When I was released from the Stake Presidency I thought all my trials were over, at least anything major. I thought my wife Unhui and I would retire, serve missions and work in the temple in joy and happiness the rest of our days. The last thing I thought was that my same-sex attractions (SSA) would come flooding back into my life. How could they, I had carefully hidden them away, I had placed them so deep that for the past 25 years while serving the Lord with all my heart they hadn’t been anything but a small nuisance. But here they were as strong as or stronger than they had ever been. What was I to do?
For all those years I had learned and taught about the Savior, about His life, about His Gospel and the atonement. I had helped many others as they had personally learned about the love God had for them and how through the atonement they could overcome sin and find joy in becoming clean and whole again.
Now here I was still believing that just having SSA feelings and attractions was a sin–at least it was a sin for me. I found myself falling back into old addictive habits which only seemed to strengthen the attractions. I knew that through the Savior and His atoning sacrifice I could find hope, I could learn how to overcome these renewed addictions, I could learn how to love myself as I found a way to navigate life as a married gay man who wanted only to be righteous and good to my wife, my children, my grandchildren and to serve all of God’s children the rest of my days.
I would love to say I have it all figured out, that I have the easy answer, that if you just apply this one thing, that you will find yourself free of all the mortal challenges you are facing and that you will live in perfect joy and happiness the remainder of your earthly days. But that is not what this earthly experience is supposed to be. We learn through our hardships, we learn through our trials and when we learn to place our sins, trials and the burdens of life on the Savior, that’s when we begin to feel peace and gain the strength to continue and to endure.
So where do we start? Elder Richard G Scott said:
“Despite all of the negative challenges we have in life, we must take time to actively exercise our faith. Such exercise invites the positive, faith-filled power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ into our lives. Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority” (“Make the Exercise of Faith Your First Priority,” October 2014 General Conference).
So what does it mean to exercise our faith? I have learned over the past several years that exercising my faith is so much more than just a belief that Christ died for me and that the atonement is real. It involves action, it involves work, and sometimes it involves getting up again after another failure and most importantly for me is a determination never to give up.
When I was in the Stake Presidency, we agreed upon a plan we called the “Coldwater Stake Family Plan.” It was simple but we felt it could be powerful in the lives of our members. I want to share it with you even as I have implemented it again into my life. Perhaps some of you are already doing many of these things, perhaps a few are even doing all of these things regularly, and some of you might be like I was and only brushing over them.
It was interesting to read Elder Scott’s talk in the last General Conference and find that what we taught as a stake presidency is what he taught and as I read it again I could feel the power that can come from exercising our faith in these simple steps. I will use his words.
“The first tool is prayer. Choose to converse with your Father in Heaven often. Make time every day to share your thoughts and feelings with Him. Tell Him everything that concerns you. He is interested in the most important as well as the most mundane facets of your life. Share with Him your full range of feelings and experiences.
“Because He respects your agency, Father in Heaven will never force you to pray to Him. But as you exercise that agency and include Him in every aspect of your daily life, your heart will begin to fill with peace, buoyant peace. That peace will focus an eternal light on your struggles. It will help you to manage those challenges from an eternal perspective.”
I am learning how to communicate with my Father in Heaven continuously, when I find myself in sin, I immediately seek forgiveness even when I’ve made that same mistake many times. He is waiting to forgive, He is waiting to bless us with the Spirit again to give us more strength to overcome. I am learning to share everything with Him and its blessing my life immensely.
“The second tool is to study the word of God in the scriptures and the words of the living prophets. We talk to God through prayer. He most often communicates back to us through His written word. To know what the voice of the Divine sounds and feels like, read His words, study the scriptures, and ponder them. Make them an integral part of everyday life.
“Don’t yield to Satan’s lie that you don’t have time to study the scriptures. Choose to take time to study them. Feasting on the word of God each day is more important than sleep, school, work, television shows, video games, or social media. You may need to reorganize your priorities to provide time for the study of the word of God. If so, do it!”
Then this promise:
“As you dedicate time every day, personally and with your family, to the study of God’s word, peace will prevail in your life. That peace won’t come from the outside world. It will come from within your home, from within your family, from within your own heart. It will be a gift of the Spirit. It will radiate out from you to influence others in the world around you. You will be doing something very significant to add to the cumulative peace in the world.
“I do not declare that your life will cease to have challenges. Remember when Adam and Eve were in the garden, they were free from challenges, yet they were unable to experience happiness, joy, and peace.7 Challenges are an important part of mortality. Through daily, consistent scripture study, you will find peace in the turmoil around you and strength to resist temptations. You will develop strong faith in the grace of God and know that through the Atonement of Jesus Christ all will be made right according to God’s timing.”
“The third tool is to go to the temple. We all know there is no more peaceful place on this earth than in the temples of God. If you don’t have a temple recommend, qualify to get one. When you have a recommend, use it often. Schedule a regular time to be in the temple. Don’t let anyone or anything prevent you from being there.
“While you are in the temple, listen to the words of the ordinances, ponder them, pray about them, and seek to understand their meaning. The temple is one of the best places to come to understand the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Seek Him there. Remember that many more blessings come from providing your own family names in the temple.”
I know some of you might not currently be worthy to enter the temple, but we have the example of one of our North Star brothers who when he had been excommunicated from the Church would still attend the temple every week. Because he couldn’t enter past the front desk, he would sit in the waiting room and ponder upon the scriptures, and pour his heart out in prayer while his wife would attend a session. Brother Michael Packham and his wife, Ann, are now serving a mission. I well remember the glorious day he was again able to enter the temple and renew his covenants.
Family Home Evening
Even mentioning Family Home Evening might be painful for some of you, I know how much you desire to have a family and I also know it can be hard to hear that if you are not able to marry in this life, all those blessings will be given to you in the next life, if you live worthily. May I suggest that one way to live worthily and more happily is to do everything you can to prepare yourself to become a father and a husband even if that blessing doesn’t come in this life? Family home Evening can be a great blessing to all of us if we approach it in prayer and faith. While I served as Bishop I home taught several widows in our ward, one of them always held family home evening each Monday even though she had been all alone for more than 20 years. She would plan a lesson and then ponder upon the things she had learned, she would sing a hymn and have an opening and closing prayer. I think she even had a treat each week. She would share with me how blessed she felt when she would obey the counsel from the prophet to hold family home evening.
Elder Scott said,
“While you are working to strengthen your family and cultivate peace, remember weekly family home evening. Be cautious not to make your family home evening just an afterthought of a busy day. Decide that on Monday night your family will be together at home for the evening. Do not let employment demands, sports, extracurricular activities, homework, or anything else become more important than that time you spend together at home with your family.
“The structure of your evening is not as important as the time invested. The gospel should be taught both formally and informally. Make it a meaningful experience for each member of the family. Family home evening is a precious time to bear testimony in a safe environment; to learn teaching, planning, and organizational skills; to strengthen family bonds; to develop family traditions; to talk to each other; and more important, to have a marvelous time together!”
So how do I do it? How do I access the Atonement?
I exercise my faith through obeying the four simple steps listed above. I am finding the peace and love that can only come as I place my everything; my desires, hopes, fears, sins, inadequacies and my very will upon the Savior the World.
I invite you and hope you will join with me in exercising your faith as your first priority through doing your best to implement these four simple steps into your life.
I love the words that Brother Kevin Lindley used to close his essay in the book Voices of Hope, and I want to close with them.
“I know whatever my journey may hold in store for me, with His strength, grace and power, I can endure. No matter what happens—my fault, someone else’s fault, nobody’s fault—it doesn’t matter. The atonement can fix that too. It’s that simple.”