This past year I have experienced a lot of change. I moved to California from Utah, scored a new job, and in turn I’ve made a lot of new friends. Within my new circle of friends I have often been asked, “What’s your story?”
In the past, I was okay with watering down my history to the point in which it was so mundane, no one cared to ask follow-up questions. But I found that those interactions made it hard to form connections and develop meaningful relationships, so I decided I would take a different approach. As I’ve been asked this question over the last year, I have felt the strong need to be more authentic.
What does being authentic mean? To me, it means owning your story.
For a long time, I was running away from experiences that shaped me. I was carrying shame around my story. But I refuse to live that way anymore. What I didn’t realize, however, was that this course of being authentic would lead to me sharing with my ward (and now the internet) my experiences with same-sex attraction (SSA). And here we are.
The portion of my story I would like to share with you is how same-sex attraction has become a blessing in my life. In a broader sense, I hope you can apply this to your own challenges, struggles, adversity, and come to see how they are blessings in your life as well.
The concept of our toughest trials being our greatest blessings is hard doctrine, but I have come to believe it is true. Elder Quentin L. Cook, in a talk entitled The Songs They Could Not Sing, said: “There are many kinds of challenges. Some give us necessary experiences. Adverse results in this mortal life are not evidence of lack of faith or of an imperfection in our Father in Heaven’s overall plan. The refiner’s fire is real, and qualities of character and righteousness that are forged in the furnace of affliction perfect and purify us and prepare us to meet God.”
My journey with SSA began at a young age, when I knew I was attracted to men. At age 18 I decided I would come out as gay, start dating guys, and no longer be active in the LDS church.
This new path led me to San Francisco (how typical right?), and while I was there, Prop 8 passed. For those who don’t know, this prevented same-sex couples from getting married in the state of California. I was upset but conflicted to find out that religious groups, specifically the LDS church, had been some of its strongest supporters. I was angry at the decision, but was torn over the LDS church being involved. This was because I actually loved the Church, had a testimony of the Book of Mormon, and knew its members were good. So needless to say, this brought two core issues in my life to a head: my faith and my sexuality.
About a week later, I attended a nationwide protest against Proposition 8. While there, I noticed two opposing groups of signs. The first group ridiculed religions, specifically the LDS church’s stance, while the second promoted love, equality, and redefining the family. Something happened next that would change my life forever — I heard these piercing words as clearly as can be, shake me to the core: “Wo unto them who call good evil and evil good.”
I immediately recognized that this powerful prompting came from God, although this was exactly the opposite of what I was expecting or desiring in that moment. Experiencing this was like being woken up by someone pouring ice cold water on me. It was incredibly unpleasant, perhaps the worst day of my life. But I came to realize the truth — I had been sleeping. After this experience, I immediately knew God was real and that he wasn’t pleased with the path I was on.
About a month later, my life fell apart. I lost my job, had a bad break up, and started to feel very depressed. This, combined with my previous protest experience, made it easier to turn to God and come back to church.
I remember walking into a church for the first time and meeting with the Bishop. I didn’t know what my life would be like back in the Church, but I knew working through the repentance process felt like the right thing to do. As I began the process, I noticed a profound change coming over me. I started to feel differently, and the only word I can use to describe this feeling is pure joy.
In the Book of Mormon, we read of a vision that a prophet named Lehi had. He saw a beautiful tree full of the most amazing fruit, an iron rod that led to the tree surrounded by a mist of darkness, a great and spacious building with people mocking those eating the fruit, and a great chasm between the tree and the building that marked a very dangerous path.
In this vision, Lehi describes the symbol of the tree and fruit in the following passages:
“I did go forth and partake of the fruit thereof; and I beheld that it was most sweet, above all that I ever before tasted. Yea and I beheld that the fruit thereof was white, to exceed all the whiteness that I had ever seen.
And as I partook of the fruit thereof it filled my soul with exceedingly great joy; wherefore, I began to be desirous that my family should partake of it also; for I knew that it was desirable above all other fruit.”
He later goes on to say that the fruit of the tree represents the love of God, which is “most joyous to the soul.”
This joyous feeling of the soul is what I experienced when I decided to come back to church. Through my experience, I found the joy of the gospel to be desirous above my previous path.
I’m grateful for my experience with same-sex attraction because it led to my conversion to Jesus Christ and His gospel. It was through seeing the life I was living when acting on my same-sex attraction versus the life I experienced when partaking of God’s love that I have been able to know for myself that following Christ is more satisfying. There truly is no better path to happiness. Discovering this is what has helped me remain active in the LDS church for these almost 9 years.
Coming To Know The Savior
Another way SSA has been a blessing is that it has helped perpetuate personal growth and a deeper relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
You see, the real tests in mortality, the kind that produce salvation, require Abrahamic sacrifices — meaning lying at the altar the very thing that you desire or that is most precious to you. For me that is companionship.
Walking the gospel path and following Christ may mean I walk this path without a romantic partner. I have to lay that on the altar. Whether that is my journey, or rather the Lord is simply testing my willingness, I do not know. But what I do know is that making this sacrifice has brought me closer to the Savior than I could’ve ever imagined. I have not been lacking in my life because of this sacrifice, in fact my life is full and complete with Jesus Christ by my side.
Being An Instrument In God’s Hands
Lastly, the final way I have identified same-sex attraction to be a blessing is through opportunities to help others.
In this past October General Conference, Elder Pingree spoke about how we each have a unique work to do. He quoted Spencer W. Kimball by saying: “Before we came [to earth, we] were given certain assignments. While we do not now remember the particulars, this does not alter the glorious reality of what we once agreed to.”
Then Elder Pingree went on to say: “These divine assignments are not reserved for a privileged few but are for all of us—regardless of gender, age, race, nationality, income level, social status, or Church calling. Every one of us has a meaningful role to play in furthering God’s work.”
I have been blessed with many opportunities to help those who are struggling with same-sex attraction, whether it’s an individual who experiences SSA or someone who is impacted by a family member or friend coming out as gay. I’ve seen the Lord’s hand in helping me share personal experiences that have been helpful for people on all sides of this issue. Additionally, I have been able to share my testimony of the atonement through church callings, serving a mission, and over the pulpit. It has brought me great peace to know I can use my experiences to help others.
We can be sure our trials are not in vain. The Lord uses them to refine us and also allows us to bless others along the way. We each have a unique way of contributing to this world and building God’s kingdom.
In summary, the three points I hope everyone can take from what I have shared is:
- Come to know the Savior Jesus Christ. Repent and follow him. If you do this, you can receive a greater portion of his love, which is the most joyous feeling of the soul.
- Our challenges, weaknesses, and inclinations can be difficult to deal with at times. but we can learn from them and use them to progress along our path in mortality.
- As we develop empathy, experience, and a testimony of how to navigate a life with our own challenges, we are able then to share this with others and help them along their path.
My journey of being more authentic has just begun. I hope to continue to share my story with the purpose of building connections with others, supporting those who also experience SSA or know someone who does, and to be used in any other way God wishes. I feel a great sense of gratitude for understanding that this step to be more authentic was what I needed in my life. I hope you can find ways to be more authentic too. You never know who needs to hear your story.
By: Will Edgel
This post was adapted from a talk given in the Santa Monica Young Single Adult ward, and is part of a 3-part series. The first part can be read here, and the final part will be posted later this week.