Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chastity, God's Love, My Life: A Testimony of Truth

I have a friend who wants to date Mormons. We laughed about this at first – she’s a Catholic living in Utah – but then she finally explained. She is absolutely in love with the idea of waiting to have sex until marriage. She’s sick of being propositioned on the second date, so with Mormon boys it’s so nice not to have to worry about that. My friend complained that she just doesn’t understand why other boys can’t respect that, or wrap their brains around that concept.

“Well gosh,” I told her, “it’s not at all a part of modern culture.”

Which is a shame. I genuinely believe that any time anyone has premarital sex, they are “playing marriage”. That ends up making a mockery of the most sacred and special and life-changing relationship you will ever ever have, EVER. I KNOW that's not right. And I respect both my God and my future husband too much to put myself in situations where my conviction of the sacredness of sex and marriage will be questioned.

And here's the really cool thing about most Mormons. Sure, we're raised to believe this stuff, but in this crazy world we're in, you just can't live your life coasting on what other people tell you. So people who act like they're not down with the premarital sex thing usually really believe it's wrong! It's a conviction, not a culture. For the most part.  Our doctors are amazed when we inform them that we are not sexually active, but really, it’s just a part of who we are. There’s extra light in our eyes.

I mean, I know that there are things in my life that I struggle with, just like everyone else. I have my ups and downs…but I want you to envision a graph. My line, even with all the ups and downs, is always at the top half of the graph, because God is in my life in frankly unimaginable ways. Other people have ups and downs too, but I worry sometimes that they are just living on a lower plane, when their lives could be AWESOME. I'm not saying that my life is perfect because you add God to the mix and BLAM, everything is fixed. Just that living spiritually is a generally happier way to be.

Spirituality is a necessary component that gets you out of bed in the morning and gives you a reason for living. Yet, there are a ton of things in life that dull that sensitivity to spiritual things, and pull your line downward on the graph, so to speak. That’s why I don't swear, or drink, or wear skimpy clothes. It takes something awesome -- like the power of words, or my body's inherent value -- and cheapens it, whether it's by focusing on the negative or distracting me from the positive. Or both. And that makes it a lot harder for me to use these amazing resources that God has given me in order to make my life, and the lives of other people, as wonderful as they should be. I went through a time when I had a really self-destructive mindset, and it was so amazing how God pulled me out of it in order to change my life, and enable me to change the lives of others.

Let me just say right off that I love my father. Even though I’m nearly 23, he’s still “Daddy” to me. When I call him just to say hello – which is often – we usually talk for at least an hour. He’s generous and intelligent and enthusiastic, a combination which often results in him explaining really interesting things to me. My dad loves to give me advice and is an amazing listener, and he always seems to know exactly what to say in order to make me feel less crazy. I love that I get to be one of his best friends.

However, my father grew up in a physically and emotionally abusive home, and it carried into how he raised me. Not going to mince words here – he has been emotionally abusive. Our relationship (and his parenting) has MINDBLOWINGLY improved since I was a kid. But I am still in the process of healing from, well, from my upbringing.

The worst part of it was the November after I turned 15. For the first time, I was the oldest kid at home and I was just so sick of bearing my father's disproportionate reactions. So I wrote him a note and told him that I couldn't take it anymore, and if he didn't knock it off, I was going to take every pain pill in the house. (We had a lot; my parents have had multiple joint surgeries.) I put the note on his pillow, and then went into my room to sob for a while.

Eventually the incoherent sobs formed into a desperate prayer. "Heavenly Father, I can't handle this, I can't do this, I can't take this for another 3 years before I can move out, if there is any way to get me out of here please do it, things are never going to change and I just don't have the strength to do this anymore, are you there? can you help me? are you there?"

It was about then when the thought shoved itself into my head -- divine intervention at its most personal -- that if there was any time to read the scriptures for comfort, this was it. So, desperately throwing my eyes around the room, I found my scriptures: Old Testament, New Testament, The Book of Mormon (which has the same light and truth that the Bible does, but talks about the people in the ancient Americas instead of the people of ancient Jerusalem), and Doctrine and Covenants (which is a collection of revelations -- you know, like God talking to His children -- written down. Most of them are God talking to Joseph Smith about what Christ's church was like when Christ was on the earth, and how to make the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that way again. Pretty amazing if you ask me.)

I blindly opened the book and flipped around until it felt right, and started reading. I found a chapter in Doctrine and Covenants, which comes from a time when the early Mormons were being persecuted and really didn't have a safe place to call home. If possible, I cried even harder when I found the verses. Remember that I was suicidal at this point, even though I was working so hard to be a good person despite being in a pretty hopeless situation, and you'll understand the weight of these words:

"For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand."

It was a message from God, directly to me. “Sara, I know you don’t want to live anymore. But I am going to make up for every hard thing that you are going through. You can’t even begin to understand how awesome things are going to be – not yet, but soon.” 

Wow. Those verses wrapped me up in this overwhelming and protective sense of God's love. I found the following verse in the Book of Mormon a few days later, and cried again, knowing how apt a description it was:

"But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love."

Having finally combated the more concrete part of the problem -- that my wonderful daddy can be a real jerk sometimes -- my angst was redirected to the more abstract side. How my dad treated me had affected how I thought of myself. After some counseling, and no longer being on survival mode, I could finally see: Wow, I think I’m pretty worthless. But I was still functioning, mostly because I knew God obviously didn't think I was worthless, and I tried to be a good person for Him, if nothing else.

I lived with this mindset -- I think I'm awful, everyone else thinks I'm awful, but God disagrees -- for the next two and a half years. By that time, the stunning truth of God's love had been somewhat overpowered by the crippling idea that His love was the only kind I would ever deserve. That's when, in a general psychology class that I didn't actually have to take, I was given the assignment to smile at everyone I had eye contact with. For a week.

WHAT?? my brain screamed. No one wants me to smile at them! They'll think I'm so weird! They'll be mean about it! Who DOES that? What kind of crazy idea...? AAHHHHHHH!!!

But, even as a senior in high school, I had a sense of adventure that to this day pushes me to do things that are just a little outside of the norm. So I tried it. And, hesitantly, tentatively...I liked it.

A few days later, I went to seminary. Seminary is a unique program of the Church where high school students get together during the school year -- often at very early hours! -- to read the scriptures and talk about the lessons in them. My house was too far away from the gathering point for me to meet every morning, but a nice woman in the ward agreed to meet with me and my siblings once a week so that we could participate in seminary too. That week, we were studying the New Testament, and since the school year had just started, we were on Matthew 5.

I don't know how I held it together long enough to get out of there, but somehow I did. And then I bawled. Again. (My early life involved a lot of crying, can you tell?) Here’s why:

"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

God loved me, yes, but other people did too. Not only that, but it was my responsibility to share God's love with them. I had light, and there was no hiding it. So that year, I smiled at everyone. Joked with them. Made friends. There were certainly days when I was still afraid, and God had to offer me some more reassurance. But was incredible.

These experiences were the start of a brand new life for me. It wasn't perfect, and since then I have definitely had my share of dark, lonely, and painful hours. But I know I've had worse, and survived. I can survive anything, because God is tutoring me -- me, personally -- to be the best Sara I can possibly be. And He's never going to give up.

Because of these experiences, I know that God exists. I know that the Holy Spirit acts as a messenger and a comforter and a guide, and I can live my life to always have His presence. I know that Jesus Christ suffered, to an impossible degree, so that I can become a new person every day, even when I sin and making stupid and hurtful and lazy mistakes that pull me away from becoming the person God wants me to be. Jesus Christ, God's Only Begotten Son, also takes my paltry, weak efforts to be good, and expands them -- magnifies them -- so that with Him, I accomplish more and receive more blessings than I could ever deserve. I rely on Him to bring me back to our Father -- Christ's Father and my Father, and yours. Christ's eternal sacrifice makes me clean, even clean enough to be in the presence of the perfect and holy and eternal Creator of the universe, who fathered my spirit and wants nothing but the very, extremely, most perfect best for me. Heavenly Father wants me -- us -- to be what He is, with our own infinite children and planets and knowledge to direct them all accordingly. To love them all perfectly, like He does.


To bring it back to our original point, I think that's why it's so important to be chaste before marriage. When we have children on this earth, we're practicing for when we're like God. Why would you ever fool around with that? That's why Mormons are so strict on dating and marriage and such, you know. The temple is the only place sacred enough for a man and a woman make that promise to God and to each other: that they will do everything they can to become, together, how God the Father is. It's the most sacred and special responsibility any person can ever have, and premarital sex takes all that light and truth and holy, sacred potential...and flings it out the window. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it.

So yes, I agree with my friend: people become so jaded about sex that they forget what it's for in the first place. But I seriously doubt that people even really understood "what it's for in the first place" to begin with. People can't forget things they never knew. I'm just grateful I do know it...and grateful that some wonderful guy who knows it too will take me to the temple someday, and we can get started on our eternal work, together.

It does make life frustrating sometimes though. I live with the knowledge that I am meant to be like God perpetually on my mind. Sometimes it’s pushed to the back, and that's why I need Christ; He brings it closer to the front. But it’s always there. This brings my life to such a higher plane, and I love it that way. But what I find so hard to understand is why so many people live beneath their privileges. I know, from experience, what it’s like to live “lower on the graph”, to use my analogy from earlier. Why would anyone ever do that by choice?? Again, it’s taking something amazing – like WHO YOU ARE INHERANTLY MEANT TO BE – and cheapening it by focusing on the negative and distracting from the positive. I am far from perfect in this regard, but I struggle on a daily basis to change my life so that it perfectly fits with Heavenly Father’s idea of How To Become Like God 101. And it kills me to have to wonder if other people are trying to do that, too, whether it’s my family or my friends or that guy I might like to date if he would just shape up, fer cryin’ out loud.

Really, it just shows how important it is for me to be a good person. If I’m doing good things, I have the Holy Spirit in my life. Since these people are in my life too, they’re bound to rub elbows with the Holy Spirit a bit. Also, by living close to God, I have a better perspective. My favorite thing about this summer is how much I have learned about seeing people as God sees them. He knows their endless potential, and if I try really hard, and squint a little, I can see it too. The moment I realize how superb they truly are, there’s this rush of love that pours out from my heart, toward them. No, I don’t understand their exact purpose in life, or know their life story. That’s God’s job. I’m just grateful to catch a tiny glimpse of how that crazy messed-up mortal, who bears the seed of divinity, will bloom into someone like Heavenly Father someday.

And, every now and then, I catch that same glimpse of myself. Those moments make everything, ever, worthwhile. They are when I can finally give everything I have and am and do to God. It’s like if your dad asks you for some nails and a board. You were going to make a birdhouse with them, since but he’s got the know-how and supplies to build a mansion out of it, you hand them over. And that mansion, because you added those nails and that board, is especially for you.

That, all that, is what I know to be true. I say it in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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