Thursday, August 4, 2011

Virtue in Pain

We were, by all appearances, the “perfect” Mormon family.  My wife and I appeared to have a good marriage.  Our children were (and are, and always shall be) awesome.  We were all active and faithful.  The Gospel was at the center of our lives.  We were, by all appearances, living the Plan of Happiness.

But things weren’t quite what they appeared to be. 

Both converts to the Church, my wife had I had both felt (i.e., we had a “testimony”) that we were supposed to get married (even though I knew I was strongly attracted to men), that this was God’s will for us and, therefore, what would bring us happiness.  

Like many Mormons, we believed that the rather huge obstacles we would face in the short- and long-term were merely confirmations of God’s will (rather than indicators that we had perhaps made a mistake). This belief, i.e., we can tell how “true” or “right” something is by how difficult it makes our life - that there is virtue in pain - infuses the Mormon worldview.  (Not sure how this jives with " ... men are that they might have joy.")

This life is intended to be a struggle. 

We are diamonds in the rough, which must be polished by the buffetings of life in order to bring out our true beauty.  (But weren't we always diamonds, just not as buff?)  

We have to be tried and tested in all things, and the greater the trials, the greater the glory at the end of the race. 

Challenges are an indication that we are on the right path.  After all, Satan doesn’t bother people who aren’t doing Heavenly Father’s will.  Right?

How many Mormon households have a picture on the wall of their home (gag) that features an image of the Savior and the words, “I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it” (which is actually not scripture but is in fact attributed to Mae West)?

The fact is that my wife and I had very little in common when we got married.  We were raised in locations 3000 miles from each other.  We were in fact from different countries.  We had totally different interests and had had very different life experiences.  Common sense would tell us that we didn’t belong together.  And, oh, I was “struggling with same-sex attraction.”  Did I mention that?

What had brought us together in the first place, however, and what had convinced us that we were meant to meet and marry were some unusual circumstances and experiences that occurred shortly after we met that convinced us that it was Heavenly Father’s will that we marry – despite our differences and despite the warning signs that arose before and after our wedding.  
As we encountered them, we both truly believed that the challenges and obstacles we faced were (i) indicators that we were on the right path, and (ii) refining experiences that would, in the end, help us to overcome “baggage” from our respective pasts and ultimately make us better and happier people.  The fact that I (as well as she) was intensely unhappy most of the time was simply confirmation that I was doing something right, that I had done the right thing by getting married.  Right?

We would face many, many challenges in the years ahead.  Graduate school.  Welcoming children.  Dealing with financial stresses and strains that were present from the very beginning of our marriage and would never cease to plague us.  Dealing with cultural differences.  Unpacking and working through “baggage” that each of us brought into the marriage – baggage that in my case included dealing with the after-effects of child abuse.  Cross-country moves.  Career changes.  Other challenges.

These challenges took their toll on our marriage.  There were times when we both felt like we couldn’t go on.  Yet, it was those extraordinary experiences that had led to our marriage in the first place, that continued to sustain us.  We believed that true happiness would come from continuing to work through the challenges we faced (including, in my case, dealing with my inner homosexuality) and forging ahead on the path that lay before us.  Besides, we couldn’t deny those early experiences because that would mean that our marriage had been based upon a fraud – a thought too horrible to contemplate.

Looking back, it was precisely these challenges that (deceptively) united us.  I later realized (as I think did my wife), that these challenges merely deflected attention from the “chronic” problems of our marriage.  Thus, when these challenges passed, when these hurdles had been cleared, the unifying effect of these experiences evaporated and we were faced with some stark realities that we had successfully swept under the rug for years.

These realities led to conflict that had long been suppressed.  Though we had experienced difficulties in the past, it became clear that our marriage was in very serious trouble.  We continued limping along, having good days and bad days, more bad than good, sustained by the belief that, since God had arranged our marriage in the first place, we would eventually get through these challenges; we just had to find the way out of the maze and everything would be fine. 

We were wrong.  

As I’ve written elsewhere, my acceptance (finally!) of my homosexuality was the final nail in the coffin of our marriage.  It was only after coming out that I realized the degree to which my repressed homosexuality had affected our marriage from day one.  I realized that we had been wrong to ignore the warning signs, wrong to view life simply as a challenge to be endured, a cross to be borne, a vale to merely pass through. 

We had sacrificed ourselves to an ideal, and at the end of the day, what we discovered is …

We had sacrificed ourselves.


  1. At the beginning you spoke of all the ways in which life is suppose to be a struggle.
    Which is just one of the many granite filters that the true believing Mormons see the world through. Comprehension of happiness is really only in the next life. And yet, they can't seem to make up their mind which way it is.

    The fiends I once had who misread my depression as humility, believed that my struggles showed that I was a really spiritually happy person. And I started to believe that emotional angst was what spirituality was suppose to be.

    Some of those friends got to see my anger as I was leaving, they were convinced that it was the torments and punishment from leaving the truth. And evidence that happiness was only possible in the church.

    I left and got control of my thoughts and got angry, to let that depression out and let it go. And the anger soon passed. And the joy and happiness began to appear. I had struggled, but I didn't fall in love with the struggle, as Mormons we are taught to do. I let it go.

    Those friends I once had who saw my happiness after I came out and processed my anger, distrusted me. They were convinced that I had fallen. And I was no longer an influence in their lives that could be trusted as good as they saw it. Satan was no longer bothering me as we were all taught. My thinking and attitudes were no longer narrow and they became threatening to all that they understood.

    How could someone be happy when they are not in the church, following the prophet etc. But then life is suppose to be a miserable struggle? But there are a lot of genuinely very happy Mormons out there. Have they fallen to satin? Why isn't their life a miserable depressing struggle? Well they are so righteous that they can't be tempted. etc.

    Oh the crazy things our brains have to do to see things through granite filters. It's easier to just scribble pictures and cast shadows on the wall and convince yourself that that is the real world.

  2. Thanks, TGD, for sharing these thoughts and experiences. Yes, happiness is suspect and resented by many within the Church. Their lives are miserable, to one degree or another, and they resent those who have thrown off shackles of one type or another and are experiencing happiness as a result. I truly believe that this resentment fuels much bigotry, not only in our church, but in all conservative Christian churches (and indeed among many who are politically conservative).

  3. I agree that you can be happy without the Gospel in your life. There are many people around the world that are proof of that. But once you have tasted of the living waters and have been given the truth, there is a certain responsibility that goes along with that. I'm sorry that your marriage fell apart, but I want you and others to know that just because you or your husband/wife may have SSA does not mean that your marriage will inevitably fail. My husband and I are living proof of that. He struggles with it daily and I am there supporting him in any and all the ways I can. He chooses to live the Gospel standards because he has tasted of the living waters and knows that is the only way. God's way. Our marriage has lasted and will last forever because we both of chosen to honor the covenants we made with God. I know the struggle SSA can be, I see it everyday. But let's not forget that it is possible to be heterosexually married and HAPPY.

  4. Anonymous - Thanks for your comments. I am sincerely happy for you and your husband that you guys are able to make your marriage work and that you are as supportive as you are of your husband. You obviously must love him very much.

    My marriage did not fail because of "SSA". My wife and I were on the cusp of divorce when I came out. But if you are at all familiar with my blog, you know that it is very personal. I make no judgments on other peoples' situation - particularly on other mixed-orientation marriages, for I know that EACH one is different. I honor your commitment to each other.

    What I will say, however, is that it is unfortunate that, after you ask others not to judge nor situation, you turn around and implicitly judge others through use of such phrases as "tasted of the living waters" and "certain responsibility" and "chosen to honor the covenants" etc.

    Woven throughout these comments is a point of view that is, frankly, judgmental and extremely presumptuous. Please understand that no one is judging you because of your choices, including your faith. You, however, are judging others because of their presumed lack of faith and unwillingness to "honor the covenants" and - ultimately - their choice to view life in a different way than you do.

    My purpose is not to be offensive, but to be instructive. I choose not to take offense at the implied judgments and presumptions in your comments, but I would like to make you aware of how they are perceived.

  5. I was taught that sacrifice meant: "giving up something 'good' for something 'better'".

    I've bought into that catchy phrase and all it means (including the promises of eternity, and have tried to govern my life accordingly...

    but to what detriment? often it feels like I'm sacrificing myself in the process... and for what purpose? The hope of something better in the next life at the sacrifice of missing the lessons and experiences of "joy" and "happiness" in this life?

    Sooner or later, what is "good" verses "better" blurs in not being as clear as I once thought. Thank goodness for hope. If I lost my hope I don't think I could hang on much longer.

  6. " ... and men are, that they might have joy."

    Thanks for your thoughts, Beck. Always good to hear from you. As a general comment, and not a comment on any particular situation - including yours - the question is: what role does self play in the determination of what is "good" and what is "better"? Does self become merely a means to an end? Whose end?

  7. There is a popular belief in the LDS church that we are supposed to work really hard and perfect ourselves. If perfection seems overwhelming, simply taking it one task at a time seems doable. "We can be perfect in paying tithing," they say, "and then we can be perfect in such-and-such. Don't think it is beyond your ability."

    I can't tell you how many times I have heard that sentiment in sunday school or priesthood meeting. But it is not the gospel.

    And neither is the phrase “I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it."

    Actually, this is what Jesus said: "Take my yoke upon you, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

    The gospel is not a difficult set of hurdles to be crossed, nor a strict set of precepts to be followed. Rather, the gospel is a relationship with God, entered into through baptism, wherein we are perfected through and in Christ and made new creatures through the sanctifying power of the spirit.