By Bryan Clark (also published at his blog http://livingwholeheartedly8.blogspot.com/)
A mission friend of mine recently asked me if I had written a post yet on my reconciliation of faith as he’d be interested to read it. I thought it would be a great idea, especially for me, to know where I currently stand and what I desire. So while the task of understanding and reconciling my faith feels nearly out of my grasp (if this is any indication of how this post will go), I’ll do my best to give it a go. This post is not meant as an offense towards anyone as it is meant to be a complete reflection on my end of my imperfect, but beautiful world.
Here I go:
I have found that when it comes to my faith and reconciling such, that the most peaceful and beneficial matter for me has been to separate my faith in the Mormon Church, as it has been and now is from my faith in God, or the creator/divinity of this world and universe. And I know how complicated and hard this separation between the two can be, I’m still working on it every day. After all, faith is a journey we take every day through our thoughts and actions. It never stops.
And more than seeing my life through the lens of “faith”, I find it most effective to see it through the lens of “love”, which I believe to be the greatest of all.
Anywhere I find love I hope to be there and embody.
For a full understanding as to where I am now and where I hope to be, I find it necessary to give a little bit of background to my life; for those personal/familial acquaintances of mine this touches base with, I hope to do so in the best light and utmost respect.
Growing up, I was handed to me a beautiful legacy of faith. I was born into a typical Mormon family: lots of kids, Sunday church goers, tithe payers, loving, compassionate and immensely spiritual. Memories of my Dad turning on “Sabbath appropriate” music on Saturday night’s will forever be burned into my mind, as us kids would put our shoes and clothes out for the next day.
On my dad’s side, our family membership in the Mormon Church dates back to the beginning years with Joseph Smith. It is a strong, proud and respectable heritage line, and I feel very humbled and proud to be a part of it. I also feel proud to come from my mother’s line, which started with her as a convert to the Church. I should also mention that I am the 8th of a family of 9 kids, well my triplet sisters and I are 6,7 & 8 really, but also among my own siblings, I’ve always had older siblings to look up to when it came to church membership and what kind of person to be. All these people and examples I have to follow have made sacrifices and laid down legacies of faithful living, and it’s marvelous to me.
I myself was baptized a member of the Church at 8 years old, typical story for a child who’s family are all members. I remember my baptism being a happy one: Sister Degenshein, an older woman in our little church ward had made my sisters, her granddaughter Becky (who was baptized with us) and I all cakes to celebrate. I remember feeling awkward wearing this one piece white suit that was so unfashionable (I was still gay back then), but then happy about what I was doing. I didn’t know much then, if anything at all, more just repetitious faith filled statements I would say about God, or Joseph Smith and the Church. I was only 8 after all.
Moving forward a little, the Church standards were something that we tried to live in our home every day, and something I wanted to live because of it. I attended Seminary in high school, I read my scriptures, albeit as a teenager I mainly skimmed through most of it and clung to the scriptures that had some simple and inspiring meaning to them. I went to church every week, and despite some of the social pressure I felt because I didn’t really relate to a lot of the other boys my age, I was happy. And I loved it.
I attended college at BYU (I recently just finished). It was never a question in my mind of where to go to school: God’s school was BYU, and if I wanted to find a woman to marry and make anything of my life (despite how messed up I know this thinking is now), I had to go to BYU. So that’s all I applied to.
My first year at BYU was wonderful. I had other siblings there to support me (my triplet sisters started with me- you can find an article online here that the Deseret News did of us, my dad felt like we were hot stuff:http://www.deseretnews.com/article/640187420/Family-has-freshmen-set-for-BYU–1-2-3.html?pg=all). I also had more peers my age who were also members of the Church, and all wonderful people who sought to follow the Church’s standards and be decent, kind human beings. I loved how the Church made me feel and what it was doing to make me a better person.
So I went on a mission for the Church. I was called to Uruguay in South America, Spanish speaking. It actually was the same mission my Dad served in years before; I won’t say how much in fear of punishment. And my mission, well. I could write books on my mission. How to boil it down. I loved my mission. And I gave my whole heart to the people I was in contact with every day. I gave my whole heart to the Church, to teaching, to working hard and to developing my relationship with God. I was quite the imperfect missionary and I had many faults that could be pointed out, but I did all I could to be the best missionary I could be. And I loved the Church even more for that, because of how it was making me work towards something greater. I saw lives change, I felt things I’d never felt before, and I met people I hope never leave my life. I can’t think about my mission or anyone from it without getting choked up and tears come to my eyes. It changed my life forever. And I’m eternally indebted for that.
So I came back from my 2 year mission to BYU, to then spend the next years of my life at BYU, fully invested in faithful living, as the Church had outlined it. I wanted a temple marriage to a woman, so I dated. And dated. And dated. Perhaps the biggest frustration of my life because there were so many amazing woman that I had potential to marry, and yet, I could not bring myself inside to do it. Something always kept holding me back from getting too close, from committing too much. But I still tried. I always thought it just meant it was another girl. I felt so sure of a couple girls at the time, that for one reason or another, never worked out (the ones who I think really personally saw me as a gay person). But I believed in the Church, I believed in what I was taught from a young age, and I wanted the happiness I was promised for doing it all. But I wasn’t happy. I was very, very depressed actually. I always blamed it on the fact that I was imperfect, and all the weaknesses I had. I sure desired perfection, as I still do, but I haven’t yet achieved it (nor met anyone who has). It was the Christmas of 2012 when things took a very downward spiral for me. I was still at school, in Provo, alone in my apartment, working full time during the break to earn money. I had reached a point where I had to acknowledge it all, the fact that I was gay, and this was never going away. It was all very dooming to me at the time as I had never ever wanted to “be gay” or desire such. So I turned to finding ways to ending my life.
This is also a subject I don’t wish to dwell too long upon as it brings up in me the most raw and real feelings. Suffice it to say if it wasn’t for one good roommate in particular, I worry about what I may have done to myself. I had already been physically beating myself up a lot, but it was a breaking point. The emotional and physical scars were worn and life had been dying to tell me to accept the fact that I was gay. That I was ok. That somehow I had a life still worth living. I still cling to that thought now, albeit I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t struggle with it still. There ya go, there’s my attempt at reconciliation of faith in action there in that last sentence! I am indeed trying.
So I came out. Slowly. Very slowly. It is an immensely difficult process, as it feels like the world you have always known is shattering all around you as you do. And sometimes it does, and sometimes life is exceedingly still the same, and normal.
And then I found Derek.
That has been a struggle, as you can see marked by some of my personal journal entries. I have fought and fought and fought internally and outwardly to try and find a way to make my relationship work alongside the teachings of the Church. I’ve sought out people, I’ve researched, studied, prayed, fasted and done all I could to search for answers. And it has been the most grueling process to go through. It’s felt like many if not most times up until now this constant tug of war I would be in, where on one end I gave up Derek and followed the Church’s standards on homosexuality, as I’ve always tried to do. Then on the other hand I would give up the Church (so nonchalantly) and do whatever I wanted to do.
But finally, making my coming out video has brought me peace. Peace that I have so long sought for. And answers to prayers I’ve so long made. You will be amazingly surprised at the answers that come, the help you receive and the peace of mind you’ll feel by being completely 100% authentic with the world. I had no idea. That night I made that video, Derek and I drove up to Park City to get away. And man, I’ll tell ya, I felt on top of the world. Not just that, but I felt whole, complete, perfect for the first time. By somehow accepting all of myself, most particularly the imperfections, I had found wholeness.
And that’s where I am now. I finally have come to a place where I believe in myself fully. I believe that it’s okay for me to date Derek, I believe it’s okay for me to not go to Church every Sunday or do all I can to live my life in the “faithful way” that my Church has set it out. And I’ve gotten here because I’ve finally been able to find worth in myself. As hard and as crazy as that is, I Bryan Clark, find worth in me. And what I do, say and think. I live my life for love. I live my life for Derek for he is love, and shows me love back. And it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever encountered. And I’ve found God there.
So no, in this post or in my current opinions, you will not find complete harmony with the Church’s teachings. I openly question, struggle and am skeptical of things. I’m a science major: I am openly skeptical of all things (including God) but at the same time open to all new understanding and knowledge.
I bear my flaws to you now as I’ve accepted them as apart of me as well. And I hope to continue to be 100% bearing of all things in my life, like it or not, uncomfortable or not. I realize that this brings me an immense pain and heartache on a day to day level, as people seek to judge me as they see fit, but I must do this. I have to do this: to experience real happiness, real love and real joy, there’s no other road. This is the walk we all must take. The one less traveled. And this is the walk I’m currently on. You see, life is real to me, I don’t just do things, say things, or believe in things. I mean all that I do and I try to put my heart into all that I am. That’s a 24/7 mountain to climb. And it’s exhilarating and immensely scary at the same time; in fact in the words of Brene Brown it causes quite the “vulnerability headache”.
So I haven’t given up on anything, least of all God, the Church or myself. But I also hope not to deny anything or to push aside things I don’t know for the mere fact of placing my faith and trust in others. I have seen too much damage by the Church when that is done. I also know that there is much love that can be still be done that way, and I won’t call anyone wrong who does that. But for me, my faith and my reality: I choose me. Over anything. I choose me.
And as selfish as that may sound, I’ve found the greatest amount of joy and selfless living in that.
Bryan and Derek each made a coming out video earlier this year: