By Ethan J.
The following contains an excerpt from my journal. It describes in detail a spiritual witness that I received a few weeks ago. Before I share this experience with you, I would like to tell you about myself.
My name is Ethan. I am 41 years old. I am a multigenerational Mormon with roots reaching back to the founding of the church. In fact, my great, great, great, grandmother was one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. Almost all of my family joined the church at its beginning and were among the first groups of pioneers to reach Utah. And in Utah we have stayed.
I was raised in an extremely rigid Mormon home where exact observance and exact obedience was not only expected, but demanded. My parents long ago merged their own identities with the identity of the church organization. They are equal parts both. My family chose to settle in a small Utah town which still has an over 95% Mormon population. I was 14 before I even met my first non-Mormon. My family is somewhat unusual in that many of them have chosen to live in the same area in which they were raised. This means that at least 50 of my own family members are in my home ward and stake. My family members have been my bishops, stake presidents, ward leaders, and even holders of higher Priesthood callings. Needless to say, the pressure to conform and comply was and is extreme for me.
So, at a very early age, when I discovered that I was different from my friends and family, it literally started a feeling of sheer terror inside of me that never subsided until this year. As I grew older, and I finally found the words that defined the difference in me, I entered a state of extreme hypervigilance and extreme self-hatred. I knew from church lessons that I was an abomination deserving of death, that I was repugnant and filthy, and that I was almost as bad as the unforgivable sins of murder and perdition.
Like all gay Mormon youth I survived a childhood and teenage years filled with hostility and bullying. Sometimes the hostility was violent. I have survived rape, molestation, multiple assaults, in addition to the daily hostility and smaller acts of hatred. All because of the possibility that I was gay. February of 2013 was the first time I have ever uttered the words, “I am gay,” to another human being. Of course I have spent hours every night on my knees begging, pleading, weeping, and bargaining with The Lord to remove this bitter cup and to please let me be normal.
I saw priesthood callings, my baptism, my mission, and my heterosexual marriage as ways to prove to The Lord how righteous I was and how deserving I was to receive the great blessing of having these feelings taken away so that I could stop hating myself and find joy in my existence. One lasting by-product of my upbringing is that I was taught that bad things happen to unrighteous people, and I couldn’t picture anything worse than what I had survived, so I knew I deserved the immense hatred I had for myself and I knew that all of the things which had happened to me were my fault because of the great evil inside me.
I lived two lives. The artificially righteous one on the outside and the self loathing and secret one on the inside. Such dissonance can only be maintained so long. I attempted suicide three separate times and I failed at that too. My attempt at temple marriage was a twelve year failure. I remained unchanged, and The Lord remained silent. The silence was crushing. I will say though, that I have stayed true to my covenants, and I have never disobeyed the law of chastity. Fear kept me at arms length from everyone. My homosexuality and I lived in solitude behind huge walls.
Last year, I could take no more and I sought professional help. It was during professional help, that I first admitted to anyone that I am gay. At this point, I knew for a fact that I was never going to change, so if I couldn’t change, something else had to. The next month I told my parents that I was gay, and it did not go well . . . but I expected it not to.
Along the way, I have learned some important truths. I’ve learned that my relationship with God is completely separate from my relationship with the church and that my my moral belief system is independent of the church’s belief system. I also learned that I can be incredibly spiritual and have great faith without being a cookie cutter Mormon, or even being a Mormon. But the most important truth I have learned is that hating yourself accomplishes nothing good, but it can lead to great harm.
A few weeks ago I had the following experience. Once more, it was the middle of the night and I was on my knees weeping, and pleading with The Lord to understand how I might better fulfill the measure of my creation and for help in understanding why my life had to be the way it had turned out to be. My cheeks wear wet with tears and I was growing very sleepy as I prayed.
I don’t know if it was a dream, if my mind was carried elsewhere, or if my subconscious just sorted things out in a format I could understand . . . and it doesn’t matter to me. What matters to me is that I cannot deny the truthfulness of what I experienced nor can I deny the incredible effect it has had on my life, my testimony, my future and my understanding. I also cannot deny the divine nature what I experienced.
As a lifelong member of the church, I know that we are entitled to receive personal inspiration from The Lord for our own well being. What follows is as exact of an account as I can give. As soon as I “awoke,” I wrote down every word and detail I remembered of what I experienced. My instinct is to keep this private, but I am sharing it only because it may help even just one person reject the path of self hatred and its consequences, and that is invaluable to me.
When my eyes focused I was about to have an interview with a Priesthood Leader, but this time I didn’t know the man interviewing me. But that didn’t seem to matter because the environment was familiar, comfortable and safe, and I could instinctually tell that the interviewer was a kind and gentle man, with a demeanor that invited comfort and put me at ease.
The Priesthood leader began, “Today, Ethan, I want to ask you about the goal you set at the first of this year.”
“You mean the one I made to follow the first two great commandments all year long? The one where I promised to love myself as well as love my fellow man and love god?”
“That’s the one,” he replied. “How is that going?”
“Okay, I guess,” I responded, somewhat downheartedly, “I just never expected how very hard it was going to be. It sounded so simple when I made it, but applying it authentically in every part of my life has been terribly difficult, to be honest. I really never dreamed it would be this hard.”
He smiled knowingly as if understanding. “Have you figured out yet that there are actually three parts to your goal even though we call them The Two Great Commandments?”
“Actually,” I muttered, “that’s the part that’s been so hard. I thought that loving my fellow man and loving my God would be simple because I always have, and then I ran into the part about loving myself,” and I abruptly stopped. Suddenly overwhelmed with emotion.
The feeling in the roomed changed palpably.
“What’s happened since January, Ethan?”
I whispered, “I have kept my promise so far, I have searched for and have found help and I have started learning the truth.”
“What truth?” he prompted.
“Well, I have realized just how much I have truly hated myself. I just never dreamed it was so deep and so bad, and how hard it was going to be to change that part of me . . . after 30 years of despising my every breath . . . ” At this point I began to cry silently, “I’m still trying, but there’s so much I just don’t understand.”
“Has anything changed since then, Ethan? Since you have been learning how to love yourself?”
I thought about it. “Actually, a lot has changed. I’ve started standing up for myself and for what I believe is right. Many people have commented on a great change in me, but I just dismissed what they’ve said, because they don’t know the whole truth, but now I realize that there really has been a great change anyway. I’ve found that loving yourself means you can’t keep living a lie . . . so, I have told my parents, my psychiatrist, and some close friends that I am gay, and I even told my new Bishop. And even though my family has reacted in the most hurtful way, I can finally look in a mirror without hatred and I can finally go to sleep at night.” I paused, thinking, “and I’m realizing that all those things that happened which I believed were my fault, actually were not my fault. In fact, I’m beginning to believe that I haven’t been broken or evil from the beginning, have I?”
“No, Ethan, you were never broken, and you have never been evil.” He paused to let that sink in. “Let me ask you another question. Do you think that these three things are just good ideas, good counsel, or are they actual commandments?” His eyes pinned me down.
I pondered for a moment, “I haven’t thought of it in that way before, I always think of ‘Thou shalt NOT . . .’ when I hear the word, commandment, but, just by their names alone, they must be commandments. You know what? I wish the Bible would emphasize the ‘Thou Shalt’s’ as much as the ‘Thou Shalt Not’s'”.
“So . . . . ” he paused. “When you have spent the last 34 years of your life despising yourself and hating yourself with such violence that you’ve even tried to end your own life, what have you really been doing?”
I got very sick to my stomach with sudden realization and looked straight at the floor. “I’ve been breaking a commandment.” I replied sadly. “I really *have* been sinning, but it’s not the huge sin I thought it was . . . it’s not the one I’ve been hurting myself over all of this time, is it?”
“No,” he comforted. “Not the terrible thing you have lived in fear of all this time. Ethan, some sins are sins because they do evil, but Ethan, other sins are commanded against because they do evil unto yourself.” He let me think for a few moments, then continued, “But what happens when you sin, Ethan?”
I kept looking at the floor, “I put up a wall between me and my Heavenly Father.” I answered quietly. Ashamed. I grew more sick as more understanding flooded into me.
“Ethan . . . look at me, Ethan.” He asked with infinite compassion in his voice.
I looked up and nothing and everything had changed. I began to feel the beginnings of an immense peace inside of me.
“I . . . . I . . . I See,” I stammered. Finally understanding.
“Why, oh why, my son, do you think that I named them the two greatest commandments? Why do you think I said that upon them hang all the law and all the prophets, Ethan, why?”
I looked up into his face, “because nothing is more important than these three things.”
“You see Ethan, as long as you hated yourself, you stopped me from blessing you; from helping you the way you kept asking Me to. There has been a great misunderstanding Ethan. I have never commanded anyone to not love themselves for any reason, no matter what they have or haven’t done. I have asked for a only for a broken heart and a contrite spirit, but I have never asked for self hatred. Do you understand that, Ethan?”
I looked at him in earnest now, “All along I’ve kept asking you why. Why now? Why am I finally changing now? Especially after I’ve pleaded with You for so very long.” I paused for a long time, thinking, then I continued, “But what you’re telling me is the great change in me is that I have stopped breaking the great commandments, and in so doing, I have opened the windows of heaven. Your windows. I’m finally taking down the wall.”
He smiled, “That’s exactly right, my son. Loving yourself is the beginning. The first step, and not the great blessing at the end of each day that you sacrificed yourself. I cannot bless you until you let me.” He bent forward, looking me in the eyes, as if hurt, “Why, Ethan, oh why would you ever believe that I could possibly create something that wasn’t worth loving? I don’t make mistakes. You know that Ethan, in your heart.”
“I know,” I admitted, “and . . . I’m sorry,” I stammered.
“You also must know,” He repeated, “you must know that you are exactly what you are supposed to be. What I created you to be.”
I had really started to weep. “I’m so sorry, Father,” I whispered. “But why, father, why? Why ALL of the things, and not just the big thing? Why so much?”
“No, Ethan, not the big thing. Never, the big thing.” He emphasized. Then continuing firmly, “All things have a time Ethan, but for now, be still. Keep loving yourself, Ethan, so I can continue to help you. Please don’t shut me out again. Remember, I AM love. As for why? . . . just like right now, that answer will be best when it comes from inside you. And more understanding will come, Ethan, as you continue to love yourself. You will know what to do. That is your answer Ethan.” Another pause, “All things have their season.”
I looked into his loving eyes. “I will keep helping you Ethan, if you keep loving yourself, your fellow man, and Me, but now the time has come for Me to leave, Ethan. Never forget that the first step in reaching me is loving yourself, upon this all else hangs. You are not alone and I will never be far.”
And with that, my interview ended and my eyes were opened. There were indeed tears on my cheeks, but they were comfortable tears and there was peace in my heart.
I very humbly share this experience with you. My greatest desire is to see both you and my brothers and sisters find love for themselves and open the door to their own source of inner peace. How can we ask others to accept us when we don’t even accept ourselves or we participate in behaviors which hurt and dehumanize ourselves? Whatever your belief system may be, whatever your religion, please begin by loving and accepting yourself and the rest will be added unto you.
I firmly believe that it is our oneness that will redeem us. For we are all but fellow travelers on the same road to the same place. We all need warmth, compassion, inclusion, fellowship, understanding, acceptance, and above all else, love.
Ethan J. Copyright 2013, all rights reserved.
–The author acknowledges that all things in this document are his own beliefs and from his own understanding. He does not wish to insinuate in any way that any of his beliefs should be mistaken for church doctrine or accepted as anything other than his own personal opinions.