Tuesday, September 6

"To Thine Own Self Be True..." but Who Am I?

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.

14 comments:

Kira =] said...

Reading this post (especially the last few paragraphs) reminds me of a little book. Have you ever read Max Lucado's "You Are Special"? It must be read in the little board book version for the ultimate impact. =]

To preface- the little wooden people put golden star stickers on those who were pretty or had amazing talents. And they put gray dot stickers on those with rough wood/chipped paint/or fumbled. The main character, Punchinello, goes to visit Eli, the woodcarver.

Eli explains "The stickers only stick if they matter to you. The more you trust my love, the less you care about their stickers.'
"I'm not sure I understand."
Eli smiled. 'You will, but it will take time. For now, come to see me every day and let me remind you how much I care.'
'Remember,' Eli said as Punchinello was leaving, 'you are special because I made you. And I don't make mistakes.'
Punchinello didn't stop, but in his heart he thought, I think he really means it.
And when he did, a dot fell to the ground."

The little book is an excellent little reminder of the love He has for me. Sometimes, I even replace Punchinello's name with my own.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. This was beautiful.

Anonymous said...

http://lds.org/general-conference/1993/10/truth-is-the-issue?lang=eng&query=truth+issue

Snowcatcher said...

Not just beautiful. Powerful. Thank you for sharing your strength.

BGM said...

I found what you had to say very insightful and parts of it resonated with me. However, You state: "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" --- I want to assert that in making the decision that is the reverse of the coin that you do not need to turn your back on God. The decision isn't necessarily turn away from faith or turn to God. That is far to black and white. There are whole shades of grey to look at.

I appreciate that turning away from the church is a real possibility, but that doesn't automatically mean turning away from God

Michelle said...

This is one of the most amazing, beautiful things I have read in a long time. I feel uplifted and motivated to try harder myself in my own different challenges. Thank you for strengthening me by sharing your very real struggles and just-as-real faith and hope!

Anonymous said...

I'm a new follower. As of today. I've read much of your blog, and will continue to read it until I have read each and every entry. I am currently attending BYU and I too am attracted to other men. I take strength from your words as a faithful member of the church. I see so many guys who have given up and simply decided to act on their feelings and have taken the other path. It is absolutely beyond refreshing to finally have found someone who has a testimony and lives what they believe, despite how difficult it may be at times. Thank you so much for your powerful and inspirational words.

Anonymous said...

Hey I just found my new rolemodel. I too am gay in high school, Mormon of course, and I have been having a tough time with the whole thing. Thanks for all of your help. I am going to be following your blog often. The one thing I can't really tell is if you've chosen to come out and still keep your standards or if you haven't told anyone. And what do you think I should do?

Mormon Guy said...

Anon:

I share a lot of things with the world. My testimony, my hope for mankind, my passion and my optimism. But I don't share everything. As far as this goes, I don't share it with anyone unless the Lord tells me to. That's pretty safe. But I don't hide anything... and I'm true to myself. People don't need a label to know who I am, and neither do I. I'm a child of God, and in the end that's all I'll be. But learning to really believe that takes time, and effort, and faith.

I can't tell you what to do with your life. Only a few people can - those who have stewardship to receive (or give) revelation on your behalf. Talk with God and follow Him. Talk with your bishop. And, if and when it feels right, ask your parents for help. And I'm willing to share my experience. It can work out.

Mormon Guy said...

Other Anon(s):

Welcome - I'm glad that you found your way here. Thanks for your comments, and for being part of the conversation. And for the anons at school, don't put off too much homework to read (G)MG... (especially if it's seminary, institute, or byu religion class the scriptures are way more important)

Mormon Guy said...

BGM:

If I didn't believe that this was the true Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and that God restored the Church and gave His authority to lead and guide the affairs of the world to His prophets and leaders, then I could agree with you. But I know that the Church, and God's will, are one and the same - and so turning away from God will always affect your relationship with the Church, and vice-versa. If the Church is God's Church, and representative of His will on the earth (and I know and believe it is), then turning away from His Church without turning away from God is impossible.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your personal struggles with a candor similar to Joseph Smith. You don't excuse yourself or gloss over what you truly feel. Your example inspires in me a desire to change. You affirm again and again my knowledge that the Atonement is enough. My prayers are with you.

Anonymous said...

"I had to believe each day that when I cut out part of my heart, God would make me whole."

I'm not a man, and I'm not struggling with homosexuality- but there's a message here for me, too. I want you to know that I am blown away by your courage and your humility. Thanks for sharing; thanks for being faithful in a trial that seems to defeat so many. Trials happen to all of us, and whether or not we share the one you've been given is a little irrelevant when you just put them in the context of staying true to ourselves as sons and daughters of God.

Anonymous said...

You are truly a man among men...I admire the courage of your conviction. Your walk cannot be the least bit easy, and I am amazed at all you must struggle with every day. If I had to give up my love for my husband, and could never even think of remarrying any man ever again, it would just break my heart. That is what you have done. Congratulations on your great faith and strength!