Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Perfectly Single

Four years ago my life was less than ideal. Actually, it kind of stunk. I was just rereading my journal from 2012 and 2013 and boy did I complain a lot. For example, take a look at this entry from 11 February 2013: “I kind of snapped at Kevin last night. He kept talking to me about Allison and how happy he was and I was just feeling crappy. His happiness just made me feel worse. I went to bed feeling pretty sorry for myself. I felt like Eliza from My Fair Lady when she exclaimed, ‘What’s to become of me?’ I just felt lost and sad and hopeless and I may have cried a little.” If you think I sound gay for quoting a musical, you should read the next paragraph of that journal entry in which I quote Anne Shirley.

Kevin was my roommate at the time and he was dating my friend Allison who he later married. They’re two of my very favorite people and in hindsight I’m embarrassed that I couldn’t just be happy for them. Unfortunately, I was too caught up in my own singleness to be happy that they had found love. I was lonely and sad and I feared that I would be alone forever.

What’s interesting is that as I’ve gotten to know more and more gay Mormons I hear the same story and over and over again. While everyone’s story is unique, I’ve heard this same sentiment dozens and dozens of time: “I just don’t want to be alone forever.” The kind of people I hear say this are typically gay men who have tried to date women for years with no success. They love Mormonism and want to stay in the church, but doing so means that they either have to marry a woman or stay single. Since marriage to a woman is unappealing and hasn’t worked the only option left is to remain single if they want to fully participate in the church. In their eyes, they will be alone forever. I totally get this because I’ve felt the same way.

When a gay friend tells me that they don’t want to be alone forever I often say something like this: “Just because you’re single doesn’t mean you have to be alone. You don’t need a relationship to be happy. You’re not half of whole. You don’t need another person to complete you.” And if I’m talking to someone who identifies as a feminist I’ll say, “You’re a feminist and you’re telling me you need a man to be happy?!” I’m not sure saying any of this has ever been helpful, but I’ll continue saying it anyway.

I’ve said the phrase, “You’re not half of a whole, you can be whole just how you are,” enough times that I decided to see if it was true. Over the last week I’ve been searching the scriptures to answer this question: What makes me whole and complete? I feel like the Mormon culture makes us single people feel that to be complete we need to be married. I’d like to share a few of the things that I wish Ben from four years ago had understood.

Like Mary Poppins my mother is practically
perfect. She truly loves everyone.
The first scripture I explored was Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Anyone who paid attention in Sunday School will know that perfect means “complete, finished, fully developed.” In other words, to be perfect is to be whole. The five verses preceding verse 48 all deal with how we treat other people. Verse 44, for example, says, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” As I’ve pondered these verses I’ve understood them to mean that if you want to be whole you need to forgive, you need to love, and you need to do good to everyone. In essence, our wholeness is contingent on how we treat other people. Have you ever been mad at someone or something and a friend says to you, “Dude, just let it go and move on”? I’ve been told that and I’ve said it, too (but without the word dude, of course). Mormonism at its core is about progression. If you aren’t forgiving people you aren’t moving on. You are stopping your own progression. As J.K. Rowling has said, “If you want to see the true measure of a man, watch how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” How we treat others matters very much.

Principle 1: I am whole when I treat people in a Christlike way (especially if they don’t deserve it).

The next verses that touched me were Matthew 19:20-21. This is when a rich young man approaches Jesus and asks what he needs to do to receive eternal life. The Savior tells him to keep the commandments and the rich young man is like, “I keep all those commandments already.” And then he asks, “What lack I yet?” In other words, what’s keeping me from being whole? And Christ tells him to give all he has to the poor, but the rich guy just can’t do that and walks away feeling sad and still incomplete.

So what’s the principle here? I’m whole when I give all my stuff away? No, I think it’s deeper than that. I think that each of us needs to have the courage to ask, “What lack I yet? What am I missing?” And then have the courage to do that thing. Here’s an example from my life.

Not long after I wrote the journal entry at the beginning of this post I was feeling super-sad that I was single (that feeling was actually pretty constant in my life for a number of years). As I was driving home from work one day I was praying and expressing to God my frustrations. I pleaded, “Why can’t I just have a family?” I soon felt this answer, “Ben, you already have a family.” And that response was true, I have a great family. I have parents, siblings, nieces and nephews and they’re all just great. I realized that I was already part of an eternal family and that instead of longing for something I didn’t have I should improve the relationships that I already had.

Hanging out with my gay Mormon friends
makes me feel whole
Now, this next part is going to sound crazy to Mormons, but it was important for me. Over the next few years I learned that I had to get rid of the dream I had of marrying a woman in the temple. It had been causing me pain and sadness and it was time for a new dream, a dream that was a better fit for me. I asked God, “What lack I yet?” and through a line upon line process I knew that there was a work God had for me to do. I needed my gay brothers and sisters and they needed me. And so I reached out and formed a little support group of LGBT Mormons. Now I have a little family in Tucson that I love as if they were my actual family. I wrote about how that all happened in my last post. I thought that the only way to be happy was to be married to a woman, but I feel like I was mistaken.

For example, Jesus Christ is our perfect example, right? He was baptized even though He was sinless to “set the example” for us (2 Nephi 31:9). His baptism is mentioned in multiple places in the scriptures because He did it to show us the way. If marriage was so important for me right now wouldn’t He have set the example for me by getting married? (I wrote some more thoughts on marriage and the Plan of Happiness in this post.) The Savior’s familial relationship that is most emphasized in the scriptures is His relationship with His mother as well as His constant striving to do His Father’s will. The scriptures are bursting with stories of how Christ treated everyone with love and respect, especially those that were sick, different, or on the fringes of society. Jesus showed us how love can be universal instead of exclusive. For me, the thing I lacked was reaching out. I was feeling so lonely and sad that I failed to realize that there were other lonely and sad people, too. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and started looking outward things got way better. In fact, I think I’m in the best place I’ve ever been.

Principle 2: I’m whole when I have the courage to do God’s will.

I love what the Doctrine and Covenants teaches about light. Section 93 is one of my absolute favorites. But D&C 50:24 teaches an important principle, too. It reads, “That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light and that light growth brighter and brighter until the perfect day.” Remember how we agreed that perfect means to complete and whole? Well, I haven’t reached the perfect day yet, but I will if I continue in God and continue receiving more light. God has promised all of us further light and knowledge and to receive it we need to use the knowledge He has already given us and seek for more.

Principle 3: I become whole as I receive more light.

I found a lot of great scriptures about what it means to be whole, but I’ll just share one more thought. Moroni 10:32 says that “by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ…” And referring to those who will attain a celestial glory, D&C 76:69 says, “These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant…” In the end, it’s not so much about what I do that will make me whole, it’s about what Christ did. A spouse won’t complete me, but the grace of God will. The relationship that will make me perfect isn’t the one I have with a significant other, but the one I have with Jesus.

Principle 4: I am made whole through grace.

If I could talk to the me of four years ago I would ask him these questions: How do you treat other people? Is there something you feel prompted to do that you haven’t had the courage to do yet? What are you doing to receive more light? What role does grace have in your life? I think if he really thought about it he would realize that he was looking for happiness in some of the wrong places. And then I would encourage him to follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost and his own moral compass and live the life he felt inspired to live. And I would tell him to not make any decisions based on fear (which is what I did for way too long).

I love traditional marriages and families and I believe that they are essential to God’s plan. However, I think that marriage to a woman isn’t the right thing for me at this point in my life. And while I’m very content with my life, I would not prescribe it for every gay Mormon. We all need to figure out what course is right for us. As Joseph Smith taught, “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, 'Thou shalt not kill'; at another time He said, 'Thou shalt utterly destroy.' This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted—by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.” I feel that I’ve received revelation on how to live my life and I hope that everyone else will do the same.

I’ve heard many people say things like, “My wife is my rock,” or “Nothing has brought me greater joy than raising my kids.” These sentiments are great and no longer make me feel left out because I’ve found my own rock and my own things that bring me joy. I know people who appear to have great marriages as well as people who feel burdened by their marriage. I also know people who are single and sad and people who are single and thriving. That’s because it’s not our relationship status that completes us. It is who we are becoming that completes us. However, I still get criticized regularly by Mormons and by people in the LGBT community for choosing to stay single. I get it, you have a great life and want me to have a great life, too. But instead of prescribing marriage to me as a way to be whole, I’d prefer you to ask me about my relationship with God. Am I thriving? Am I living a life that brings me joy? Am I driven by a purpose that’s greater than myself? I wish that instead of telling me to find a partner that you would ask me these sorts of questions instead.

Yes, I’m single, but I feel perfectly happy and whole just the way I am.

9 comments:

banannalise said...

Ben, Your words speak peace to my lately very heavy heart. I love your spiritual insights of being single and whole.

Unknown said...

Love this post, Ben, just like all your other posts!

Brooke said...

Oh this is so wonderfully written Ben! And honestly so pertinent to anyone in ANY circumstance. You are amazing!

AE said...

You put perfectly into words what I've been trying to put my finger on months. Society sometimes teaches that to live authentically, we need a romantic relationship (gay or straight). This will never be true for me.

Heather said...

Love this! It really touches me.

Allen said...

This is beautiful. Thank you for your faith. I feel like you've cut to the essence of what truly makes us happy, regardless of our situation. We can always control all of the variables you mention that lead to our happiness.

Kathy Alexander said...

I have read this post several times because I like it so much! You put scriptures to things I have said for a long time! Thanks for insight.

Kara said...

Your thoughts are perfect. Whole and perfect. Thank you for sharing your struggles and your triumphs.

david ballard said...

Brilliant (in the truest sense), insightful, and dripping with love for the Savior and his younger siblings. Thank you so much for this!