Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On the Gift of the Holy Ghost

I must begin to address this topic by confessing that I am a sinner, and that much of my life I have been in the dark. Some memories of my own wrong-doing have been weighing heavily on me lately. I'm aware of my weaknesses, and the way past failings have contributed to present-day struggles. It would be easy to get discouraged, to become ungrateful, and/or try escaping into denial. And I probably would have shipwrecked long ago but for the comfort and sustaining guidance I've received from the Spirit.

I understand and accept LDS doctrine regarding the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Mormons believe that while the Spirit is at work in the world and can and does inspire people of every nation, kindred, tongue and creed, only those who are baptized and confirmed members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are entitled to the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which they understand as the right to constant companionship of the Spirit so long as they keep their covenants and remain worthy.

Last Sunday I was very moved -- as I believe was everybody in attendance -- when a member of my ward told the story of his brother who had been excommunicated for the past seven years, and who was finally in recent weeks able to be re-baptized and received back into full membership. He wept as he told how his brother testified of the Gift of the Holy Ghost that had been restored to his life, of the difference that he could feel. As an excommunicated man who hungers to be restored to full membership in the Church, to say that I was moved and humbled by this story is an understatement.

I have no basis for denying the truth of the LDS doctrine regarding the Gift of the Holy Ghost in principle. I believe in it, and I affirm it. However, I admit that some aspects of my own experience may seem contradictory.

I experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit from the time I was quite young growing up in the Church. I sought and received gifts of the Spirit as a young priesthood holder and later as a missionary. I enjoyed the Gift of the Holy Ghost as a member of the Church. The reason -- after nearly twenty years away from the Church -- that I have begun attending the LDS Church again, and that I have begun living the gospel as fully as I am able, is because when I experienced the presence of the Spirit so powerfully in August 2005 telling me to "come home," I recognized that the Spirit had been missing from my life for most of the time I had been away from the Church, and I desperately wanted it back.

I recognized that the Spirit is more than "just a feeling." It's presence is discernible and unique, unlike any other presence. When I felt it, I immediately recognized it because I had been so familiar with it once as a member of the Church, and it filled me with the most indescribable joy and peace.

At first I didn't know what to do. I couldn't imagine leaving my husband, with whom -- at that point -- I'd been in a relationship for some 13 years. I assumed that the only way to have the Gift of the Holy Ghost in my life again would be to become a member of the Church, and I knew that the Church would not baptize me again unless I left my husband. So for a good month or so after my encounter with the Spirit, I tried dismissing it, rationalizing it away, and otherwise ignoring it.

But the Spirit was insistent. It kept coming back to me and reminding me of the encounter I'd had with it, and kept reiterating the same message again and again. It was time to "come home." Whenever I felt the Spirit gently prodding me in this way, I was always grateful for the profound peace and joy I felt in its presence, but I was also worried about what it would mean for my life to give in. I brought my anxieties and concerns back to the Spirit, and essentially said, "OK, I need to do this. I will do this. But what do I do? I don't know how to proceed." And the Spirit told me that I did not need to worry about the future, that everything would work out, and that for the time being, all I needed to do was to take one step at a time.

So gradually, I made changes in my life. I started attending Church in October 2005. Shortly thereafter, I also stopped using pornography, and started applying the principles of the Law of Chastity more fully to my relationship with my husband. In January 2006 I started praying daily and reading the Book of Mormon. The following March I began living the Word of Wisdom again, and so on.

Once I accepted the challenge of the Spirit to come back to the Church and start living gospel principles (some time in September 2005), I began to feel the presence of the Spirit in my life frequently. Once I began praying again in January 2006, I began to feel the Spirit's presence daily. This was a very emotional time in my life. I would get down on my knees to pray, and immediately the Spirit would descend on me and I would just start weeping tears of gratitude. I would just thank my Heavenly Father. I had been so unworthy, I had been such a sinner. I didn't understand why He would care about me or reach out to me when I had done so much to alienate Him. And all I ever felt was more love, more comfort, more reassurance.

Because I believed (still believe) in the LDS doctrine regarding the Gift of the Holy Ghost, every morning when I knelt down to pray, I would begin with an acknowledgment that I knew I was not entitled to the Gift of the Holy Ghost, but that I needed the Holy Spirit in my life to help me stay on the path. I was very aware of the precariousness of my position. Still, every single one of those prayers was answered.

There were times when I did not feel the Spirit as immediately or powerfully. Sometimes I was definitely aware that the Spirit was not there. In those situations, I would reach out to God in prayer, asking for help. And then I would patiently wait. I would still my heart, calm my thoughts, and keep doing what I knew I was supposed to be doing. I would keep doing what I had been told, the best I knew how on my own. And eventually, I would become aware of what it was I was doing wrong, how I had driven the Spirit away, and what I needed to do to correct course, and the Spirit would be back in my life again. Gradually, the absences of the Spirit were rarer and rarer. They still occur occasionally, and then I need to repent.

At a certain point I had to confront the issue of my relationship with my husband. From the beginning I had acknowledged that it was possible the relationship would have to end. I had never felt the Spirit prompting me in any way to end it. But logically, my renewed testimony of the Gospel and of the Church seemed to point to that. I knew the Church was true. I knew that the present, modern-day leaders of the Church are called and ordained and inspired by God, and I knew what they taught about my relationship. I knew that my path of reconciliation with God -- in light of my testimony -- must lead to membership in Christ's Church. So logically, it seemed that my relationship would have to end. But at no point in the various promptings I had received from the Spirit, was I being prodded to address this.

I had at various points prayed about it, and when I had, the Spirit had very calmly and clearly told me that I was not to leave my husband. Occasionally, in some of the discussions I had with my husband, this would come up, and I would reassure him that my understanding was that I was not to leave him. But there was always a grain of doubt in my heart, and I wondered if that was only "for the time being." This came to a head about a year after I had been attending Church regularly, in October 2006. (On my birthday, actually!) Wrestling with the logical process had caused me to become quite emotionally labored about the whole thing. I was feeling under tremendous stress. And finally as I was riding my bike down Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis, I cried out to God, "If my relationship eventually needs to end, I need to know!" And that is when I received a clear and definitive answer, I should not leave my relationship with my husband, ever. To do so would be a sin. And I should stop asking about it. That was a commandment, and so I have kept it, and stopped asking about it.

In May 2008, when the news hit that California would be legalizing same-sex marriage, I received a clear, unequivocal and very powerful prompting. My husband and I should travel to California and be legally married. I've posted elsewhere at length about that experience, and about some of the pain and subsequent wrestling after Proposition 8 was passed with heavy Church support. I don't have much more to add to what I've already written, but through the experiences I had in connection with our marriage it was made extremely clear to me that deepening my commitment to my husband was something God expected of me. Furthermore, deepening my commitment to my husband through our legally contracted marriage resulted in many rich spiritual blessings, all of which I can't enumerate here. And it resulted in a deepened, more powerful relationship with the Spirit.

Last spring, I received a number of very clear promptings about a few more changes I needed to make in my life and some specific things I needed to do. After obeying those promptings of the Spirit, I received a very clear prompting that, after more than three years of pleading every day for the Holy Spirit to be granted me as a temporary gift, I no longer needed to do that. Rather than asking for the Spirit, I should pray for help to be obedient, to be faithful, to be loving, to be patient, knowing that so long as I did what I was asked, I would be entitled to the continuous presence of the Spirit in my life. I was reassured that I need not worry any more on account of my exclusion from the membership of the Church. That was not something I had control over; if it had been possible for me to be baptized, I would have been a long time ago. The Lord had looked on my heart and had accepted my offering, and was rewarding me accordingly.

I realize that this will deeply offend and anger certain people. In the last couple of months, I've already been accused several times of being under the control of Satan, told that I'm deceived, that I'm in the gall of bitterness, that the Spirit can't possibly be in my life, and so on, and so on. These folks are entitled to believe what they want. I can't really argue with them, because they will dismiss everything I say on this count anyway. And I really don't want to or feel the need to argue with them... My only concern is that other readers of my blog not engage with these kinds of commenters. I tried explaining my position to some of these folks, just to preempt defensive comments from some of my other readers/friends. But at this point, I'll just ask you to respect my wishes not to engage with these folks. It doesn't serve any purpose.

I don't see my personal experience as proof that the Church's doctrine on the Gift of the Holy Ghost is wrong. At best -- if I were trying to resolve contradictions between my experience and the teaching of the Church -- it would be that I see myself as the exception that proves the rule. I don't take the presence and guidance of the Spirit lightly, as I hope this post makes clear. In order to have the Spirit in my life, I have had to be attentive, careful, faithful, and obedient. And I have prayerfully had to ask day after day after day, and work and wrestle. I still don't -- and don't imagine I ever will -- take it for granted.

The reassurances I have received have allowed me to enter into a deeper, more trusting relationship with my Father in Heaven. I still yearn for, and look forward to, and pray for the day when I can be baptized as a full member of the Church and have priesthood-bearing hands placed on my head to confirm me and formally bestow upon me the Gift of the Holy Ghost.

19 comments:

slp said...

Thank you, John, for answering my question with this beautiful, very touching, and very insightful post. You have given me much to think about. I very much appreciate you writing about such a personal subject and sharing, in such sweet and humble details, what you like has been like and what it is like. Thank you, again.

Love, always.

slp said...

sorry- what your life has been like

J G-W said...

slp - Thank you for asking the question in a way that I felt comfortable answering. As always I appreciate your love and kindness.

As for what my life has been like... Even in the worst, craziest moments I feel more blessed right now than any one person has a right to feel. I look back, and I realize that everything in my life so far -- the evil as well as the good -- has led to this point right here, right now. In a strange way, I have even been helped to this point by people I once considered my worst enemies. I am being helped now by people who consider me their enemy. I don't care... I want to thank them for being part of the journey that has led me here.

A thousand years from now, imagine how much more grateful I (we all) will be for this time, right now.

Chedner said...

Several days ago, as the comments that led to this post came flinging in, and as I was thinking about what was being said and what to do with my own life, I had the distinct impression during my scripture study to go to 3 Nephi, chapter 9, and start reading from verse 19.

To me, this post and your life are testaments of those last four verses and the humble simplicity of Christ's love.

slp said...

I agree with you about life. It is wonderful, isn' it? We are so lucky and so blessed. And, yes, in a 1000 years, it WILL be VERY interesting to see where we are and what our various lives are like.

I have a little 5 year old niece- she was talking to my sister the other day, and she said, "I just love my life!" So profound coming from such a sweet little cherub. And, expresses, I believe, how you feel about your life, and how I feel about my life. Yes, we go through very tough things, but we get to go through them and experience for ourselves what we are meant to experience.

Happy day! :)

EvolvingLesbian said...

John, you are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story with all of us.

Quiet Song said...

We receive spiritual gifts in several different ways.

Yes, it is true that by being confirmed we receive the holy ghost and in so much that we live accordingly and exercise the opportunities provided by taking the sacrament, we do have the Holy Ghost with us all ways. This is a promise that is contingent on what we do, what we think, what we say and what is in our heart. I think I can safely say that most who can take advantage of the blessing of the gift of the holy ghost do so by consuming only a tiny fraction of what is available.

Beyond the gift of the Holy Ghost that is received at Baptism, some individuals are given the gift of the Holy Ghost as a god given gift. In other words just as I have the gift of discernment as a gift of the Spirit, separate and beyond receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost at the time I was baptized, so too, might you also have the gift of receiving the Holy Ghost, separate and beyond that which is received at the time of confirmation. Therefore, as you further align yourself with those things that will bring you in to greater receptivity for the Holy Ghost to be with you, there is no reason that if this is a spiritual gift that has been given to you that you should not feel it nearly constantly even without membership and regardless of your relationship with Goran.

The scriptures also reassure us that when we seek spiritual gifts we can receive them. I do not think the Lord requires perfect obedience from anybody.

And, finally, as you mention, the spirit of the Lord has moved on many people throughout history regardless of their membership or the availability of the restored gospel. We know this from the scriptural accounts.

Thus, I have no reason to doubt the validity and the depth of how you experience the Holy Ghost's influence in your life. Moreover, I rejoice with you for the rich blessing it brings into your life and the rich blessings you bring into others lives by being receptive to the influence of the Holy Ghost.

J G-W said...

Chedner - Thanks for reminding me of that text. That's such a great scripture... It really sums up the heart of the gospel.

EL - Appreciated!

Quiet Song - I appreciate your insights, and I agree that the whole work of the Spirit is to bring us from lesser light to greater light. So obviously we don't need to be perfect to have the Spirit in our lives, but we do need to accept our place in the grand scheme of things, and we need to be willing to work at ourselves.

My sense, however, is that my deepening relationship with the Spirit is not in spite of my commitment to Göran.

Bravone said...

I think, those of us who are members of the church and have the promise of the continuous presence of the Holy Ghost, still have to do just what you do John. We have to live worthy of it. We can alienate the Spirit from us just as easily as anyone else.

You are aligning your life with the gospel and are entitled to the blessing of the Holy Ghost. Thanks for your example. I so appreciate you.

J G-W said...

Bravone - I remember having a conversation with an old friend of mine in the ward shortly after I had returned. I described the process I was going through, and told how I prayed every day for the Spirit, and she said roughly the same thing you did -- we all have to work at it, even as members of the Church.

It does make me think... As a young man I always imagined the Gift of the Holy Ghost as some sort of magical bestowal. But maybe it's not that at all. Maybe it's simply a promise, a kind of covenant. When someone holding the priesthood puts his hands on your head and says, "Receive the Holy Ghost," he is telling you that you need to live your life in such a way as to be able to receive it.

In the Sacrament, we similarly covenant that we will "always remember him and keep his commandments which he has given [us]; that [we] may always have his Spirit to be with [us]." There's no hocus pocus here... Just a promise that we make to God, and blessings that we receive if we keep the promise...

Andrew S said...

You're such an amazing person!

...That's all I really can say...just incredible.

Sheila said...

The Holy Ghost cannot possibly give his okay to sexual sin. John is just making excuses to he can have all the gay sex he wants. Sorry, John, but didn't you go on a mission? You must know that same sex intercourse is absolutely one of the worse things you could ever do.

Andrew S said...

J G-W, how often do you get comments from people like Sheila? Does it ever get really old?

Sheila said...

Andrew S
You don't it because it's the truth.

Andrew S said...

Amazing!

Nandor said...

Andrew S
What Sheila is saying is that no one has the ability to transform wrong into right. The prophets and the scriptures testify against sexual sin and yet you have this person claiming that the Holy Ghost is sanctioning gay sex. This is not possible. I hope that John re-examines what he is doing. He know what he is doing better than anyone.

Andrew S said...

I get what Sheila is saying.

It's really trite and petty in light of everything John has experienced though.

Bettina said...

Andrew S
No matter what one has been through, no one gets a free pass to commit sexual sin.

Kullervo said...

Nephi got a free pass to commit murder, didn't he?

I'm not a Mormon, but I know Mormon doctrine pretty damn well, and I've read the Book of Mormon enough times to know what it says.

Murder is constantly held up in Mormonism as the worst sin short of denying the Holy Ghost. Even sexual sin is called in the Book of Mormon "the sin next to murder. It is crystal clear from the Book of Mormon and the other scriptures that no matter how bad sexual sin is, murder is worse.

Nevertheless, right there in 1st Nephi chapter 4, the Lord tells Nephi to murder Laban in cold blood. So don't tell me that the god of Mormonism will never say it's okay to do something that would otherwise be a sin. Because even if you're a youth who never managed to actually get past 2nd Nephi, you at least got through the first four chapters. And right there, explicitly, the Lord commands Nephi to commit murder.

The Lord gives a justification for it in the chapter, but you know as well as I do that it's not the good reason to do it that makes it okay, but the fact that the Lord said to do it.

Now I'm not a regular reader of this blog, and from the original post it's not at all clear to me what he's doing with his husband in the bedroom. And it's not my business. But if God can command Nephi to commit the most heinous sin aside from denying the Holy Ghost, God can tell him to do pretty much anything else. The fact that it makes you squeamish because you think gay sex is icky doesn't mean God can't tell someone to do it.

Tell me, which would be a worse sin: to have sex with your husband or to deny that the Holy Ghost said to. Chew on that.