“Becoming Whole Again,” Ensign, Jan. 1997, 27
I grew up in a warm and loving Latter-day Saint family. I’ve always attended church, I graduated from seminary, I served an honorable mission, and I even taught at the Missionary Training Center while attending Brigham Young University. To top it off, I am married for time and eternity to a wonderful wife. Why would someone like me face the trial of same-gender attraction?
I don’t know all the reasons for this weakness of mine, but I’m certain that some experiences I had beginning at age six contributed. I had a young uncle who was very kind to me, but he taught me some activities that were inappropriate. Sensing that those activities were wrong, when I turned eight and was baptized I vowed to stay away from my uncle—and I succeeded. However, I longed for my uncle’s attention and sometimes tried to seek a substitute with childhood friends. Usually they would no longer be my friends, and often I felt very guilty, bad, and unloved.
As I learned later through study, prayer, and counseling, same-sex attraction is often a misguided feeling motivated by a longing for true brotherly love or a desire for masculine characteristics one feels he lacks. My father is a good, hard-working man, but he was seldom home while I was growing up, which in my case contributed somewhat to my emotional deficit. As I grew older, I immersed myself in school activities and mostly avoided anything related to the immoral behaviors I had learned as a child, though I still sometimes felt attracted to other males.
By my later teenage years, my situation seemed much improved. I fell in love with my wife-to-be during high school, and we wrote faithfully to each other during my mission. When I returned home, I felt confident and full of life. I loved my BYU studies, my MTC teaching job, and visiting my future wife, who at the time lived in another city. During this season of happiness, I finally felt free of my past weaknesses. Looking back, however, I recognize that I had not yet overcome the deep-rooted patterns of same-gender attraction.
One night on my way home from visiting my fiancée, I somehow found myself in a predicament I never should have been in. After that evening, I was devastated. I knew I had to tell my fiancée the truth—and more than 10 years later, I feel I am only just beginning to understand the grief I have caused her. After visiting with my bishop and stake president and after much soul-searching on both our parts, we decided to proceed with our marriage plans. Everyone involved felt I was repentant and back on track.
Unfortunately, that episode was only the beginning. Marriage has been called a crucible that brings out either our best or our worst, and that was certainly true for me. I began breaking commandments again soon after we were married. From time to time I used alcohol in association with immoral experiences, and I was often dishonest. For many years I was trapped in a deadly cycle: sin, remorse, what I felt was true repentance, and then back to sin. I tried to blame others for my problems, but I could not escape the fact that I was the one choosing to engage in wrong behavior. For years I tried to overcome my sins alone, without seeking sufficient help from Church leaders and other sources of support.
Finally my wife, having gradually come to a realization of the extent of my sins, reluctantly decided she could no longer put up with my behavior. She told me that I either needed to seek help or leave her and our two beautiful children. Feeling desperate, I checked into a hospital psychiatric ward to see if I could gain some control over my life.
The hospital staff very compassionately helped me deal with my childhood pains and my alcohol-related issues, but I soon found out what many professionals think about same-gender attraction: you are born with it, and the only way you will ever be happy is to accept it. However, my wife and I refused to believe it. It just did not make sense. Heavenly Father put us on this earth to fulfill a divine destiny that can be accomplished when a man and woman join in temple marriage—and, like Nephi, we know that “the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7). Despite the opposition I faced at the hospital, I felt determined to overcome my iniquities.
After the hospital stay, I finally began to rely on the Lord and his servants for help. I confessed my sins to my bishop and stake president, and they offered me much support and guidance, including arranging for me to have a disciplinary council. Looking back, I realize that during the interviews leading up to the council, I still didn’t feel especially humble or repentant. I had been through destructive cycles of sin so many times that I was calloused almost past feeling. My wife pointed out my lack of conviction, and my stake president told me that at some point I would need to feel a deeper remorse for my sins, though I was on the right track.
During the disciplinary council, I was finally able to let go of my arrogance long enough to allow repentance to really begin. I felt literally racked with pain, perhaps as did Alma—but it would be a long time before I experienced the joy that comes with true repentance (see Alma 36:16–21). The council took appropriate action against my Church membership, and I felt an overwhelming loneliness. During the council, I was impressed with the idea that while repentance of such addictive sins is a lifelong struggle, my repentance would need to be strong and effective before I returned to full fellowship, because if I returned to old ways I likely would be so trapped in iniquity that I probably would not seek repentance again. I was very sobered by this thought.
Working with my bishop and stake president and with therapists at LDS Social Services, I spent many months trying to humble myself and repair my standing before the Lord as well as my relationship with my devastated wife and family. With constant prayer, vigilance, effort, and support from my leaders and loved ones, I made gradual but solid progress. After two years the disciplinary council was reconvened. Instead of feeling shame and fear, this time I attended the council with anticipation and gratitude. I had greatly missed participating in gospel activities such as playing the piano for Church meetings, partaking of the sacrament, and bearing my testimony. My return to full fellowship was a joyous occasion that gave me even more strength to avoid sin. I pay tribute to my wife, who forgave me for sins that had rocked the very foundations of our marriage. We both know that the Spirit has given us the peace, guidance, and strength we need to survive as a couple.
During my long process of repentance, I learned some things that may help others who struggle with immoral thoughts or behaviors:
When you have an impure thought, you can recognize it and control it. I have learned over and over again that actions always begin with thoughts. We know that Satan can plant impure thoughts in our minds and hearts (see Ensign, Sept. 1995, 61). But if we lose the battle at that level, our strength to resist actual temptations will be much compromised. When we accept the tiny seed of an impure thought, if unchecked it eventually grows into a devastating, even salvation-threatening action. Do whatever it takes to control your thoughts! I find it helpful to say a silent prayer every time I have an inappropriate thought and to replace the thought with a Primary song or a hymn.
Seek advice and help early from your priesthood leaders, especially your bishop. If you feel yourself slipping toward sin, that is the time to see your bishop—not after a sin has been committed, when the damage has already been done. If you’ve already committed sin, you cannot begin to heal until you confess to the proper priesthood authority. If you’re struggling with temptation, leaders can help you only if you seek them out. Even if leaders don’t have easy, immediate solutions for your problems, they offer much assistance. Just being willing to work with them demonstrates your faith and concern to the Lord and marshals spiritual support.
If possible and if your bishop agrees, seek professional help through LDS Social Services. Their personnel can be a valuable source for counseling and other assistance, such as providing lists of helpful books. I have participated in many private and group therapy sessions over the years, but nothing has been as effective and long-lasting as working with Church leaders and exercising my own faith and prayers. Inspired therapists can increase our understanding and guide and encourage us, but only our assigned Church leaders can act directly on behalf of the Lord in matters involving our confession and repentance of serious sin. Only the Savior himself can actually heal us through his Atonement.
In addition to professionals and Church leaders, allow appropriate friends and family members to help you. Like all iniquities, same-gender attraction thrives on secrecy; many who struggle with it are paralyzed in their progress by fear that others will find out. Enlisting the help and support of those who truly care can help you in your day-to-day struggles by making you feel more accountable with them in a positive way. While some may reject or avoid you initially, others will respect your commitment to change. I’m continually surprised at the support and encouragement people give me. I know of several cases when my example has helped someone better relate to another loved one who has the same problem.
Develop healthy, appropriate relationships with others of your gender. I have become friends with many of my priesthood leaders and brethren, and I find sports a good way to interact socially with men. Until someone struggling with same-gender attraction learns to relate to men in a normal way, he won’t be able to overcome his problem; one cannot just decide to avoid relationships with men altogether.
Avoid people or places that may compromise your actions. This is an absolute must! Though it can be painful to give up habitual associations, renouncing dangerous people and places is a necessary first step toward repentance—and likewise, if one finds himself beginning to seek out such people and places, that is perhaps the gravest warning sign before sin is actually committed. This warning also extends in the same way to pornography, which, as one falls deeper into sin, often acts as the bridge between thinking impure thoughts and seeking dangerous associations.
I have learned that if we fail to fortify ourselves by living the gospel, our earthly trials can wear us down and cause us to despair. But through Heavenly Father’s plan, our weaknesses can become our strengths (see Ether 12:27). Through struggling to overcome same-gender attraction, I have learned that Heavenly Father does hear and answer prayers and that he is eager to help us if we will let him. The Lord atoned for all our sins, and he understands all our trials, even same-gender attraction. I have learned that with the help of Heavenly Father, the Lord, our Church leaders, inspired professionals, and caring friends and family members, same-gender attraction can be successfully resisted and overcome.