Saturday, August 30, 2014

What question have you been asking God lately?

There's a small group of interfaith friends I meet with once a month on a casual basis. It's been a great experience to learn about other faiths, and the stories behind the individual paths of the participants--ranging from clergy to new members--are fascinating to hear. What's been most remarkable, I think, is it's become clear that the actual 'brand' of faith matters less than the God we find there. Recently, at one of our meetings, a new participant asked a pretty proactive question: What question have you been asking God lately?

It was a small group, so we each took a turn and talked a bit about what's been on our mind and how we've pulled God into our daily lives and concerns. I will admit, I'm a pretty deeply spiritual person and this was a tough one for me--I talk to my Savior constantly throughout the day and pull Him in on virtually everything. Rather than always being formal, my communication with Him is spontaneous and authentic. Sometimes I imagine He views me as one of those over-excited kids tugging at the shirt sleeves of a parent and jumping up and down while I do it. But I love my Savior, and I love having Him involved in my life, on every level--and I know He meets me where I am.

But what question was I asking Him? That was tougher. So when it was my turn, with my usual dry sense of humor, I responded with, "The question I've been asking my Savior is, 'When are we going to start doing things my way?" Of course, it generated a chuckle around the table and it was meant to do so.

Humor aside, there was a kernel of truth here. Once upon a time, my prayers were very much centered on getting my way and getting other people to change. "Please let my Dad figure this out so he will love me again," or "Show Mom that I am right!" were common refrains.

Over time, and by developing a solid spiritual practice that has led me to a deeper understanding of my Savior, my prayers have changed. I have come to believe that changing other people isn't my job--changing myself, however, is.

The serenity prayer has been a good guide post for me. Now, while I still share at great lengths about what worries and troubles me, I bring my Savior my joy and gratitude, as well. Today, my prayers are centered around what I'm supposed to learn, accept, or change within myself in any given situation. They've become about who my Savior wants me to be, and often include a request to grant me enough humility to bring my will into alignment with His. I pray for the wisdom to know the difference between my path and the paths of my fellows, and the courage to follow through with what I learn. Finally--and this is especially important for me--for those with whom I'm frustrated or angry, I pray that they be granted all the love, serenity, and peace I want for myself. After all, each of my brothers and sisters deserves that.

My Savior did finally start answering my prayers--but not until I stopped telling Him what to do.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"You Can Be Angry at Someone (or Something) You Love..."

"You can be angry at someone (or something) you love, and it doesn't always mean the relationship is over."
Years ago, a wise friend shared this with me and when I heard it, I think I stared back at her for a good 90 seconds before I even blinked. It was as if someone stated the painfully obvious that I knew deep down was true, but had never heard verbalized my entire life--let alone seen someone practice it.
Sure, I got it intellectually--anger isn't the end of everything. But the world I lived in never dealt with anger directly or in a healthy way: it was stuffed, covered up, or denied wholesale until it festered right into a resentment, which of course could leap out at any time and punish the offender (who seldom had any idea why they were being punished), with harsh words or any icy freeze-out. This kind of behavior was not only true in my family, but also deeply entrenched into much of my Mormon culture where being "nice" seemed to be valued much more than being "genuine."
It took me a long time to understand how to come to grips with the truth of my friend's statement. And, it took me a long time to understand how to deal with my anger in a healthy way, and learn that it's not really "nice" at all to be angry with someone and not be honest about it, and instead carry resentments around with me like a giant bag of rocks.
Today I recognize I have a choice when dealing with anger. I also recognize that "anger" is only one letter short of "danger," and when I don't deal with anger appropriately it often leads me in a hazardous direction where I lose my spiritual center. That one-letter, one-second choice between managing my anger or letting my anger manage me often means the difference between creating cavernous gaps in my relationships, or creating connections with those around me based on honesty, respect, and dignity for both of us.

As an openly gay Mormon--and someone who stands as my authentic self in both communities--I get many opportunities to learn how to manage my anger. When I'm faced with anger, I can choose to detach and think before I react. Maybe I choose to remove myself from the situation; perhaps I choose to respond with a simple statement like, "You might be right" to avoid a pointless argument; or I can choose to directly tell another person I feel uncomfortable or angry with their behavior and say what I mean, without being mean when I say it. Then, if I need to, I can choose to process my feelings with a safe and trusted friend in confidence, put the situation in my God Box and give it to my Savior, or beat the heck out of my pillow with a whiffle bat. I can even choose to do all three.
Everything about maintaining my spiritual center begins and ends with me and the choices I make. When I choose to practice managing my anger in a healthy way, I don't have to carry resentments around like a heavy bag of stones, and I am free to live my life peacefully and with dignity--and allow others the privilege of doing the same.