Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Pragmatics of Happiness

The Latter-day understanding of man's search for happiness is rooted in the concept of Eternal Law. There is nothing in the least complicated about this understanding. It is both painfully and joyfully simple. All happiness, all joy, is rooted in obedience to Eternal Law. Obedience to the law yields joy, disobedience yields sorrow and pain. Time and time again, I have seen Latter-day Saints approach the problem of suffering as the ultimate pragmatists. “If you think you will find joy in that path, go ahead and try it. Seek. See if you can find. If your path goes in the way of eternal law, you will find happiness, and an abundance of it. Greater than you have capacity to receive, overflowing, eternal, divine joy. If your path runs against eternal law, you will find sorrow and pain. You will eventually find yourself miserable, just like Satan, kicking against the pricks, blaming God and all creation for your sorrow. But don't take my word for it. Try it and see for yourself if wickedness can ever be happiness.”

But Latter-day Saint trust in Eternal Law should not become confused with trust in Rules. Rules have their place and there is a very good reason for them. Latter-day Saints understand the concept that our capacity to understand Eternal Law is limited; it grows only as we grow. We start out with a very dim conception of it. So the only way upward and into the level of understanding our Heavenly Parents desire for us is to start by following rules that we are capable of understanding. Gradually obedience to those rules yields a kind of understanding that permits us to grasp the Law that they are grounded in. But rules are not Eternal Law. Rules are culturally and situationally contingent. They are adapted to particular situations and needs of those to whom rules are given. What do we do when the rules don't fit a particular situation? Latter-day Saints, pragmatists that they are, understand that rules should never take precedence over Law. And what is the ultimate Law, the Foundational Law upon which every other lesser law and rule in the Universe stands or falls? Love. Compassion. Charity. The pure love of Christ.

I have seen the anguish of Latter-day Saint parents, watching their children go the path of sorrow. Latter-day Saint parents teach each other to cope with sorrow over their children's bad choices by reminding each other of the nature of free agency, by reminding each other that no joy is ever won and no happiness ever learned through compulsion. And I have also witnessed that those who deal most successfully with the conundrum of homosexuality are those who are able to let go, and let their children Seek Joy Where They May Find It. These parents learn not to wish their children ill because they find the rule of heterosexual normality unbearable. They hope and pray that, if this is the only path their children are able to follow, that they might find true joy in it.

Similarly, I have found that the only way I am able to deal with the conundrum of homosexuality in my own life has been to open myself to Eternal Principles and to trust the Spirit. I have found through painful – almost life-shattering experience – that a particular set of rules simply does not work for me. Trying to subject myself to those rules has left me heart-broken, anguished, despairing, devoid of hope, and yes, suicidal. But just because those rules didn't work, doesn't mean that Eternal Law is invalid. No, the contrary. I've found Eternal Law is every bit as inviolate as Latter-day Saints from Joseph to the present have understood it to be. But I've had to feel my way to Eternal Law under a different set of rules. I've had to find how the principles of joy work in a kind of relationship that many of my co-religionists assume to exclude the possibility of joy. But the proof is in the joy. And frankly, I wouldn't at this point trade my life for anyone's under any circumstances. The joy is overflowing, beyond my capacity to comprehend or receive. God, grant me the ability to receive all the joy you pour out upon me!

I have the capacity to be miserable in this relationship. I have learned through hard, miserable, thorny experience that unfaithfulness to the one's partner – same-sex or opposite-sex – is a violation of Eternal Law and leads to misery. Chastity in thought as well as deed, reserving ourselves for the one to whom we have pledged ourselves, letting virtue in this way garnish our every thought, is a source of deep, abiding happiness. Considering one's every waking thought and action from the point of view of how much joy it will bring to the significant other closest to you: joy overflowing. Opening one's relationship up to service, thinking of others outside of your own little unit of domestic bliss, a source of even greater joy. Becoming co-partners in making the world a better place, joy. Not able to have our own biological children, opening our home to foster children, giving love to children who have not received love in their biological families, all a source of joy. This is divine, celestial, Eternal Law. Learn it, follow it, internalize it, and you will live. Deny it, avoid it, fight against it, and you will die. Simple, simple, simple. And yet it can take us a lifetime to learn it. That's what mortal probation is all about. That is how we can each of us, gay and straight, exclaim with Adam and Eve, “Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.”

No comments: