While I’m in the rhythm of speaking very openly, let me continue. I have told a lot of people this part of my life. Since returning from my mission, I have become very well acquainted with the mental patterns that I had learned from years of abuse. I gradually learned to be more mindful of my thoughts, question them, and set many of them aside. I learned during this time how well I had previously learned to look down on myself and how efficient I was at feeling like a mistake and an incapable problem. These feelings led me to try very hard to prove that I had a reason to exist – to myself and others (I now remember the worst of those moments as so embarrassingly foolish). The issue was that the only voice telling me I had no reason to exist wasn’t coming from other people around me – it was coming from within me. Some people would jump to say that is the devil while others with other backgrounds would jump to say that it was the abuse. The truth I have come to know is that it was both: the experience and its accompanying shame and the devil had both coached me into believing that I was of little worth – if not worse that worthless.
Listening and Acceptance
Fortunately, I began to not just forcefully resist those thoughts or keep them at bay, I learned to listen to those voices very carefully and invalidate them. It was by hearing them and not fearing them that I was able to put them behind me. I remember that – without using the word – I came to recognize that negative part of myself as a bully or as a jerk. I was able to set aside the guilt and shame that I was experiencing at a given moment and view the circumstances as if I were somebody else. The truth that I discovered was that if I saw somebody else do the same thing that I did, I would give them every benefit of the doubt that I possibly could and let it go… so why would I treat myself any different? I began to look at that second great commandment as an invitation to love myself as I do others.
It seems that I have almost always been filled with desire for being better, but the voice of control and expectation was replaced with the voice of acceptance and patience. As I felt those changes occurring I began to recognize the Spirit of God echoing the message of patience and providing peace. Gospel understanding began to unfold in my ponderings of scripture and what was changing inside me. When it came to spiritual things, I found God’s pleasure in listening to and understanding myself rather than judging and condemning. As a result, how I approached the gospel began to change.
But there was part of me that was not acceptable to God and therefore not acceptable to me. I did everything to try to push it aside, pretending it isn’t there, and keeping myself so busy with some of the stupidest and meaningless things. So I got to face even more demons rather than hide from them and wish they weren’t there. I confessed them completely to the Lord on numerous occasions . And I also confessed to the Lord that I was powerless; I had done everything that I possibly could right and exactly as I felt that I was taught. I thought that I understood everything so clearly and I couldn’t understand why I still struggled. It broke me completely. The one thing that I had spent my life building and working toward was a lie. I was no longer strong; I was no longer good; I admitted to God wholeheartedly that, despite a lifetime of searching, following, and passionate and frequently desperate service, I was incapable; I was a sinner.
And God showed me that He was capable and that He was very different from what I had imagined my whole life. I came to know then, better than at any other time in my life that God was completely devoted to me. In those moments that I was completely terrified that I would somehow no longer be His and that He would turn me away, I went to Him anyway. He didn’t ‘fix me’ and He didn’t ‘make me better,’ but He loved me regardless. It completely changes me even now as the time is approaching a year and a half later. The judgement of my God was a blessing from Him, a powerful and constant affection, not a scouring condemnation.
What I experienced was completely unexpected. Ever since then I have been cleaning ‘spiritual house.’ Every thing that I ever thought I knew, everything that I thought I believed got dumped without hesitation. I found that pearl of great price and I will not let anything keep me from that. As I had found what really was sacred, very little else was. I began from scratch- only that which the Lord has revealed directly to me. From there I began sorting through everything I have ever studied in the gospel; nothing in my head or heart was off limits; that goes back twenty years and farther if you count what I learned before actually studying. That is a lot of teachings from books, manuals, Ensign articles, speeches, conference addresses, scriptures, teachings of the prophets of the church, traditions, customs, church history and policy, Sunday school lessons, and talks given in sacrament meetings.
So much of it fit back in perfectly, but there is a considerable collection of ‘spare parts.’ What I found was this: my experience and living testimony are more in harmony with our scriptural canon than they are with any other source. The teachings of Joseph Smith and his leadership fall in with a similar level of perfection.
Other sources are more hit and miss, but I praise God that every conference of this Church I hear becomes more and more like the messages God teaches to me. Still there are streaks of teachings and attitudes that appear to have come from a different era that don’t begin to resemble the approach that God has tutored me in. I make no pretense to say that I understand those, where they came from, or whether or not they were somehow necessary to the brothers and sisters that precede us. But I will tell you that they are attitudes and perspective that God has personally shattered in my life; the weight they carry in my life is as if they were never written or said – that is, except for when I talk to a lot of people in my faith.
Years, before I had this experience I have felt God commanding me through the voice of His spirit to speak up. I still have some of those things I first wrote. I was trying to come to terms with why on earth I would be told to share. I knew then that there is no short list of men who make better husbands, fathers, and leaders – and now – I realize that there virtually every other man in this church fits ‘the mold’ better than I do. And lastly – honestly – how easy am I to hear? My experience indicates it is a miserable burden. So who am I? Why me? I don’t propose to know, but I can tell you what I have noticed.
I have noticed that my life is a ‘non-synoptic gospel.’ That means that I know that I have a lot to testify of, it just so happens that I see thing so very, very different.” But it is my witness of “living water”, “the peace of God which passeth all understanding,” redemption, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God who lights this world.
I have noticed that God has taught me things that run counter to our traditions and they run counter to the voice of Latter-Day prophets of days past. I am well-acquainted with numerous quotes such as those from Brigham Young that place my contradiction with previous prophets as a danger to myself and our people. Be knowledgeable of them and follow the voice of God: I have no more authority to speak than the truth of my words. With new understanding I am sharing what God commands by hearkening to that same that voice that has caused me to tear up multiple times telling me that the Book of Mormon is true, that lead me to search out the writings of the prophets and caused my heart to burn as I read them, the voice that made me excited to serve a mission and brought others to a knowledge of God, and it is the same voice that has given me a direct and radical testimony of Jesus and the power of His redemption to all those who believe on Him.
I have noticed that I am not afraid. I am burdened, but not afraid, because His burden is light! I will let go of all that I have for the pearl of great price, the tree of life, the fruit that is “most precious” and “sweet above all that is sweet,” the love of God, Jesus Christ.
Christ affirmed the teachings of Moses, Peter, and Nephi himself when he visited the ancient people of America: “Behold, I am he of whom Moses spake, saying: A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul who will not hear that prophet shall be cut off from among the people.”
Of all the prophets to hear and to honor, there is one above them all and that is Christ. So that is my invitation, hear Him. It is the reason for all of the blessings we have received as Latter-Day Saints: The church, law, organization, scripture, and prophets.
It is the invitation of the prophets to pray sincerely, search the scriptures, seek after Christ, and “offer your whole soul as an offering to Him.”
Taking all of this into account, I know that I am scary to those around me – I am something that isn’t ‘supposed’ to happen on so many levels. But here I am, testifying of the complete and total veracity of the Church while testifying of the imperfection and fallibility that is inherently present despite all the gifts of God to us as His Children. I will testify that it is God’s will for us to sustain those who lead, but this was never intended to be a “true and living church” solely because of someone else’s firsthand guidance from God.
To the contrary, God is not a respecter of persons; I believe it is the will of God for us to know Him; it is the will of God for us to know of the fallibility of those around us and love them; it is the will of God for us to know of the fallibility of those who lead us and have enough charity and grace within us to be able to hear their words and follow their counsel, not as Gods themselves, but as friends of God. Because when the Lord speaks it doesn’t matter whose voice He uses – we will hear it, recognize it, and/or learn from it it, or we won’t.