I was born in Sweden in 1979. That was the year spanking became illegal there, and it was the first time in the history of mankind that a law was instituted against child discipline. I often heard how great that was growing up. Now and then the media would be stirred up about some religious group that still spanked their children and you heard all about how evil it was.
Sweden was a pleasant country to live in back in the eighties. There were not many crimes compared to the rest of the world, and the ones committed were mostly by foreigners. Internationally Sweden had a reputation for producing high-quality products like Volvo cars and IKEA furniture. “Made in Sweden” stood for good quality. You knew that if you bought something with that label, it would last.
And there were no poor in Sweden. The highest developed social welfare system in the world made sure that everyone (except the few that chose not to) had a home, television, and medical care. Forty years of unbroken rule by the Social Democrats had laid the foundation of socialism that the modern Swedish society is built upon. The care that the authorities seemed to have for individuals had established a deep trust in the hearts of people — so much so that most people were not bothered about politics. They had always been taken care of.
I never heard my parents discuss politics, or question any decisions that were made by the government. They had moved away from the city in 1982 for the sake of us children, that we would grow up in the countryside, and it was beautiful where we were — especially the summers. It is such a great thing when the summer arrives up north where the winter is so cold. Most of Astrid Lindgren’s1 stories take place in the summer and depict the beautiful Swedish landscapes and children that are “happy and free.” Everyone read those books when I was growing up, and Pippi Longstocking was the great heroine of little girls. She was adventurous and had superhuman strength. Her life was exciting, and I fantasized about having my own big house like that, or being on the seven seas like her father.
But being a teenager in Sweden wasn’t like an Astrid Lindgren story. We were taught early how to avoid venereal diseases, and the greatest fear of most girls was that we would die as virgins. It was all about looks and attention, and peer pressure had made most of us feel terribly worthless. It was all about who was the prettiest and who was the best and who was the most independent.
I had grown up with a desire to please my parents, but began to store up resentment against them as their boundaries had become burdensome against the pressure from my peers. My teenage revolt became a nightmare for my parents. They were pleading at first, but said less as time passed by, realizing their words were powerless.
I dropped out of school, never kept a job for very long, and never stayed in one place for very long. How did I turn out like that? My parents had always been faithful and loyal workers, good tax-paying citizens, mindful to obey the laws of their country. They sent us to school and made sure that we did our homework. We were good students and we did our chores. Discipline was not allowed, so they didn’t spank us, but they kept us in order through rewards and punishment (like not getting to do nice things if you weren’t nice). It worked for awhile. Everything looked good for a while.
But there we were as young adults. Where were we going? What was the purpose for our lives? Unlike our parents, we weren’t faithful in anything. We didn’t know how to suffer. Was that why most of my friends were on medication? Many had mental health problems and were in and out of hospitals, some with scars for life. Before then I hadn’t known anybody who had died, except two young girls in school that had cancer. Then one day I heard that Fredrik had killed himself. They thought he had been murdered at first, but when they investigated his body it became evident that he had pierced his own heart with a knife.
It was a shock. He had been so full of zeal and excitement, though lost in a restless existence where he didn’t know what to do with himself. Then a few more died. Someone I had worked with hung himself; a friend’s father did the same, and also a young woman that my sister studied religion with. Something was seriously wrong with society, though I didn’t know what it was.
I had grown up in the “perfect” society, learning that individuals suffer for different reasons: inherited weaknesses, chemical imbalances, child abuse, etc. But there was something else, something I couldn’t put my finger on, and I wanted to get as far away from it as possible. I could still hear the happy laughter of my childhood summers echoing in the back of my mind, but it was lost, just a dream, it didn’t exist, it hadn’t remained, it wasn’t real. Was it supposed to go away?
I knew somewhere in my heart that there must be a place where true happiness could be found, and I took off in a little sailboat in my mid-twenties to find that place. I had managed to save up some money to buy the boat and equip it. I didn’t plan to come back again. I left Sweden with much excitement and expectation, only to be deeply disappointed a few years later after having sailed around the north only to discover that every place was the same. Society was in a state of misery.
It wasn’t long after I came back that Ofelia had died from an overdose of alcohol and medicine. It had been a few years since we had lived together, and I didn’t see her very often anymore, caught up as I was in my own problems. I hadn’t responded a few days earlier to her desperate email and cry for help. She had tried to kill herself before. I had even called the ambulance once. It wasn’t something unusual anymore, and numbed as I was I could hardly connect to the situation. Her son was three years old when this happened. She had never been loved by her parents and didn’t know how to love her own child. Lost as I was myself, I had never been able to help her. By now I was pregnant with my son, and alone. He was born a few months later.
With a little innocent child in my arms I could again hear the cry from within my heart, “It is not supposed to be like this!” What did Astrid Lindgren have to give to my son when I didn’t have a life for him? There he was, this little child, in a little house on a hill, and the thunderstorms began to roll in. There we were together, in the bed in the little loft room late at night. I had never been afraid of lightning before, but as I saw the shiny streaks across the horizon and heard the booming thunder very near the house, I began to cry out to my Creator with all my heart. I was trembling with the baby in my bosom under the blankets, and crying in desperation.
It dawned on me that the way I had lived my life, if God was real, then He would be just to strike me down with lightning. I had been deceived and I had deceived many. I was guilty, and I cried out that He would have mercy on me for the sake of my child. I promised Him that I would do anything for Him if He would spare my life.
That was in the springtime, and as the summer drew near I would go for long walks by the sea, carrying my son in a cloth at my chest. We lived in a very beautiful place with beaches and granite rocks, and I would jump the rocks and stones with him or walk barefoot in the shallow water along the sandy beaches. But something was missing. Not even the summer blossoms or familiar laughter of seagulls in the salty breeze would bring peace to my troubled soul. I wasn’t sure why, but it was around this time that I began looking for a community to live in with my son.
I didn’t know that I was looking for God. I had prayed in desperation when I thought my life was about to end, but I wasn’t thinking about that anymore when there didn’t seem to be an immediate danger to our lives. I knew, however, that the society we lived in was a threat to my son’s life if he would grow up there. How would he turn out any better than me? I could clearly see the evil of media and mass consumption, how they were driving people to live selfish lives of pleasure, and how parents had no real relationships with their children anymore. They were too caught up with satisfying their own desires while their children were being left to themselves and raised by strangers, people hired by society, instead of being raised by people that really loved them. Even the nice, well-meaning Christians I knew sent their children to public school, and they were like most other children.
I couldn’t trust the system like that anymore. I had seen too many people being hurt. I couldn’t give my son away to that, so I was looking for a different society, a community where children and parents could do everything together, and where people lived a simple life, turning their hearts to one another. I found no such thing in Sweden, so I began searching the Internet for communities abroad, and found the Twelve Tribes Community.
We went to visit shortly after. I came with a somewhat suspicious attitude, having it so deeply put into me that child discipline was evil. But we were welcomed with wide open doors and hearts into a big and loving family. It didn’t take long for me to get to know the people and realize that they, adults and children, had what I had missed all my life — true happiness, joy, and freedom. And it didn’t come from a story book. It came from the living and active Word of God, which now teaches me to love and discipline my son so that he will become who he was created to be: made in the image of God, not made in Sweden.