Thursday, July 7

Washing Seven Times in the River Jordan

When I struggled most with addictions to pornography, felt worse as a gay mormon than the sludge of the earth, and couldn't even bring myself to pray, inside my heart I still had the wish for a miracle. The wish to be clean... to be made whole... to be normal.

In the scriptures I feel a kinship to many of the people who undergo suffering in life... but perhaps no one more than the lepers - men and women physically cast out of their homes and families because of leprosy. Leprosy in the times of the Jews was viewed almost exactly as homosexuality was by me on my hardest days... and it had almost the exact same effects. An incurable curse of uncleanliness... an unspoken and unspeakable condition that divided me from humanity and feeling loved or understood by mankind. Except that, unlike the lepers, who could be seen and upon whom others could take compassion... no one could ever see my sores... there was no one to share my pain.

In 2 Kings, chapter 5, the scriptures tell the story of a man named Naaman. He was a good man... but he had leprosy... and he was miraculously healed through non-miraculous means.

1 Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.
2 And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife.
3 And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.
9 So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.
10 And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
11 But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
13 And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?
14 Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

Someone asked me this week what my solution was. What had I done that had tamed the dragon of homosexual desires and freed me from the draw of pornography and the grasp of addiction? I've tried hundreds of ideas - reading books, writing journal entries, buying good music, getting priesthood blessings, dating, trying to make friends with guys and fix old relationships, and making convoluted deals with myself to reward good behavior and punish bad. But none of them worked. They all seemed to give me some strength, and they all seemed initially to be the answer to my desires... but in the end none of them stuck. I found myself in the same hole as before. And, in reality, the answer was right in front of me all along.

For most of my life, I had the same misunderstanding that Naaman did. Like leprosy was to him, homosexuality seemed to me an unbearable and unusual trial - something that merited an unusual miracle to set me free. I wanted a priesthood blessing that would make me fall in love with a girl, or a set of unique therapeutic techniques that would leave me never wanting to see pornography again. That didn't happen - the same way Elisha didn't come out and strike the spots to make him clean. 

I saw very little success until I tried one last thing - focusing on the basic principles, the Primary answers, of the gospel. And not just focusing on them, but making them into the fabric of my life.

In Preach My Gospel it says that a study of doctrine will change behavior better than a study of behavior will change behavior. In my mind, I visualize my spirituality and ability to keep the commandments as a long line compared to the topics of the gospel. I was on solid ground around my testimony of the Book of Mormon, my belief in the prophet, my commitment to the temple. But where pornography and all its attendant demons lay, there was a massive chasm that stretched down into the abyss itself. 

For a long time, I tried to fill the abyss by throwing rocks in it. I'd pick up a technique like turning off the Internet in my apartment, and toss it in, hoping that it would suddenly cause the chasm to rise. Um... it doesn't take a geologist to tell me that's not going to happen. 

But any kid on the beach can tell you there are two ways to fill, or dig, a hole. 

When you dig a hole in the sand, you dig straight down. But eventually, because the sand relies on other sand laterally to support it, and the undersides are slowly eroded by water exposed by the hole, the sides of the hole collapse in an ever-expanding ring. The same thing happens with many problems in the gospel. Let them grow deeper and deeper, and eventually the problem that was once small will erode away everything. I've known men who bore powerful testimonies as they began to struggle with same-gender attraction... or who were just facing offense in the Church... but who gave in to it and years later told me they didn't even believe in God.

Filling a hole, or building a mountain, works the same way. You can try to build upward, but the higher the sand pile, the larger the area it covers. And because in the gospel it becomes easier to grow the more righteous you are, filling a hole is easier... and makes more sense... by focusing on simply increasing faith that is already there nearby. When I learn and apply principles of the gospel, my faith "spills over" into other areas - because the gospel is related.

Obviously, there were things I had to still focus on. Throwing caution to the wind because I do my scripture study is foolhardy. But it wasn't until I started truly focusing on the "little" things - prayer, scripture study, church activity, serving others, and sharing the gospel - that my demons and my hole of faith began to shrink. But that is how it worked for me. And as my faith has grown, it has set me free.

I'll include a major caveat. I'm not talking about scripture study where I sit down and read for ten minutes before sleeping, or prayers said quickly before bed. Those never had the power to change me. No. I needed much, much more, over a much longer period of time. One of the scriptural meanings of the number seven is "a whole lot." Naaman had to wash a whole lot of times in the river Jordan; I had to do a whole lot to begin to see results from filling my hole of faith. And the results I saw weren't complete and total change, but an increased perspective and faith in the Lord that He would fulfill His promises. Either way, it was worth it. My scripture study was daily, and combined with more time on Sunday translated into literally hours of personal reflection and writing each week - trying to see personal stories and meaning in the scriptures even when it was hard to stay focused. My prayers lasted sometimes for hours - written and spoken and voiced conversations with God on every topic under the sun, learning about Him and His will in my life. It meant that I took personal responsibility for as much as I could in Church, and actively reached out and included others even when I felt left out. I opened my mouth and shared the gospel even when I felt awkward and out of place. 

I think the biggest initial shock and investment was the amount of time that it took to actually live the gospel and do the small things enough to make it work. It took me at least 15 hours each week to do just the basics - earnest prayer, meaningful scripture study, reflection, and journaling - not even counting spontaneous service and missionary opportunities. I found I had to plan out my day and week or I would end up turning down social invitations because I needed to take the time to pray or write or study. But I wanted to change who I was - enough that I was willing to wash in the Jordan as many times as necessary... and over years, slowly, it has changed my life.

Unlike Naaman, however, I'm still washing in the Jordan today... and I'll probably have to wash in it every day for the rest of my life. I still have to worry about the pull of pornography jumping from the shadows, and attraction taking center stage in my mind. I may be attracted to some men for the rest of mortality. But every time I read the scriptures, pray, or turn to the Lord in faith, He strengthens me... and I am that much closer to being the man He sees in me. I'll get there someday. But I'm pretty certain it will take a whole lot more than washing in a river seven times.


  1. That was a great read.
    I have to admit that I am one of the fallen ones; I am someone who has caved in to homosexuality and is not sure if he can return to believing in God. Some might think that it is tragic - and maybe it is - but trying to be straight has been exhausting and has drained me and has kept me in pain. I read your posts and the pain you feel is so real and so dominant in your life that I wonder when you ever feel happy. Maybe it's tragic, but I want to kiss another guy and be happy.

  2. Island Guy:

    I am happy. Really, truly, and honestly happy - enough that some people in my life wonder what makes me so fulfilled (especially the rare person who also knows about the things I live with). I wake up and start beaming with a smile and life moves upward from there... but I wasn't always that way, and that's why I wrote this post. I used to wonder if it was worth the work and the effort and whatever else it would take to conquer my trials; I didn't feel I had the strength or the ability, and I didn't feel like I could turn to God for help. But as I did, in spite of my misgivings and lack of faith, I found a source of strength and a wealth of hope and love and peace and joy beyond anything I could ever describe. The gospel really does have the answer to all of life's problems - mine included - and it has those same answers for you. It takes a lot of work, and a lifetime of dedication, but everyone starts somewhere. And like Alma taught, just making room for an experiment in your heart is sometimes enough to start.

    No matter where you have gone or what has happened, I have a testimony that the gospel has the power to give you hope and strength and peace beyond anything you can find anywhere else. And no matter where you have gone, you can always come back... and the Lord will always receive you with open arms.

  3. "and making convoluted deals with myself to reward good behavior and punish bad"

    Burrhus would be so proud!

  4. Thank you for answering that question from your friend so eloquently and honestly mormon guy. I believe if anyone who struggles will take those steps of faith to turn to God instead of away from him (as you have described in this post), He will reach out to them and help them back make it back home to him.... one step at a time.

    There will undoubtedly be difficulties and even some reversals along the journey , but that is what forgiveness (seventy times seven as He said) and the atonement are for. If we don't give up on Him (or ourselves), even when we stumble and make mistakes, the scriptures are filled with abundant evidence that He will not give up on us.

    As a gay man living a straight life, the message of God's unconditional love for all of us, flawed as we may sometimes feel, is what gives me hope and encourages me to never give up.


  5. Ryan:

    If my first name were Burrhus, I would probably hide it behind an initial as well. I think you may be obsessed with B.F. Skinner. Or at least obsessed with mentioning and referencing him in your comments here...

  6. What can I say, I'm obsessed with sharing truth just like you :)

  7. Thank you. This doesn't directly apply to what I'm going through right now, but the spirit doesn't always need exact wording to get his point across.

    I'm really struggling with my schoolwork right now, and the major I chose is really not working out for me. I'm very much a creative person, and the major I picked is very math-skill oriented... Needless to say I need to make a change, the Lord WANTS me to change it, but as expected my mother is steadfastly gainsaying the idea.

    I realized as I was reading this post that it's literally been weeks since I said a heartfelt prayer, and half as long since I even read my scriptures more than dutifully. It pains me to realize that I'm slipping, and apathy is sliding its way back into my life.

    So thank you. Keep posting about anything and everything, so the spirit can keep prompting me to listen.

  8. Mormon Guy,

    I really love this post because, even though I don't struggle with same-gender attraction, I've found it very difficult to reconcile the nature of same-gender attraction to my understanding of the Gospel. There are simply times when I can't understand how the Church's position on homosexuality is correct. But, because of the testimony I have in other areas, I choose to believe it and defend it the best way I know how.

    I found your post helpful because I have always believed that, if I will dedicate myself enough, that God will make sense of everything to me. Maybe he will, but maybe he wont. What you show me here is that, if I am serious about my discipleship--every day--I can find happiness and peace and assurance that these doctrines are true, even if I don't understand it all.

  9. I'm new to following this blog. But I really loved this post. It reminded me of a scripture I read the other day in 1 Nephi 7. Laman and Lemuel are again angry with Nephi, nothing new there. They bind him with strong cords, they wanted to kill Nephi. In 17-18 it says, "But it came to pass that I PRAYED unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my bretheren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound. And it came to pass that when I had said these words, behold, the bands were loosed from off my hands and feet, and I stood before my brethren, and I spake unto them." Those bands are just like our addictions. They bind us down. The only way we can be free from them is PRAYING for the STRENGTH of the Lord. He can free us from our temptations, our weaknesses, our sufferings...

    I think you are a prime example of Nephi.


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