Conference Weekend Reflections - I
The title of this post refers to an experience I had on Sunday night at the post-conference Affirmation dinner and fireside in Salt Lake City. Three persons had been asked to speak at the fireside: Brad Carmack, author of Homosexuality: A Straight BYU Student's Perspective, Bridey, a lesbian student from BYU and member of the newly-formed SUSGA, an unofficial organization of gay and lesbian BYU students, and Sam, a UVU student, also a member of SUSGA.
I was particularly taken with Bridey’s comments. She talked about her own struggle to come to terms with her sexual orientation, about the very familiar path that many of us have trod in praying that feelings of same-sex attraction would be taken away. She explained that she had been raised to believe that “with God, all things are possible,” and, therefore, if she just exercised enough faith, her undesirable feelings would be taken away.
What really impressed me, however, was a story that Bridey told that had been related to her by a friend. This friend described an experience she had had as a child. One Sunday, she heard the story of the parable of the mustard seed, about how teeny tiny a mustard seed is, and how Jesus had told his disciples that if they only had the faith the size of a mustard seed, they could move mountains.
This little girl had reflected upon this story, believed that she had great faith, and so decided to put Jesus’ statement to the test. She lived near a mountain, and one day, she decided to try to make it move. One can imagine her praying and praying, straining and straining, believing and believing, but growing increasingly exasperated and discouraged by the minute as nothing happened. Finally, she broke down in tears, believing that something must be wrong with her faith, or with her, that she could not do as Jesus had promised. It was while she was in this state that her mother found her and asked her what was wrong. The little girl explained, in between sobs, what she had done, what had (not) happened and, in conclusion, what this must say about her.
Her mother paused to reflect, then very quietly said to her daughter, “Did Heavenly Father ask you to move that mountain?” A few moments passed, then the daughter looked up, uncomprehending, and replied, “No.” “Well,” her mother continued, “perhaps Heavenly Father didn’t want that mountain moved, and that is why, no matter how much faith you could exercise, that mountain simply would not move.” At this, the daughter’s expression brightened, as she contemplated that perhaps there was nothing wrong with her or her faith; she had simply not asked Heavenly Father whether the mountain needed to be moved.
As I listened to this story, I thought back on experiences in my own life that have taught me about faith. One lesson that I learned very clearly a number of years ago is that there must be a command in order to exercise faith. If Moses hadn’t been commanded by God to go to Egypt, he never could have had the faith sufficient to fulfill his mission there. On the other hand, if Moses had not received this command, but had merely decided on his own to go down to Egypt, all the faith he tried to muster would likely have proved fruitless, because he acting on his own.
I then thought about how appropriate this parable of the mountain and the mustard seed is to those of us, reared in an LDS environment, who have struggled to come to terms with our feelings of same-sex attraction and sexual orientation. We have been told that, if we just exercise enough faith, these feelings will diminish and go away or be conquered. Having done our utmost to exercise our faith, having endlessly prayed that God would take the feelings away, having tried to be faithful to every bit of counsel and direction provided by Church leaders, we have been disappointed when our efforts have not born fruit.
Many of us, at this juncture, have redoubled our efforts, convinced that we had not exercised enough faith, had not prayed hard enough, had not rendered enough service, had not properly atoned for our own sins (wait – didn’t Someone else do that?), had not quite done a good enough job in keeping the commandments. But still, nothing. The feelings are still there. If anything, they are stronger than ever.
It is at this point that, for many of us, black, miasmic depression sets in. What is wrong with our faith?, we have asked. What is wrong with us!?, we have asked. Why hasn’t the promised result come? Why wasn’t our mountain moved?
For those of us who are perhaps fortunate, we have been blessed with an experience analogous to that of the little girl whose mother asked, “Did Heavenly Father ask you to move the mountain?” Something has prompted us to cease asking the questions we have been asking, to cease praying for the things for which we have been praying, to allow ourselves to step – for just a moment – outside the box we have allowed ourselves to be put in. That Something then perhaps has prompted us to ask the question we have never before thought or dared to ask: “Do you not want this mountain moved, Heavenly Father? Is it ok that I am gay? Is it ok that I am a lesbian?”
For growing numbers of us, we are receiving our own confirmations that we have been asking the wrong questions (see, e.g., here). Put another way, we were trying our utmost to exercise faith in something we believed – fervently – that we had been commanded to do; but our faith was futile because, in the end, we discovered that the commandment to change had not come from God. Instead, we discovered that his commandment was to love and accept ourselves for who we are, who He created us to be.
So, for those out there who may still be trying to move the mountain, please go and ask God if He wants that mountain moved.
Tomorrow: more Conference Weekend Reflections on Marriage, Idle Pursuits and Exercising Faith.