“Take my heart, oh, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above!”
I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve knelt at my bedside with these words (or words like them) on my lips. Especially when I really began dealing with my sexual identity, first when I was 14 and then again when I was beginning my missionary service. I felt inadequate, never good enough, inherently broken, and always guilty for not being better than I was. In the MTC, I was surrounded by fellow missionaries who seemed so much further ahead and I drowned myself in comparisons to those around me. In my prayers, there was never a short supply of willingness, no lack of conviction in those hushed moments on my knees. I knew I was sincere. I was so tired of myself, so “prone to wander [and] leave the God I love”. The Lord would take much better care of my soul’s progression if I turned it all over to him. Better for Him take my heart for safe keeping as I surely wasn’t up to the task.
However, I was really good at taking my heart back. In those moments of truth where integrity was supposed to shine and the strength of my conviction was to carry me forward, I gave in to to the temptation of my addictions. I always talked about it in terms of falling down. In my journal, so many of my entries begin with “I fell again today”. I thought of myself in terms of fallen from grace and fallen from the perfection that I desperately craved.
My inconsistency with pursuing the path of righteousness has always weighed heavily on my shoulders. I wasn’t a disciple. I wasn’t converted. And therefore, I wasn’t good enough. No matter how long I had gone without caving to my addictive behaviors, how much time of sobriety I had under my belt, or how convinced I was that I had really given myself over to Christ this time, I ended up falling. And each time I hated myself for it.
I’ve come a long way from those days but I still feel myself move in that direction when I make a mistake or slip up . But I can’t express the joy I felt as I listened to Elder Holland’s message of hope this afternoon as I knew that they were the words I needed to hear both 10 years ago and now.
Hope is not the easiest feeling to have as an LGBT member of the Church. In both my research and observations in working with the community, I’ve found that we are too often so hard on ourselves as we embrace our unique challenges. Many of us are dealing with such large mountains of shame, we feel that we’ll never be able to surmount them. We hold ourselves to a higher standard and tear ourselves further down the mountain each time we fall short. It’s always two steps forward, but one step back.
Elder Holland’s talk stands in direct contrast to that narrative. Rather than condemning the set back, he validates our progress forward, as slow as it may seem. Even a desire to improve, much like a desire to believe, is enough to begin. And as we pull ourselves back up and put one foot in front of the other, Christ has promised to consecrate those efforts. That each step forward matters much more than any amount of steps backward.
What struck me most powerfully was the declaration of God’s love for us, his children. Paraphrasing Elder Holland: Just as the first great commandment is to love God with all of our heart, mind, and strength, the first great truth is that God loves us with all of His heart, mind and strength. He loves us so much, just as we are, that everything has been set up for us to become better and become all that we were meant to be. And along the way, we are always good enough for God. Even when we’ve fallen down.
As a final bastion of hope, Elder Holland said: “Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow and forever.” Not just in our shining moments but even in our setbacks. And if Heaven can be zealously enthusiastic about that, then why can’t we be?