30 September 2010

Tempted to Believe

Note: I wasn't going to blog about this. It was a very personal experience, and I didn't want to have to explain myself to anyone. But it was an experience I think is very much worth sharing as part of this whole process, so here it is.

When [he] suddenly called off our relationship and said goodbye after attending an Evergreen Conference, I was devastated (if my devastation surprises you, please take a few hours to catch up on this week's reading, and return to this post). I had knowingly assumed the risk, since he wasn't fully settled into the idea of dating men when we met, but we had overcome some significant hurdles. I had been tempted to bail a couple of times to avoid getting too invested, or because it seemed so unlikely to work out long-term, or because I was afraid he was more invested than I was, but I chose to stay and see things through, and I had been glad I did because I felt great about where we were going and what we were like together, and I'd started to fall. Things were looking better and better between us. He had initially surprised me--after we had decided to keep our friendship 'platonic' and I had decided to move back to the northwest--by calling me to ask me out "on a date" (I cried a little out of happiness, not gonna lie), and again with his apparently increasing conviction that he was where he was supposed to be, with me. So I half expected we would continue to clear the hurdles, and when this particular hurdle of the Evergreen Conference left me flat on my face as he left the race altogether, I felt utterly bereft and broken.

The week leading up to it had also tried my resilience in another way. I had had conversations earlier in the week with two separate married couples, friends from college, in which I explained to them that I no longer attend church and don't believe in it like I used to, or at all, and proceeded to patiently withstand the rebuttals and questions they couldn't help but level with urgent righteousness to try to slap some sense into me, which I explained I understand and used to do, myself. But with each couple, there was a time when I thought, "This may be our last conversation." But in each case, we left on a friendly note, agreeing to disagree but reaffirming that we still liked each other and respected the good characteristics each had. But since one conversation was Tuesday night, and the other was Wednesday morning, by the time I met up with [him] midday Wednesday, I was emotionally drained and so glad to be with him, where I felt unreserved love and acceptance and open attempts to understand.

I think this compounded my frustration when he turned fully from me to pursue a "new direction" in life, apparently towards the very belief system strictures I've been moving away from and from which he had seemed to be as well. The one I'd felt so safe with had now turned coldly and abruptly away, and I was left behind, confirmed as the sinner who wouldn't "change". More than that, I was weighed down by a sense of weariness that left me wondering if I had foolishly believed in a fantasy that things could all work out for me. Had I imagined myself somewhat as the hero in Wicked, abandoning her quest to change the world in favor of quietly pursuing happiness with her love (OK, so some Wicked songs on my mp3 player yesterday had me thinking about that)? I guess I had started to entertain that notion a bit too much. I had faith in us, so much so that by the end, I had not held on to my heart quite enough to save me from the pain. For various reasons, the breakup left me in pieces.

He lives in different town than I did, and I was passing through on my way northward to see our mutual friend in a play. Being in the town where I had just had my last beautiful day with him less than a week prior was hard, and the new distance between us felt all the harsher as I slept just blocks from his apartment with no certainty that we'd ever see each other speak again. Only a strong conviction, I figured, or at least a strong emotion that felt like conviction, could have compelled such a sudden turnaround for him, and I couldn't fault him for wanting that kind of conviction that feels so good at the time. I can't stand the thought of losing him to some one-sided rhetoric and an emotionally charged weekend hurrah. I can only hope that he had a "spiritual" manifestation at least as strong as any he had regarding us or his previous assurances. He must have. And if he did, then for me to try to talk with him about it in any way other than affirming it makes me a literal enemy of God from his perspective, and who can compete with that? I had to just let go, to let him follow his new direction. I was trapped between the "if you love them, let them go" pain of desolation and the bait of confirming that getting in the way of his exaltation proves I couldn't have truly loved him.

And letting him go, I knew he'd be gaining what I felt I'd been losing this past couple of years, in addition to now losing him. I had known, in the past, what it felt like to be a part of a family of supporters who feel like they know powerful truths nobody else dares to speak. I remembered that feeling, that motivating sense that I was giving up my will to a greater purpose and eternal goal, supported and praised for my conviction and diligence by those who likewise believed joy was found in this particular brand of self-denial and dedication to a more excellent way than mere mortal exaltation-forfeiting contentedness. And his sudden goodbye made me long, in a way, for the kind of camaraderie I knew he'd likely found, for the cheerleaders and sense of grand, overarching purpose he must feel, for the sense of meaning brought about by sacrificing what we had, or thought we had. Because what I was left with was mostly sympathy (even if sincere and heartfelt) from friends who quietly believed he made the doctrinally right choice, the notion that I was a sort of sacrifice left on an altar I don't believe in, and a feeling that we needlessly and senselessly lost a beautiful thing.

In my ache to see some kind of hope in this, or my longing not to let go (of him and of my friends who maintain that the only path to eternal joy is avoidance of all romantic or sexual relationships with members of the same sex), I faced a feeling I hadn't experienced in a long, long time: a desire to believe, to believe that this was for good, that there was some meaning to it, and that I could confidently hope for eternal joy in exchange for the happiness I had lost. That would've made it sufferable or worth the loss. I knew in my mind that this was likely the desperate grasp of the guy who has lost everything, a kind of desire for belief I've never respected much or given much credence to. But I also knew I was feeling some intense emotions and losses, feeling broken to the core, like I'd lost all hope of the happiness I wanted to find and thought I might have found had we continued. I was ready to give up on that road if this is going to be the pattern of it, loss after loss, and was now open to anything. For the first time, I suspect I clearly tasted what the flip-flopping mohos who've baffled me by running in and out of the church have been experiencing all along.

I thought of the fellowship he would enjoy with people I used to feel at home with, but with whom I'd felt increasingly distant due to the new gaps between our beliefs. I imagined "being home" again with them and in the church I used to love, having a community again. I imagined what it would be like to be in his shoes now, confidently starting a journey of self denial and self discovery with the promise of eternal joy and the possibility of the kind of marriage I'd always imagined: procreative, eternal, free of social disapproval, familial strain, or legal limitations. I admittedly fantasized about being able to join him in his journey, to believe again the things which I believed before, to rejoice in each other's prodigal return, in a friendship which could continue in its more eternal form, unfettered by romantic or sexual complication. I could still be with him in that way, in some way, rather than this painfully final-feeling goodbye. I yearned for the confidence that even a lifetime of choosing to be single was exactly what God, if he exists and cares about this in the way LDS doctrine and tradition claim he does, required of me if I never found a woman with whom I could "make it work".

In short, and despite having other good friendships, I still missed the full fellowship I'd had with a few good guys, and I longed to assuage my pain with a belief in a grand, overarching purpose for my loss. Surely this suffering might have meaning. I was a mess of emotions and longing, and I was open to believing there was possibly "more" to my longing than what I'd been able to identify. I felt a powerful drive to go back to the path I'd left, but I knew it would take more than feelings of social ease and belonging, the desire to be near [him], and comforting stories to tell myself about why this loss was worth it. I knew it required being able to set aside the knowledge, questions, and years of church attendance, prayer, and scripture reading with no success in salvaging my "testimony". It required believing that familiar path was a true path, not just an attractive one at the moment.

Tuesday morning (the 21st), in a very humble, almost desperate state of mind, I decided there was no harm in being open to being called back, or to rekindle faith in LDS doctrine or at the very least in a real, personal God. I've always been sure I could comply again with whatever was required if I felt it was true. I drove to the Logan temple to sit on the grounds and reflect. As I walked up the grassy hill, my stomach flipped as I thought, "What if this is it? What if this is where I recommit to the path I used to be on? Am I ready for that?" Looking up at the temple, thinking of what it represents, it felt like a memory, like something you find in storage which you know used to be deeply meaningful to you but which you now feel ready to give away because it's just an object attached to an increasingly distant memory.

Nevertheless, I sat on a stone bench, and I buried my face in my hands as I prayed silently through sobs and sniffles, saying, "I haven't done this in a very long time, and I maybe can't expect to have everything be magically restored, and if you exist you know I doubt your very existence and tend to think of 'you' as 'truth' and 'prayer' as 'meditative, reflective, open thought', but if you are there in the very real sense I used to believe in, please help me. Please help me begin to understand what I'm supposed to do with all of this. Please help me remember what I need to if this is true and whether you would ask of me what he seems to believe you're asking of him. I'll give it. I think you know I will. This has hurt so acutely, but if it's your will, I want to accept that."

I blanked out my thoughts. I pushed out my friends and family. I pushed out church culture. I pushed out my possible 'explanations' for past spiritual experiences. I pushed out thoughts of [him]. I exerted all the effort I could to wipe the slate clean, to 'receive' truth, to extend my energy upward and outward in search of spiritual reception as I used to do so often. I felt a familiar slight chill upon that exertion, a very familiar feeling. But as of yet, no revelations or confirmations to speak of. I felt trepidation and fear as I dared to ask, "If there's something I haven't seen or understood, or which I haven't been prepared to receive, which will be hard for me, please help me prepare or understand. I know I'm a tough sell in some ways, but I have been contrite before, and I feel so now, that old familiar readiness to do whatever it takes, to learn whatever I'm supposed to, so please...I'm open...help me be more open..."

My hands were tired and full of tears. I didn't want to show my puffy, pathetic face to the few passers by entering and leaving the temple, and I wanted to just "listen" for a while. I don't know how long I was there, but I decided to take a break and walk around the grounds once, which I did. And I returned to the bench to listen a while longer. In the end, I said, "OK, not now then. I'm not sure I'm ready to give up, though. I may be back soon. In the meantime, if there's anything you want to reveal, feel free, OK?" I decided I would re-assess a few things, try to be open to the possibilities, take a few steps of my own here and there, and explore my options for re-organizing my life according to some realizations and resignations. It was time to move on in many ways, with or without a divine intervention or manifestation.

Aside from the slight chills which didn't exactly bring fruits of the Spirit, I hadn't noticed any sensations or inspiration, which reminded me of a few things about prayer in the past and realizations I'd had about it. But I still figured I'd not be the proud guy who commanded God to answer me and threw my hands up in atheistic defiance when I didn't experience angelic ministry. And I certainly understand that if God's real, then it's probably not about me giving him another chance, but the other way around. So even though I wasn't about to ignore everything I've thought and felt over the past several years in favor of "wanting" to believe in the midst of an emotional crisis, maybe I'd just leave the jury out a while longer. Certainty, after all, is overrated...isn't it?


Bravone said...

Thanks for inviting us in on such a personal and sacred experience. I've only truly felt the level of "wanting" you described a couple of times in my life. Each time, I came away a better man because I had allowed myself to shed layers of societal and self imposed beliefs, leaving my soul exposed to the Light. Even if an answer doesn't come, or does and you can't feel it yet, the process that led to such profound humility and self awareness will have served you well. Don't be afraid to revisit the moment.

Matt said...

I love the you in this post.

Anonymous said...

Powerful. Thanks for sharing.

Adam said...

How did I miss this post before? Consider me moved.