Saturday, October 1, 2011

Let it begin with me

I spent some time today with an old friend of mine—she’s currently having challenges in her relationship with her brother, a man who’s struggled with addiction throughout his entire life.

In his worst moments, he’s verbally abusive to my friend and interacting with him is painful and leaves her feeling deeply wounded. Yet, through it all, she still sees the good in him when she looks beyond his disease, and she longs for a relationship.

What, she asked me, is her appropriate action for his upcoming birthday? He didn’t acknowledge hers until 10 days later, and only then with a text. There was no card, there was no phone call—just a brief message on her phone with the words, “Happy Birthday.”

I shared this story with my friend.

Growing up, my own relationship with my father mirrored that of my friend and her brother. My father was volatile—I seldom knew one moment from the next what to expect from him. In one moment, I would be a great son, his pride and joy—in the next, a complete abject failure, who could do no right in his eyes. His consistent inconsistency grew to even more wild extremes once he learned I was gay. And, in reaction, I let his attitudes toward me color mine toward him. I was not the son he wanted; and in turn, I believed he was not the father I wanted.

Age, experience, and time didn’t soften him much; I never knew when I would displease him. There was, it seemed, no correlation between my behavior and his response. Consequently, I spent much of my time locked in my head, frozen between action and inaction—wondering what the consequence of my actions would be from a man I loved despite his hardness, but who did not ever seem to love me in return.

I spent years yearning for the attention and approval of someone who was unwilling and unable to grant me those things. In my head, the list of qualities I was missing was seemingly endless; so I decided to sit down and itemize what I wasn’t getting, to get a better perspective on my own unhappiness in my relationship with my father. Respect, love, attention, affection, courtesy—the list was long, but once down on paper, it seemed almost manageable, almost recoverable.

I shared my list of qualities I longed for with a wise and trusted friend. While he commended my courage and thoroughness, at the same time he told me I could bring all those things into my life, should I so choose. But there was a catch: I had to be willing to give it first, and become that which I wished to attract. For instance, was I good representation of respect, love, and the other qualities? Well, he suggested, if not, I certainly had a good list of goals already down on paper.

And he was right. I took his advice, and I let it begin with me. As I grew more kind, more compassionate, more loving, other people responded to the change. While I may never have gotten all the things I wanted from my father in the perfect order and way, our relationship, too, improved. Today, I can honestly say that all those qualities on my list exist in my life at some depth or another—and I can honestly say that as I improve, they also improve.  

We’ve long heard the analogy that tells us that our own attitudes often bounce back and return to us like a basketball rebounding off a backboard, and I know that to be true. And while I’m not the epitome of perfection in any regard, through staying close to my Savior, striving always to do what I understand His will for me to be, and living a genuine and honest life, I am becoming someone I would like to have in my life.

Through my own personal journey as an openly gay Mormon, I've had experiences that also mirror my relationship with my father--actions and words that cut, wound, and leave me and those like me, injured. But now, I look at it this way. I can't, in sincerity, ask the Mormon community to lend Christ-like compassion and kindness to the LGBTQ community without granting them that same degree of compassion--first. And as I do so, as I let it begin with me, I find softer hearts than I ever would otherwise. 

So, to my friend, my counsel was simple: Let it begin with me. Reach out in kindness, compassion, and respect. Many of us have found that as we do so, we in turn become magnets for these qualities ourselves—and like tipping the first domino, a chain reaction is set into motion where our lives—and the lives of those around us—become more richly blessed with the compassion our Savior would have us demonstrate. By overlooking the differences, the pain, and the wounds of the past and connecting with her brother in an honest, loving, and safe way, she would attract that which she sought.

And so can you.

Will it begin with you today?

“I remind you … that regardless of your present age, you are building your life; … it can be full of joy and happiness, or it can be full of misery. It all depends upon you and your attitudes, for your altitude, or the height you climb, is dependent upon your attitude or your response to situations” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 112–13; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 80).


  1. Anytime we take responsibility for our own feelings and circumstances, good things happen... Thanks Mitch.

  2. Yes, it begins with me. Living with an attitude of gratitude makes the difference.

  3. Well said, and a good reminder for all of us. thank you!

  4. Your words ring truth to me. Thank you for sharing.