- Denial and Isolation.
At first, we tend to deny the loss has taken place, and may withdraw from our usual social contacts. This stage may last a few moments, or longer.
The grieving person may then be furious at the person who inflicted the hurt (even if she’s dead), or at the world, for letting it happen. He may be angry with himself for letting the event take place, even if, realistically, nothing could have stopped it.
Now the grieving person may make bargains with God, asking, “If I do this, will you take away the loss?”
The person feels numb, although anger and sadness may remain underneath.
This is when the anger, sadness and mourning have tapered off. The person simply accepts the reality of the loss.
When a Jehovah’s Witness begins to understand that the JWs are not and have never been God’s one true organization, he or she may go through these 5 stages of grief. These stages are not specific to what the searching JW goes through but I believe they do a fair job at accurately depicting what I personally went through on my continuing journey.
1) Denial: For many years I would see things I didn’t agree with or I thought were not biblical but I would just shrug it off. When I was a young Ministerial Servant an experienced older brother I deeply respected told me that he had a hard time believing that 1914 was an indisputable teaching. He also said that the Society had acted irresponsibly in promoting 1975. After examining more closely the doctrine on 1914 I had to admit the bible support was scant, but I just shrugged it off.
Years later as I started to read and study the bible much closer, taking the time to really try to understand what the bible was saying, I started to get a different feel from the bible on many different teachings. At first I denied it. I began to consult bible commentaries and basically spent all my free time in doing bible research. Even when I began to see the evidence that the FDS had not been appointed over all Jesus belongings in 1918/1919, part of me still thought I was sinning against Jehovah by doubting these doctrines. I would pray for God to open my eyes to what the bible truly said and at the same time pray for forgiveness for doubting the “faithful and discreet slave”. You could say I was in denial.
2) Anger: This can be a step that some former JWs stay in a long time. I experienced anger at myself thinking how could I be so stupid to believe these unbiblical teachings for so long? When I stepped down as elder I experienced anger at the local body of elders who questioned my love for God, my motives, said I was letting myself be used by Satan, and accused me of being an irresponsible husband for putting my wife through this turmoil. I experienced anger at the Governing Body for making grandiose claims that have no biblical support. I did experience anger, though I think this step was rather short for me fortunately. Feeling anger or being indignant is normal and by no means wrong. However we need to realize that if we continue to hang onto our anger we are only hurting ourselves. Unrelenting anger is like poison to the soul.
3) Bargaining: I think some may go through this step, others may not. I may have done so when after I realized some of the problems of the organization, I would think “I realize that this organization if not perfect and that in all probability it teaches several false doctrines, but please Jehovah just let it be your organization.”
4) Depression: When you began to see “the truth about the truth” it can be quite crushing. Honestly I don’t know if I have ever gone through anything quite as traumatic. It changes your whole outlook on life. I spent long hours in prayer crying and trying to understand all the consequences of my discovery. I realized all the changes I had to make personally. I realized a lot of my “theocratic” activity was not really service to God, but to an organization. I realized that eventually I would decide to leave the organization one way or another, and no matter how I left, my reputation would be destroyed and I would probably lose everyone I counted as a friend. I realized I could even lose my wife since the organization gives grounds for separation on “spiritual endangerment”. I began to see the full import of Jesus words at Matt. 16:24 – “24 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me.” Fortunately this stage doesn’t last forever.
5) Acceptance: I feel that this is the stage I am in right now. I accept the Watchtower organization never has been God’s chosen people, but I also realize that JWs are part of Christianity as a whole. My anger at the Governing Body has lessened considerably. They are probably just as blind as I was to the fact that they have not been appointed to anything. I believe they are just sincere men that believe they are doing God’s will. Hopefully they will have their own “awakening”. I do not blame the local body of elders either for their attitude towards me. They also are only doing what they believe to be right. They have even extended a small mercy towards me by not disfellowshipping me for disagreeing with the organization. If we find we have lots of built-up anger and resentment against the organization we should work on letting it go. The christian author Lewis B. Smedes wrote “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and to discover that the prisoner was you.”
Although life was easier and a whole lot less complicated before I was “awakened”, I would never wish to go back to my days of ignorance. I realize finding out the truth about the truth has been a blessing. My relationship with God and Jesus is so much closer now. I think that I am imitating Jesus much closer now than I used to. I am much less dogmatic, judgmental, and self-righteous than before. In fact when I think back on some of the things I thought or said I truly am ashamed. It is a relief to know that I have millions of more spiritual brothers and sisters than I thought I had. I have also learned in invaluable lesson on trusting and following men. I will never put my relationship with God and Christ in the hands of men ever again. My love for others has also continued to grow thanks to our loving Shepherd, Jesus.
If you find yourself in one of these beginning stages and find the grief intolerable, grow close to God, follow our Lord and Savior, Jesus, and know that the intense pain you feel will not last forever. Hebrews 13:5,6 (NLT) “…For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never forsake you.” 6 That is why we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”