Saturday, January 9, 2010

Holding On

I feel incredibly blessed at the moment, and I can trace this feeling of blessedness to a particular moment, yesterday. A member of my ward called me early last week and initiated a conversation that led to our having lunch together. This lunch consisted of sharing aspects of our life journeys, and our faith, and the deepest desires of our hearts with each other. From the moment I first saw him bear his testimony about a year ago, I felt a kind of kinship with him. And in various interactions we've had since then, he's felt the same toward me. He used to grill me with questions about where I was living and what I was doing in such and such a year, because he's convinced that we somehow knew each other before. It appears our paths have never crossed until we both became re-activated in our current ward -- at least not in this life. Perhaps we were friends in pre-mortal existence.

It's strange, because to consider us and our life experience -- to look at all the categories that the world looks at -- we are about as different as it is possible for two people to be. Except in that we have both experienced painful struggles in relation to our faith; we both have wrestled in the dark; we have both fallen away and come back; and we both, around the same time, have discovered how precious our testimonies and our faith are, and we never want to slip back into the darkness. After sharing testimonies and tears, we covenanted with each other to help each other stay true, and we promised to always be there for each other, to encourage each other when other sources of encouragement might fail. I think if you can find one such friendship in a lifetime, you are lucky. So I feel incredibly blessed. I have wept several times since our meeting yesterday, thinking back on it. God works in mysterious ways.

There was a moment during our conversation yesterday when he asked me, "Do you ever think about appearing before the judgment seat of God?"

I told him that the most significant turning point in my spiritual journey consisted just of that. There came a moment when I was aware of how completely and utterly I had failed God, failed in faith, failed in hope, failed in love; how I had let anger dominate so much of my life; how I had become short-sighted and selfish and stupid, and how I had hurt the very people I never ever should have hurt. And I remember thinking what a mess I'd made, and thinking it was impossible for me to be what God wanted me to be. I wept and I told God I was sorry, and I knew I couldn't completely make up for what I had done, no matter how hard I tried. But I wanted to do better, and even if I were damned for all eternity, I could no longer deny him. I would do what I could to serve him, in whatever capacity I might be permitted. I would bear whatever testimony I could. If I could not save myself, I would do what I could to save others. But I would never again deny him. I pleaded that he just not cast me aside completely.

This morning in my scripture reading, there was only one verse that stood out, and it spoke so clearly to that feeling of just giving everything up, letting go of everything, letting go of ends or rewards, and focusing instead simply on truth, whether or not that truth is flattering to us or not:
I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. (Psalm 84: 10)

There is a kind of peace in letting go. We have it in our heads that we want this or that. We do this all the time in terms of physical, material things: we want the latest Mac computer with the coolest operating system (it's always outdated three months after we buy it); we want that nice house on the tree-shaded lot; we want the job with the good dental plan and the extra week of paid vacation. This is a very worldly way to go about things. But we carry this way of thinking over into our aspirations for the other world as well. We start planning the layout and furnishings and locale for our heavenly mansions as well. It's a kind of material spiritualism. We focus mainly on how God is going to reward us (or how he might punish us), and what we need to do to get that reward (or what we need to steer clear of to avoid punishment). But, like all things we greedily grab (or fearfully flee), our fondest aspirations -- no matter how "spiritual" they are -- become dreadful burdens that weigh us down. And eventually comes that fateful moment in the heavenly journey when God tries to help us forward by taking us down by some circuitous route to a place where we can only move forward without burdens; where we can only progress by letting go our fondest aspirations (or facing our worst fears).

Those moments inevitably leave us feeling betrayed. "But God, I thought you wanted..." So often, we turn and go back shaking our heads, and saying, "No, that can't possibly be..." and "That goes against everything I know." In this situation, we can let our whole thought process become dominated by the determination to hold on at all cost, to never let go. We think that by doing so we are somehow being faithful and true, when in reality we are only being afraid.

Those moments can feel very lonely, but fortunately we are not alone. In fact, facing our worst fears, and learning to let go in order to confront and transcend them, increases our capacity for true fellowship, true solidarity, and true communion. And for that, in this moment, I feel incredibly blessed.


MoHoHawaii said...

If you taught my Sunday School class, I wouldn't miss a week. I am in the weeds of disbelief, but what you write resonates with me a lot.

Alan said...

I've concluded that there's something about being raised in a very active orthodox Mormon environment that engenders this very attitude, the "spiritual materialism" you speak of. "I have to be good enough, I have to want this or that, I have to aspire to this or that, I have to accomplish this or that or else I fail, I have to be this or that, nothing else is good enough."

Meh. Coming out helped me let go of all that. Once I took the Herculean step of embracing a part of myself that I knew was good and divinely created but which the Church told me I had to shun and fear and try to kill, it wasn't hard to let go of the spiritual materialism either. Now I am happier than ever before, quite content to do my best to be a humble follower of Christ, a doorkeeper if that's what He wants, because that will be just fine with me, and satisfied to try to help others along the way if I can. That's enough.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - I wish we were in the same Sunday school class!

Alan - Thanks... Having read your blog, I know there's more of this path you could testify to...

In some ways, finding true faith is a process of stripping away everything extraneous. That is as true of gay Saints as straight ones, though those of us who are gay have been blessed with this struggle as a way of helping us learn this.