you and would never want to hurt you (or anyone else). Imagine a love that is so big that it encompasses everything that could ever be, and yet a love that is so unique to you that only you can tune in to its meaning for you. Imagine cosmic arms comforting you, holding you, telling you that it’s all going to be all right. All our words about God are metaphors anyway – use what you can from your own archetypal imagination until it feels like God should feel, until it feels right.
Whether you imagine the metaphors of kingship or fatherhood or motherhood or a protective hen or a quiver through the strings of the cosmic dance, you’ll know it when it feels right. Think of tuning in a station on an old beatup radio. It’s not a matter of “creating your own God,” but of stumbling around until you start to get a glimmer of what a God that is Love itself might be like. Listen for the deep centers from which the spirit of love speaks within you.
Learn about what humility really means (and trust a bit less in the “traditions” of these men in Brooklyn). But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. There are many helpful, loving things that you have learned, too. Build on what rings true (hold fast to what is fine and caring and good). Silently let the destructive aspects start to flow over and around you – harmlessly. Picture them just sliding off of you.
These are things to help you start to turn fear (or anger or helplessness) into something more constructive that will help you find your own way, whatever that might be. These things I am suggesting may seem small, but small habits start to grow and flower in their own way. Some small changes along these lines (explore others too) will be good preparation for you to step into your own path with authenticity and integrity. Research. Think. Feel. Explore. Be kind.
My own experiences are buried in comments and posts. You can read some of my poetry here, and there is a long page of advice to “recovering JWs” here.
I am deeply honored to hear from you. If any part of what I’ve written seems “off” to you in any way, please disregard it. Everyone is a little different, and what helps one person may not be at all useful for another.
Would you mind if I posted a version of this letter to the blog? I would not mention your name, and I could delete any part of this that would in any way identify you. If you like, resend the letter, taking out any part that you don’t want me to post. And if you are not comfortable with my posting any of it, that’s perfectly fine too.
In any case, I’m here for you. There are others, although I would advise some discretion. Some are very damaged, and will be for a long time, maybe always. I’m among the more fortunate ones. I think my curiosity and love of reading went a long way…
Thank you so much for replying so quickly to my email. I have read it over and over, you don’t know what it means to me that someone has taken the time to help me with what I’m going through! And if I may say so, you have a beautifully eloquent style of writing, a pleasure to read! I take a lot from what you have written. You may post a version of my letter if you wish, I only ask that my name is removed. I think I may email you again in the future, and for now wish you the best. Kind regards,
I have some idea of what it means – still just trying to be the caring friend I wish I’d had. I don’t invoke discourses of blessing easily, but I must admit that I do feel blessed (and healed) every time someone out there seems to be hurting a little less because I could help in some small way.
It’s a form of service that returns threefold … or tenfold … or (a) manifold.
(I have a pretty good idea of who might be laughing each of those.)
We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results. ~Herman Melville