By Nadia Atkinson
I grew up in a divided household. My parents split when I was 6 years old and my dad married shortly after. I had weekend visits with my dad, who was a Jehovah’s Witness.
I enjoyed the visits and the foundation that was being built: a father and mother in the home, religion, and two siblings — one step-brother and a half-sister, I was the oldest.
When I was 12, I was a shy, quiet, skinny little girl who didn’t talk much except to certain individuals. I have always been extremely observant from a young age. I recall a time when I was going out in field service for the Jehovah’s Witnesses with a young lady who I was supposed to confide in. Being a habitual thinker, I felt that I shouldn’t tell her anything because it would get back to my parents. After all, that was the point of us working together that day. Although I was alone, depressed, and suicidal, no one knew except my brother.
She realized that she wouldn’t be able to get through to me so she asked if I ever talked to God about my issues. I hadn’t, so she began to explain to me that she talked to God when she drove to work in the morning, and when she read her bible, she always read it out loud as if she were reading with Him. I decided to try this one day. I thought prayer was reserved for waking up, meals, and bedtime. I had no idea it grow to something bigger than that.
I knew many stories in the Bible and where all of the books were in the Bible, but I never thought to read it out loud when I was alone. I always used it to study The Watchtower and for family studies, but that was it. Once I started to talk to God, I knew that I developed a great relationship with Him shortly after. I became a great student of the Word. During our family studies at my dad’s house, I would answer all of the questions that were asked and I knew that I would be a great bible scholar one day.
It came to a standstill once I went to high school. I no longer had suicidal thoughts but I went to school with 1,500 students who looked and acted differently than I did. I needed to fit in because I couldn’t be the smart girl in the geeky high honors program who was a Jehovah’s Witness. I could deal with the first two but the latter is what I grew ashamed of. Of course, I folded and gave into peer pressure and started to examine what being a Jehovah’s Witness was all about. I struggled in my relationship with God and my prayer life became non-existent. Everything I valued soon took a back seat, and after eight years, my relationship and prayer life were a thing of the past. I literally checked out. I was going to the Kingdom Hall but I wasn’t there mentally.
The last time I recall going to the Kingdom Hall was in 2005, I was 20. I remember thinking about the music I couldn’t listen to, the movies or shows I preferred to watch that I couldn’t, the people I preferred to hang around who were looked down upon because they were not studying to be Jehovah’s Witnesses. These people weren’t bad people, but I recall the scripture, “Bad association spoils useful habits” (1 Cor. 15: 33) being embedded into my brain since I was young. The music I listened to was mostly R&B music that had great lyrics and something one could relate to, but that, too, was frowned upon.
However, there was no music to uplift you like there is gospel music for the Christian world. I didn’t want to screen my music or television shows anymore. I wanted to celebrate holidays with my mother because she was Christian. There were too many rules that I didn’t understand and I realized I was trying so hard to be this perfect person all the time, I was forgetting to live life. My friends said I was too serious. I was 20 going on 35 and I needed to live a little. Eventually, I stopped going and I entered “the world.”
For two years I managed to keep a full-time job making excellent money, take five college courses each semester, have a live-in boyfriend, and party three to five nights a week. I was fearless, angry, unruly, crazy, and I never felt tired. The world gave me something the Kingdom Hall couldn’t offer me and that was freedom. I did whatever I wanted, when I wanted, how I wanted, and no one could tell me anything. Then I woke up one day and I was bored. I didn’t want to spend hundreds of dollars in the club on a weekly basis; I didn’t want to live a meaningless life any longer. I wanted a life of substance and I began to weed out everyone around me, even if they were positive forces in my life. I wanted a new slate. That was at the end of 2009.
During the summer of 2010, I met a young man who I started dating after a few months of being friends. He was saved two weeks after we began dating and he called me shortly after and asked how I felt about becoming more in tune with God. I was open to it, after all my time in the world I was ready to get my life back on the right track. We made it a point to visit a few churches. The first one we visited was the one we became members of.
I remember giving my life to Christ and feeling awkward. I knew I made a huge decision; I knew I would die for Him in a second, but I had to start the process of unlearning. Although I hadn’t been to the Kingdom Hall in years, the lifestyle of being a Jehovah’s Witness was embedded in my heart and mind. If it weren’t for the 12-week Bible crash course that my church offered I probably would’ve still been praying to Jehovah God of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and not Jehovah God. Sounds a little crazy but there was truly a clear difference for me.
As a Christian today, I freely want to surround myself with like-minded individuals who want to achieve personal goals, who encourage me at all times, who don’t question what type of music I listen to, or what television shows I choose to watch. I naturally screen what is right from wrong but it isn’t coming from church leadership, which allows me to understand what free will truly is. Although some of the individuals I surround myself with are not those who are in church services as many times as I may be or read their Bible as much as I may, they are good people who genuinely care to do good in all things. I want the same for myself and I know God wants the same for all of us.
I remember sitting home on the night I gave my life to Christ, the habitual thinker started to take over and I began to cry. I once again felt alone and completely distant from everyone in my life. The thought of being able to have that relationship with God all over again was refreshing. The thought of knowing that I didn’t have to worry any longer was the best feeling. The thought of Psalm 138:8 — “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of Your hands” – amazing! It still speaks volumes today as it did three years ago.
I encourage anyone who has come from a religion where rules overlook your relationship to be open-minded and know your walk with God is real. It is up to you to be open to where He is going to lead you. Trust Him. He is faithful. Know when He is talking to you. God doesn’t scream and shout, He whispers (1 Kings 19:12). Keep your eyes and ears open, He is always talking but are you listening?
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