Coping With My Weaknesses
As told by Thomas Addison
WHEN I was a boy, a harmless bird on the pathway would send me scurrying off on a wide detour. When relatives or friends came to visit, they would find an uncommunicative child hiding behind his mother’s skirt. My normal reaction to visitors was to retreat to the bedroom as quickly as possible. I became tongue-tied in the presence of anyone in authority, especially schoolteachers.
What enabled me to change? How did such a painfully shy youngster become able to speak in recent years to audiences of thousands at large conventions?
Parental ‘Bending of the Twig’
My parents—especially Father, a lean, energetic Scotsman—found me a difficult child to understand. Orphaned at 13 years of age, he was a real diamond in the rough. He learned to fend for himself from an early age. Mother, on the other hand, was a farmer’s daughter and was mildness personified. My training from infancy was kind and firm, yet not overly protective.
At six years of age, in 1945, I made my debut in the Theocratic Ministry School. My first talk was by the light of a kerosene lantern in a small Australian congregation of just three families. Well in advance, Father helped me prepare, explaining the advantages of extemporaneous speaking. He also emphasized never to be afraid of what other people say or think. As he put it: “We humans are all heaps of dust. Some heaps are a little larger than others, that’s all.” My knees knocked, my palms began to sweat, and halfway through the talk, I became tongue-tied and was unable to finish.
I must have been about ten years old when Father took me and my younger brother Robert onto the main street of town, right out in front of the local cinema. There we held up the Watchtower and Awake! magazines in full view of our fellow school students. The magazines felt as heavy as lead, and sometimes they would end up behind my back! I would desperately try to shrink into an inconspicuous position.
However, as I watched Father’s bold example, I was tremendously encouraged. He always said that to shrink back was to give in to Satan and fear of men. Another test came at school. World War II had not long ended, and nationalism in Australia was still strong. My sister Ellerie and I would remain seated during school assembly when the national anthem was played. I found it a real test to stand out as different, but again my parents’ constant support and encouragement helped me not to compromise.
Father’s Fine Example
Considering Father’s background and disposition, he was really very patient with me. He began working in coal mines in England when he was a lad of only 13. In his early 20’s, he emigrated to Australia to seek a better life. But the financial depression of the 1930’s had set in, and he accepted work under appalling conditions to provide for his family.
Father was disillusioned with conditions generally and with politics in particular, so when he read the Watch Tower Society’s books and their fearless exposé of political, commercial, and religious hypocrisy, it struck a responsive chord in him. It was not long before he made his dedication to serve Jehovah, shortly after Mother had done so. Despite suffering a collapsed lung in a mine cave-in and having no particular work skill, Father took our family to serve in places where there was a spiritual need. His reliance on Jehovah left a deep impression on me.
I recall, for instance, moving to a small coal-mining town where the only Witnesses were two elderly sisters, both with unbelieving husbands. Housing was difficult to obtain, but finally we were able to rent an old house miles out of town. Our only means of travel was by foot or by bicycle. Then, early one morning, while we three children were away staying with friends, the house burned to the ground. Our parents escaped with their lives, but nothing else was saved. We had no insurance and no money.
Father was reminiscing about this not long before his death in 1982. He said: “Do you remember, son, how at first the situation looked grim, but Jehovah stood by us? Why, after the fire, the brothers in Perth sent furniture, clothing, and money. Because of their generosity, we were better off than before the fire!” At first I thought Father presumed a little when he spoke so much of Jehovah’s help in our lives. However, the frequent experiences of what he called divine help became too numerous to explain in any other way.
Mother’s Positive Thinking
One of my big problems has always been negative thinking. Mother often asked: “Why do you always see the dark side of life?” Her own example of looking on the bright side was an incentive for me to keep making an effort to think more positively.
Recently, Mother spoke of an incident in a small farming town soon after we moved there. A remark by the local doctor amused her. He had assumed that our parents were well-to-do, observing their neat dress and well-groomed appearance. The truth was that our home consisted of a large barn, with partitions constructed of burlap bags. There was no electricity, gas, or running water. One day a bull tried to break through the front door. You can guess where I was: under the bed!
Mother carried our water from a well 200 yards [200 m] away, using a pair of four-gallon [15 L] drums attached to a yoke across her shoulders. She had the knack of seeing the funny side of inconveniences and, with a little prompting from Father, viewed any difficult situation as a challenge to be overcome instead of as an obstacle. She would point out that even though we did not have much in a material way, we enjoyed many positive blessings.
For example, we spent many happy days traveling to distant territories to preach, camping under the stars, cooking bacon and eggs on an open fire, and singing Kingdom songs as we traveled. Father would provide the music on his accordion. Yes, in these ways we were indeed rich. In some country towns, we rented small halls and advertised public talks, which we presented on Sunday afternoons.
Sometimes, because of Father’s recurring health problems, Mother needed to do secular work to supplement his income. For years she nursed her own mother and grandfather and finally our father before they died. This she did without complaint. Though I still had periodic bouts of depression and often had a negative attitude, Mother’s example and gentle proddings gave me the desire to keep on trying.
Coping With Depression
In my late teens, all the childhood frailties that I thought had subsided came back with a vengeance. Questions about life perplexed me. I began to wonder, ‘Do all individuals have an equal opportunity to know and serve Jehovah?’ For example, what about a child born in India or China? Surely his opportunity to get to know Jehovah would be much more limited than that of a child favored by being raised by Witness parents. This seemed unfair! Also, genetics and environment, over which a child has no control, must play a major role. In so many ways, life seemed unjust. I wrangled with my parents for hours over such questions. I also worried about my appearance. There were many things I did not like about myself.
As I mulled over these matters, it made me depressed, sometimes for weeks on end. My personal appearance suffered. A number of times, I secretly contemplated suicide. There were times I derived a sense of satisfaction from basking in self-pity. I saw myself as a misunderstood martyr. I became withdrawn and once, without warning, suddenly experienced a frightening sensation. Everything around me seemed unreal, as if I were looking out through a foggy window.
This episode jolted me into the realization that self-pity is potentially dangerous. In prayer to Jehovah, I resolved to make a determined effort not to give in to self-pity again. I began to concentrate on positive, Scriptural thoughts. From that time on, I read with more than the usual attention every article in the Watchtower and Awake! magazines that highlighted personality traits and then filed them away in a folder. I also took careful note of points made in the Kingdom Ministry on how to converse with others.
My first goal was to try to converse for as long as possible with one person at each Christian meeting. At the outset, each such conversation lasted only about a minute. As a result, many times I came home feeling despondent. However, with persistence my ability to converse slowly improved.
I also began to do a lot of personal research on the perplexing questions I had. Additionally, I gave attention to my physical diet and found that by taking a nutritional supplement, my disposition and stamina improved. Later I learned that other factors could trigger depression. For example, I sometimes became so intense about a particular interest that I would reach an emotional high. This invariably led to a low, resulting in loss of energy and then depression. The answer was to learn to be persistently interested in a matter but not excitedly intense. Even to this day, I have to be on guard.
The next step was to grasp the goal my parents had always held before us children, namely, the full-time ministry. My sister’s determination to hold on to this privilege of pioneering for more than 35 years remains a positive stimulus for me.
Coping With My Son’s Problem
After some years as a single pioneer, I married a fellow pioneer, Josefa. She has been a fine complement to me in every way. In time, three children were born to us. Craig, our oldest, was born in 1972 with severe cerebral palsy. His condition has been a real challenge, since he is unable to do anything for himself except awkwardly spoon his food. Of course, we love him dearly, so I pursued all avenues to help him become more independent. I made a variety of walking aids for him. We consulted many specialists but had limited success. It has brought home to me that some circumstances in this life must be accepted.
During the first 12 years of his life, Craig would suddenly stop eating and drinking. This was accompanied by involuntary retching. Neurological damage was thought to be the cause. He would begin literally to fade away before our eyes. Prayer helped us to cope, and prescribed medication has helped control the problem. Happily, Craig seemed to rally just in the nick of time, and once again he would delight us with his captivating smile and endless repertoire of songs.
Josefa found adjusting to this heartrending situation very difficult at first. But her love and patience in caring for Craig’s every need eventually won out. This has meant that we have been able to continue to move to wherever the need for Christian help is greater. With Josefa’s support and practical help, I was able to work part-time for a number of years, allowing me to auxiliary pioneer as well as support our family.
Need to Think Positively
When Craig is depressed because of repeated illness or the frustration of his limitations, we strengthen him with one of my favorite scriptures: “We are not the sort that shrink back.” (Hebrews 10:39) He knows it by heart, and it always has an encouraging effect on him.
Since Craig was quite young, he has had a particular love for field service. By using a special wheelchair, he is often able to join us. He particularly enjoys coming with us when, from time to time, I serve other congregations in substitute circuit work. His limited comments at the group study and his constant talking about Bible stories at the special school that he attended, had an impact that we who have no handicaps did not make. Craig has thus reminded me that regardless of our limitations, Jehovah can use us to further his will and purpose.
Some time ago I had the privilege of being an instructor at the Kingdom Ministry School. After all my years in the ministry, I was still quite nervous at the start. But soon, by relying on Jehovah, my nerves calmed down, and once again I felt Jehovah’s sustaining power.
Looking back on about 50 years of life now, I am convinced that only Jehovah could lovingly train an individual such as me, making a spiritual man of him.