I’m fast forwarding a little bit and will return to “the story” a little later. Today at church, I sobbed my eyes out to the point that my head was dizzy, my fingertips tingled, and had a hard time catching my breath (you’ll learn later that this wasn’t the first time I’ve done this at church). It was at the same time a faith shattering and faith affirming experience today. I simultaneously hated and loved the church. I knew that it was both a place I never wanted to be again and a place I needed to be for the rest of my life.
Here’s what happened:
My roommate came to church with me today, and I prayed that it would be a good experience for her and that she could learn something that would help her find her path (she’s holding tightly to Proverbs 3:6). I tend to arrive early and almost always have enough time to do a little reading before sacrament meeting. Today, I was reading Luke 6:27-38. I sat for a while thinking that this is actually a lot easier than I might think. It’s easy to love your enemies when you don’t think you have any. It’s way easy to bless those who curse you when there are none who are, I think.
I spent some extra time with verses 37-38. I will be measured with the same stick I use to measure someone else; forgive and I can also be forgiven. Thinking about those verses, I realized that I’m not very good at that. I am way too quick to judge and far too hard hearted to forgive. If someone insults me or hurts my feelings, I send death daggers from my eyes to the back of their skull. If I perceive injustice, I tend to get far too angry and want retribution. I know this about myself… I don’t like this about myself. I know I need to change this.
Sacrament talks were lovely. I learned a lot. Sunday school as well. Things were smooth sailing and by the time I got to Relief Society I had just about forgotten my mini-lesson during my downtime. The lesson was on Elder Maynes’ talk “Establishing a Christ Centered Home.” Of course, this led to discussion of family, both heavenly and earthly. We discussed the various ways our Heavenly Father has blessed us and what specific blessings come from families. When the teacher asked “What are some different ways the adversary tries to keep us from the blessings of our families?” my heart cringed. I knew where this was going and I sat and silently begged, “Please no New York. Please no Prop 8. Please please please, no no no.”
A woman in the back raised her hand and said, “New York recently passed a bill allowing same-sex marriage and they say that 8 other states are about to follow. Our duty as Saints is to take a stand and prevent this from happening. It’s disgusting and it must be stopped.” Mind you, I was sitting at the front of the room with the other interpreter and my roommate just saw my face fall. I sat there for about 15 more seconds.. I thought I could tough past that and ignore it, but I could just feel my insides burning and tears about ready to explode. I felt so unloved, so hated, so betrayed, and so disappointed.
I grabbed my things and left the building. I didn’t stop to talk to anyone. I just left the building and sat in the shade under a tree and sobbed and sobbed. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered someone, inside or outside of the church, saying something to this effect. I tend to be able to respond appropriately (read: not firing death glares at them so ferociously) and can engage in a respectful discussion about human rights and “this is my family, back off.” I have a hard time engaging in that conversation at church. When I’m there, I feel vulnerable and raw and like I’m sitting there with my heart open as if to say, “This is yours. Do with this whatever you need.” I also understand that church is not the venue for political discussions, and that if they do arise, I must refrain from participating. This doesn’t leave me with much. First, my heart is trampled on and I have nothing with which to defend myself, it seems. The only response I have is to leave and cry and be all hurt and angry and send death dagger thoughts to the person who served such an injustice. So not WWJD. (Oh, did I mention, I’m a little dramatic sometimes).
Anyway, I sat outside and just kept thinking, “Why am I part of this church? I don’t belong here. They’re all a bunch of fools who hate my family and nothing I do is going to stop that. I can’t be a good Mormon and still be faithful to my family. If I have to choose, the Mos gotz to go.” If it weren’t for the fact that my roommate was still in the building, and that I was her ride, I probably would have just left and stewed in hate and hurt for the rest of the day. So instead, I sat as far away from the building as I could.
The Relief Society President, Sister S, came out and found me sobbing like a 3 year old under a tree. I am so grateful for that woman and her family. We sat and talked for a bit and she reminded me that sometimes people say really stupid things. Sometimes it’s hard for people to divorce doctrine from culture. Sometimes, even the best people with the kindest hearts say the most distasteful, hurtful, un-Christ-like things. I reminded her that sometimes I’m that person, too. She let me sit there and emotionally vomit my frustrations with how people talk about homosexuality or gay marriage. She let me forcefully defend my family and my right to love them and their right to be treated like human beings. She sat there and just loved me the whole time.
At one point, she said, “The point of the lesson today was to know that every one of us is a child of God. He created us and He loves us no matter who we are or where we come from or what circumstances we find ourselves in. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, blue, purple, in the church, out of the church, good or bad. I sound like Lady Gaga, but she’s right!”
She said, “I have a question for you. Can you forgive her?” I knew what all of that meant. My whole mini-lesson prior to sacrament meeting was exactly leading up to this question. Could I forgive this woman? Could I forgive her, could I forgive the culture of the church knowing how strongly she/it protests against the rights of my family? For a quick moment, I thought, “I have absolutely said and done some stupid and thoughtless things in my life and I have for sure caused someone to hurt this badly because of those stupid and thoughtless actions or words. I need to forgive if I’m ever to be forgiven.”
In that conversation, Sister S made me feel so loved and so aware of the fact that I am a child of God. She helped me understand the Atonement of Jesus Christ and what Luke 6: 37-38 actually meant. She comforted me with so much love and support and understanding that I started crying because of that and I knew that this was exactly where I needed to be.
I recently read a talk from President Uchtdorf, “The Love of God.” Love that man, right? Here’s what he has to say:
Because love is the great commandment, it ought to be at the center of all and everything we do in our own family, in our Church callings, and in our livelihood. Love is the healing balm that repairs rifts in personal and family relationships. It is the bond that unites families, communities, and nations. Love is the power that initiates friendship, tolerance, civility, and respect. It is the source that overcomes divisiveness and hate. Love is the fire that warms our lives with unparalleled joy and divine hope. Love should be our walk and our talk.
In another talk, “You Are My Hands,”
I hope that we welcome and love all of God’s children, including those who might dress, look, speak, or just do things differently. It is not good to make others feel as though they are deficient. Let us lift those around us. Let us extend a welcoming hand. Let us bestow upon our brothers and sisters in the Church a special measure of humanity, compassion, and charity so that they feel, at long last, they have finally found home.
When we are tempted to judge, let us think of the Savior, who “loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. …
“[And] he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, … [for] all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.”
He’s talking to me, who needs to understand the two-way street of tolerance, civility and respect. He’s talking to the sister in Relief Society, who, while probably unintentionally, made me feel like I was deficient. He’s talking to Sister S, who lifted me up and showed me a special measure of humanity, compassion, and charity.
So, that was my day at church. I have a lot to learn and a long way to go and will likely have a lot of practice with forgiving and being forgiven. While sometimes it feels like it’s one blow from crashing to the ground, I do have a testimony of the church. I know that I am a child of God and that I will make mistakes and that if I can learn to forgive, I too will be forgiven.
With so much love,
The Lady Mo