I held the paint pen in my hand and started painting the blank canvas in front of me. I was giving art therapy a try, and my therapist and I were working together to help me overcome some of the deep shame I was experiencing. I had picked the color blue to represent those feelings on the canvas.
When my therapist then asked me what I wanted to do with this shame, I immediately thought of Jesus Christ and His healing power. I picked up a yellow pen to represent His light and began to mix the blue and yellow together.
The two colors started to form a bright green—a color we see in spring after a long, cold winter. To me, this green represented me giving my pain, fear, and shame to the Savior and Him providing healing in return. The painting became a representation of who I was becoming, a new man in Christ (see 2 Corinthians 5:17).
It also led me to a new way of living and to feeling greater love from Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.
I have always believed that we come to understand more about Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ as our various experiences in life help us to draw nearer to Them. As I have sought to draw closer to Them during my experience with same-sex attraction, I have learned more about the true nature of God, felt of His love, and benefited from His tender mercies.
I became aware that I was attracted to men as a teenager. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings or how to talk about them, so I just buried them for a long time.
I was too afraid to acknowledge that this was a part of my life. I felt that if I just continued to keep the commandments, pray, read my scriptures, and go to the temple and if I served a mission, God would somehow miraculously take these feelings away from me.
While all those practices did help establish my testimony of the restored gospel and of God and Jesus Christ, my attractions didn’t change. Eventually, through a lot of deep soul-searching, praying, and skilled therapy, I became closer to Them, learned to truly understand and feel Their love and mercy, and learned to work through my attractions while keeping my covenants.
And I believe that we can all come to know Heavenly Father and the Savior as we truly seek Them and strive to draw closer to Them. As the Savior said, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
President Russell M. Nelson stated, “We can even give thanks for our trials, from which we learn the things we would not know otherwise.”1 I know this is true, because there are truths I have learned and mercies I have witnessed from God and Jesus Christ that I may not have seen without the searching and efforts I have made through this experience.
Here are just three of those mercies.
Throughout my life, I’ve felt the power that comes from knowing that I am a son of God and from trusting in the love of God and Jesus Christ.
There are so many voices in the world trying to tell us who we should be and how to define ourselves, and if we aren’t careful, they could overpower the voice of the Spirit.
I have often wrestled with these conflicting voices, and through this wrestle I have discovered the clarity that comes when I let God prevail in my life—just as President Nelson taught when he testified that “the only way to survive spiritually is to be determined to let God prevail in our lives, to learn to hear His voice.”2
Learning to keep Heavenly Father’s commandments and being willing to let Him guide me has been absolutely vital in my journey. Doing so has shown me that, although we can have many layers to our identities, at the core we are beloved children of heavenly parents.
As I have followed Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, I have drawn closer to Them and my views of Them have become clearer. I used to have the false perception that I wasn’t loved and that I was being punished because of my attractions. But coming closer to Them has allowed me to experience the “hope and perfect love” described in the Book of Mormon (Moroni 8:26). I have come to personally know that “the love of God … is the most desirable above all things” (1 Nephi 11:22) and that love can help us continue to grow and change.
A few years ago, I was becoming more comfortable with sharing my experience with same-sex attraction. However, I was having a hard time feeling like I belonged at church. On a beautiful October Sunday, I took a moment to go on a walk and pray before going to elders quorum. I was feeling quite raw and vulnerable from sharing some of my personal experiences and feared how people would perceive me. I knew Heavenly Father could help provide the peace I needed.
I prayed to Him, letting Him know the pain and emotions I was experiencing. I remember saying, “God, how can I go back to a place where I feel that people don’t get me?”
And this sweet impression came to my mind: “Spencer, they don’t need to get you, because I get you.”
Knowing that Heavenly Father and the Savior truly saw me, understood me, and loved me was, in that moment, a profound tender mercy.
They affirmed my “belovedness” that day, and I realized that following Them and remembering that I belong to Them fills me with joy and helps me see what I can be. Being reminded of this eternal truth and allowing it to take root in me gave me the peace I needed.
When I started seeking healing with regards to my same-sex attraction, I thought that Christ would simply take my attractions away. But that mindset shifted with time as I began to discover what I really needed to heal from.
My attractions weren’t the true source of my pain. Instead, there were deeper wounds of the soul that needed to be healed—deep shame I carried because of my attractions, feelings of inadequacy, and the mistaken idea that I wasn’t worthy of love and belonging.
While studying the Book of Mormon at this time, I was so uplifted by the verses in 3 Nephi 11 where Christ willingly shows the nail prints in His hands and feet to the Nephites (see verses 13–15). Reading about that event helped me feel that I could trust Him with my wounds, and feeling this increased sense of trust in Him helped me move forward on the path to healing.
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “The Savior is our Good Samaritan, sent ‘to heal the brokenhearted.’ He comes to us when others pass us by. With compassion, He places His healing balm on our wounds and binds them up. He carries us. He cares for us. He bids us, ‘Come unto me … and I shall heal [you].’”3
For me, the healing has happened in layers, and Christ has continued to help me gradually heal from my shame and be able to now view my experience with same-sex attraction as a gift, an opportunity to grow closer to the Savior because I have sought Him out.
This process of healing has required a sincere commitment of time, effort, and some pain, but it has ultimately led to joy. I have come to love this quote on healing from Jonathan G. Sandberg, a professor at Brigham Young University: “Healing is a gift from our Savior that will likely require effort and suffering on our part so that we can grow and develop through our struggles. The gift is often the refinement we experience in the process.”4
I’ve had to look deep into my soul and explore the shame and pain in many different ways, including the painting exercise I mentioned earlier. I realized that the more willing I was to face these things, the more I was able to draw upon the Savior’s healing power in my life. I’ve continued to seek His influence through consistent prayer, scripture study, meditation, heartfelt conversations with loved ones and trusted friends, and therapy.
The world can offer temporary relief, but I can testify that Christ offers new life, eternal peace, and restoration. Christ truly enables us to live “more abundantly” (John 10:10). The more we bring our entire selves to Christ and increase our faith in Him,5 the more He is able to work within us and the more wholeness, growth, and life we can receive through Him.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles once shared this thought: “‘Come as you are,’ a loving Father says to each of us, but He adds, ‘Don’t plan to stay as you are.’ We smile and remember that God is determined to make of us more than we thought we could be.”6 I am grateful to continue growing to become what He would have me be.
Coming to know the value of showing empathy and compassion for myself and for others has been another blessing God has given me. Navigating the complexities of sexuality and faith is not something one can do on his or her own, but I tried to for so long because I was afraid to open up to people.
However, the more I have overcome that fear and learned to build connections based on trust, empathy, and compassion, the more I have invited love into my life and been able to show it to others.
Christ demonstrated empathy in all of His interactions with others. An example of His empathy is found in the story of the woman with the issue of blood. He took time to see her, listen to her, show compassion for her struggle, heal her, and commend her for her faith. (See Mark 5:25–34.) It amazes me how much faith she had to reach out and touch Christ’s clothing. But I think she felt safe to do so because of the compassion she knew Christ had shown to others.
Demonstrating this type of compassion is vital in helping to build communities and congregations where people feel they can fully show up with whatever issues or challenges they might be facing. Our connections with others can truly provide deep healing, strength, and joy.
Life can be hard, and situations surrounding sexuality and faith can be complicated at times. However, there are beautiful moments to be experienced, important life lessons to be learned, and tender mercies to be found in any circumstance. Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita of the Seventy once taught, “In our lives we experience trials, but if we are ambitious for Christ, we can focus on Him and feel joy even in the midst of them.”7
I am forever grateful for the tender mercies that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have bestowed upon me and will continue to bestow upon me as I strive to follow Them.