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The First Step . . . Down

... continued from here.

by Elizabeth Wyse Cook

I was so excited! I was old enough to go to the seminar that had changed my parents’ lives! I was a tad bit nervous too; after all, I was a young teenager and this was a big event with hundreds of people attending. I would be expected to act like an adult. But it sounded like a lot of fun as well.

Wide-eyed, I went with my dad through the line to get my workbook. Then we settled into our seats and listened. To me, the material was all brand new. I listened with all of my being, trying to absorb it all (which is of course impossible to do the first time around). I scribbled furiously, trying to keep up with all the notes. When I got behind, my parents let me look at their books so I could catch up. During the break, my parents and others assured me that with this new workbook, taking the notes was easy; a lot was already filled in for us. Back in “the old days” there was no notebook, only paper.

As I listened throughout the week to all that was shared, I began to see one big theme, although I could not have put it into words at the time. If you want good things in life, then you need to do the right things. If you do wrong things, you will have trouble. Yes, that is a very simplified version, but that was the basic message. I certainly didn’t want all the bad things that were described, so I decided to do all the good things that had been talked about. Then my life would be good. And if undeserved bad things did happen to me, then they would somehow turn out to be really good. Isn’t that what God had promised in all the Scriptures that were quoted?

I was a “good girl.” I didn’t like conflict. I was generally very compliant and good-natured. Just before attending this first seminar, I had been beginning to think that I should start making more of my own decisions. After all, I was growing up, wasn’t I? I was starting to long for more freedom and more choices. However, after listening all week to the seminar, I pretty much changed my mind. I definitely needed my parents’ help in making all my choices. I wanted to follow God; I sure didn’t want to be under Satan’s control!
At some point in the week, all those who were attending for the first time were told that we were being prayed for by at least one person who had attended before. I was rather awed at the thought. Someone was actually praying for me during this week? It made me want to be extra sure that I didn’t miss something God wanted to say to me.

In the subsequent years, I attended quite a few seminars. At each one, I learned more. I would go home determined to try harder to live up to all the wonderful things I was learning. I knew I was still failing – a lot. But I was sure that I could make it eventually.

If only I had known. If only I had known that I would never “make it.” If only I had known how damaging trying to be perfect would be to my soul and my relationship with God. If only I had known how much pain that perfectionism would cause me to inflict on others. But I didn’t know. Not for many years. So I kept trying.

I always looked forward to attending various conferences sponsored by the organization. These were not the beginner level stuff that the seminars had. They were for those who had worked hard to implement the things we had learned in the seminars. They were more focused on helping us to be the absolute best so that we would be a light to all those who hadn’t discovered all the wonderful truths that we had.

Conferences were a highlight of the year for me. It was a time to be inspired. A time to meet other people who were similar to me – people who had similar views on what God expected of us. It was a time to wear the uniform and be part of a peer group (the only time that we were allowed to be in a peer group for the most part). It made me feel important to be part of such a large group who were doing great things for God.
Conferences were also exhausting. We would be in sessions all day and evening. There was never quite enough time to sleep or to do much socializing, especially if we had younger children in the family. A few sessions had printed handouts, but often, we just scribbled frantically in our blank notebooks. There really was no time to think or compare notes in detail with others while there. We were always running from one thing to another. But I enjoyed these events immensely! They were a wonderful break from routine.

We heard about what God was doing in various aspects of the organization. It was exciting! Lives were being changed. Problems were being solved. New opportunities in new cities or countries were announced and prayed for. New teachings promised ever more righteousness which would result in more happiness.

Each year, there was a new theme at the conferences. It was the organization’s theme for the year. For years, I felt like I had to keep up with and work on whatever the new theme was. Often, I didn’t feel like I had mastered the last year’s theme yet…or the year before that. There was the mounting pressure of needing to work on multiple things at once. After many years of this, it finally occurred to me that perhaps God’s focus for me in any particular year might be different than the organization’s theme. Perhaps God wanted me to continue thinking about the previous year’s theme. Or (this was really hard to believe), perhaps God had a totally different theme for me. Something not even close to the organization’s theme.

Many years later, I learned that I didn’t have to keep trying harder and harder to do everything right in order to please God. Jesus had already done that for me. There is no way I could ever do enough to please God. But Jesus perfectly pleased His Father. God doesn’t look at my pitiful version of “righteousness” anymore. God now looks at Jesus’ righteousness when He looks at me. And I accept that with a heart full of gratefulness.

I no longer try to be perfect. Instead, I focus on how much Jesus loves me unconditionally. If I’m looking at His smiling face, it is pretty hard to be grumpy with other people. Instead of a multitude of rules covering all areas of life, I now have just two. Love God. Love people. Yes, they are actually much harder to keep than the longer list of outward performance. But they are so much better. Instead of trying to control myself and others, I can just love. I don’t have to get results; I can just love. The change from trying to trusting was not quick. Neither is it complete yet. But God has promised that He will complete the work He has begun in me.
Eliza is a young woman who was burned by legalism, but then discovered that Jesus already kept the law for her.  Her desire is to get to know Him better.  You can contact her at elizabethwysecook(at)gmail(dot)com.  You may remember Eliza from this article by Sarah Posner.


  1. Love God. Love people. That sums up the law and the prophets. The only new command Jesus added as "Love one another as I have loved you." which sounds a lot like the others.

    Evangelical Fundamentalist Christianity doesn't look very loving to people not on the inside. It actually doesn't look very loving to those ON the inside!

    Here's hoping a new generation committed to loving God and loving people can change all of that. Peace and good will to you, Eliza!

  2. "Many years later, I learned that I didn’t have to keep trying harder and harder to do everything right in order to please God. Jesus had already done that for me."

    This is what I hope the viewers of a certain big family tv show will come to realize--esp any who are "converted" to the "organization" from watching the show. Great post.

  3. Eliza, thank you for writing your story. I can't imagine how difficult it must be at times, or how triggering, but just know that your courage and willingness to speak up is being heard. You might never know how much your words help chains fall away in someone else's life, or how seeing you be brave helps me be brave(r). But thank you. Please don't give up.

  4. Thank you for exposing Billy Boy G. as the false prophet, lion in sheep's clothing that he really is. If you read "A Matter of Basic Principles" by Don and Joy Venoit and Ron Henzel, you'll see that, more than likely, all your filthy rags of righteousness put you way above that man in character. Maybe you can take heart in that. Then again, forget that! You have the best years ahead of you.

  5. @ shadowspring - That is what I want most!

    @ Hopewell - Yes, it all sounds so good at first. Then you gradually find out things, but by then, you are more numb to it all and don't realize the depth of it.

    @ Anonymous - It is with that hope that I write. :-) Others were brave before me. I didn't get here without a lot of help. If I can lend a hand to others, it is my joy to do so. Keep pressing on in the journey!

    @ Incongruous - I have read that book; it broke the final ties I felt toward the teaching and the organization. I am endeavoring to look forward with hope. :-)

  6. I love reading of freedom found.

    Life doesn't get any better than hearing the chains falling off those who were once bound. After which we gather together and sit at His feet where He loves us unfailingly and perfectly to make us His likness, no one elses! And where we get to tell our stories.

    I was not a part of these same organizations, but legalism bound my family. I rebelled and Jesus brought me Home to teach me His story.

  7. I REALLY appreciate your story, Eliza. I identify with it SO, so much, even though the religious organization I immersed myself in wasn't necessarily the same one (though it was closely related and I went to a number of such conferences), it was similar in so many ways. I look back now and can't believe the bondage I was under. I look at my friends and grieve for the bondage they're still in. I so appreciate people like you who are brave enough to step up and speak out for what it is, and let His robes of righteousness do away with our filthy rags.

  8. Eliza! I'm so sorry that you went through this but am so glad you are able to share it with us in the light of LOVE, LIFE, & FREDOOM! You are an amazing writer! I can't wait to hear more!

  9. @ Rebekah - Beautiful way to word it. :-) Thanks!

    @ Brittney - Thank you! (((hugs)))

    @ Frogla - <3

  10. Eliza-thank you for opening up to us. That was very well written :)
    One day I was talking out loud, "There are goats. There are sheep. Goats never become sheep. Sheep never become goats. But who is the wolf who dresses like a sheep? a goat?"
    My Fiance overheard me and said,
    "No, Honey. A wolf is the devil."

  11. Queen, I love that. Yes, it isn't people that we fight against. I'm so thankful we have a Good Shepherd!


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