Nothing between my soul and the Savior
So that His blessed face may be seen
Nothing preventing the least of His favor
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between
As a child growing up in the Message, I was taught to search my life constantly for evidence of “idols” – things I might value over the Word of God (which, of course, meant William Branham’s sermons as well as the Bible). Idols could be anything – people, pets, hobbies, possessions, ideas. On more than one occasion, I cried myself to sleep for fear that inordinate love for my cats or friends would cause God to kill them to get my attention. Searching for idols was an endless parade of frustration and fear: I couldn’t seem to stop loving things too intensely. As much as I wanted to place God, the Message and the Word above all else, I knew that there were often things I’d rather do than go to church, and there were friends I’d want to play with more than I wanted to pray. Sometimes I thought I’d managed to disentangle my emotions, especially when hobbies were on the line. I would throw away my toys or books or wrench myself away from the internet, only to find that my love for one thing was replaced by another. I loved God, I thought, but I couldn’t seem to let go of the rest of those things.
My failure to let go was only underscored by my mother’s wholehearted devotion. Once she turned to me in the car and said, in a voice that betrayed no emotional conflict, “You know, I love you, but when Jesus comes, I’m out of here.” People who had the Holy Spirit should always be willing to drop everything and everyone if He so desired, shouldn’t they?
The story of God breaking down idols to get a Message believer’s full attention was a common one in my church. The story of Branham’s daughter, Sharon Rose, who died of tuberculosis as a baby, only underscored my terror that God would kill anyone I loved too much. Branham had put his family ahead of God’s will; God had killed them. It followed that anyone I loved was put in immediate danger: if I sinned, they would suffer for it. I tried to withdraw. I slipped into a world of imagination, loving fictions that I created. I spent hours daydreaming about an alternate world, full of friends and activities, always set in a different time and place – at least if this was my idol, I was the only one God could punish for it.
I was not alone in the fear of idols and worldly entanglements. After returning from Family Camp in 2001, my best friend started frantically piling up family videos (mostly Disney) to throw away. His parents, stuck in the awkward position of wanting to hold onto the “worldly entertainments” their suddenly-more-devout son wanted to purge, asked him to sleep on it. They quietly put back all the videos after he went to bed.
The belief that “entertainment” was of the devil and literally anything could be an “idol” left me with pitifully stunted recreational skills. I could read – nobody seemed to condemn that, as long as I wasn’t reading Animorphs or Goosebumps – but the nagging feeling that I should be reading my Bible at all times hindered my ability to find new interests. I purged my life of a budding interest in anime and Japan, video games, music and drawing. What was left? Not much.
One of the hardest tasks involved in putting my life together after the Message has been learning to enjoy things. I’m no longer afraid that God will notice I like something and kill it – but I have no long-standing interests or hobbies to fall back on in times of stress. “How to relax” is a skill I think most people develop during childhood – it’s much harder as an adult to decide that you might like something and make the time and investment to learn. I am slowly making progress: now and then, I knit things. But it will take a while.