Christmas 2018 is past and we begin a new year once again. I didn’t send any Christmas cards out this year, but as I look at the ones received, most of them are from former Jehovah’s Witnesses. For some it’s become an annual tradition, for others it was a first rite of passage this year. I also receive cards from friends and family I’ve known since before I entered the Watchtower in 1996. There were no Jehovah’s Witnesses in my family as I was growing up, so we celebrated Christmas. My folks would receive Christmas cards and read them to us since some would be from relatives we’d only hear from once a year. Those would usually include a letter to catch us up on the events of their year along with what they knew about others in our family circle. They wrote about who got married, who had a baby, who died, who got a new job, an award, or moved. That type of thing. This was all just normal to me.
My mother continues to keep in touch with the people she loves through letters and cards. So letter writing was just normal in my household. A letter includes the usual catch up stuff just like the Christmas cards. You basically let the person you’re writing to know what’s new in your life since the last time you corresponded. And it’s understood that the receiver of that letter can then write back and include their own stories of what’s new with them.
It did not occur to me until recently that most ExJWs never grew up with this lesson because of there being no annual Christmas card exchange in their JW household. The reason this hit me is because I once had an ExJW friend who complained about the cards I sent to keep in touch with her. That baffled me at the time. To me they were “catch up” letters. To her they were showing off. She took it personally when I mentioned good things about my kids. She said hers were not as advanced, etc. Huh? It occurred to me recently that she had no experience with exchanging cards for one thing, but secondly the right of parents to speak well of their own children. Being a JW is all about pointing out the evils of the world around us. And since no one is allowed to be in sports, plays, music, or college, I guess there’s not as much to write home about too.
Well now we have Facebook and I guess we can see who got married, had a baby, graduated, got the new job or the award. So who needs the catch up letter. But the experience with my friend made me realize I’m viewing posts differently than others based on this same principle. You see, I never consider the posts of others as “showing off” but more as “catching up” because I was raised to view things like that through letter writing. I’m thankful the friend I mentioned is not on Facebook. She’d probably be overwhelmed by how “wonderful” we all appear to be lol.
Facebook allows us all to post our best selves and personally I don’t have a problem with that. Maybe it’s because every Christmas we got cards with pictures inside and I’d hear my parents say things like “oh my, their kids have grown! Oh she’s become a beautiful teenager! Oh their new home is gorgeous! Oh look he’s on the high school football team now.” It was all just catch up to me in those pictures. I never once considered it showing off. But now the pictures are on Facebook and the experts who examine social media trends tell us how our friends may be thinking to themselves “I’m not as pretty… accomplished… connected… entertaining… valued… loved.. talented…” etc, etc. This is an insecurity I have difficulty understanding. While it’s true that Facebook allows a broader platform, I still do not see it as a problem to blame on social media alone. I saw how my parents interacted with other family, neighbors, and friends. I read their catch up cards. Highlighting the best moments of the year is NOT showing off, it’s catching up. Choosing a flattering picture of yourself or your kids has always been a person’s right whether you tuck it into your Christmas newsletter or post it on Facebook. I don’t think I ever learned how to be jealous of others or feel insecure about these things. No one taught me to be.
My prayer for 2019 is for all of us to discover the unique and wonderful things about ourselves and get comfortable sharing them. Write a Christmas catch up card and send it to yourself. Get accustomed to talking about the good things that happened this year. Proud moments. Nice pictures. Go ahead and shine. If you are a new creation in Christ, the past doesn’t matter. Learn a new way. Learn to embrace the truth that He doesn’t make junk. YOU ARE VALUABLE. So go ahead and shine your light. When you discover what is beautiful in you, hopefully you will not become threatened by someone else’s beauty but recognize it all as coming from the same Source and give God glory.
You. Be. You.
I first posted this in a discussion group for former Jehovah’s Witnesses and one woman responded with a humorous but telling reply. I’ve changed the names of the children to protect her privacy.
Julie, I always LOVED reading those letters, and as a JW child, I was so jealous of everything my cousins were doing with their lives. My mom always said the letters were just my aunts bragging about how “wonderful” their kids were. I wanted nothing more than my mom to “brag” about her kids. But then again, what would she say? “Mary spent her summer knocking on doors, preaching the JW garbage. George is reaching out to be a ministerial servant, so he will now have a title that goes with his “I’m better than everyone else” attitude. Linda is now an unbaptized publisher; we are so proud of her. She has joined us in spreading the garbage around town. We all went to the convention in the city, and listened to a bunch of men in suits tell us the end is near; so you better convert or you will die soon. Our kids aren’t allowed to play sports, sing in the choir, perform in plays, or date until they’re 20, so they spend their free time reading Watchtower literature. Our oldest son, Donald, is not a Witness, so we don’t speak to him very often. He’s a bad influence on the younger children, as well as their unbelieving father, so I encourage them to limit their association with both of them. We are blessed to be in Jehovah’s organization. You better join soon, or you will be destroyed at Armageddon.”
I responded back: Oh my word. What a dreadful letter lol. Thank you so much for confirming this “attitude” I was catching a glimpse of to understand better. This line you wrote “My mom always said the letters were just my aunts bragging about how “wonderful” their kids were” so confirms it.
She replied: you are welcome! I always said that when I grew up, I was gonna write those letters. My kids were gonna know how proud I was of them. Then Facebook happened, and my husband thinks they’re corny, so I don’t write them. I just for once wanted my mom to be proud of me! Her sister had a son graduate from seminary right around the same time I was auxiliary pioneering and my brother had been appointed a ministerial servant, and I remember her not saying a word to my aunt about us. Then afterwards, she mocked my cousin for being an “ordained minister,” and my aunt for being proud of him. I asked her why she didn’t say that George was a ministerial servant, and I was an auxiliary pioneer. I said that that was the perfect opportunity to tell her sister what great kids she had. She deflected my question, and changed the subject. She was never proud of us. Ever! We just could never do enough to earn her approval.
My simple response to her was: your mother is missing out.
Keep yourself in God’s love,