Back in 2005, I became a Jehovah’s Witness.
The first thing that comes to mind might be me annoying someone at their door with a bible in hand, promising the keys to heaven if only they’d ask for forgiveness, stop fornicating (cause who else uses that word), and obviously give up Christmas. You might also envision me passing out pamphlets that read “Jesus Loves You” to people who gave so little shits that they’d throw them on the floor in front of me.
And you’d be right. This was somehow a segment of my unorthodox life.
I assumed that all of the sacrifices wouldn’t be that difficult because I was married already, not close enough to my family to mind the lack of Christmas, and well, to be honest, I really did need some saving.
I clung tight to the idea that maybe the people who went to this church were my kind of people: thoughtful, good-hearted, kind, genuine, and deep-thinkers (because they studied the Bible all the time, so they had to be, right?!). I was starving for a connection with good people, so I thought it was a small price to pay (which is a weird thought in hindsight: to have to pay any fee for a connection with good people).
So, I did what all the other church-goers did. I acquired a wardrobe suited for my new church-going lifestyle (complete with fishnets because I couldn’t let all my wild go). I bought a beautifully bound Bible with my name and the date I had been saved engraved on the front. I left behind holidays I loved and the people I had celebrated them with (because it got awkward). I gave up a couple of days each week to commit to studying the Bible. And I wouldn’t have been a true JW if I didn’t intentionally carve out time to go door to door preaching so that I could turn in my “timecard” at the end of each month.
This is just skimming the surface of the drastic turn my life took when I decided it was a good idea to join a church that had the strictest rules, required the most sacrifice, and sucked every single ounce of joy out of my future (which was looking pretty grim at this point anyway).
But it shines such a big spotlight on the issue I was having with my own identity and my search for connection. My God, was I willing to go through some shit to find some friends!
It’s similar to joining a gang when I think about it now. No seriously. I had to “prove” myself worthy, check enough boxes, hand in a minimum amount of time preaching. Then, because that wasn’t enough, they had to grant me worthiness via an interview, where I was shamed for areas that needed improving and condemned if I thought differently.
Was it gunpoint? Okay, no, but it would have been honest. Instead, it was an emotional mind-fucking because I was constantly seeking approval, falling short, trying to beg my way back, and for what? Genuine, kind-hearted friends?
Wow. Desperate times.
Sometimes you just have to say it to realize its insanity.
This was my life, though. And I was there because I was stuck in a rut and searching for something better. I was searching for connection, belonging, my people, a reason for being, acceptance, love.
And I finally found it.
But not from the religion or the church-y meetings, not from conforming, that’s for sure, and not from gaining forgiveness, even though I needed it.
I found it by staying consistent in my pursuit of happiness and meaning. This happened by learning how to communicate with empathy, listen with compassion, and finally gain a bit of self-acceptance for the person I was and the mistakes I’d made.
(Okay, to be completely honest, I still think that my people might be living in some faraway forest in the middle of nowhere where they gallop on white horses with their hair blowing in the wind all day, take naps in trees, survive on sweet fruit from the earth and have never seen real humans)
Finding that connection I had been searching for happened when I finally ditched the mentality of “I will do anything to have a good friend.” And instead, I embraced the following things:
- I read.
- I got rid of bad relationships.
- I broke up with friends with weird expectations I couldn’t meet.
- I set boundaries, significant boundaries.
- I learned what accountability was.
- I focused on my own needs.
- I stopped worrying about things I couldn’t control.
- I practiced vulnerability.
- I learned to listen and speak with compassion.
Clarity comes from engagement, not thought.Marie Forleo
I knew I wanted connection and meaning. I just lacked the ability to see clearly where to find it. And in living life, it became more clear everyday I showed up what I was doing right…and what I was doing wrong. I was focused on building my ideal life and figuring out what that meant for me, one day at a time by doing something instead of just thinking about it.
It has been a process of trial and error. One mistake after another. One knockdown after another but always getting back up and in the game. Moving forward by testing new waters, trying on different sizes and colors is the only way to find out what we want in life. We can’t sit at home waiting for someone or something to land in our lap because it’ll never come. Life comes to those who get out and live it. It’s been terrifying. Heart-wrenching. Joyful and painfully beautiful.
But that’s how it works, isn’t it? You can’t find your way until you’ve tested some of your options.
Growing up in a household where I was told what to do, when to do it and how to do it prevented me from having faith in my intuition and understanding. Ultimately the familiarity of being controlled led to me being okay with a religion that told me how to live my life (even when it felt wrong).
(I’m lucky that I didn’t find myself part of the Heaven’s Gate cult because I could have found myself thinking that I was gaining access to heaven through a UFO. Seriously, though.)
I bring this up because generational tendencies can end up repeating in our own lives if we aren’t self-aware. We need to be aware of the behavior patterns that shape our way of thinking and fight the urge to repeat the same behaviors we detest in others.
This means both fighting the urge to control others for our agenda and being aware of any need to seek control for its simplicity and familiarity.
If you’re searching for something in your life, whether it be happiness, meaning, or connection, let my life be exemplary in that you gotta get out in the world and do some shit and experience some failures to get there. Keep out of weird cult-y religions.
Or do something new, like signing up for our email list so we can send you weekly reminders that you rock and we’re cheering you on through this journey.
You can also check out this blog post where I write about another time I made the mistake of writing marital advice in a wedding book while drunk. Yup. True story.