I was baptized, as a Jehovah’s Witness, when I was twelve years old.
It’s now twenty years later, and I’m almost thirty-three. I keep thinking about being thirty-three, living the year Jesus died. He’s been on my mind a lot, but I can’t say that I really ever felt like I know him.
“Make me a witness
Take me out
Out of darkness
Out of doubt”
It was about six months ago when I first started reading the Bible. I know, that sounds odd to me too, but the truth of the matter is that I’d never read the Bible on my own before. I was raised ‘in the Truth’ and so ‘studying the Bible’ really was studying the Watchtower, and reading the scriptures noted.
“Do not lean upon your own understanding.”
It started because I kept seeing the young people, maybe mid-twenties, who would be intently reading or studying these books which looked like they could be Bibles. Day after day, I wondered what it was that they were reading, and why there were so many of them around. One day, I finally got up the nerve to ask this guy I’d seen the day before—”What are you reading… is that the Bible?”
I was strangely nervous.
Now I know that I was nervous because I was intrigued—I was jealous of them. Imagine!—the audacity—to study the Bible as intently as a university student studies pores over their textbooks!
It was the Bible.
I left, sort of awkwardly walking away in a stupor. What else could I have said?—”I want to study the Bible too?!”
It must have been a few days later when I wandered aloud, “I wish I had a really good book to read”.
My eyes fell on my Bible, the copy of the New World Translation that I’ve had since I was baptized, sitting on the shelf.
I picked it up and started reading. I flipped through some pages, read a little bit, flipped through further, read a little more, and after the third time I put it beside my bed, and went to sleep after saying a prayer.
I really had expected something to hit me in reading. I kept at it, thumbing through here and there over the next couple of days, but I found that I couldn’t really see the forest for the trees as it were—as I read I couldn’t absorb the words like you do with a classic novel that simply draws you into the story—it became clear that “the force actuating my mind” was the Watchtower. Though, please, let me explain.
About six months before I was reminded that “the Christian Greek Scriptures weren’t written for us”, but that they were only for the anointed 144,000.
In the course of the next few months I just couldn’t shake a feeling of uneasiness. I tried to squash it.
I talked to the brothers. I asked about wanting to study the Bible. One elder asked me—”Was I was already studying my Watchtower and preparing for all the meetings?” Something about his suggestion to first ensure I was studying all the Watchtower publications first, then if I had time,… an image came into my mind—I reflexively pulled my Bible in protectively holding it just a little to my body—a woman, burned at the stake for having been found in possession of the Bible.
The brother asked me, “Do you believe that the organization is God’s sole channel of communication on earth?”
I wondered why he’d ask such a question—it seemed so out of context at the time.
So that’s how I ended up sitting in my coffee shop on Sunday months later, emotion stirring as I wondered at the various people scattered about studying what seemed like varying versions of the Bible.
I decided to read a new version thinking that perhaps then I could read, you know read, like a novel. Like a book! Like something you’d enjoy. I wanted to be able to hear the words I read in my mind, without having a built interpretation machine churning non-stop, blurring the distinction between the words I was reading and the understanding of the words, as I was taught.
I think that it was then that I stumbled onto a website. YouVersion.com. I went through many versions looking for one that used God’s name, as well as wanting one that seemed “modern” in the same way that the NWT was such much more modern than the KJV. I stumbled into the The Message. Honestly, I didn’t like the name. But I read a bit, and realized that it was just what I was looking for. Reading it I forgot what I was doing and just kept reading.
I signed up for a reading plan on the website, and 90 days later, I finished reading The Message paraphrase version of the Bible.
Meanwhile however, there was so much that began to happen. I didn’t just read The Message. No, I kept going back to my New World Translation to verify—”Does it really say that?!—Is that what it really means?!”
I learned so much.
It’s interesting. You don’t read the Bible, or study the Bible, on your own.
Consider for example, the fear I had in the beginning. I felt ashamed when I had confessed to my mother that I was reading the Bible, but a different version. “Do not lean upon your own understanding.”
But, the funny thing is, that verse reads,
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.”
Do you see that? It’s not about not reading the Bible and studying the Watchtower instead—no! It’s about leaning on our Father—trust and faith with all our heart—and he will be our understanding!
I had several moments as I read through from Genesis to Revelation where it felt like the light getting brighter and brighter…
Did you know? “Light is shed upon the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.”
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.”
David wrote these words to his son, Solomon. They aren’t words applied to teachings of an organization which “get brighter and brighter” as they change over time. These are words for you, and me, individual people—words written by a father for his child, and preserved for all of our heavenly Father’s children.
As of writing this, I will tell you the truth, I have a strange sense of non-loneliness. It’s been a journey of nearly a year now, and in the beginning I reached out to others in the congregation, and my family, to try to seek out answers—why was what I was taught so different from what I read?
Over time they started to question if I was “going on the internet”, alluding to my questions as being “apostate”. I was so hurt once, my heart wrenched, I cried out the words that came straight from my heart—”I may be an apostate of the Watchtower, but it would only be because I believe the Word of our Father over the word of man—I’ll never be an apostate.”
I don’t feel alone.
My child, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding,
and if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom,
and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.
He holds victory in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
Then you will understand what is right and just
and fair—every good path.
For wisdom will enter your heart,
and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.
Discretion will protect you,
and understanding will guard you.
My mother asked me not so long ago, “But where will you go?” Another one of those questions that seem so out of context to me… I wasn’t talking about going anywhere.
But a response came to my heart and was ready—”Do you mean who will I go away to, Mom?”, I asked?
I had boldness. I explained to her that the verse she referenced was about leaving the Christ to go away to other teachings. If I was going anywhere, I was responding to the call I heard behind me.
“Your own ears will hear him. Right behind you a voice will say, “This is the way you should go,” whether to the right or to the left.”
It was promised, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth”…
“If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— the Spirit of truth.
The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
…”the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Jesus said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
I pray for knowledge and understanding, wisdom and discernment. I hope that my heavenly Father looks down upon me and says “My Delight Is in Her”. — Isaiah 62:4