You Can Succeed Regardless of Your Upbringing
NICHOLAS had a rebellious streak in him since his early childhood.* In time, his inner conflicts led him to drug abuse and heavy drinking. Nicholas explains: “My father was an alcoholic, and he caused my sister and me much suffering.”
From all appearances, Malinda’s parents were respectable churchgoing members of their community. But they were also deeply involved in a cult. “Some of their cult practices were abusive to me and destroyed my spirit as a child,” laments Malinda, now in her 30’s. She adds: “The sense of hopelessness and the feeling of worthlessness instilled in me have been a part of me for as long as I can remember.”
Who can deny that the childhood of many has been marred by violence, abuse, parental neglect, and other negative factors? The wounds of an unhappy childhood can be deep. But do such hurts have to ruin forever one’s likelihood of embracing the truth of God’s Word and finding a considerable measure of happiness? Despite their upbringing, can Nicholas and Malinda succeed as people of integrity? Consider first the example of Judean King Josiah.
A Scriptural Example
Josiah ruled Judah for 31 years in the seventh century B.C.E. (659-629 B.C.E.) At the time of Josiah’s enthronement, following the assassination of his father, conditions in Judah were very bad. Judah and Jerusalem were filled with Baal worshipers and those making sworn oaths by the principal Ammonite god, Malcam. The Judean princes were “roaring lions,” and the judges “evening wolves,” said Zephaniah, a prophet of God at that time. Consequently, violence and deception were rife in the land. Many were saying in their heart: “Jehovah will not do good, and he will not do bad.”—Zephaniah 1:3–2:3; 3:1-5.
What kind of ruler did Josiah prove to be? The Bible chronicler Ezra writes: “[Josiah] proceeded to do what was right in Jehovah’s eyes and walk in the ways of David his forefather; and he did not turn aside to the right or to the left.” (2 Chronicles 34:1, 2) Evidently, Josiah succeeded in doing what was right in God’s eyes. But what was his family background like?
Nurturing or Abusive Childhood?
When Josiah was born in 667 B.C.E., his father, Amon, was only 16 years old, and his grandfather Manasseh was reigning over Judah. Manasseh was one of the wickedest kings ever to rule Judah. Setting up altars to Baal, “he did on a grand scale what was bad in the eyes of Jehovah.” He made his sons pass through the fire, practiced magic, employed divination, promoted spiritistic practices, and shed innocent blood in great quantity. Manasseh also brought into the house of Jehovah the graven image of the sacred pole that he had made. He seduced Judah and Jerusalem “to do worse than the nations that Jehovah had annihilated from before the sons of Israel.”—2 Chronicles 33:1-9.
Manasseh was so bad that Jehovah had him taken in fetters to Babylon, one of the Assyrian monarch’s royal cities. While in captivity Manasseh repented, humbled himself, and begged Jehovah for forgiveness. God heard his request for favor and restored him to the kingship in Jerusalem. Manasseh then instituted reforms with a measure of success.—2 Chronicles 33:10-17.
What effect did Manasseh’s badness and his subsequent repentance have on his son Amon? He turned out very wicked. When Manasseh repented and put forth effort to cleanse the nation of the defilement that he himself had introduced, Amon did not respond. Upon inheriting the throne at the age of 22, Amon “proceeded to do what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes, just as Manasseh his father had done.” Instead of humbling himself before Jehovah, “Amon was one that made guiltiness increase.” (2 Chronicles 33:21-23) Josiah was only six years old when Amon became king of Judah. What a dreadful childhood Josiah must have had!
Amon’s wicked reign ended after two years when his servants conspired against him and put him to death. The people of the land, though, struck down the conspirators against Amon and made his son, Josiah, king.—2 Chronicles 33:24, 25.
Despite the negative circumstances of his early childhood, Josiah proceeded to do what was good in Jehovah’s eyes. So successful was his reign that the Bible states: “Like him there did not prove to be a king prior to him who returned to Jehovah with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his vital force, according to all the law of Moses; neither after him has there risen up one like him.”—2 Kings 23:19-25.
What an encouraging example Josiah proves to be for those who may have had to endure a terrible childhood! What can we learn from his example? What helped Josiah to choose the right course and stay on it?
Seek to Know Jehovah
A positive influence that held sway during the early years of Josiah’s life was that of his repentant grandfather, Manasseh. How much contact the two had, and how old Josiah was when Manasseh corrected his ways, the Bible does not say. Since Jewish families were close, Manasseh may have tried to save his grandson from the corrupting influences around him by instilling in his grandson’s heart some respect for the true God, Jehovah, and his word. Any seeds of truth that Manasseh was able to plant in Josiah’s heart, perhaps combined with other positive influences, eventually bore fruit. In his eighth year on the throne of Judah, 15-year-old Josiah sought to know and do Jehovah’s will.—2 Chronicles 34:1-3.
The only spiritual contact some people had in their childhood was a distant relative, an acquaintance, or a neighbor. Yet, if nurtured, the seeds thus planted can bear good fruits later. Malinda, mentioned earlier, had a grandfatherly neighbor who regularly brought the Watchtower and Awake! magazines to her house. Remembering him with fondness, she says: “What impressed me the most about my neighbor was that he did not celebrate holidays. This was important to me because Halloween and some of the other holidays were occasions for ritualistic practices in my parents’ cult.” A decade later, when a friend invited Malinda to attend a Christian meeting at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, she remembered this neighbor and readily accepted the invitation. That helped her to search for the truth.
Be Humble Before God
Josiah’s reign was marked by tremendous religious reforms in the land of Judah. After waging a six-year campaign against idolatry and cleansing the land of Judah, Josiah proceeded to repair the house of Jehovah. While that work was in progress, what a valuable discovery High Priest Hilkiah made! He found the original copy of “the book of Jehovah’s law.” Entrusted by Hilkiah with this sensational find, Shaphan the secretary reported to the king what had transpired. Did such accomplishments make 25-year-old Josiah proud?—2 Chronicles 34:3-18.
“As soon as the king heard the words of the law,” writes Ezra, “he immediately ripped his garments apart.” This was a heartfelt expression of sorrow because he realized that not all of God’s commands had been carried out by their forefathers. Indeed a sign of humility! The king immediately commissioned a five-man delegation to inquire of Jehovah through the prophetess Huldah. The delegation brought back a report to this effect: ‘Calamity will come as a consequence of disobedience to Jehovah’s Law. But because you, King Josiah, humbled yourself, you will be gathered to your graveyard in peace and will not see the calamity.’ (2 Chronicles 34:19-28) Jehovah was pleased with Josiah’s attitude.
Despite our background, we too can humble ourselves before the true God, Jehovah, and manifest a respectful attitude toward him and his Word, the Bible. Nicholas, mentioned at the outset, did this. He says: “Although my life was a mess because of drug abuse and heavy drinking, I had an interest in the Bible and longed to have a purpose in life. Eventually, I came into contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, changed my life-style, and embraced the truth.” Yes, we can have a respectful attitude toward God and his Word regardless of our environment.
Benefit From Jehovah’s Arrangement
Josiah also had deep respect for Jehovah’s prophets. He not only inquired of the prophetess Huldah but was greatly influenced by other prophets of his day. For example, both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were busy proclaiming the denunciations of idolatry practiced in Judah. How paying attention to their message must have energized Josiah as he waged his campaign against false worship!—Jeremiah 1:1, 2; 3:6-10; Zephaniah 1:1-6.
The “master,” Jesus Christ, has appointed the body of his anointed followers—“the faithful and discreet slave”—to provide spiritual food at the right time. (Matthew 24:45-47) By means of Bible-based publications and the congregation arrangement, the slave class draws attention to the benefits of heeding Bible counsel and offers practical suggestions about applying it in our daily lives. How appropriate that we use Jehovah’s arrangement to help us to overcome any deep-rooted unwholesome attitudes! From childhood, Nicholas had a strong dislike for authority. Even as he learned the truth of God’s Word, this weakness held him back from serving Jehovah more fully. Changing this attitude was not a small challenge for him. But, in time, he succeeded. How? “With the help of two understanding elders,” explains Nicholas, “I admitted my problem and began to apply their loving Scriptural counsel.” He adds: “Although a little resentment occasionally flares up, I have now controlled my rebellious nature.”
Malinda too seeks the advice of the elders when making important decisions in her life. In dealing with the sense of hopelessness and the feeling of worthlessness that trace back to her early years, what she finds especially invaluable are various articles in The Watchtower and Awake! She says: “Sometimes in an article there is just a paragraph or a sentence—just a morsel—that touches me. About nine years ago, I started saving such articles in a loose-leaf notebook so that I can readily turn to them.” Today, her three notebooks contain some 400 articles!
No, people do not have to be permanent victims of a bad family life. With Jehovah’s help they can succeed spiritually. Just as a good upbringing does not guarantee a person’s integrity, a bad childhood does not prevent a person from becoming God-fearing.
After the discovery of the book of the Law during the temple repair work, Josiah ‘proceeded to conclude the covenant before Jehovah to go following Jehovah and to keep obeying him with all his heart and with all his soul.’ (2 Chronicles 34:31) And he did not waver from this resolve down to his last breath. Malinda and Nicholas are likewise determined to remain loyal to Jehovah God and to succeed as people of integrity. May you too be determined to stay close to God and serve him faithfully. You can be confident of success, for Jehovah promises: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not gaze about, for I am your God. I will fortify you. I will really help you. I will really keep fast hold of you with my right hand of righteousness.”—Isaiah 41:10, 13.
Some names have been changed.
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Despite having a dreadful childhood, Josiah sought to know Jehovah and made a success of his life
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Elders can help you to overcome a deep-rooted personality trait
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“The Watchtower” and “Awake!” can help you to maintain integrity