Monday, May 23, 2011

The Power of a Good Support System

I've mentioned time and time again how amazing and supportive my family is with regard to who I am and what I deal with in my day to day life, but my support network goes so much farther than that.

Yesterday, after church, I got to let another person into that aforementioned inner circle when I sat down to speak with my new bishop, Bishop G.  He had issued me a couple callings the month before, at which time I told him that I wanted to go on a mission soon and felt like I was ready to put in my papers.  He advised me to make an appointment for the next Tuesday and we could talk about it.  I forgot to do so for awhile, then I tried to make the appointment several times, but our schedules never meshed.  Finally, he asked me to meet him after ward choir (my new calling; expect entries to be forthcoming), and I agreed.

However, I was reluctant to go to the meeting.  Without getting into too much detail, I slipped up a few times in the last week with regard to pornography.  I was dreading telling him that, after 6 months of worthiness, I fell back into an old habit.  Still, I knew that I needed to tell him and be completely honest, so that when I do finally get my shit together and serve a mission (can I say those words in the same sentence?), I can do it completely worthily.  During the sacrament and throughout the day, I prayed that the Lord would help me be completely honest with Bishop G. and that I'd have the courage to do what is right for once this week.

Bishop's friendly, good-ol'-boy smile greeted me as I sat down.  He asked how choir went, congratulated me on my new calling as a priesthood instructor, and began lauding praise on how committed I was to my callings, to my family home evening group, and to my home teaching.  With each additional layer of laud, my heart sunk deeper and deeper into my chest, dreading the moment I'd hack away his respect for me.

Finally, he said, "Now, last time we met, you mentioned you wanted to start your papers.  Shall we get started?"

I interrupted him and told him how I'd been feeling in the last few days and what I'd done.

His expression didn't change.  He maintained his sincere smile.  His eyes kept their gaze into mine.  He said, "Okay, well, let's get that taken care of and we'll get the mission papers in a little later."

Like any good bishop, he began to pry a little into the nature of the pornography.  Was it illegal?  (No.)  Did it involve children?  (No.)  Did it involve members of the same gender in homosexual activities?  (Yes.)  <Pause>  Did it involve men?  (Yes.)

Again, his lightheartedness didn't subside, even in the face of the gravity of my last statement.  He looked at me and asked me if I regularly experienced those feelings of attraction to men.  I confirmed that I did.  Now, he looked at me with even more love than before.

He said that I felt those things because I was destined for greatness.  He confirmed, once again, my faithfulness in my callings and my willingness to serve.  He told me that, although they were bad habits, pornography and masturbation did not define my church membership or my worthiness as a son of God. He chastised me to remove those bad influences from my life immediately, but that they did not overpower my good qualities and could never overpower God's love for me as His son.

We talked for a long time.  He empathized with my plight.  He told me frankly that my life might never get much easier and the feelings of homosexual attraction might never fade.  He even acknowledged that I might never get married in this life.  And yet, his advice never came off as negative.  It was realistic, full of hope that someday things might change, but even more full of hope that no matter what happens, I will come out conqueror if I do what's right.

We set some great short-term goals for taking the sacrament and getting my expired temple recommend back, and our meeting was over.

What I can't adequately describe is the feeling of love my bishop instilled in me. I've had bishops in the past who could lecture for hours on the psychological causes of same-gender attraction, but might never really understand how it makes me feel.  I've had other bishops who advise that a mission might not be the best choice for a person in my situation.  I had a bishop who was a great motivator, but often did it by stern admonishment and chastisement.  All of these have been effective tools that my bishops have used and all of my bishops have inspired new ideas and powerful insights.  But sometimes confidence and love were absent in those admonitions, lectures, and bits of advice.

Bishop G. inspired confidence in my ability to serve admirably.  His lack of scientific knowledge was offset by a serious outpouring of love and solidarity.  His calls to repentance, while motivated by my unrighteous actions, were loaded with love and respect.  I left his office in tears, but not tears of fear, sadness, or worry.

I have faith that all of my bishops used methods that were effective and yielded results for me at the time. I also have faith that every single one of them was motivated by love and concern for my well-being. I'm just grateful that at this stage in my life, I have a bishop whose love isn't hidden and whose respect is obvious.

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