Thursday, March 24

The Sea of Loneliness

I am not alone.

On the outside my life looks simple. Almost idyllic. I run my own business and set my own hours to do something I love. I have family and friends and a best friend who will do anything for me. A ward that loves and supports me for who I am. A culture and society and people all around me who love the good things I do and lift me when I fall. Opportunities to share the gospel in my day-to-day life. Frugality, hard work, and faith that kills all potential financial and social stress. 

And yet beneath the surface - far inside the labyrinth of my mind and deep enough that few can find the way - is a wholly different story.

I am lonely.

Researchers say that loneliness shortens lifespan. The feeling of loneliness heightens stress hormones, creates oxidation and cellular damage, and ultimately contributes to premature death on the cellular level. Some claim that few other chronic conditions have such a dramatic impact on health.

Loneliness ultimately comes from an unmet need based in others. I feel a need to emotionally connect. Then I reach out to others. If they don't fill the need, then I feel loneliness and have to find coping strategies to offset the emotional distress.

In most cases, and for most people, the feeling can go away. Loneliness, while a common human condition, is extremely curable, especially with the help of someone who cares. If not, then the usual prescription is reaching out to others and serving them. Being friendly. Serving. Opening emotions to people and then, by the grace of God, finding people who share passions, interests, and love. That hope - that loneliness is only a temporary condition - is one reason that some researchers have stated that avoiding loneliness is a major pursuit in the human condition.

It's important to state here that loneliness is only loosely connected with another human state - that of being alone. It is possible to be completely alone, surrounded by no one, and to feel no loneliness. On the other side, it is possible to be surrounded by friends, family, loved ones, and people who care deeply... and to feel utterly alone. This is because loneliness is an internal condition - and while it is usually responsive to outside influences, and even acutely dependent on the outside, sometimes it's not.

When I reach out and do "the right things" in my mind to alleviate loneliness, and the loneliness doesn't go away, whether because people aren't available or can't meet the need I have, that abuses the cycle. I lose faith in "the right things" as a source of personal help and now have heightened emotional distress to deal with. I can self-medicate with drugs or pornography or video games - designed to depress the emotion and the need to connect to lower the emotional pain. Or I can invest even more energy into connection - hypersensitizing the need and becoming far more friendly, helpful, and serving. Engage in the community, reach out to others, and do far more of "the right things" with the hope that the need will be met.

I personally have a third option as well - one that isn't as widely available. Sometimes I can just turn off my emotions. No drugs or outside help required.

But none of those can truly displace the original cycle. Video games and drugs and self-numbing can distract from reality, and serving others can temporarily replace the feeling of loneliness with another... but they don't serve as a true replacement. They don't cure loneliness.

And that's what has made my therapists cry.

I'm rarely alone. I have people in my life who honestly care about me and try to understand me. I have time to myself to write and think. I can have deep, honest conversations. My job is amazing. Life looks perfect on the outside, and sometimes I can convince myself that it's true.

The reality is that I am excruciatingly lonely - so much that when I let the feeling stay, it feels like it is choking the breath from my chest. It's an intensely despairing loneliness, one that burns out my desire to even move or breathe or think. It's not depression. Depression is like a heavy fog of darkness that blots out the light and weighs me down, making it impossible to see anything at all. Loneliness is totally different.

I was meditating, and in my mind my life became a bustling city. Relationships, habits, and goals are buildings and parks and foot paths and lights with thousands of people walking and talking here and there, each one impacting my life in its own way. Beneath it all, though, is a pulsing sound, and a pulsing feeling - one that no one else notices but me. I know the feeling. It's always there, pulsing in waves that come and go, pushing and pulling me. It's loneliness. I'm drawn to find it - to see the source - and so I go down, beneath the surface, until I do. 

And there, under the footings of my life, I find a sea. 

A literal sea of feeling and emotion within me. 

Being there overwhelms me. The feeling is intense. Intense like smelling something that makes me gag or a mixture of being smashed and cut and burned and smothered all at once, but somehow more intense than those could ever be. It's crushing and deadening and terrifying and impossibly huge - so much so that trying to look at it and understand it makes me avert my gaze. The first few times I do. With only those cursory glances, this feeling seems somehow more massive than any other emotion I've ever felt. It scares me. And when I look at it in the eye, when I take the courage to look out across and into the depths, I realize that it's far bigger than I ever imagined.

It seems to go on forever. 

Endlessly wide in every direction. Endlessly deep.

It's almost awesome how enormous and enveloping it is. My sea of loneliness is black and liquid, with a viscosity somewhere around thick oil. Does it reflect light? I think so, but I look at it more closely to see, and the expanse consumes everything. I can't see at all. Looking at it makes it impossible to look away.

I don't know if loneliness would catch fire. It has no smell... and, I realize now, no sound, either.

I feel something pulsing in my chest, and I remember that I'm not just a tourist here. Each wave of the sea is actually a throb deep inside my heart. This enormous, seemingly infinite depth of loneliness hidden beneath the surface of my reality... is my reality. And all the buildings and structures, all the people standing on the surface don't change that reality. 

Among the tumult of emotions I face, one surpasses them all.

I am lonely.

Deeply, utterly, inescapably, crushingly lonely.

I go back up to the surface and the bustle of activity has stopped. People wonder what's wrong. They can feel the pulsing beneath the surface. They want to see it. They want to help.

I take one by the hand and lead them through the labyrinths, down closer to the sea. But long before we arrive at the shores, she has felt enough and pulls me back up. She takes me to her own world and shows me that she feels loneliness, too. That everyone feels loneliness, that it is part of human existence or at least part of many or some or even just another. Then she walks away. I stand, stunned, and then realize she simply doesn't understand. She didn't want to. She wanted to fix it. For her, perhaps knowing that loneliness is part of mortality gives her the strength to reach out and befriend others, or to weather a specific trial. She has information that strengthens her, and this information is supposed to soak up the sea within me. It does not.

I try again, and this time the journey is even shorter. We begin descending, then shortly rising up again. He doesn't want to see it. The story repeats over and over and over. Each time, as we rise, I hear advice, counsel, warnings, stories... all given with the hope that they will quench or at least still the rumblings in my soul. Most are well-meant. Be friendly. Serve others. Others, while also perhaps well-intentioned, are subversive. "Get a boyfriend. Find a husband. Leave the Church. Try it... because you'll never know until you try." (I'm not the new kid on the block. I've spoken with thousands of people - gay, straight, Mormon, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and unbelieving. I've heard enough stories to see at least some patterns. Getting a boyfriend or rejecting God, while it may seem to cause temporary absolution, is not going to fix my loneliness or any other problem.) I follow the counsels that align with God, hoping, as they do, that these newest attempts will work. They do not.

Few people have made it far enough to truly see my sea of loneliness. A therapist who broke down in tears. A girl I had never met who then had nightmares for months. Another who, days later, tried to commit suicide, facing newfound depression triggered in that moment. Ironically, strangers can make the journey. Some seem to go mad when they arrive. But those closest to me rarely finish.

I think it is because loneliness is such a common human emotion, and one that is seemingly easily understood. Cultures around the world teach that friendship and love cures loneliness. Listening cures it. Understanding cures it. Caring cures it. We've learned that, alone, people can weather loneliness and find healthy ways to cope... but we also believe that a truly loving friend has the ability to make it all better. That's what loneliness is, isn't it? Needing someone who cares and understands? And so those who have no felt need to be my friend can make the journey to the sea of loneliness and feel its breadth... but those who are tied to me find themselves unwilling to go further, because seeing it and feeling it, in their eyes, makes them less worthwhile.

People who love have a hard time handling loneliness in those they love. I know I do. Even though my experience is my own, I believe that if I listen, understand, and care enough, I can help someone else not feel lonely. And it works. We read and talk to those in comas so they feel loved, and it gives them the strength to stay alive. We listen to friends and strangers pour out their hearts and they find the will to go on another day. It is only when we've done our best, and so have they, that the pain becomes too intense to understand.

I think, though, that I am different. Is it possible that I've just gotten it wrong and the loneliness I feel is my fault or the fault of those around me? Maybe. But it's far more likely that I am wired for loneliness - that, like those who live in chronic pain or are born blind or tall or short, loneliness is just part of who I am. My loneliness doesn't go away. It stays. It makes it really hard to be my friend, since we ascribe loneliness to a lack of meaningful friendship. But I choose to believe that it's not the fault of the people around me, or my own, but a gift from God to make me into the person I am.

Loneliness is the foundation of my reality. The habits and structures and relationships of my life are built on a foundation of intense loneliness... and out of the desire to help others who feel, at least somewhat, the same way. I stand at the door of my chapel and greet people because I am lonely. I invite people to activities and do my home teaching and blog at (Gay) Mormon Guy and run my shop and make friends and do almost everything valuable in my life because I am lonely. Not because I believe that it will go away, but because that loneliness fills me with a need to help others. It reminds me that there are people in the world that feel acute, intense, enormous pain... and that I can do something to help.

If I weren't lonely, I wouldn't care about others. Honestly and truthfully, I don't think I would. From my perspective, every other human emotion is endurable and people can deal with it on their own. I've felt pain, hunger and fear, loss, frustration, anger, sadness, depression... and all of them are emotions that have solutions that people have to implement by themselves. I can share information, but I can't fix it. But loneliness... my experience notwithstanding, loneliness you don't solve by being alone. There is nothing worse than loneliness. And to fix it, loneliness needs someone else. And the only someone else I have is me.

This is my reality. I am friendly, outgoing, and surrounded by people who love me. I am honest in my relationships and committed to my friends. I have a best friend who will do anything for me, a supportive family, and mentors I can turn to. My life has meaning, and I feel infinite love from God.

And I am lonely.

And that's ok.

It's ok to walk with me to my sea of loneliness and then to sit with me and see me in pain and not be able to do anything about it. To tell me and show me that you care even when you know it doesn't change the sea inside. To do everything you can to make a difference even if it doesn't seem to. Perhaps that will help us both to realize that friendship and human interaction are about something deeper than just quenching loneliness and filling unmet emotional needs - that you and I are here to do far more than to love and feel loved.

Wednesday, March 16

North Star and the 2016 North Star Conference - "Upon the Rock of Christ"

It's been a while since I did anything with North Star.

North Star is a multi-faceted organization. As a base, the organization provides resources for members of the LDS Church and community to help them understand and navigate issues surrounding sexuality. Under that umbrella, North Star organizes inspirational firesides, encourages positive blog posts, holds annual conferences, and publishes information on same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria, and a bunch of other issues. North Star is somewhat unique (and, from my perspective, this is an absolute necessity) in its role of explicitly and exclusively affirming the LDS faith. (There are dozens of organizations that encourage exploration of sexuality within Mormonism and, whether to avoid hurt feelings or send subliminal messages, do not officially support LDS doctrine. This inevitably leads to the propagation of anti-Mormon messages.)

I was actually on the Executive Committee of North Star for a little while. I didn't accomplish much while in office. I left after only a few months because I was stressed with issues in life, because I didn't like meetings, and because I had strong feelings about direction that didn't seem to match with what was going to happen.

So I took a break.

Some back story is probably required here.

For many people helped by North Star, the defining characteristic of North Star is the camaraderie gained through association. North Star hosts a number of private email and Facebook groups, and, to many people, "North Star" is a Facebook group or discussion group itself, or a group of people who show up to a fireside or event. To join groups, individuals pledge to follow a strict code of conduct, and the groups and posts have assigned moderators, but like any other discussion board where moderation happens after the fact, a lot gets through, and moderation is hard to enforce or determine where to draw the line (hence why (G)MG is not moderated after the fact. Every comment that goes up gets approved before it does, and there are plenty that don't just because). And, since the Facebook group uses people's real identity, things can happen that are less than ideal. For many people, events and communications sponsored by North Star are inspiring and uplifting, but for a few, an anti-Mormon post on their Facebook feed or the person who breaks the code of conduct and acts inappropriately in a personal message or in person can lead to much more negative experiences.

The issue is that North Star serves a huge, diverse population with incredibly diverse needs. While those who are first coming to terms with their sexuality may crave and need security, anonymity, and positive reinforcement in a completely safe environment, those who have progressed and developed their own testimonies and personal strength find value in openness, friendship, and the ability to be themselves around others. Ideally, perhaps North Star would offer different resources to different people along the way, but most people learn of the organization through the resources that would be offered last - the in-person or open groups.

From my spot here at (G)MG I've seen a lot of people in pain. I've met countless people who have made bad decisions and are trying to clean up the mess... and ultimately that's where my heart lies. There are plenty of people who have come to terms with their sexuality, perhaps found a spouse (if they're lucky enough / blessed to have that in this life), and risen from their addictions into healthy living... but there are plenty who have not. I'm an idealist. And I wanted North Star to be an ideal resource for them. Or, perhaps more accurately, for what I assumed their needs to be based on my own personal experience.

You see, when I looked for help while struggling through addiction, I couldn't find anything. The world seemed totally blank and dismal, and the lack of information on the topic made me honestly think that I was the only guy in the Church who was attracted to other men. All the blogs I found were of people who had left, or were obviously in the process of leaving the faith. I had nothing.

I just wanted someone to answer my questions. Someone to talk to. I didn't need to know their name, or go bowling with them, or do anything else. I had a social life of my own, with my own ward and people who cared about me for me. I just needed someone who could help me understand part of me that no one else could, in a way that made me feel understood.

The difficulty is that what I wanted (and what I as an Executive Committee member wanted North Star to exclusively become) - a personal source of honest, safe, and reliable information from someone who could help me understand - would be incredibly resource-intensive to create and maintain.

And the fact that I also wanted to eliminate any potential source of danger until people had proven they were completely safe (which would have meant shutting down the Facebook groups, turning the email groups into completely pre-moderated groups or boards, and only inviting limited members to in-person events)...


Part of me feels that I'm like the dad in Finding Nemo. I've seen and felt so much pain in the past that I have trouble letting people go into situations where they could get hurt.

But another part of me still feels the pain watching people in the past, and still sees the danger. If I'm in a deeply compromised emotional state, feeling alone, and stuck in addiction (the exact state when I began searching for help), and my first introduction to the gay Mormon community is an event where I meet someone really attractive who shares my feelings, wants to be my friend, and is also deeply unhealthy, it doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize how easily and likely it is that we would make really bad decisions. Yes, I could go find someone like that on my own, but that's far less likely for an aspiring saint than befriending someone with good intentions and having things go out of control.

Along with the stress of life and work, that's why I took a break. I stopped mentioning North Star to people who turned to me for help, buried myself in my own little world of (G)MG, and pulled myself away.

But I'm going to the annual conference this year. It's being held at the Provo Marriott - a block from my shop - and I feel like I should give North Star another chance. Every organization has problems - groups are made of imperfect people - but at its core, North Star was founded to help people... and it does. As I said at the beginning, it's one of the few that officially supports the Church, and the volunteer forces behind the group are small. By withdrawing, I only give more space to the people on the other side. It would be like shutting down (G)MG because of haters or hate mail.

And that's the other part. North Star can't be everything to everyone, and it can't meet the needs of all the people who come for help. But, then again, it doesn't need to, because today there are other places where those needs are better met. Places that were far less common just a couple years ago. Inspired bishops trained on the topic who can give personal counsel. Specific doctrine and General Conference talks given by Church leaders. And here at (G)MG, I've created an imperfect, deeply flawed, but hopefully completely safe version of what I wanted when I was looking for help.

I think that's the reality here. There are places to go to find answers, places for spiritual guidance, places of safety, and places for friendship. Each one comes with caveats and warnings. I'm great for blogging and clarity in thought, but I'm a terrible friend (ask my best friend for confirmation - he may deny it, but it's totally true). A North Star event or group may be incredibly unsafe or negative in some circumstances and for some people, but in/for others it can open the door to lasting positive friendships. The key is knowing, communicating, and working with those limitations to achieve the final goal - living the gospel and finding personal happiness and peace.

The North Star Conference is this weekend. It's called "Upon the Rock of Christ," and the Conference is focused on helping people gain personal resources to come unto Christ, develop better relationships, and overcome their own personal roadblocks. The conference schedule and registration is available at - registration is also available at the door.

I'm not sure what my role will be going forward in this community of being gay and Mormon. As I said before, I hate meetings, and I'm an awful friend. Therapy doesn't seem to work for me because I have trouble connecting with therapists. I have a huge aversion to danger, except that I'm sometimes oblivious to dangerous situations. I don't connect with people well, and I honestly feel like people don't want me around (that's a holdover from bipolar if nothing is... or it's a sign of some unsettled deeply rooted emotional problem that I should process here on (G)MG). I've always been a loner, and I'll probably continue to be a loner until God somehow fixes me (or helps me work through it). But, as peripheral as I may be, as difficult as it may be for me to participate, I'm still here. (G)MG still gets views, sometimes my posts go viral... and every so often, someone tells me that I've helped them in their life. The first are spurious, but the last reminds me that I, too, have something valuable to share. I'm part of something bigger - one of many who is trying to help people come unto Christ and find salvation in Him - and God gave me specific talents, blessings, trials, and circumstances so that I could do my part.

Sunday, March 6

Will You?

I know that God is real. He is the ruler of the Universe. Truly Good. Honest. True. Understanding. Loving. Just. Merciful. Perfect.

He is my Father - the Father of my soul. He loves me... and He knows my thoughts, hopes, dreams, desires, wants, and needs better than I know myself. 

God wants me to be truly happy... and so He created a Plan for me. Mortality - and within that mortal life, experiences chosen to help me to grow, to push and stretch me, to enable me to find true happiness and eternal life.

Mortal life would be the most difficult experience I had ever faced. While it would offer me the best possible opportunities to return to God, it also held the possibility that I would choose to turn away. The circumstances of life would be so hard that I would ultimately have only two choices: either humbly submit completely to God, or turn away from Him and choose my own path.

I know that God is in control. The things in my brain - whether my attraction to men, the depression I faced, or anything else - weren't just flukes of nature, forced on me by birth. They were carefully selected for me - to try and test and bless and comfort and transform my soul. The things that happen to me outside my control are also not happenstance. God is all-powerful, and that means that He is in control - completely in control - of everything that happens and everything that is. Sometimes He causes things to happen; other times He allows them to happen. Either way He is in control... and His ultimate grace is that *everyone* will have all they need to return to Him. And so all those circumstances, and all the experiences of life beyond my control, are part of His Plan. Whether they seem torment or bliss in the moment, whether I call them blessings or trials, everything in life is His Gift to me, with every single point perfectly designed to lead me back to Him. Life is not unfair... but it is far beyond equality or even fairness. In reality, the deck of life is stacked in my favor, with each and every circumstance chosen by a loving God specifically for me.

God knew that I would falter. That the experiences and trials and temptations of life, in order to have the strength to change my soul, would also leave me bruised, battered, broken, hopeless, and alone. Alone, I would fail, and, marred from my own decisions, I could no longer stand in His presence.

And so He chose one of His Sons - Jesus Christ - to do something I don't truly comprehend. Christ would come to Earth as the literal, physical Son of God, live a truly flawless mortal life, and then suffer and die for the imperfections of my mortal existence. His death and Resurrection would then allow Him, as my personal Savior, to show a path for me - His younger brother - to return Home.

God knows that path to happiness, but I've forgotten. So He tells me what I need to do. He speaks to prophets, gives me scriptures, and, in answer to my prayers, He touches the depths of my soul with knowledge of what I should do.

It's not easy. It was designed to be the hardest possible experience of eternity because only that would do to change my soul. Most of the time I don't understand. An important part of mortality is determining what choices I will make, without knowing all the answers. Will I have the faith to follow God in difficult paths, even if I don't understand? Will I have the humility to let God guide my life even when I'm afraid, alone, hurt, or struggling to survive?

Temptations and trials are real. They offer real, tangible, and sometimes immediate benefits. Sleeping in, rather than reading the scriptures, is far easier. Keeping the law of chastity - and understanding the personal aspects where it applies to me - when the world and my hormones are pushing me to do otherwise is a hard thing.

But temptations wouldn't be temptations if they didn't offer something valuable... and true temptations have to offer something beyond just value. True temptations, to have the strength to change the core of my being, have to require me to place *everything* on the altar of sacrifice. To consecrate everything to God... and prove to myself and to Him that I am willing to follow Him and choose the right, no matter how hard or difficult it may seem.

And so it is. My desire to understand and lift others is contrasted by autism. My desire for unwavering optimism contrasted by bipolar disorder. And my desires to have a family of my own, to be a father, to feel loved, and to fit in contrasted by same-sex attraction and everything else.

But those contrasts truly do change me. Bipolar depression fractured my dreams, but then taught me new ones... and pushed me outside myself to lift others in need. Autism and its desolate loneliness brought me to know God and feel His love when nothing else could bridge the chasm. Same-sex attraction taught me, above all, humility - learning to have faith in God's promises, His timing, His ways, and His commandments even when the things I want (love, a family, children of my own) may seem impossible given the current circumstances.

I know that God is real. That He is in control. At the end of the day, I can either choose to follow Him, trust Him, and believe Him... or to follow, trust, and believe myself instead.

I've made mistakes, and had to follow the road of repentance. I'm sure that my life will be full of failure and frustration as well as triumph and joy. But in the end life is a choice.

I choose to follow Him. I choose to believe Him. I choose to trust Him... even though I don't know what tomorrow will bring. 

Will I get married in this life? Will I have kids of my own to teach and love? Will I ever be able to understand people or honestly feel accepted or understood?

I don't know. 

But I choose to let God worry about the future and how it will all unfold. To let Him guide me. To let Him chart the path. I know that I'll make tons of mistakes, just like I have before. But I choose to follow Him no matter where He leads me, no matter how hard or even impossible following Him, or returning to the Plan, may seem.

And I invite you to do the same.

Will you?

Friday, March 4

Happiness vs Purpose

Someone asked me today if I was happy with my life. It was an honest question, which can be rare in a world built on insubstantial small talk.

I answered honestly. I am happy. I love my life, my Church, my family and friends, my work... and I'm definitely happy.

But the question made me think.


It's such a strange thing.

And so intertwined with other, sometimes seemingly exclusive principles:

Fun. Meaning. Purpose. Fulfillment. Achievement. Growth. Bliss. Pleasure.

Tonight after the Friday night rush, pulled a dozen different directions and feeling inadequate the entire time, was I happy? Not really. I was tired and wanting to figure out how to make busy Friday nights less stressful. Tonight was better than last week, but it's still definitely not there yet. So happiness can be fleeting.

But was I fulfilled? I just spent the last few hours helping other people feel happy. Enabling them to find a piece of something unique, experience something new, and open their minds. Mixed with the stress was an overlay of people who honestly had a great time and will probably tell their friends and remember those hours for months to come. And I designed that. My best friend and I, along with thousands of customers along the way, made that process happen. That's something special.

So this afternoon I felt happy, and tonight I feel fulfilled.

And that seems pretty normal for my life.

Being autistic has made the emotional aspect of life simple and complex. Complex because emotions are often extremely intense for me. Someone made fun of my voice tonight, and even thought it was light-hearted, trivial, and maybe even expected given the circumstance, I honestly felt like I had been hit by an emotional truck. I wanted to never talk again. Simple because when I feel those emotions, I can usually separate them from logic and then choose which path I really want to follow. I smiled, kept talking, and everyone took the joke the way it had been intended. Another memory - when I had the heart-wrenching realization that I might not be a dad in this life - which has been my biggest dream and hope and desired blessing for as long as I can remember - it threatened to rip me apart emotionally. I remember breaking into tears that wouldn't stop. For other people I've met, that same realization made them question their testimonies. I didn't. I don't remember where I was, but it was inconvenient at the time that I couldn't handle it emotionally.... so I put my emotions on the side, promised myself I'd figure it out, prayed for strength, went on with life, and then later processed my feelings in a blog post or journal entry.

I like to think that I value all of the seemingly exclusive goals - happiness, meaning, joy, fun, achievement, and growth - and that I'n unwilling to let myself fall for a path that subverts one for more of the other. I'm not willing to stay someplace that I'm not happy. But, then again, I'm not willing to go search for happiness somewhere where I'd lose part of the meaning in my life.

So when corporate recruiters talked to me and my classmates in the MBA program about uber-boring-sounding jobs with amazing pay... I wasn't excited. If someone said that I could "work my way" into a better position, that wasn't interesting. I made the decision that I would love my life forever... and if it stopped making me happy or giving me purpose, then I'd do whatever it takes to make it happen - always focusing on keeping both sides.

That's one reason why leaving the Church isn't an option. Yes, I could slowly let myself fall away from the gospel, and my testimony would ebb away perhaps slow enough to be imperceptible. Find people outside the gospel, and slowly let myself be pulled or pushed or drawn in that direction until I was far away. It happens. There could be a reason, an excuse, or something else at the beginning. But the deep reality is that, no matter how much I could fall away, I've had personal spiritual experiences intense enough that time and distance could never make them go away entirely. I would always know, deep down inside, that I had betrayed something I truly and deeply believed, something that I cared about, something that brought me incredible meaning even though it came at the price of dedicating my life. I could try to convince myself that living the gospel and finding joy was impossible, or that it was ok, or that it was better this way, or anything else, and maybe I could even do it. I convince myself of things all the time. But the God who heard my prayers when I needed Him, who sent me love in the form of people and feelings and rain, the God who loves me enough to let me live a life of complexity would assuredly prick my conscience one day down the road, and give me the chance to choose Him again. Would I be humble enough to follow?

I think that, in the long run, meaning and purpose should win out over temporary happiness... but that meaning and purpose should *bring* happiness as well. The people I've always admired most in my life are those who, even when dealt difficult lives and dismal futures, pursue meaning with dedication. King David, who, somehow, made a series of poor decisions and killed another man for his wife... but then spent a good portion of the remainder of his life praising God and trying to repent (at least, that's my idealistic view of it). Men whose wives leave them when they share their same-sex attraction or addiction to pornography, but the men make it back to the temple and the Church again. Others who have lived with gay partners or spouses and, hearing the missionaries or remembering their past, make the decision to change their lives and give up part of who they once were.

Gospel living - what should be the ultimate in meaning - should simultaneously bring happiness. Happiness isn't for the next life only. It's for now. Living in the gospel brings joy in people's lives, and if the gospel isn't doing it for me, then I can be totally sure that I am doing something wrong. (The gospel is never to blame - it is perfectly designed for every single human being in existence to help them find maximum happiness and purpose. So leaving the Church, while it may temporarily decrease external stress, wouldn't be a good decision if I'm looking to maximize my experience here on Earth.) Usually when I'm unhappy or unfulfilled, my perspective is to blame. I don't understand a principle, or I lack faith, or I don't trust that God knows what He is doing. In the past, sometimes it was addiction. Or severe depression. Or whatever.

But yeah. I guess my takeaway is that, while happiness can be transient, meaning is really, really important. So the way to live my life is to first find the things that bring the greatest meaning (the gospel foremost, helping people find joy, teaching, stuff like that), then, second, figure out how to find the greatest happiness within those meaningful bounds.

Which means that meaning (as a thing, or as a type of happiness) is more important to me than just happiness itself... since finding happiness within meaningful (and often difficult) circumstances can take some creativity and time.

I hope I can remember that the next time I'm super stressed, or facing a difficult decision, or bemoaning the fact that if life had gone according to my plan, I'd have kids of my own by now. Yes, living life the way God intended is always more difficult. But the growth, perspective, meaning, and fulfillment are always amazing... and, in the moments when I'm able to actually live and understand the gospel in its fullness, living life according to God brings happiness, joy, and bliss far greater than any alternative.