Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Man in the Arena

So long I have meticulously attempted to throw people off the scent and cover my tracks; I didn't want anyone to know about my feelings.  The thought of others knowing me absolutely terrified me.  I cannot express the panic that filled my heart when people would ask me if I was gay, or even when the topic homosexuality came up for more than a few seconds.  Terror was interwoven with the fibers of my being (too cheesy?  whatever) as I painstakingly tip-toed through my adolescent years.  I just knew that I would be judged (and rightly so!  You can't be gay and Mormon, right?) by everyone if they knew who I really was.

While I still battle shame, timidity, and despair, things have changed dramatically.  This week I've told three people, and each experience has been wonderful and healing.  I'm desperately trying to live my life in the way that my Heavenly Father wants.  It's very difficult, because I don't know how open I should be or whom I should confide in or how people will react once they find out that I kinda like guys (a lot).

As a witness of Christ, I know that I should not be ashamed to testify of Him through word and deed.  From a broader perspective, we aren't truly competing against each other.  We're competing against ourselves.  I truly am my worst critic (although Satan gives me a run for my money on occasion), but I know that it is better for me to struggle and cry and brush the dirty blood from my knees than to not try at all.  As I keep up the fight, I give others courage to endure as well.  A perfect illustration of this principle is manifest in the following quote by Theodore Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

We cannot give up.  As cliché as that sounds, we will be trampled under the stampede of the adversary if we yield to his lies.  So while it is excruciating to be transparent and vulnerable, we shouldn't fear the shame of the world.  We chose this life.  We chose to risk defeat in hopes of glory. 

As children of God, we must remember whom we are trying to satisfy. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Institute Teacher

For a long time I've like I needed to talk to my institute teacher about my feelings. It was difficult and I wasn't sure why I felt prompted to do so, but this week I asked my teacher if I could talk to him in his office. I didn't quite know what to say or ask but I went forward with faith.

I explained to him that first long as I could remember his experienced same-sex attraction. He listened patiently and did not show any signs of discussed or shock, which I appreciate. He was very honest with me and said that he was not very experienced as far as these attractions go, and that he didn't really have much advice for me. However, he and admired my courage and my dedication to the Gospel. 

I asked him if there were any questions that he had for me, and he said the only thing he could think of was if I could be a resource to him in the future if any of his children experienced these attractions. 

He told me that over the years his views on these this issue have changed. He used to think that people with these attractions were gross and they couldn't be normal people, but he and his wife and now have several friends who have been open with him about their feelings and his love and understanding for those facing this issue have grown. 

I'm grateful to know that while not everyone will understand these experiences, they can still be loving and supportive and be willing to listen. There are people in your life who you can trust. They will be grateful for your vulnerability with them, and your relationship will often grow deeper by confiding in them. 

An Important Correlation

Puberty sucks, big time, period.  That being established (sorry for the use of the word "sucks." I think it's distasteful, but it helps get the point across without cussing.), puberty combined with same-sex attraction is a nasty cocktail.  If you grew up with these feelings, you know exactly what I mean (I imagine the feelings, emotions, and urges are similar in heterosexual male adolescents).

Anyway, like most of the girls my age, I was utterly boy-crazy.  Not the ideal situation for a bishop's son!  When I allowed myself to dwell on these fantasies, I gave Satan power to arouse lust within my soul.  As a result, I would be left shattered, empty, alone, worthless, pathetic, weak, disappointing, and unfit to live in the presence of the Holy Ghost.

After years of this struggle, I decided to take a different coping approach.  I made two lists.  On the first, I noted the emotions I experienced after any form of "acting out"  (Some of the feelings on that list are mentioned above).  On the other, I listed how I felt after I had resisted the urges of Satan.  Such emotions included: worthy, whole, strong, reliable, loyal, clean, pure, loved, responsible, and free.   I kept these two lists in my scriptures at all times, so whenever I opened them (at least once a day) I would see the two lists and would instantly be reminded of the emotional consequences of my actions.  This paper became a symbol for the underlying truth of agency: there is a correlation between happiness and obedience to the Lord's commandments.

I am so grateful, eternally so, for parents who taught me this correlation.  Without them, I would probably living a rather riotous yet meaningless lifestyle.  Applicable to all sins, I know that as we remember how we feel after making a choice (whether right or wrong), we will be able to act more responsibly in the future. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Here is Hope

In case you haven't noticed, I love Rob Gardner's music.  In one song from The Lamb of God, "Here is Hope," is sung from the perspective of Mary, the mother of Christ, after the Crucifixion.  One of the reasons that this song causes such a stirring in my heart is that hope can always been a notion seemingly beyond my reach, with an occasional glimpse of light.  When I returned from my full-time mission, I found the hope I had been searching for for my entire life at ldsvoicesofhope.org.  Knowing that there were others out there who shared my struggles and my goals was life-changing.  This song reminds me of my struggle and the hope that Christ has granted me through His atoning sacrifice.  I hope it touches you similarly:

"He who healed our sorrows
here was bruised and broken.
He whose love no end knows
here was forsaken,
left all alone.

Here despair cries boldly,

claiming this its victory.
Sweeter peace enfolds me -
hope did not die here
but here was given!
Here is hope.

He who was rejected

he knows well my longing
He so long expected
carried our burdens
bore every sorrow
Here, here, here is hope!

Here is love unbounded

here is all compassion
Here is mercy founded!

Hope did not die here,

but here was given.
And ours is the victory.
Here is hope."

 The other people in Christ's life continue this theme in the finale:

"He who healed our sorrows

rose with greater healing.
He whose love no end knows
lifts up our burden,
carries our grief.

He who was rejected

rose with power and glory.
He so long expected
come to redeem us,
come to deliver!
Here is hope.

*NARRATION: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? Nay.  In all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us*

Here is love unbounded!
Here is all compassion!
Here is mercy founded!
Oh great redeemer!
Oh prince of glory!
Here, here, here is hope!
Here is hope.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Free Forever, to Act for Themselves"

In a study known as the “Milgram Experiment” conducted at Yale University, individuals’ willingness to obey instructions conflicting with their personal beliefs was measured.  This experiment was inspired by the actions of the Nazis towards the Jews in World War II.

Basically, the person being studied would give a quiz to someone in the next room.  If the person in the other room gave an incorrect answer, the person giving the test was ordered to flip a switch which would administer an electric shock to the person in the next room.  With each successive incorrect answer, the voltage was increased.  The yelps, screams, and pleading of the “student” could be heard through the wall, until finally, the noises stopped due to the deadly voltage (in case you were wondering, the individual in the next room was an actor and received no actual shocks whatsoever). 

What was so chilling was the discovery that over 65% of the participants in this study continued to administer these shocks until they reached maximum voltage!  Mind you, all of them at one point or another asked if they could stop or if they would be held responsible for what happened in the other room.  The conductors of the experiment would urge them on, reminding them that all participants agreed to fully carry out the experiment. 

So what is the point of me sharing this study?  As a psychology student, I have been studying why people behave the way that they do.  There can be a parallel drawn between this experience and obedience to the Gospel.  I’m not trying to compare our leaders with Nazis, btw.   My point is that blind obedience to anyone or anything will still be on our record at the Day of Judgment.

Drawing from last general conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson quoted Shakespeare’s “The Life of King Henry V” in his talk “Free Forever, to Act for Themselves” (October 2014).  In this play, the king discovers that his troops feel no responsibility for their actions in battle; they believe that the blood is on their leader’s (Henry V) hands.  The King argues that every man is responsible for his own soul.

We are responsible for our own actions.  We are expected to “be anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27).

Elder Christofferson continues: “When things turn bad, there is a tendency to blame others or even God. Sometimes a sense of entitlement arises, and individuals or groups try to shift responsibility for their welfare to other people or to governments. In spiritual matters some suppose that men and women need not strive for personal righteousness—because God loves and saves us ‘just as we are.’

But God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, 'that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.’  It is His plan and His will that we have the principal decision-making role in our own life’s drama. God will not live our lives for us nor control us as if we were His puppets, as Lucifer once proposed to do. Nor will His prophets accept the role of ‘puppet master’ in God’s place. Brigham Young stated: ‘I do not wish any Latter Day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ,—the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves.’”

We are born innocent, free from the guilt of the sins of our first parents.  We are therefore responsible for our own actions.

Christofferson teaches that “The gospel of Jesus Christ opens the path to what we may become. Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ and His grace, our failures to live the celestial law perfectly and consistently in mortality can be erased and we are enabled to develop a Christlike character. Justice demands, however, that none of this happen without our willing agreement and participation. It has ever been so. Our very presence on earth as physical beings is the consequence of a choice each of us made to participate in our Father’s plan.  Thus, salvation is certainly not the result of divine whim, but neither does it happen by divine will alone.”

Without Christ’s grace, justice would prevent us from returning to our Heavenly Father.  Because of the Plan of Salvation, the atonement enables us to learn and grown from our mistakes.

Christ died not to save indiscriminately but to offer repentance. We rely “wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save” in the process of repentance, but acting to repent is a self-willed change. So by making repentance a condition for receiving the gift of grace, God enables us to retain responsibility for ourselves. Repentance respects and sustains our moral agency: “And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.”

We cannot choose elements of the gospel which we will believe and follow like a smorgasbord. Christofferson elaborates on the idea that we live in an age of moral relativity: “A God who makes no demands is the functional equivalent of a God who does not exist. A world without God, the living God who establishes moral laws to govern and perfect His children, is also a world without ultimate truth or justice. It is a world where moral relativism reigns supreme… To those who believe anything or everything could be true, the declaration of objective, fixed, and universal truth feels like coercion—“I shouldn’t be forced to believe something is true that I don’t like.” But that does not change reality. Resenting the law of gravity won’t keep a person from falling if he steps off a cliff. The same is true for eternal law and justice. Freedom comes not from resisting it but from applying it. That is fundamental to God’s own power. If it were not for the reality of fixed and immutable truths, the gift of agency would be meaningless since we would never be able to foresee and intend the consequences of our actions. As Lehi expressed it: “If ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away.'

In matters both temporal and spiritual, the opportunity to assume personal responsibility is a God-given gift without which we cannot realize our full potential as daughters and sons of God. Personal accountability becomes both a right and a duty that we must constantly defend; it has been under assault since before the Creation. We must defend accountability against persons and programs that would (sometimes with the best of intentions) make us dependent. And we must defend it against our own inclinations to avoid the work that is required to cultivate talents, abilities, and Christlike character.”

Agency is not the easy path.  I am one of the most indecisive people I know (but I’m not sure about that).  Right now I’m trying to decide between two universities that I’ve been accepted to, and it’s driving me crazy.  It seems that sometimes choosing between two good things is harder than choosing between a right and a wrong option.  

Something that I have learned is that God needs something to work with when helping us make decisions, and, sometimes, we have to take a leap into the darkness and hope for the best when His Spirit doesn’t prompt us in one way or the other.  I hope that you take responsibility for your spiritual well-being and choose to listen to conference this year.  I know that the Prophet and Apostles are inspired of God and that they cannot lead us astray.