I accept your thoughts and prayers

prayer-13-04-3We’ve seen the posts and heard the words. “Thoughts and prayers for Orlando.” The same sentiments were shared after the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Aurora, Wisconsin, Oregon and elsewhere. While the words are meant to comfort, too often they anger the people who need the comfort the most.

Why do they create so much division? I have often wondered; I always considered prayer a gesture of empathy. If somebody says they are praying for me, it’s proof that they care. Others, however, don’t see it that way. Prayer, to them, is just and empty gesture that won’t do anything to solve the problem. It comes across as a hollow gesture when many feel that religion has played a role in creating the problem. I get that, and I don’t want to downplay those feelings; being let down too often can lead to those real, raw emotions of abandonment.

Prayer for me, however, has always been more than just words. I was taught to pray for understanding. When I see a person offering prayers for the people of Orlando, I believe they will be searching for understanding. They want answers of how something so horrible could happen and what more they can do to help. Those are tough questions to answer without some sort of prayer or meditation.

When I was taught to pray, I was told to pray for guidance–to discover what I should do next. It was up to me, however, to search for ideas and meditate on which of the proposed solutions would be best.

Whatever the answer, prayer requires me to follow up with action.

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So, when people offer prayers after tragedies like Orlando, I have hope. I have hope that people who don’t understand the pain and anxiety this has created in the LGBTQ community seek to for empathy. I hope that they pray to find out what they can do to help the victims of this horrible crime. I hope they search for what they can do to avoid more tragedies.

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Their prayers give me hope that there will be at least one more ally joining our fight for acceptance and equality.

When others get angry because of your offers of prayer, don’t despair, just pray to understand their hearts. Yes, prayer does have a way of softening hearts, but it usually changes the person who prays first. As we pray, we will learn how to better reach out to those who are in pain, and that is what we all need.

 

 

A Seat at the Table

Mormon Family Dinner
Mormon Family Dinner (Photo credit: More Good Foundation)

Perhaps you have heard the story in church somewhere. It’s about an eternal family in the afterlife. They are at a dinner table with all of the fancy furnishings, the best decorations, and the most delicious food imaginable. Unfortunately, there is an empty seat at the table—a reminder of that family member that did not persevere to the end and earn the same eternal reward the rest of the family enjoys.

I don’t know about you, but I have overheard loved ones discussing this story quietly, and it hurts deeply knowing they consider me the family member that would be missing from that dinner-table seat. I may be kind, generous, and charitable, but I am not worthy of the highest of eternal prizes.

I am a single man, and as church policy currently stands, I will remain a single man until I die. To most casual observers, I am disobeying a big commandment to marry and start a family. It’s a requirement for the highest eternal glory. Many wonder about my “misplaced priorities” and urge me to hurry up and find a nice woman to marry. I tried that for nearly twenty years. I dated, I served faithfully in many leadership callings, and I prayed day and night to find a woman that would fix me. Any emotional connection I was able to make with a woman, however, was similar to how I love my sisters, and I felt my attraction to men grow more intense

I am not allowed at the table because I am a single man.

You see, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that it is my own fault that I am still single. Many well-meaning people have pointed out the wonderful single women who would be an amazing wife and mother. I agree that most of them would, but I also believe they deserve husbands that would love them in a way I am incapable of loving. I gave up on the singles wards several years ago because the intent is to lead every single woman and man in the congregations into the eternal bonds of matrimony. That wasn’t going to happen for me, so I switched to a traditional family ward, where I sit alone in the back of the chapel.

Even though I try to obey all of the commandments to the best of my ability, there is no place for a single gay man at the dinner table.

I want to find an eternal companion just like most members of the church. My wishes, however, would be to find a loving, kind man with whom I could share my life. These desires are selfish according to many faithful saints; such choices will only lead to a life of suffering and unhappiness. A life with a man I love, though, sounds more fulfilling than the life I currently lead coming home to an empty house.

f I choose the path of spending my life with a man I love, I will not be welcome at the table, because I am a sinner and turned away from God.

I don’t know the answers to this dilemma that thousands of men and women in our faith face. It seems as though, according to current teachings, that any of the choices we have to make all lead to dead ends. Do I sacrifice happiness now for an eternal happiness that I can’t possibly earn? Does the atonement of Jesus Christ make up for the requirements that I lack in this life? Where are the answers?

 

I would love to know what others think. Please feel free to respond and share how you have reconciled these conflicting issues. I will open up the comments for others to read.

Chapter One – A Sunbeam

We met in our Primary Sunbeam class—Danny, Peter, and I. At least that’s what our parents told us. Our Salt Lake Valley ward was full of children and had an active primary program. I was excited to finally join my older sisters in their Wednesday afternoon activities, but when I arrived at the church building, I became a little bit nervous. The women leaders divided us into age groups row by row in the chapel. My two older sisters joined the boys and girls in their assigned groups and pushed me to the front row where I was supposed to sit.

While all of the other rows had a mix of boys and girls sitting together, the row where I was assigned to go consisted of just boys. There were seventeen of us total—seventeen three-year-old boys and one primary teacher. After a prayer, some singing, and a short talk, Sister Jensen guided her troop of young boys to our classroom for an activity. She had us hold hands as we walked the long hallway to our destination. I was the last boy in the chain.

Sister Jensen was an accomplished artist, and she apparently hoped to transfer that talent to her small army of boys. Our classroom had a large, black tarp on the floor. The edges were lined with pieces of construction paper, and the center contained bowls of thick, brightly-colored paint.

“We are going to have fun today, boys,” Sister Jensen smiled. “We are going to be artists.”

I started jumping up and down with excitement, and one of the other boys laughed.

“I don’t want to get your mothers angry at me, so we need to protect your clothes from all of this paint,” our teacher said. “Before we all start painting, we all need to wear one of these.”

She held up a stack of neatly-folded shirts. I was given a large men’s dress shirt. The long sleeves dangled from my short arms, but Sister Jensen helped me roll up the sleeves until by small hands appeared out the end. The other boys were working to put on their large T-shirts with short sleeves, while a few of us struggled with the buttons on our used dress shirts.

“These are my dad’s shirts,” a boy named Peter said. “He was a football player.”

“Yes, he was,” Sister Jensen said. Her mouth was smiling, but her eyes looked sad.

One of the boys, Danny, let the sleeves of long shirt hang beyond his arms. He started to swing hi shoulders and watched the sleeves swirl in the air. Sister Jensen was busy helping other boys get their painting shirts on, and before we knew it, Danny and I were whipping each other with our extra-long sleeves. Peter thought it looked like fun, but he was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt, so he tackled us. The three of us laughed as we wrestled and rolled on the floor.

Sister Jensen got to us a little too late to avert a disaster. The three wrestling buddies had made it to the center of their ring. Peter stood up, but suddenly, Danny knocked him over into the bowl of green paint. They rolled and knocked me into the bowls of thick red finger paint. Within seconds we were covered in splotches of red, yellow, blue, green, and orange.

Sister Jensen somehow managed to put an end to the adventure and avoid any more boys getting involved. She carefully inspected each of the three boys as she moved us just far enough from each other to avoid another duel.

“Well, boys,” Sister Jensen said in a voice that was halfway between laughing and crying. “I was going to have you paint pictures of what it means to be a Sunbeam, but these three boys beat us all to the paint.”

She held up Peter’s arms to inspect the new color pattern on his shirt.

“These colors almost make a rainbow,” she said.

“Rainbows,” she repeated softer. “What do rainbows mean?”

Danny giggled as he pressed his hand to my right cheek and left a blue hand print there.

“Okay, class,” our teacher said. “We are all Sunbeams, and do you know what happens when a sunbeam shines through a rainstorm?”

We were silent.

“When a sunbeam goes through a raindrop, or when it shines through a heavy rainstorm, we get a rainbow.”

We remained silent.

“Does anyone know what the bible tells us about rainbows?”

Nobody answered.

“Rainbows are a promise,” Sister Jensen explained. “They are a promise that even in the darkest and hardest of times, Heavenly Father wants us to know that everything is going to be all right.”

The boys looked at each other. Danny looked at me and shrugged his shoulders.

Sister Jensen closed her eyes and whispered once more, “Everything is going to be all right.”

Introduction

Sunday was one of those days that faithful Latter-day Saint families look forward to. Brother, sisters, aunts, and uncles gathered from across the state to hear one of their loved ones bear testimony of his faith prior to leaving all to serve as a missionary for two years.

I traveled the two hours with my brother and his young family to honor my nephew. I enjoyed spending time on the road with the family—especially as my youngest nephew showed unconditional love to his uncle. The three-year-old enthusiastically pointed out everything he saw from his car window and told me several times how happy he was to have me travel with them.

As we pulled into the church parking lot, my brother asked me to go ahead and save some seats for his family. They stayed behind to change a wet diaper and take care of other young-family situations. I found a half-empty row and sat next to a family I did not know. As the time the meeting to start drew closer, I became more anxious—my brother and his family still had not come in. The chapel slowly filled up with young families and couples taking the seats around me. Finally, a young couple sat in the seats I was hoping to save for my own family.

I sat alone as we sang the hymns and prayed. I watched the families around me as my nephew shared his stories about preparing to be a missionary. Couples held hands, rubbed each others’ shoulders, and cradled young children in their arms. I felt so alone, and I couldn’t help but wonder is this the cross I am called to bear for the rest of my life?

On the road trip back, I felt something tugging at my heart to share my stories. I am not sure if anything I will have to share will help others, but I have learned through past experiences that I need to follow these promptings. So, here I will start with my earliest memories of the loneliness many within the church feel when they have a secret they have tried to hide for most of their life.

I am changing names because I think over the span of my lifetime I believe many attitudes have changed. I don’t want to accuse people in the past who may have made mistakes of being horrible people. Hopefully, most will have learned and had a change of heart, and I don’t want to blame anyone for they way I or anyone else has turned out. Ultimately, we are all responsible for our own happiness in life. These are my stories, and I hope to help others—as well as myself—find peace through sharing them.