With the onset of summer break came the courage for me to attend some LDS church meetings yesterday. During the school year, a bad Sunday carries over to a miserable Monday--I call it an emotional hangover. But any resulting stress from Sunday is easier to handle on Monday if I don't have to face classrooms full of teenagers while still distraught.
I actually intended to attend my entire three hour block of church--something I haven't done for nearly a year. But then I found out that one of my dear straight spouse friends was teaching a lesson on revelation in her relief society meeting at the same time as my sacrament meeting, so I decided to go there instead.
My friend focused on personal revelation, and had mentioned that while preparing the lesson that she felt she should focus on God's love.
A few days earlier some of us on an online straight spouse support group were discussing the challenge of reconciling our personal revelation and views on homosexuality with church "doctrine". One incredibly wise and spiritual woman among us shared her beautiful thoughts:
I felt really caught in the middle for a long time: President Packer and others so sure their revelation was correct, my gay husband having such immense spiritual experiences when he FINALLY got the courage to ask God if he were even loved, and then if it is okay to be gay. Both men asking opposite questions and coming away positive they are correct. When I finally pleaded with my Heavenly Father, telling him I didn't know...I had absolutely no idea which idea was correct, I felt an outpouring of love. My answer was simply "I love you, it will be okay". And I knew that was true. I really think that maybe some pray, so convinced of what the answer will be before they even ask the question, that God simply says "I love you" and that amazing feeling is interpreted as a definitive answer that "I am right". This is my favorite quote from Elder Uctdorf, and I think it hits the nail on the head:
"Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?" DIETER F. UCHTDORF
I think that it is important that we move forward, based on the dictates of our conscience. As we move, as we continue to search and pray, we come to slowly understand more and more the mind of God. It is a journey. We may not have the complete answers in our lifetime, but if we act on what we truly feel is right and good, we will be okay. It is as I move forward that I become more convinced that I am doing what is best for me and my family. When I first start on any given path, I'm not sure. As I move forward, I either go....ummm....yea, this isn't feeling right. So I move in a different direction, until what I'm doing feels right. Then I move full speed ahead! I am sure my understanding of homosexuality will change over time and my ideas will become more fully developed and closer to the truth. And that is okay. It is part of life. Do I have very strong convictions and beliefs on homosexuality YES. Do they differ from those of respected church leaders? In some instances yes, in others, who knows? I do think that we are on the brink of further revelation. All the wonderful strides that are being made in the world to accept and love each other are setting the foundation. I hope to help others start to think and to question so that we may be ready as the changes come.
Back to my friend's lesson. Toward the beginning there were some comments made regarding leaders receiving revelation for us and our role to be obedient to them. I felt myself becoming obstinate and angry. This is my most common inner reaction any time I attend church meetings, and that is why I go so seldom. I frequently feel angry and tense. But as the lesson went on, my attitude softened, and by the end I was feeling a need for my own love and patience with church leaders and members.
For most of the lesson my friend was the facilitator, asking for a few quotes or scriptures to be read and then asking the reader what they thought. Personal experiences were shared and I gained some insight. She mentioned to me later that it had been a really hard lesson for her to prepare, so she really needed the comments from the class to teach the lesson. And they did.
One sister spoke of praying regarding doubts to marrying her fiancé, and she asked for a black and white answer. She felt God's love for her when she happened to see some texts on her fiance's phone in black and white, and she knew that was her answer to breaking the engagement. I couldn't help but remember my own doubts when I was engaged to Scott. I've blogged about this long ago, but I don't think it was a strong black-and-white prompting. Rather, I think of it more as God's sadness in knowing the difficult yet important journey of which I was about to embark.
Another sister spoke of the scripture from the Book of Mormon where Alma says "O that I were an angel, and could have the wish of mine heart, that I might go forth and speak with the trump of God, with a voice to shake the earth, and cry repentance unto every people!" but then he realizes that God is in charge. People must be ready to hear the message, and God knows when that is. I've always thought of this scripture in terms of missionary work, but this time I personally took it with my own desire for gay rights activism, and a message from God to me to be patient. I felt the same message again at an LGBTQ church-approved fireside last night when the brother giving the closing prayer specifically asked that we might be blessed with patience for our leaders and family members. It must have been something I needed to hear.
Another comment was made regarding revelation and spirituality that made me think; someone said, "what we put into it is what we get out of it". I am really struggling with the direction the kids and I should go with regards to church attendance, but I have also become lax in the things that will help me be able to receive that revelation, like prayer and scripture study. I guess I need to decide how serious I am about getting an answer. Maybe I don't really want an answer right now. Maybe I just want to enjoy my break a bit longer, and so putting the effort in might mean getting an answer out that I am not yet ready to hear. I'm afraid of it regardless of whether it is to stay in the church or to leave it. Both solutions terrify me.
Needless to say, I left the first meeting uplifted and ready to attend another. I called the kids at home and said that whoever was willing to go to church with me should get ready because I would be home soon.
My daughter and toddler came with me (can you believe he is almost 2!?) and he attended the nursery for the first time ever. :)
As I approached the relief society room, men that were leaving Sunday school extended quick but heartfelt hello's and big smiles. One man asked, "Come back to visit, huh?" I thought he was teasing me, when he in fact was under the impression I had moved because he hadn't seen me for so long. When he found that out, his insistence that I not be inactive gave me that same stubborn, chip-on-my-shoulder feeling again that had dissipated so nicely during the previous hour. I thought about all the times that as a true-believing-Mormon I had done the same, probably over welcoming less active members when they did come, and I felt a little bit bad about it, but also a little bit more patient with the members for their good intentions. I wanted to just sit in the back and blend into the woodwork. A friend reminded me that I would have to come on a regular basis again for that to happen, LOL.
Sit in the back I did, with some very good friends with which I could banter and mutter under my breath to ease my anxiety. The teacher began handing out quotes to be read, and told us she was starting at the back because she usually always starts at the front. I looked at my quote and dread came over me. I seriously considered leaving. The quote was about the prophet receiving revelation and our requirement to sustain and obey and not be judgmental of him and his words. I asked the teacher if it was okay for me to read something I didn't believe, and she said she hoped I believed it, but I muttered something and gave her a look to indicate that I really wasn't sure that I did. Then my friend next to me showed me the quote she was to read, and I was grateful I had the one I did and not hers, which said: We have had misguided souls in the Church who have, in their ignorance, opposed the advice of the [President of the Church], not sensing the fact that they were opposing the Lord and they have fallen into darkness and sorrow, and unless they repent they will not find a place in the celestial kingdom. Ug. Then my friend opened her lesson manual and I was shocked to see the title and know that it was the same lesson I had attended that morning in my friend's ward.
I read my quote and listened to the other quotes be read and I distracted myself by texting my friend and searching for President Uchtdorf's quote on Facebook. The discussion went on in the background: our leaders receive revelation for us from God. We are required to follow them. We do not get to pick and choose what we believe. We can receive revelation for ourselves and our families/children, but not for our ward or for the church.
I was determined that when the topic changed from leaders to personal revelation, that I would raise my hand and share President Uchtdorf's quote. At least I hoped the lesson would go there, and finally it did. And I raised my hand, and I shared and a lovely discussion ensued. The relief society president leaned toward me from a nearby row and asked me to send the quote by Facebook message to her later.
One of the most memorable comments was from a sister regarding her daughter's rocky marriage. She said she prayed for the marriage to be saved and left intact; for the conflicts to go away. But she was always left with a "stupor of thought." Finally she figured out that it was none of her business, and worded her prayers differently. After the lesson I thanked her for her comment and shared my own similar experience, just a feeling I've had with regards to prayers for me.
At the peak of my struggle with attending church a few months ago, I was so conflicted. As you know, going to church made me miserable and panicky, but staying home I felt guilty. One time when my mother-in-law mentioned that they always pray for me and Scott and the kids, something occurred to me. I thanked her graciously but then asked she be sure she was praying for us to find peace and make the right decisions for our family, rather than praying for us to go back to our regular church attendance. She didn't comment, but staying home and finding peace in my journey seemed easier after that. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I don't think so.
After church I didn't feel the usual burden and I didn't think I was going to have to deal with an "emotional hangover" today. Yay! I posted the following on facebook:
It was interesting to go to the same relief society lesson on revelation twice today, taught by two different people. It was really like two completely different lessons. One was in my ward and focused a lot on following our leaders and the revelation they receive. The other was taught by a straight spouse friend of mine and focused on personal revelation and feeling God's love. I learned from both of them--not necessarily the message of the lesson itself, but more from comments and personal experiences. I do not regret attending either of them. It was so good to see friends that I don't see otherwise in my own ward.
The day ended with a wonderful fireside and conversations with fabulous LGBTQ and Mormon ally friends. Not sure what I will do about church next week, but it was an amazing and peaceful step for me yesterday. I was able to endure what could have been a devastating lesson and instead keep confidence in my own beliefs and in my own personal revelation. I am grateful for the experience, and extremely grateful for good friends, or angels, that God has placed in my path.