Oftentimes in my past, whenever I would make a mistake or sin, I would beat myself up mercilessly with negative self-talk, self-hating, and other horrible methods. When people say we're our own worst critics, they're right-and I took it up to the next level. My closest friends can attest to this. There came a time, however, when all of this changed. You see, I cope with Bipolar Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome, neither of which have very pleasant side effects when you mix them together, and mingle them with socialization. Though I have learned that people, by nature, tend to tolerate differences and extend lots of compassion, they still have their limits when it comes to mental illness. And after several years of dealing with people rejecting me or, at best, politely retreating from me because of my struggles with mental, I grew weary of it. My level of joy had crashed and burned to zero because I thought my self-worth and self-confidence depended to some degree on the opinions of others. How wrong I was! After thinking it through, and having to be reminded a few times that others don't define me, I finally started implementing that truth into my life. Others did not define me then and do not now, because it is my divine identity as a son of God that defines me. What gives me true joy is the relationship that I enjoy with God the Father and my Savior, Jesus Christ as a result of being a son of God.
I cannot fully express to you the power that this handed to me once I completely and totally understood with my heart-not just with my head-that I was a beloved son of God, and that was the only place from which I could derive true joy. God had lifted a weight from my soul, and I started laughing and smiling like I had not done in years. The fear, shame, doubt, pessimism, and other negativity that had bogged me down from others dissipated, replaced with a reassuring conviction that through Christ, I could continue finding happiness in everyday life. It also started to change how I viewed my journey with same-sex attraction. You see, people were only too eager and excited to point out which direction I should take with it. Some suggested having "fun" with it, and going out to pursue a sexually oriented lifestyle. Others advised that I should be "true to myself", settle down with another man, and maybe raise some adopted or surrogate children. And still others argued that I should leave the Church altogether, because of its standards, doctrine, behavior in the public sector, and other supposedly justifiable reasons. So many voices were clamoring tell me how to live my life, just as they do to all of us whenever we undertake to accomplish something great. I can testify, however, that because I knew who I truly was in God's eyes, those voices became whispers, and whispers became silence. His voice, the voice of my Shepherd, became the one voice I listened to.
In your journey, it would not be surprising to look over its contents and discover someone or something opposed to the path you are taking. However fierce, however subtle, those influences exist for every Church member who walks through life having SSA. I have witnessed the difference in those who fix their eyes on the Savior, listening to His voice and remembering what defines them and gives them joy. They stay on the path proscribed and revealed by the apostles and prophets of God, they humbly listen to and follow the Spirit's direction, and the will of God supersedes their earthly and spiritual desires. People who allow themselves to give heed to those pointing and mocking in the great and spacious building fall away, as Nephi saw in the vision of the tree of life (1st Nephi 8:34). Each day, I know we can choose to listen to Christ's words about us and for us. What He declares about us is that we are His, and that He loves us no matter what. Christ has said that we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, and able to triumph over Satan through the Atonement's infinite power. What He speaks for us are the commandments, the beautiful words given through ancient and modern-day scripture-including the words of His servants. Whatever our circumstances-past, present, or future, I know that we can always follow those words because God will always make a way for us to do so if we step forward with faith. It is always possible.
Furthermore, in this often challenging and even grueling journey, I have seen it is absolutely essential that I embrace and focus on my strengths, spiritual gifts, and talents. God has given me those for a reason, one of which is to overcome my weaknesses. Because I regard SSA as a weakness, in the sense of giving me a greater inclination to and capacity for lust, I focus on incorporating as many of my good characteristics into it as possible. Amazingly, I have seen those positive personal aspects transform areas of my SSA into assets that bless both my life and others' lives. In contrast, however, when I choose to center my focus on what I am not doing right, or what I'm not good at, my spirituality and devotion to God decline dramatically. This happens because I am not centering my thoughts on what I want or what I have, but rather the lack of goodness in my life. A mindset of self-positivity, or encouraging myself to be more optimistic, creates a closer relationship to God and has greatly empowered me to live the gospel of Christ when it's been most difficult. The times I've slipped have been the times of self-negativity-when I focused on my lack of good works I was accomplishing.
Brothers and sisters, listen to the Spirit and let Him guide you towards the redemptive power of loving yourself as a child of God. I promise you, it is worth your effort and you will see a beautiful difference with time. Your joy does not ever, ever, ever have to depend on someone else-not in the least degree. You can choose every single day to look in the mirror and love what you see, regardless of the sins you've committed or the foolish mistakes you've made. We are all children of light, capable of dreaming bigger and better things than the humdrum of daily life. Drawing upon the wisdom of Joseph Campbell, I urge you to follow your bliss in Christ. What do you love doing that is wholesome? Which pure and good person do you love being with? Seek after those passions and people, following the gospel's teachings, and I know that your journey with SSA will be that much sweeter. Have a beautiful day!