A few years ago I realized that I didn't really know who I was... and found myself face-to-face with a question that every Mormon (and most others) faces at some point in life: Who am I?
This wasn't some cute little exercise in existential goalmaking, a short list of the qualities I wanted to assume to become the eventual perfect spouse, or a transcript of the gifts outlined in my Patriarchal blessing... and there wasn't anything pleasant about the process. The conflict took root out of pain and fear and distress, spent years slowly smoldering in the back of my soul, and finally burst out in flames, pitting me between myself... and myself. (I probably could have used less metaphoric flowery language, but that's what came out)
As you can probably guess, at the core of my distress were two seemingly contradictory sets of core beliefs. The first belief was the now brightly burning flame: "I'm gay, Mormon, unmarried, and having trouble with my social life. I've been on a mission, paid my dues, done everything right, and I'm not happy. And other people tell me I'll never be happy or fulfilled unless I embrace myself for who I am - gay - and give up hope that one day God will 'free me from my trials,' because He won't."
The second belief didn't burn or ask for attention the same way, but it was still there: "I am a child of God, and He has sent me here - to these circumstances, these problems - with the ability to keep the commandments and succeed in returning to Him. If I keep the commandments and strive to follow the Lord, He will take care of me... and I'll be happy and blessed - here in this life, and for eternity."
For a while I lived a double life. I did everything I could in my Church callings, but then found myself fantasizing about guys late at night. It tore me apart when I thought about it, so I tried not to think. I rationalized that I could be extra-righteous in other areas to make up for it. And none of the interventions I tried seemed to work anyway.
And then, one night in prayer, I realized that I had to choose between the two. The smoldering embers had burst into a fire, and I needed to either put it out, or give it room in my heart to change me forever. Am I a son of God, who is willing to do anything He asks me to - anything at all, no matter what the cost? Or do I choose to disbelieve the promptings the Spirit has given me for years and years and years - and rationalize that God will suspend the commandments in my case?
This was the turning point - the point where men turn their backs on God and the Church, the point where other men turn their backs on their families... the point where I could turn away from my faith, or turn to God, away from my own desires and demands. That night I put everything on the altar of sacrifice, and told the Lord I would do anything He asked.
For me, the first hard thing to do was to talk with my bishop. I have pride issues, and Satan convinced me that talking with him would mark me in his eyes, destroy my reputation, hurt my ability to serve others. But none of that happened. I went to him, honestly explained everything, and asked for his help... and he listened, and helped me to be healed. And thus began the process of reclaiming my life and who I was.
Reclaiming who I was wasn't that easy. Over years, beliefs, needs, and addictions had taken root in my heart, and I had to cut them out to begin to be healed. And, perhaps most difficult, I had to believe each day that when I cut out part of my heart, God would make me whole. I had to believe that leaving myself vulnerable, with unmet needs, would give God the room to come more fully into my life.
And, somehow, He did. As I turned to Him and found peace in the little things of the gospel, withdrawal and depression, pain and isolation, ostracism and fear and tears slowly gave way to a new set of beliefs - not only am I a child of God, but each day I can come closer to Him. With Him, I can overcome any trial. And as I come closer to Him, I feel what He feels - joy, fulfillment, peace, hope, faith, love. Today, the gospel, and all its blessings, is true for me.
I'll probably have other beliefs that will compete in my heart for space as life continues - beliefs about who I am, constructions from the world or society that tell me who I should be. But hopefully, in the future, I'll have the foresight to be true to who I really am and pull them out as soon as they begin to strangle the tree of life that is slowly growing in my heart. And, someday... that tree will bear fruit... and I'll be the man God sees deep inside me - perfected, purified, and at peace - in His presence once more.