HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Raya” is a pseudonym.
Though my family did not officially enter Gothard’s ATI until I was in eighth grade, my parents began attending his seminars when I was about three. His teachings drastically changed our way of life. Gothard teaches there are three root causes to all sin, bitterness, greed, and lust.
A recent flashback I experienced reminded me of how my mom was a vigilant detective, always trying to find out why I behaved poorly.
My parents recently came into town to see their grandkids. We were all chatting around the dining room table after dinner when my six-year-old son grabbed my mother’s hand, “Grammy, I want to show you something.” He pulled her into the living room, over to the computer and navigated to the Toys R Us website like a frequent flyer.
He showed her all his latest toy needs, and my mother laughed, “I remember laying on the floor with the Sears Roebuck catalogue when I was a kid. I would look through it for hours and daydream about all the things I would have when I grew up. I guess things haven’t changed all that much, just the technology.” She then looked thoughtful and paused for a few seconds. She looked at me, but her eyes seemed to be seeing the child I used to be. Then she said, “You were a weird child though… You never seemed to want anything or ask for anything. You didn’t daydream about stuff.”
In that moment I sped through time and space back into my five-year-old body.
The sun is so bright I squint my eyes. All around me I hear the squeals and chatter of my cousins. We are playing with a motorized jeep and motorcycle, racing around our Uncle’s sprawling house. My cousin, Grace, comes running out of the house carrying a box so big she can barely get her small, preschooler arms around it, “Does anyone want to see my treasure?”
Amidst yells of “Ooooh!”, “I do!”, and “Let me see!” we all run to Grace. She opens the box one flap at a time, then, one by one lifts out each item she has saved. “I wore this barrette on my first day of school”, she says. “This ribbon is from my best Easter dress.” We all oooh and aaah over each special thing as she pulls it out of the box and then carefully places it back with the other treasures.
While Grace is showing us a top, I notice something gold and shiny. It is as if someone hit the mute button on the world. I reach into the box and pull out the prettiest watch I have ever seen. The face is even my favorite color of cobalt blue! I really wish I had a watch like this, I think to myself. Then I notice everyone has gotten quiet. I look up from the watch and see Jenny staring at me. Her face is no longer animated; it has become cold and stern. I ignore this and ask, “Where did you get this? It’s so pretty.”
“From my nana. It was hers.”
“My nana? Why did she let you have it?”
“No, my other nana. It don’t work no more, so she let me have it.”
While Grace and I are talking, our other cousins have started to wander off and resume playing. Grace sees this and shoots me a look of resentment. As she packs up her things in the box and places it in the back of the jeep I try on the watch. I stretch out my arm and turn it one way then the other. One day I’m gonna get one of these… I wonder where her nana got it… Look at how it sparkles in the sun… The sounds of playing and motorized toys start getting farther and farther away. I look up. They left me behind! “Hey, wait up,” I yell. I start to run after everyone, but the watch is so big it falls off my wrist. I pick it up and put it back on. I start running and yelling, but it falls off again. Now, everyone it out of sight. I can hear their distant laughter. I hate being left behind. I can’t run with this stupid watch. If I put it in my pocket it won’t keep falling off, and I can run faster. I run as fast as I can and join in the fun. We race, play tag, climb, and swing until dinner time.
A few days later my family and I leave our relatives and make the long drive home. The first day back my mother begins to erase all evidence of our trip, starting with the piles of vacation laundry.
I know not to get in the way of my mother’s quest for perfect cleanliness and order, so I go to my room to play by myself.
I am sitting in the floor with a huge strawberry playset in front of me and am surrounded by fruit scented dolls and their pets. Just when Strawberry Shortcake is saving the day from Purple Pie Man I hear, “Raya! Get in here. Now!”
I know when I hear my mother sound like that, I better get there quick. What did I do this time? I think. I run into the kitchen. For some reason there aren’t any lights on. My mother is sitting at the kitchen table. Her legs are crossed and her face cold. She is silent. Then I notice she is holding something in her hand. It’s Grace’s watch! Oh no, I forgot to put it back in the box after I caught up with the jeep! I’ll have to mail it to her. I’ve never mailed a…
“Where did you get this? You stole it, didn’t you?” she demands.
There are a few moments of silence. “I said…where did you get this?”
“I didn’t steal it. It’s Jenny’s. She showed it to us. I forgot it was in my pocket.”
My mother stands up and walks towards me. Her face is turning bright red, “You just admitted it doesn’t belong to you. You took something that does not belong to you.” She starts shaking the watch, “That is stealing!”
I start to cry. I am desperate to convince her of the truth. Otherwise, my punishment for sinning could be severe if she is in one of her moods. If she is feeling generous, I may only lose a few privileges.
If she’s not…I could be left hurting for days.
“It was an accident! I had it on my wrist. Everyone ran off to play without me. I didn’t want to be alone. I put it in my pocket so I could run. I forgot it was there!”
“Don’t you lie to me!”
My face is burning, my hands start tingling, I hear a buzzing in my ears and the room starts spinning. Just a few months ago my mother was convinced I lied to her. I had not. She yelled and yelled at me to confess. I knew I had done nothing wrong and felt confused when she wouldn’t believe me. At the time I had thought about how the Bible says it is wrong to lie. If I confessed to something I didn’t do wouldn’t that be a lie? I even asked my mother that question, but it only seemed to make her angrier.
When I wouldn’t confess, my mother locked me in the guest room.
The only things in the room were a bed, nightstand, a clock, and a lamp. She only let me out to use the bathroom and said I had to stay there till I confessed. I lay in the bed crying and asking God how I could obey my mother and not lie by confessing to something I didn’t do. I begged and pleaded with my mother to believe me. There was nothing but silence from the other side of the door.
After three days alone in the room, I gave up. I confessed to a sin I did not commit.
“I know you are a liar. You are so stubborn in your sin it took you three days to confess to your last lie,” she yells at me.
Crying, I look up at her and whisper, “It was an accident.”
My mother’s face is so filled with rage she is starting to look like a Picasso portrait. “You coveted this watch and that is why you took it. You are a greedy, envious, ungrateful child.”
I pause. I didn’t mean to take the watch. I did really want one like it though. Maybe that’s what it means to covet. I look up at my mother. Her eyebrows raise and her eyes brighten. She can sense a change in me. “I did really like it and wanted one like it. But I only put it in my pocket so I could catch up with everyone. I meant to put it back in the box!”
“God says in Exodus that coveting is a sin. David coveted another man’s wife and it led him to murder. Your covetousness led you to become a thief! That is the root of your sin. You are such a disappointment to God. He is sitting in heaven crying because of your sinfulness. Even if you were the only person who ever lived, Jesus would have had to die because of your sin! Your sin caused Jesus to be tortured and killed.
“It is just like you were there hammering the nails into him.”
I start to sob. I don’t want God to be disappointed in me. I don’t even want my mother to be disappointed in me. I love Jesus so much. I imagine me taking the place of the Roman Solider in the picture that hangs at church, who is at the cross hammering the nails into Jesus. It is more than I can bear. I am a horrible person. How can God ever forgive me? She must be right; after all, she is my mother. She knows more about the Bible than me. I look at my mother, “I coveted Jenny’s watch, and then I stole it.”
I feel like a bug that someone just stomped on.
My mother stands up tall. The rage and anger she had been emitting are now replaced with an eerie calm and satisfaction. She says, “I’m glad you told the truth. Now you need to pray and ask God to forgive you.”
Sobbing, I bow my head, “Dear God, please forgive me for coveting Jenny’s watch and then stealing it. I am sorry you had to die for me. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.”
“Now you need to write a letter to Grace and tell her you are a thief, you stole her watch, and you are sorry.”
I sit at the table and my mother tells me what to write.
I detail my covetousness which culminated in my thievery and ask for her forgiveness. I mail the letter and the watch back to Jenny. I never hear back from Jenny and the next time I see her I ask if she forgave me for stealing her watch. She says she doesn’t know what I am talking about.
Soon after the watch incident, my mother and I visit my favorite doll store. Life-sized China dolls, sculpted to resemble real babies, cover every shelf and surface. They are dressed in long, pastel, christening type gowns with little old-fashioned bonnets on their heads.
Every time I enter this store I am filled with longing.
Today when I sense that familiar emotion, I feel guilty about it. I really shouldn’t want something I don’t have. That’s sin. I’m not being grateful. I feel so bad I almost start crying. Immediately, I bow my head and pray, Dear Jesus, I’m sorry for not being grateful for what you’ve given me and wanting more. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen. I look around the room. Everything looks so much brighter. I don’t even feel like I want one of these dolls anymore. That is amazing! From now on, all I have to do is confess my covetousness to God and he will help me not want things.
I traveled back into my adult body in the living room of my own home.
I looked at my mother and shrugged my shoulders, “Yeah, I was kinda weird. I wonder why…”
Over the next few days, these scenes from my childhood were vivid in my memory. Just as I have done countless other times in my adult life, I attempted to make sense of the pain of my childhood. I realized this fear of greed led to a fear of all desire. It set up a lifetime of stunted emotions and lack of feeling. This also resulted in an inability to feel joy over normal childhood experiences like birthdays and Christmas.
Ultimately, I lost the ability to dream.
I felt it was Godly to just accept each day as God brought it and greedy to have big plans for my future. Gothard’s teaching did a great job at programing me into an emotionless robot that followed instruction.
It has taken much of my adult life to undo that programming.