She was running in for a frozen yogurt. Her car was parked a few feet from the doorway. As she reached for the storefront handle, she caught a glimpse of a woman, who was over-dressed for a warm sunny day. Something caused her to take a second look. The woman she saw looked familiar, and while she stared, it came to her; this woman in the dowdy mid-calf skirt, knit hat and bulky sweater was Barbara, her old childhood friend.

Pam and Barbara were BFFs for all of grammar school and most of high school. They lost touch as teenagers. The strange and unsettling reunion on the street in front of the yogurt shop went something like this:

Pam: Barbara, is that you – it’s me Pam Cary, Pam Heyward now, how the heck are you?

Barbara: (Hug, hug, joyful squeal!) I’ve never been better. I’m religious now. Let me tell you about it…

And what started with “How the heck are you?” opened the floodgates for a lengthy and passionate story of how Barbara became a member of a strictly orthodox religious community. When their reunion was over, Pam got her mango fro-gurt and thought about Barbara’s story. It had the earmarks of cult behavior.

1. A cult hijacks your identity and makes you into someone you aren’t.

2. A cult causes you to lose your personality, sense of humor, interest in others, and ability to think rationally.

Pam remembered her friend as a smart and funny girl who was intellectually curious. She would search for purpose and try to understand the true meaning of life. Barbara was vulnerable too, and often lonely, gravitating to different groups of friends who could be a “family” for her. Religion is the perfect outlet for people like Barbara. But there’s a dangerous difference between a true religion, that enhances and deepens your identity, and one that steals it.

God made us with body and brain to develop spiritual practices that honor worship, not abuse it. Be mindful to retain your identity while growing in God, and observing the laws and customs of your faith. While you’re striving to be the best you can be, be sure to be the one true “You” God meant for you to be.


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