Monday, December 10, 2018

Creating Sacred Spaces

There are 40 people in my social work cohort at school. 40 people who I’m in class with all the time. 40 people who are some of my closest friends. And I’m the only gay one. Or so I thought.
I share the following story with permission. In class on Thursday one of my classmates came out to 20 of us in the middle of class. It was unexpected and seemingly came out of nowhere. I was pretty shocked, actually. The teacher later said that he saw my jaw literally drop at the announcement (which isn't my most attractive facial expression). In the minutes after this student’s disclosure we had a beautiful conversation about why they decided to share this information with the class. Why they chose to go from four people in their life knowing this secret to suddenly 24. I thanked this student for sharing their heart with us and told them that they were brave and courageous. This classmate mentioned multiple times how my being open had helped them so much to be okay with their sexuality.

Image result for JFSB
Our classroom in the Joseph Fielding Smith
Building is sacred space to me
I don’t know if anyone else in the class noticed, but I started to get really emotional as I sat in my chair. Part of me was so grateful that I had been a help to this person. Another part of me ached so badly at the same time. One thing my classmate said was that they previously didn’t feel it was okay to discuss their sexuality. They didn’t have permission to do so. And I thought about all the people I know who have felt similarly and the pain that that loneliness and isolation causes. And then I thought about the 15 months my classmate and I had sat in the same room together and I had no idea, not even a clue, that they were fighting an internal battle the entire time. And it struck me how many people are dealing with things that they feel they don’t have permission to talk about.
During the discussion, another class member told the class that we were on sacred ground. That having this conversation created a sacred space. And it did feel sacred. It felt holy and real, like we were building heaven on earth. It led me to wonder why it is that when we open our hearts we create sacred spaces.

Here’s a piece of my heart; a sacred space.
I recently really liked a guy. The most I’ve liked a guy in years. I didn’t tell many people about this. I assumed that I would get two responses if I told people I had a super huge crush on a guy. My churchy friends would warn me that I was on a dangerous path and should be careful. My not-so-churchy friends would tell me to stop letting my church hold me back and to just live my life. And so the people I did tell were people that I knew wouldn’t tell me what to do, but would just want to be with me on my journey.
This guy and I became fast friends and I loved having him in my life. I felt like maybe, just maybe we could be super awesome best friends and I’d have someone I could platonically share my life with. I remember sitting with him on my front porch when the nights were still warm and just talking about our days. I thought to myself, this is exactly what I’ve been yearning for. He and I never held hands, or kissed, or anything like that, but I thought that maybe I could be his person and he’d be my person. But that’s not what happened at all.

I want someone who loves me
 as much as this cat does
I told one of my older and wiser gay friends how stupid I felt about the whole thing. “I know better,” I said. “I don’t get to have a special someone and I know better than to think I can. I’m so stupid.” He immediately corrected me. He told me that I can’t pretend like I don’t have a heart. I’m a human and we’re divinely wired for connection. “You have a heart,” he said, “and it’s good to be reminded of that from time to time.”
I often tell people: “I used to think the Atonement of Jesus Christ was supposed to make me straight, but instead it healed my broken heart.” And that is so true. My feelings of brokenness and internalized shame because of my sexuality are gone. My heart doesn’t feel broken or filled with holes anymore. It feels healed and complete. But something is definitely missing, something that I can’t fix on my own. And I don’t know how that will all be made right, but I know that it will.
The thing that is missing is a lack of connection. Yes, I have so many wonderful friends and family members. I’m one of the least alone people I know. But there’s a role that friends can’t fulfill. I know that this lack of connection isn’t unique to gay Latter-day Saints. There are plenty of married people who feel disconnected, too. It’s common to the human condition. What I wish I had was the opportunity to truly connect my heart with another person’s, to knit my heart with theirs.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking of what Jesus did when He visited the Nephites. After telling them that they were weak and not yet ready to receive all the words He wanted to teach them, He invited the multitude to bring any who were sick and afflicted to Him and He would heal them. The people, who had just been told they were weak, were told that their faith was sufficient that they could be healed. They “did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him” (3 Nephi 17:9).

I hiked a mountain by myself last week. I witnessed many
 people helping their companions up the toughest  terrain.
Christ healed those who were both weak and faithful. I find this scene and the two adjectives He uses to describe the multitude incredibly beautiful, but what has struck me recently is that they were brought to Him. I’ve been asking myself two questions: What does it look like to bring my afflicted loved ones to Christ? What does it look like to allow myself to be brought to Him? And I wonder, can this yearning for a partner I feel so frequently be lessened or erased as I develop a strong connection with the Savior?

The people in 3 Nephi 17 performed roles that created different kinds of healing. There were the physically strong who literally carried the physically weak to Jesus. As the physically weak were healed, their testimonies of the Savior grew in ways different than those who hadn’t needed to be physically healed. What did it do for the physically strong to carrying the physically weak to the Savior to be healed? I can imagine the formerly physically weak, now spiritually strong, sharing their testimonies with those who hadn’t been physically healed. The spiritually strong were then able to strengthen those who Christ had described as weak. Through this shared experience everyone who was weak in some way was strengthened. They brought each other to Christ.

A knitted rainbow heart from my buddy Liza
Part of the emotion I felt on Thursday in my class was healing. Over the last 15 months my classmates and I have created an environment of trust, one so strong that a classmate felt comfortable disclosing something so personal. It was this person’s vulnerability and trust in us that created the sacred space we felt. I was brought to the Savior that day as I witnessed a measure of healing in my vulnerable classmate. And hopefully they were brought to the Savior as the rest of the class listened and did our best to help them feel welcome. Now this classmate doesn’t have to walk the path alone. We will all do it together. And when there is a burden, it will be lighter because we will bear it together. And when there is rejoicing, it will be more profound because we will rejoice together. Our hearts were knit together that day. Trust and vulnerability knit hearts together.
On the day when I realized my friendship with this guy couldn’t be what I wanted it to be, I made a lunch that I accidentally left at home. I got to work feeling even dumber than I’d already felt. I mentioned how stupid I felt for leaving my lunch at home to a coworker and then without telling me, she drove home and packed me a delicious lunch. I wrote in my journal that night: “It was such a Christlike thing to do on a day that I really needed it.” By making me lunch, my colleague brought me to Christ that day.
I’ve been alive for 34 years. I still have a lot of living and growing to do. I don’t have a lot of things figured out. But one thing I do believe I know is that at some future day, and maybe in the next life, I’ll look back on my life and think, “Wow! So that’s how the Lord did it. That’s how He shaped me into the person I was meant to be. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.” And I will rejoice. It’s easy for me to believe this will happen because when I look back on my 34 years that’s already how I feel. My faith in God and my hope for a better world compel me to believe that there are brighter days ahead filled with peace, love, and connection.


Christine Anderson said...

Ben, your feelings and thoughts are very sacred this morning! Such a humbling way to begin this week. Ben you are a shinning light for this young man, and the others in your class. My heart was touched when it was said, where you were was sacred ground! I am so grateful for you! May you have a blessed week.

Unknown said...

Friend, such a powerful example of sacred space. I am grateful for being a part of your journey as I travel a similar path. Unlike you, I am 'alone' most of the time, because I chose that path in order to remain true to my self. But knowing that there is a path for you and for this colleague and for others makes it a little easier to not be lonely even in my 'aloneness'. I hope that makes sense. Thank you for always being real.

Unknown said...

What I most loved about this post was the idea that we make things sacred by what we share. Sharing is caring, but it's so much more deeper and resonating than that.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and making this blog sacred.

Kami said...

You have such a wonderful heart. Thank you, Ben, for sharing it so boldly and kindly.

Unknown said...

Thank you. This is beautiful.

Suzanne said...

Just reading this made me want to remove the shoes from my feet.

Cheryl Hamilton said...

Thank you for putting words to feelings that others can’t and helping me to learn how to love more

John Crane said...

Your experience at BYU reminds me of my experience in the MBA program at BYU, class of '73. We were a small group of 60-plus students who were around each other 16 hours a day for six years. Stephen R. Covey brought in one of his professor friends from Harvard who observed us in class break-out sessions. He observed that there was a closeness among us students that he had never seen at Harvard.

I had false notions about my changing sexuality, too. I believed that if I married in the temple and had children, I would lose the desire to share deep spiritual, emotional, and mental experiences with another man. I was a little older than you, 36, when it finally dawned on me that checking off every item on the predefined Mormon bucket list, not only did not make these desires go away, but I it left broken, dissatisfied, and unhappy in ways that I can't go into.

I also learned from my BYU experience, teachings about the atonement from the Book of Mormon. The atonement of Christ doesn't change anybody. What it does, as beautifully illustrated in the teachings of King Benjamin to his people, is enable the Holy Ghost to work with us, natural men who are enemies to God, and to effect a change in us, according to our faith, such that we "have no desire to do evil, but to do good continually". Then, the atonement steps in again and cleanses us from our former sins, and from the hurts caused by the effects of sin.

The working of the Spirit, made possible because of the atonement of Christ, changes our nature from a desire to do evil to a desire to do good. But, there is one part of my nature that it did not change, and maybe it's because that part was not evil in the first place. All desires, appetites, and passions, are to kept within the bounds the Lord has set. So, maybe the key is not to suppress those desires, but to find an appropriate way to express them. Again, the Book of Mormon has the answer: "Bridle your passions that your love may abound".

I admire people who, at a much younger age, do have things figured out, but they didn't face the challenges, you and I and some of your classmates faced. You say you are young and "don't have a lot of things figured out". I didn't figure things out until I was much older, and I won't go into how I figured things out and spoil your adventure of doing this for yourself. All I can say, is if you have a lot of connections in your life, and are happy with it, you are lucky. But, the most important connection you will ever have is your personal relationship with Christ, through the Holy Spirit. To paraphrase the Lord of the Rings, it is the light that remain when all other lights go out, but believe me, there will come a period in your life when all other lights will fail you, and you will have to rely on the mercy and merits of the Savior, alone.

I no longer feel broken or unhappy. And, while I don't have a wide circle of friends, I have a few close friends, and one, especially, with whom I am very close. Yesterday, my husband of 5 years (and partner of 34 years) celebrated my 73rd birthday. It is not evil to seek the kind of companionship you briefly had with your friend. "It is not good for man to be alone." I hope you will eventually find a way to express that desire in a way in which you can continue to enjoy all your friends, and enjoy the rich blessings of the Spirit.

One thing that I have found that sustains me is every night, when I say my prayers, I don't ask for a thing, but I count the blessings and tiny miracles that happened in my life over the course of the day. The Lord is pleased when we keep his commandments and "confess his hand in all things". (D&C 59) The key is to learn to discern the commandments of God from the commandments of men, be in touch with the Spirit, and follow it, wherever the truth leads you.

Beth Blair said...

Thank you Ben. I appreciate your words as I still struggle to create sacred places to share this part of myself with people.

Melissa said...

Ben, your words in this post are a marvel, a balm, an invitation to ponder, and so much more. Thank you for sharing this. I'm sitting at work feeling rather emotional as tears have sprung into my eyes. I needed to read this today. I likely need to read it on many days. And more than that I need to act to be more vulnerable and to create more sacred spaces. Again, thank you.

Matthew Sheets said...

Ben -- Keep it up. From one brother to another, I love Elder Holland's words (which you've likely heard many times): "Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come." Be patient and keep walking, striving to put things in an eternal perspective. God can change the way that we see things. He can make that which is long seem short. He can make from great pain, immense satisfaction and joy. And he can lead us through what feels like desolation in time to a land bountiful as He did with the Nephites. Just hang in there and know that you're not alone.

Nina said...

I just found your blog! And have been so blessed to read your posts.

My heart was so touched about your insights into the scripture in 3rd Nephi! You are such a spiritual giant and an amazing person! I feel I have learned so much from reading your blog.

I feel that I am a better person from having (virtually) met you. I wish you all the best as you continue on your path of discipleship.