Monday, January 23

Talk - Jan 22

I spoke in Church this week. It was my first talk to my new single adult ward, and the first I've given in almost 6 years. I thought I'd share. :)


"And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years,
And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,
When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.
For she said, 'If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.'"

For twelve years, this woman was tämē (tahmay) - unclean. Mosiac law dictated that she be isolated – both physically and spiritually – from her community. She was unable to attend the temple, participate in social events, or touch anyone, ever. Anything and anyone she touched was unclean, polluted, and defiled.

Which meant that, for twelve years, she was alone.

My name's David Peterson. I just turned 31 and began attending the ward.

And today I want to talk about something we've all experienced – what it feels like to be lost, alone, and unclean... and how we can grow from that experience.

I look like I should fit in. I grew up the oldest of 9 in the suburbs of Chicago, served a mission in Rome, got my undergrad and masters degrees from BYU. After school, I ended up working for the Church, then for a business consulting firm, did some other random stuff, and finally started a natural health company. I currently run a shop in downtown Provo called The Soap Factory.

But while my resume seems full, the reality is that, deep inside me, I often feel completely broken and alone.

On the outside, the certain woman probably looked normal. We know very little about her, except that the trial she faced was hidden from the world. As are mine. I'm autistic, bipolar, and gay.

As an autist, I struggle to connect with people even when they want to. I'm awkward in ways that make it hard for people to get close to me or even approach me.

With bipolar, I face feelings of worthlessness and depression.

And as a gay Mormon... yeah. As a gay Mormon I find myself forced to choose between two exclusive cultures and communities... yet feeling outcast from both.

I'll start with some background. 

My greatest desire in life is to be a husband and a dad. I want to have a big family and teach my kids the gospel and help them work out their own salvation. I know the Church is true, and I've seen the hand of God guiding my life from day to day. I spend my spare time reading articles about parenting, learning about relationships, and improving my ability to connect with others. Everything I do is in preparation for someday being the best dad in the world.

I'm also not attracted to women, at all. I feel a deeper connection with guys. I'd rather talk with guys than girls, hold hands with guys, and spend my life with guys.

In the gay community, guys my age are usually either looking for long-term relationships that turn into marriage or sex... and I'm not interested in either. Most guys in the gay community aren't interested in becoming friends with someone or starting a relationship that won't lead to something more.

In the Mormon community, most people don't understand what it means to be gay. They don't understand that I want guys to hug me, hold my hand, and look into my eyes without looking away. And if they do understand, they definitely don't want it to happen. I've had many guys never speak to me again when they learned I was gay... and plenty of others who avoid touching me for the same reason. The current iteration of the BYU Honor Code actually bans holding hands if you're gay... but not if you're straight.

Both communities are crystal clear on one thing though – if I want to fully participate in their community, and find all the happiness they offer, I have to find love and raise a family.

There's obviously no way for me to be a part of both... and with the issues I face, I would be hard-pressed to be a part of either. Which ultimately means that oftentimes I feel incredibly alone.

All of us here have likely felt the same way. As members of a single adult ward, we don't have as many structures to support us. When we were young, we had Duty to God and Personal Progress as goals and rulers to determine our progress. Eagle Scout and Seminary, then missions and Institute and college. Those who take the marriage track move on to having children, helping them through life, and then ultimately serving missions with a spouse until you die a happy death surrounded by your descendants.

Those who don't take the marriage track get sort of cast off. In other churches, there are orders for monks and nuns who lives single lives. Church leaders in the Catholic church and some others are always single. But, in a somewhat ironic turn of events, single men and women (and especially single men) aren't really accepted in the LDS Church.

It can be easy to think that God has forgotten about us.

But that is where true faith comes in. 

In CS Lewis's The Screwtape Letters, at one point Screwtape speaks to Wormwood (one devil to another) “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's (God's) will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

True faith can only be forged in the hottest fires... and if we are faithful, God will put us where the fire burns us hottest, then leave us there long enough to burn our souls away. We may feel alone, but He is there, watching, closer than we could ever imagine. And He knows exactly what we need to become the people He sees in us.

And that is what I want you to take away from this talk – no matter what you face, no matter what you've done, no matter how many of your dreams have gone unfulfilled and how many prayers have gone unanswered, turn to God and trust Him. Follow Him. Do what He tells you to do... not because it will bring the blessings you want, when you want them, but because it's the right thing to do. 

Do what is right because it's the right thing to do.

I bear witness that following God is worth it, even when you've lost all hope. It's worth it even if it means going through pain, or sorrow. It's worth it no matter what the alternative.

What does that mean?

Alma taught what this means in Alma 7:23:
"And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal; always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive. "

In our lives, it means losing our pride. It means that when we mess up, we need to repent. To go to the bishop and confess our sins even when we're afraid that we'll look bad and might lose our membership and all our friends. It means that we need to cut ties with people who pull us away from the gospel and focus on finding friends who will keep us here. It means being willing to do whatever God wants us to do. It means being grateful for the blessings we do receive, even when we don't get the blessings we want. It means being willing to wait, even when it's really, really hard. It means giving up our anger and frustration and turning them into hope. It means that we need to try to do the right thing even when we don't feel like doing the right thing, when it seems that our emotions, the Spirit, and everything else has failed us and when we have no idea how God will ever keep His promises... and when those promises seem like they will never come true.

All of us are sinners somewhere on the pathway to perfection. We move forward and backward, make progress and sin. I'm a sinner. You are a sinner. But where we are on that path doesn't matter nearly as much as which way we are going.

In our darkest hour, it means that we always need to turn to God. 

It doesn't matter how deep the pit
If I look towards the light
If I imagine sunshine
It breaks the darkest night

It doesn't matter how bright the light
If my face is turned away
In my shadow I cast darkness
And dim the brightest day

Both are always present
The darkness and the light
But I can only turn to one
Just one can be in sight

My resume of doings
My friends and my degree
Will never tell the truth
About the soul inside of me

At the end of life but one foundation
Shapes my day-to-day
Am I facing up to God
Or do I face away?

Oftentimes, in the Church, we talk about promised blessings. We talk a lot about promised blessings... and they become like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. If we're faithful, someday all of God's promises will come true... and we'll live happily ever after.

Reality is a different story. If we are faithful today, our lives will likely be difficult, painful, and lonely, as they have been in the past. But as we are faithful, we become more like God... and we begin to understand the greatest promised blessing. Happily Ever After is not something we receive. Happily Ever After is something we become... as we become like God.

If I had found my Happily Ever After when I wanted it, my life would be wholly different. I would be different. The circumstances of my life have made me kinder, more loving, more understanding. They pushed me to be friendly, to blog, to start businesses and to be a part of my community in ways I never would have dreamed. I'm grateful that God knew what I needed to find happiness... and had the love and wisdom to withhold the things I thought were right.

My encouragement to each of us is to be as the certain woman – who, after spending her life's savings and pouring out her soul to God, had finally developed the faith to become like Him.

"And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years,
And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse,
When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.
For she said, 'If I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole.'
And he saith unto her, 'Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole.'"

The miracle of the woman in Jerusalem wasn't physical. It was the spiritual healing – the peace and hope and faith that she had found... that was the miracle. And while God will likely never take away my trials or yours, while we will likely spend a lifetime spurred by unfulfilled desires and dreams and shattered hopes, someday, if we are faithful, we will receive the blessing that we give ourselves – the blessing of true and complete faith in God, becoming Happily Ever After by allowing Him to guide our paths no matter what it is we face.

As we press forward, may we look forward to the day when we, too, will hear the voice of the Lord:

"Thy faith hath made thee whole."

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.