Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Prone to Wander (JS-H 1:28-29)

I want to share with you tonight 2 of the most tender verses I've ever read. They are among my all-time favorites and actually come from Joseph Smith--History in the Pearl of Great Price. I'm not kidding when I say that in my scriptures these 2 verses of his history have more markings and annotations than his First Vision account in verses 15-20 do. That isn't because I don't treasure his First Vision! I simply find that these two verses deeply speak to me and help me not feel so bad about myself sometimes.

They are really long, but so meaningful with many lessons in them, so here goes:

28 During the space of time which intervened between the time I had the vision and the year eighteen hundred and twenty-three--having been forbidden to join any of the religious sects of the day, and being of very tender years, and persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me--I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins. A disposition to commit such was never in my nature. But I was guilty of levity, and sometimes associated with jovial company, etc., not consistent with that character which ought to be maintained by one who was called of God as I had been. But this will not seem very strange to any one who recollects my youth, and is acquainted with my native cheery temperament.
29 In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one. 

So, I've been keeping this blog up, and actually facing my same-sex attraction head-on for the first time ever, for three months now. It has been incredibly therapeutic and I've been overwhelmed at the flood of positive response and connections I've made. But I've also learned some really crucial lessons in that time, and many of them are represented in those two verses above. Here are some key lessons I've learned my first three months:

1. Like Joseph, sometimes we are "persecuted by those who ought to have been [our] friends." Sometimes you will "out" yourself to someone, and they will not respond positively. (Go back and read my first "outing" experience here if you don't believe me!) Not everyone in the Church has learned to handle this topic very well yet. Many are getting better. But many still have a long way to go. I've had a lot more positive experiences since that first one and my closest "straight" friends, my bishop, my parents, and my brother all now know about me. Don't feel down when those who ought to be your friends persecute you. Just like you, they are still progressing on their own spiritual journeys and have lessons to learn.

2. Don't get offended if some try to "endeavor in a proper and affectionate manner to reclaim" you. This is related to the first lesson. Some will persecute you, which is a shame. Others may try to offer you advice, not even having the slightest clue what you are going through, ignorant of how counterproductive some of their advice could potentially be. The gut reaction is to get angry at them in that instant. Resist! Take a deep breath and remember that if they are persecuting you, they probably love you and their advice is a rather tender manifestation of their love for you. They want to help you. Of course, if they genuinely are giving you bad advice, you don't need to take it. But neither do you need to shun them. Be grateful that they care. Joseph didn't really encounter people like this, but wished he had, even though their advice to reclaim him from what was actually right would have been purely erroneous! It should simply serve as a positive contrast to those who persecute.

3. As human beings, we are, as the Hymn "Come Thou Fount" reminds us, truly "prone to wander." And truly did I feel that this week--that I am prone to leave the God I love. Joseph expresses this in the middle of verse 28. In fact, it's so good, I'm going to print it again. He says:

"I was left to all kinds of temptations; and, mingling with all kinds of society, I frequently fell into many foolish errors, and displayed the weakness of youth, and the foibles of human nature; which, I am sorry to say, led me into divers temptations, offensive in the sight of God. In making this confession, no one need suppose me guilty of any great or malignant sins."

One great warning I've come to be aware of is to beware of who you mingle with. There are great support groups out there through Evergreen, NorthStar, LDS 12-step programs, etc. BUT, no matter how good the organization is as a whole, it is important to be cautious! Most of the people in these groups are well-meaning like you, but some are less pure in their intents. And even two well-meaning SSA LDS guys can soon find themselves in a heap of trouble if they don't exercise caution because the natural man in each one of us makes us particularly prone to wander! Furthermore, I've come to understand that just as important as cautiously avoiding poor company is surrounding yourself with good company that lifts you up. In the past few weeks I've come to see myself come very close to crossing forbidden lines when I was not cautious, but saw myself pulled up and recovered and spiritually fed by other guys, both SSA and OSA, who are stalwart and looking out for me. Those friendships have been so valuable to me!

4. To feel self-loathing is NATURAL, but it is also not good. It is really reassuring to me to know that Joseph Smith himself sometimes felt "condemned for [his] weaknesses and imperfections." I've discussed shame versus godly sorrow in other posts, but a slight review may be helpful here. Shame is an unnecessary feeling of condemnation for who you are that tears you down and tells you you are stuck. Godly sorrow generally focuses on what we've DONE instead, and then motivates us to change who we ARE for the better. Shame tries to perpetuate itself, while Godly Sorrow is always intended to be temporary. One of the worst tricks shame uses to get us to help if perpetuate, is to make us feel guilty about our feelings of shame! If we recognize that we are doing good and that the shame we feel is unfounded, we can get discouraged even further for feeling the shame at all! It seems to me the best way to fight that trap is to bear in mind that sometimes depressing feelings of shame are another natural man symptom that we are working on. It may not be entirely in your control to cast the shame out! It may require help--in fact it will almost certainly require help and healing from God. But don't tell yourself all is lost--other great men before you have felt similarly.

5. God is always willing to give that help and to manifest Himself to us when we ask. This was Joseph's beautiful solution. He prays for forgiveness (which Godly Sorrow will always prompt us to do anyway) and for a manifestation of God. He was hoping very specifically for another vision. That doesn't need to be your prayer though. A manifestation of God is simply a moving of His hand in your life, and that can come in many forms. If you think of the moments that have most strongly built your testimony, I think you'll recognize God's hand in those moments. Pray to Him, and I promise that in some way that will be clear and discernible to you, you will see Him manifest Himself. It may not come immediately; in fact, I've written before how sometimes our prayers seem hollow and unanswered and we are left to feel Forsaken. But in that same earlier post I also pointed out how God's temporary withdrawal can itself be the sign that He is there.

You've made mistakes. Don't beat yourself up. You're human. Trust God, and He will help you improve and get you through what you are going through.

My best,


No comments:

Post a Comment

Please feel free to comment or leave questions. Just be aware that I moderate all comments before posting. I won't post things that are offensive. I will post controversial comments and questions so long as they aren't mean-spirited. I'd love to hear your comments and answer questions; just play nice! :)