Thursday, October 1, 2009

Dwelling in Love, Dwelling in God

Disclaimer: While I do not typically use this blog to discuss political issues or to fight the culture wars, I have made exceptions on a few occasions to weigh in on issues I felt strongly about. I ask for your understanding as I do so again. This is a post I have agonized over, and, in the end, have felt to express my devotion to my Savior by expressing my love for His children, especially for the downtrodden, reviled, and misunderstood among them. I do not mean to be overbearing or preachy, but I believe very strongly in the importance of the principles I discuss here.

In writing this, I have tried to soften my words, to find
balance between the absolute truths of the gospel and the very real heartaches of those I love who struggle to find answers in the church I have come to love. Perhaps my greatest realization has been that I do not have all the answers. Many of my feelings are only partially-formed and even more partially-expressed. I pray for your patience as I share with you a piece of my journey. I hope that you will feel my sincerity as you read, and that perhaps as you do so, you will overlook with kindness my slowness of speech and my clumsiness in writing.

I used to be the sort of person who would debate anyone who disagreed with me. I would summon facts, arguments, philosophers, and studies that supported my view. I was always so sure that I was right that I closed my mind--and my ears. I listened to my opponent only long enough to find a point I could refute--and then I would refute it with a vengeance.

I am still a passionate woman. But I've softened a lot. And as I've softened, I've heard others espouse views I used to hold, muster arguments I used to trumpet, and I've cringed. I've cringed to think I could have been so insensitive, so clueless, so heartless. It pains me to hear opinions of which I used to be totally convinced, and to know the pain being caused by well-meaning people, spouting off about things they know nothing about, framing the world in black-and-white, drawing a circle around them and their rightness, unaware how many they had excluded from their circle. I have grown tired of "family values" constantly trumping true Christian charity.

I.

I had heard dozens of talks on the evils of pornography and masturbation. I had the audacity to condemn all people who committed such sexual sins. I imagined that they were all dirty old men, craven sinners, with no redeeming virtues.

And then I discovered that one of my close friends was a long-term porn addict. Another friend confessed the same weakness, and then another, and another. These were men I loved whole-heartedly. My paradigm was shattered. I saw the secret heartache that these men shared, and my heart broke under the weight of their pain, and of my own unkind judgment.

Pornography use is indeed a great sin. But, like all sins, it springs from the devil, and not from its victims. The pain it causes them is real. And though they are not blameless, they need our love, not our scorn. If we are to rescue our brothers and sisters from its deadly grasp, we have to work to destroy the atmosphere of shame that surrounds it, which stops those caught in its web from getting help for years. We have to let them know that they will not be shunned, no matter what they've done. We have to let our love for the sinner be greater than our disgust for their sin.

I no longer have the desire to march with a picket sign, protesting obscenity. I only have the desire to wrap those I love in my arms and hold them. I want to turn them toward the Savior--because ultimately He is the only one who can heal a broken world. He is the "light that shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5 NIV). He who would not condemn the woman taken in adultery will surely enfold His wandering children in the arms of His love. Let us take them by the hand, turn to the Master, and ask for His love. He will teach us the way out of any darkness, even the seemingly unconquerable darkness of sexual sin.

II.

I had homosexuality practically thrown in my face in high school. One school club seemed designed to foist its "gay pride" agenda on the student body. I cared little for political correctness in those days. I had been taught that homosexual "orientation" was a choice, and I believed that. I wrote vicious polemics attacking gay marriage. I scoffed to think that anyone could argue their "abominations" were somehow inborn.

And then I discovered that a childhood friend was gay. And then another, and another. I read about two Mormon guys, returned missionaries determined to keep the commandments, who nevertheless struggled with feelings of attraction that they did not choose. I went to firesides where other such men told their stories. I saw the pain in their eyes. These were all good men. Once again, my paradigm was shattered.

I'm still no proponent of same-sex marriage, or of any sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage. I still believe that, whatever our feelings or inclinations, we all have the power to decide what we will do, whether or not we will act on our feelings. But, having known and loved these good people, I cannot find it in my heart to condemn them. Having read evidence from many different sources, I have found no scientific or social consensus regarding the cause of these inclinations. I do not know if same-sex attraction is inborn or learned, whether it is fixed or can be changed, whether it is the result of genetics, defensive detachment, abuse, hormones, or defective family relationships. I simply do not know. But I know they did not actively choose their feelings. And I know that many homosexuals suffer in silence, hating themselves and afraid of the condemnation of their peers and their families. Many of them have done nothing wrong, but their pain and loneliness haunts me. They desperately need our love, not our scorn.

I no longer have any desire to loudly condemn those with homosexual orientations, for I believe they have nothing to be ashamed of. I do not even have the desire to condemn those who act out those inclinations, because their pain demands my love. As President Kimball said, "Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner" (Ensign, Aug. 1979, 5). I only want to hold them tightly and whisper, "I'm sorry. I love you. And though I do not have all the answers, I know Someone who does." Let us take them in our arms, turn them toward the Master, and plead for His love. Let us plead for understanding, for the answers only He has, for the strength to love our brothers and sisters as He does.

III.

I was brought up to be physically and mentally self-reliant. I didn't have a lot of confidants, and I learned not to need them. I have generally had a great degree of control over my emotions, especially around other people. And I've usually been too practical to dwell too much on negative feelings, preferring to avoid thinking about things that cause me pain, and instead to channel my energy into coming up with practical solutions to difficult challenges. In that respect, I fit in well among other engineers, who are far more disposed to left-brain analysis and problem-solving than to group hugs or talking about their feelings. (Whether such an approach is emotionally healthy is a topic for another day.)

So I had trouble understanding depression and other emotional and mental illnesses. "So you're depressed," I thought. "Well, suck it up. Deal with it. Your life is not that bad. Quit whining." And then--you guessed it--I had a friend who was depressed. She was more than just sad--she needed anti-depressant medication to function. Then I found another friend, and then another, and another. It seems like half of my girl-friends and roommates have suffered from one emotional illness or another--Clinical depression, anorexia, bipolar disorder, insomnia, compulsive self-harm, anxiety disorders, and the list goes on. Their illnesses have not been their own fault, though they often blamed themselves.

In many ways, it's easier to have a physical illness than an emotional one. If you're fighting leukemia, no one tells you that you "just need to have more faith." If you were born with cerebral palsy, no one lectures you that you "just need to pray more." If your leg is broken, no one questions your worthiness or asks if you've been reading your scriptures. No one makes insensitive comments in Sunday School about how people with your condition are those described in the scriptures as being "possessed with devils."

Don't get me wrong--both physical and emotional illnesses are difficult trials to endure. But if we treated those with emotional illnesses the way we treat those who are sick in ways we can easily see, I think we would be fulfilling more fully our covenants to "bear one another's burdens, that they may be light" (Mosiah 18:8). Let us be careful not to smugly discuss things we do not remotely understand. Instead, let us hold our brothers and sisters close to our hearts, and with them turn toward the Lord, and pray earnestly for understanding and love.

IV.

The Lord said that when He came again, those whom He would greet with pleasure would be those who visited and cared for those who were sick and in prison (Matthew 25:31-40). There is so much of sickness and imprisonment all around us--so much pain, so much sorrow, so many wounds that need the healing balm that only the Savior can bring. There are so many hurting hearts that are wounded more deeply by our unthinkingly unkind rhetoric, our ignorant judgment, and our shame. So many of those we were sent here to love are leading lonely lives of quiet desperation, because we have not seen them as our brothers and sisters, so busy were we in vilifying those who most needed our succor.

Can we not do better? Can we accept the radically transformative call of Christianity to love one another, to embrace one another in bonds of unity and brotherhood, to offer an understanding and broken heart rather than a certain and stubborn mind?

I am convinced we can. And we must, if we intend this earth to be ready to receive her King when He comes in glory. It is only by being united as a people that we can be the Lord's people. For "if ye are not one," He tells us, "ye are not mine" (Doc. & Cov. 38:27).

This is not easy. It goes against our natural inclinations. But that is the call of Christianity--to put off the natural man and become saints through the Atonement of Christ (Mosiah 3:19). Through it, we become at-one with the Father, but we also become at-one with each other. As we are united with and show love for His children, we draw closer to and manifest our love for the Father.

If we wish to stand in holy places, we must stand together. We must draw circles around ourselves that take others in rather than shutting them out. We must hold each other close, and together turn toward the Savior, and plead for His love, for His strength, for His peace. He who commanded His disciples to "love one another; as I have loved you," (John 13:34) will surely help us as we answer His great prayer, "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us" (John 17:21).

"Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God...Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another...God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him...And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also"(1 John 4:7-21).

Picture from http://www3.newport.ac.uk/

8 comments:

  1. I have to comment on this.

    I've struggled with "gender identity disorder" for as long as I can remember. As a child I thought that maybe when my spirit came down from heaven it accidentally went to the wrong body. I felt like a boy; I wanted to be a boy; I tried everything I could to be as much like a boy as possible. I don't know if this was because I was raised without a father figure during my most formative years, but I remember thinking to myself that boys were better because they could do more. Boys were allowed to be rougher, they were stronger, and they could protect their moms. As a teenager I struggled with some same-sex attractions, but for the most part considered myself asexual.

    I still struggle with this to some extent, but it's getting better as I study what it means to be a woman. I had a member of the bishopric ask me to seek out a book on womanhood and study it. The book I chose was "A Quiet Heart," by Patricia Holland. It's not necessarily a womanhood book but it spoke to me and since I read it I have sought more books like it.

    My point is, I absolutely think same-gender attraction is something a person is born with. But I also think that it can be influenced according to what you choose to do with those feelings. As an atheistic teenager, I absolutely considered having hormone therapy and surgery to alter my body. I made no effort to find positive elements regarding my femininity. As I acted more like a male, I found my same-gender attraction growing.

    As a wife and a mother now, if I find myself being sucked back into those thoughts (because they do come up) I have to actively focus on the things I am blessed with because I am a woman. I find the positive things about being a woman and I stick to them. I try to study the scriptures, searching for topics like motherhood and womanhood in general. It's not easy, but it does help.

    So it's my opinion that same-gender attraction is both an inborn condition and a choice one makes.

    Perhaps related to this, perhaps not, I have always struggled with depression. I'm one of those who needs medication to function on a daily basis, and likely will for the rest of my life. I have also done battle with self-harm, though it has been almost 4 years since the last "incident", and bulimia, which I still struggle with today.

    I have seen a few billboards around that say something like "You wouldn't say, 'it's just diabetes, get over it,'" regarding depression and it always makes me glad to see them. It IS a real disease, there truly is something wrong with the way my body/brain works, and it's a vicious cycle. I get depressed, I try to read my scriptures and pray harder. I feel guilty because I am not happy. I get more depressed. I feel like God doesn't like me now that I am depressed. More depression. So on and so on. I do find hope in the gospel, but I know that at times it seems like the light of Christ's love can feel more like a spotlight of condemnation.

    We all have trials or issues or whatever you want to call them. I struggle with these things and they affect who I am, but they don't define me. I choose to not let them define me. I choose to find hope in knowing that if I choose to let Him, Christ will bear my burdens. It's sometimes not so easy to let go of my particular backpack though :)

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  2. Kestrel-
    Thank you for sharing your story. I wish I knew you. You have a lovely family.

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  3. You said what needs to be said (and understood!) so beautifully. Good job!

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  4. Hi! I just wanted to note that I saw your beautiful/ poignant blog entry (Thurs, Oct. 1) and it really struck a chord with me.

    Your first paragraph - "I used to be the sort of person who..." is one I surely could have written about myself. It's so easy to paint things as one dimensional, and I used to champion causes primarily because I had been brought up believing them.

    It takes a kind of open-ness to take a step back from our own point of view- and I don't think its an easy thing to do. Or sometimes it may take a real life experience to rethink our own perspectives. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I came home to spend Rosh Hashanah with my family. We went this time, to the reform synagogue. I used to look down on the reform movement, despite knowing hardly anything about it. I still don't know much about it. But the services were different in a few ways. Some of the prayers were accompanied by some splendid soft music - by the violin and piano (in addition to the Shofar). Traditionally, musical instruments have not been used during services in the conservative and orthodox movements, but I found portions of the music to be more penetrating and more powerful than some other aspects of the service. The synagogue choir was also quite excellent. There is something about music, it seems, that can resonate with people on a different level.

    Regarding your mention of depression - immediately after I was released from the hospital last year, I sank into a deep depression. And I was surprised to find that it was characterized more by a lack of energy than by sadness. I just had no interest in doing anything - I had practically lost my spark of love for life. Everything seemed effortful. I even found that swallowing food was too much effort. I attended a support group for people suffering from depression at that time, and I can see how being depressed can become a perpetual state that is difficult to change. I was also concerned that I would never regain my joy for living. My family was a big factor in helping me emerge from that depression, and getting back that spark. My dad helped me keep active, and made sure I didn't stay in bed too long. My mom showed me tremendous love and compassion. Jeff brought me into his social sphere and I made some new friends. I feel very blessed to have them in my family.

    As a parting comment, I'll note that I am inspired by your readiness to console and by the compassion conveyed in your blog.

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  5. I enjoyed your post Amy. It was well written. I think I respect you more for having the one view and learning to have another view than if you had always been right.
    -Tim

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  6. This may be totally awkward, but if you ever wanted to meet up like for ice cream or something that could be fun. I totally admire you in a non-stalkery way and think we could be friends. Shoot me an email if you want :) krisalis86 at yahoo dot com

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  7. Amy,

    Thanks for this post. It was beautiful.

    I grew up in the church but also dealt with same-sex attraction. I didn't choose it, but I have gotten much help and inspiration through the gospel and my close friends and family. I'm not sure what the root reasons were, though I definitely believe there were many environmental experiences that intensified my feelings.

    Over the last 6 years I've seen much change by finally talking about it with family members and gaining more confidence in myself. My same-gender attractions diminished to a level I can control and I fell in love with a beautiful lady, now my wife. I'm grateful to people like you who have helped me on my way. Please feel free to check out my relatively new blog. Thank you!

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