Selma's Awakening

Battered woman being yelled at by man

A Journey Beyond Endurance

Note to readers: the narrative below is a work of fiction. It is written as a realistic continuation of the story of Selma, originally introduced in the February 15, 2012 edition of the Watchtower. My intention is to explore what might have unfolded in Selma's life in the years following the events described in the Watchtower.

This fictional exercise aims to provide a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the challenges and dilemmas faced by individuals within the Jehovah's Witness community, especially any who are enduring difficult domestic situations. 

Selma recalls a lesson she learned from the Witness who studied with her. “On one particular day,” says Selma, “I didn’t want to have a Bible study. The night before, Steve had hit me as I had tried to prove a point, and I was feeling sad and sorry for myself. After I told the sister what had happened and how I felt, she asked me to read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. As I did, I began to reason, ‘Steve never does any of these loving things for me.’ But the sister made me think differently by asking, ‘How many of those acts of love do you show toward your husband?’ My answer was, ‘None, for he is so difficult to live with.’ The sister softly said, ‘Selma, who is trying to be a Christian here? You or Steve?’ Realizing that I needed to adjust my thinking, I prayed to Jehovah to help me be more loving toward Steve. Slowly, things started to change.” After 17 years, Steve accepted the truth.

That was twelve years ago. Selma, who is now a baptized Jehovah's Witness, was facing a turning point in her life back then. Following another physically abusive episode with her husband Steve, she sought counsel from the Witness who was studying with her, hoping for guidance on how to get out of this situation. The advice she received, rooted in Watchtower teachings, was that she needed to adjust her thinking. As difficult and painful as it was, Selma took the sister's words to heart, believing that her steadfastness and love could eventually transform Steve into a more loving person. She clung to the hope that he would recognize her efforts and change his ways, and that eventually the violence would stop. It didn't.

Years of Struggle

Selma’s life with Steve had become a patchwork of unfulfilled promises and fading hope. Each day, she clung to the belief that her unwavering patience and love would someday yield a change in him. But as the years trickled by, that belief was relentlessly eroded by the reality of her husband's unchanged, and often volatile, behavior. The home that once held the promise of shared dreams had slowly morphed into a place of uncertainty and fear.

The shadow of Steve's unpredictability loomed over Selma's every moment. She navigated through her days on a tightrope of tension, always cautious, always hoping that her next step wouldn't trigger another outburst. The weekends when she had to travel without him to attend conventions or assemblies were the worst. He angrily forbade her to go, but each time she found a way to attend. And each time, when he discovered where she had been, she would pay the price of loyalty to Jehovah: more bruises and potent threats of what will happen the next time she goes to a convention. The sister’s advice, once a guiding light, now flickered dimly in the ever-growing gloom of her domestic life.

The Breaking Point

The turning point came on an otherwise ordinary day for Selma. Steve was out of town on one of his frequent business trips, leaving Selma alone with her thoughts. In the quiet of her solitude, Selma confronted the reality she had long tried to ignore: Steve had not changed after 12 years. Would he change? Perhaps, but what would be left of her, physically, spiritually, or emotionally by the time that happened? The years of waiting on Jehovah, praying, and hoping seemed to collapse into a single, suffocating truth: she had to get out.

Compounding her sense of urgency, the day after Steve left on his trip, Selma discovered she was pregnant. The news, which should have been a joyous revelation, instead filled her with an even deeper sense of dread. The thought of bringing a child into a tumultuous and unsafe environment was something that she was not going to do. She had spent these years sacrificing her own physical, mental and emotional health for the sake of being obedient to Jehovah, but her motherly instincts would finally force her hand. This was not the future she would provide for her child.

A Mother's Determination

With newfound determination, Selma knew she had to act, not just for herself, but for the unborn child who deserved a life free from fear and turmoil. In Steve's absense, she quietly began to plan her escape, each decision imbued with a mix of fear and hope. After meeting with an attorney, Selma filed for a protective order against Steve and initiated divorce proceedings, steps that felt both empowering and terrifying. 

Selma's neighbor, who was not one of Jehovah's Witnesses, was sympathetic to Selma's predicament. Recently she had given Selma the address and contact information of a local shelter for battered women. With a little one on the way, Selma knew this was now her last option.

A Confrontation With the Past

As she packed her belongings, preparing to leave her old life behind, the sister who had counseled her twelve years ago stopped by. Disturbing rumors of Selma filing for divorce were spreading through the congregation, and this sister wanted to check on her. 

Expecting to find the same compliant and patient Selma, the sister began to reiterate the same tired advice: wait on Jehovah, endure, and pray for change. But the Selma who stood before her now was not the woman she had studied with all those years ago.

With a voice trembling with emotion yet firm in conviction, Selma confronted her former teacher, the woman whom she had once considered her spiritual mentor. She poured out the pain and despair that had filled her for all these years, describing the harrowing reality of living under the constant threat of violence and emotional abuse. 

"But Selma, you heard what the brother said in his talk on Sunday. Now is the time for obedience because the end is so close now, we can almost taste it!"

"Taste?" replied Selma. "I'll tell you what obedience tastes like. It tastes like blood... my own blood trickling into my mouth from another busted lip. Obedience sounds like the ringing in my ears right after I catch another fist or elbow. Obedience smells like fear, and it looks like this," she said as she rolled up her sleeve to reveal several fading bruises.

Selma empatically declared that she would no longer be a silent sufferer in the name of faith. Her life and now her unborn child's life were at stake and she had finally built up the resolve to break free from the cycle of abuse. 

The sister, still struggling to grasp the depth of Selma's transformation and fearing that Selma was about to pursue a course of rebellion against Jehovah, left. Selma stood in her quiet home, a mix of fear and hope in her heart.

It would be 5 days before Steve returned home, and by then she would be gone. She was stepping into an unknown future, but for the first time in many years, she felt a sense of agency over her life and now her child's. Selma's journey was not just a departure from a troubled past but also an awakening to the possibilities of a life defined by her own choices and a future unburdened by the weight of enduring the intolerable.

Cognitive Dissonance Coping Strategies Crisis of Faith Domestic Abuse Emotional Support Empowerment Family Fiction Healing Journey Misogyny Organizational Loyalty Personal Transformation Support for Abuse Survivors Support Networks Women's Roles and Rights

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