06 October 2010

Making it sacred

I mentioned, in a recent post, that I felt like a sacrifice being placed on an altar I don't believe in. It was a sort of fulfillment of a fear I'd had going into the relationship, though I'm grateful it happened very early rather than a year or five into a relationship. I found myself in a situation in which I could protest and try to change his mind, or get angry and leave on bad terms, or cling to a hope that he'd change his mind, thereby defying his wishes to move on, or quietly relinquish the relationship to be laid down out of a desire to respect his wishes and free him to pursue his path because part of me always knew he would probably need to experience it for himself.

If I were a better man, maybe that would have been the end of it, and I might not have looked back, and I might not have posted all of these many things I'd say to him if I could but instead will say to others who might find themselves in similar situations in the future, so at least someone might thereby benefit from my experience or thoughts (but really secretly hoping he'll one day read all of this and know what I was feeling and thinking). Maybe I'd not have fought severe bitterness towards those who pushed for and glorified this particular sacrifice made for a belief system which I believe is incomplete or possibly even quite wrong. Maybe I'd not have resented our relationship being a casualty in a war for disciples or souls or have struggled (less-so recently) to not contact him (even just to say that I miss him and love him and that I still hope he's happy or will be) and not bother our mutual friends who are now my only connection to him. But I'm nowhere near perfect, so...

In my mind, I had "loved him enough" to risk losing him by encouraging him to hear both sides of the story and perspective which I knew would likely be seductive because I knew what kind of commitment and changes he would have to make to be with me, and I wanted him to make them the right way if he were going to make them. I felt wholly betrayed when I didn't even have the chance to rebut because after listening to the folks at Evergreen, the discussion was done, presumably in the name of conviction or commitment. It seemed an ugly sort of sacrifice, compelled, in my emotional mind, by tyrants who would remove him from beautiful, healthy intimacy, burn it as an offering, and relabel its charred remains as "temptation" and "damning". Rejection can be messy.

From my pained perspective, it was easiest to see his dissolution of our relationship and withdrawal from certain friendships as a cult-like isolation necessary to reinforce the beliefs of a newfound brotherhood which wouldn't stand up to the scrutiny of outsiders. It seems so many are needlessly trying to prove their goodness and moral courage not for eternal truth but out of intense emotional drive for the praises of men, the comfort of flowing with society, and the sense of mission, purpose, and courage one feels when doing something difficult for what they think of as a higher cause. In my pain and frustration, that sort of commitment seemed more, to me, like the detaching fanaticism of religious extremists or communal hippies than the courageous dedication of one breaking an addiction. I was finally understanding, emotionally, the bitterness and anger so many seem to feel towards organizations like Evergreen.

But I also knew how empowering it can feel to be motivated to something so strongly that you are ready to give up friendships, memories, or your own will in order to pursue it, and how such sacrifices only feel like giving up something you want or might "like" for something you want even more or in which you believe. Such willful relinquishment catalyzes the concretion of commitment to and increases one's investment in a decision or philosophy. With so much at stake, one naturally hopes, that much more fully, that the sacrifices one is making are "worth it", and one convinces one's self that they are, because...well...they'd better damn well be. It's hard to tell, sometimes, whether the thing you are sacrificing for and investing in, is inherently worthy of that or whether you believe it's worthy because the cognitive dissonance of seeing that it's not worth it, after all you've invested, is too great. And I had to acknowledge that such could be true for anything, including my investment in the relationship.

If current, predominant LDS thought isn't correct about same-sex relationships, then these grand sacrifices, despite indeed showing one's dedication, are nothing God has demanded or would demand but something we made up to make ourselves feel righteous and to make "the plan" fit into our current level of understanding of the way the universe and eternity operate. But if the LDS Church is right, then they're doing exactly what they should be, aren't they? If there is no God dictating what relationships are sanctioned, or there is a God who doesn't actually care what sex you build a life with or whether kids have two dads and a mother figure or an actual mom and dad, as long as you do it healthily and with pure love, then the sacrifices people are making to build life as they believe it can be are worth it. If it's all bunk, and men and women are just naturally or divinely supposed to always be together, without exception, then they're wasting a lot of effort on something which isn't truth.

Sacrifice can be both a powerful investment and a beautiful manifestation of love and dedication to a person, cause, or path in life. It can show one's commitment while simultaneously solidifying and adding meaning and investment to that commitment by what is given to achieve it, whether or not the commitment is intrinsically worthy of the sacrifice. I think it's most often a noble idea and respectable action. There's a reason Joseph Smith taught that "a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation" (Lectures on Faith [1985], 69). There's a reason religious adherents worldwide practice various forms of fasting and self-denial. There's a reason Jesus is quoted as having told the rich man to give away his belongings. There's a reason successful relationships involve mutually giving up individual wants in favor of what's best for each other and for the relationship.
Merriam-Webster online: Sacrifice
1: an act of offering to a deity something precious
2: something offered in sacrifice
3a: destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else
b: something given up or lost

I've made sacrifices in my life. I've done very uncomfortable things and taken leaps of faith for what I believed to be the truth, or the will of God. I needed to prove that to myself. I've never given as much trust to what I believed were the philosophies of men, and I've always been wary of and resistant to those who would demand more than is reasonable or which would enslave my will or compromise personal conviction or principles. But when I believed God was behind a command, or I found conviction, I found in myself a willing and humble servant of truth, and I needed that. I needed to know I was willing to lay it all down for what I believe, or that I gave something an honest, full-hearted try. I've known the beauty of proving faithfulness by giving my will, or by walking lonely or dark paths to ultimately feel supported and confident that, at the very least, my motives were right, I learned something, and I was capable of dedicating myself fully to a cause or mission. And even when the outcome was no grand manifestation, or I later looked back and saw the thing I had committed to in a different light, I saw my own sacrifice and commitment as a journey of personal growth, a sacred sort of experience.

According to many Bible scholars, the word "sacrifice" means "to make holy", and it's easy to understand what that means when you've freely given of yourself for a cause or belief or relationship: it feels holy, or sacred. That's what sacrifice is for: making holy, making meaningful, committing one's self through demonstrated dedication and prioritization. The more you invest your energy and time into something, the more meaningful it becomes to you, and the more interest you have in seeing it through. The more you give up to get something, the more likely you are to complete what it takes to get it, and the more likely you are to see rewards (call them blessings, if you prefer) from it.

So it would seem that anything can be "made holy" with enough investment and sacrifice, but if I don't want others questioning the worthiness of something I found sacred, don't I owe the same courtesy to those who have chosen where to place their energy, trust, and dedication, as long as it's not harming anyone else or themselves? When you think something is potentially hazardous or deceptive, when do you warn, and when do you silently let go? Fortunately, I think I know what hands he's going to be in, and even though I disagree with many of their foundational beliefs and think there's some pretty subtle but influential psychology behind what they do, I trust them to care about him and not endanger anyone or force them into anything. It's not like he's a vulnerable, blank-slate teenager being preyed upon. He's an adult, and obviously makes his own decisions, choosing his path. I admit that I've feared [he] might set himself up for an emotional crash if things didn't work out on this path and find himself feeling like a failure, desperate, and without the comfort of friends he left behind, and either harm himself or give in to a desperate lifestyle. To have lost the happiness we felt to that end would be absolutely devastating. But such speculative fears, which might selfishly satisfy my hope that he chose incorrectly, and which most likely are the furthest thing from what he's actually experiencing right now, can't dictate my reactions, despite strong emotions.

And strong emotions they have been. Much of what I've expressed has been unfiltered by the objective analysis and detached moderation I strive for. I lost the energy for it and felt a drive to vocalize what I was having to work through. This is probably one of the last in that series of posts. I've come to a more stable place. For all I know, his breaking things off cold-turkey had to do with a hundred things not including making me into a sacrifice on reparative therapy's altar. This, along with many other thoughts posted over the last couple of weeks, was my emotional reaction based on my experience and my pain, but the memory of this relationship is too tender to shroud it in bitterness. That seems the opposite of "making it sacred".

When I step back, I have to acknowledge that it all comes down to what's actually true or what we believe is true, and it may be that even our relationship became falsely magnified in my own mind because of my investment, my risks, my dedication to what I hoped was true, not what actually was true. And maybe, just maybe, it's OK for each of us to find what works for us, what we believe, what makes us happy and rings true, and to "make it sacred".

1 comment:

Bravone said...

Beautiful, thoughtful post.