They Choose Your Religion for You at Birth — Don’t They?

My parents only wanted me to be able to live forever in a paradise on earth, and I don’t blame them

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I asked to stay home on the day of the Christmas party, but my parents told me I had to go so I could stand up and announce that I wouldn’t be participating, as a witness to all my classmates.

It was the same thing with saluting the flag — when everyone else stood for the Pledge, I sat at my desk with my hands folded, ignoring the dirty looks from the teachers and students — because I was announcing that I was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and I was different.

When the time came for me to leave the room for the party, I was expected to make a big deal out of it, but I was so embarrassed and upset that I just whispered in the teacher’s ear that it was time for me to go to the library. She looked at me with sad eyes and nodded her head in the direction of the door.

The other kids saw me leaving, but I shuffled out before they started asking where I was going. As I walked away, I could hear the teacher saying, “Jason is going to the library during our Christmas party because he doesn’t celebrate the holidays.” I could hear my best friend Leslie asking why I didn’t celebrate Christmas, and the teacher, Mrs. Mills, said quietly, “It’s against his religion.”

That was to be my witness, but I didn’t have the courage to stand in front of those kids answering questions.

I walked the hall, looking in all the other classrooms, seeing children eating cookies and exchanging gifts, and cried because I wanted to be a normal kid like everyone else.

I was in the first grade.

The only good thing about the whole situation was I got to spend an hour in my favorite place — reading books, listening to tapes on the tape player, and zooming through the microfiche.

Sometime later, Mrs. Mills walked into the library to talk to me. She’d brought me Santa Claus sugar cookies and ice cream with that terrible tasting wooden spoon-paddle thing. She also handed me a worn book with tape holding the cover together.

“I know you aren’t supposed to accept gifts, but you can keep this in your desk and take it home at the end of the year,” she said with pity in her eyes, and patted me on the head and left, going back to the other students in the classroom.

I was so touched, and it made such a significant impact on me, I’ve kept that book to this very day. It was Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, and I have cherished it my entire life.

The kids in my class already looked at me strangely for not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, but now they knew that I wasn’t like them at all. The kids didn’t talk to me for the next few weeks, and I even lost my best friend Leslie because her dad said she couldn’t speak to “one of those Jehovah’s!”

I kept to myself at school from then on and sat on the bleachers by myself during recess reading books. No one wanted to partner with me on projects, and I was always picked last when we played games in the gym.

Kids can be heartless.

Of course, I couldn’t tell my parents because the few times I did complain, I got a lecture on how Witnesses will always be persecuted for their beliefs, and it was just part of life if I wanted to live forever in a paradise.

I was different, and I was supposed to take every opportunity to make sure everyone knew that. They were worldly, and I shouldn’t be mixing with them anyway.

I remember being sad a lot but thought it was part of growing up and didn’t make a big deal about it. I was also anxious and spent my time overthinking everything until my stomach hurt.

Despite what was happening at school, the life of a Jehovah’s Witness was happy. I had friends in the congregation, and the brothers and sisters treated us like family. A lot of the time, I got to play with my cousin Michael, and we became very close because we shared many of the same problems.

Being a Witness meant you had to go door-to-door and preach to people, even as small children. Even though I had incredible anxiety that I would knock on the door of one of my schoolmates, and they would see me in my suit holding a Watchtower, I went every week. We also attended three congregation meetings every week, which we had to prepare for in addition to our homework.

We had a busy but fulfilling life.

My parents were the greatest, and I am not laying any blame on them. Despite having MS, my dad worked hard as a baker to support the family. But the combination of his weight, and the numbness and pain in his legs and back, made him miserable, and I remember spending hours massaging his feet and legs so he could get a little sleep before going back to work.

I never minded taking care of my dad because it was a love I could give back to him, and it was one of the few times that we were alone, and we could talk.

My mom showered my brother and me with love and made sure we had everything we needed. We were poor, but between the two of them, they always made sure we ate, had clothes, and a roof over our heads.

Our lives growing up were hard, but the sadness and anxiety couldn’t ruin me. The life of a Jehovah’s Witness was difficult, but the struggle gave me strength that I used much later in life when I was fighting for my life because of my mental illnesses.

My young life made me able to battle my demons as an adult.

The only other thing about being a Witness that was hard is the way they looked at mental health. Much later on, after I left the religion, they discovered a greater understanding of diseases of the mind, but as a child, I knew I had to keep my differences secret.

As a child, I got to a point where I realized that the voices and noise I heard in my head were not normal or healthy. I knew what schizophrenia was, and I also knew the Witnesses tended to label things they didn’t understand as demonism.

Demons influenced certain kinds of music and books, and that influence would often go on to make people hear voices or see things that weren’t there. At least, that is how their literature explained it.

If the brothers and sisters knew I heard voices, they would start analyzing my parents and me to find the reason why the demons were attacking me. Most likely, I would get disfellowshipped and wouldn’t be able to talk to my family anymore. I wouldn’t live in paradise, and my parents would have to shun me.

At least, that’s what the voices told me would happen.

So I kept my visitors to myself, even from my parents. I didn’t tell them Bout my depression or anxiety. I smiled when expected and did the things a good Witness child did.

No one ever found out about me, and my parents are even surprised to this day that I was able to keep all this from them.

It was almost as if there were two sides to me: the part I let everyone else see, and the other that only the voices knew about because I talked to them at night.

Maybe if I were a regular kid, I would have handled being a religious person a lot better. Perhaps I would still be a Jehovah’s Witness to this day.

But I am far from normal, and as much as I prayed to Jehovah to help me, he never did.

I never heard his voice, only the evil ones.

Can you blame me for not believing in God?

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Writer | Essayist | Video Content Creator | Future member of the two-comma club | Dreamer - I am doing it my way and it might take a bit longer. Don't wait up.

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