Grace is not a word we use often in my church. I can’t think of a single hymn in our hymnbook or children’s songbook that has it as a prominent theme. Even the famous Amazing Grace is missing from our hymnbook. My religion tends toward more of a works based religion. Our symbol is the beehive, and we revere the pioneers who were trail blazers, survivors, and hard workers. We associate grace with the protestant churches who have paid ministry. Our church only exists because of volunteers who are willing to roll up their sleeves. Of course, in doctrine, we believe in grace. When we read the scripture “By grace we are saved,” but then we tend to emphasize the second part, “After all we can do.” There are various metaphors for faith and works that have been taught to me over the years and they have worked for me for most of my life. Not anymore.
Something about this depressive episode has caused me to gravitate to the word grace. It is beauty, it is strength, it is poise. It is a ballerina on the stage. That dancer didn’t achieve grace through running or weight lifting. She didn’t hone her skills on the football field through taking tough hits. And yet in many ways, her training is just as brutal and taxing. It is balance, concentration, focus, and artistic expression.
Sometimes I think my worship has been more like football and less like ballet. Perhaps my embrace of grace is symbolic of the changes I am making religiously. I am taking off the football pads and putting on my tutu. I am tapping into my spiritual artist, centering and balancing my priorities, and focusing and concentrating on the things that matter most.
Grace is forgiveness. It isn’t the forced forgiveness that is born of fear that there will remain in me the “greater sin” if I don’t feel warm and fuzzy toward someone. It is forgiveness that springs naturally when you see every person as a creation of God who has beauty and good in them; that although they fall short and that their choices effect me, that I can see God’s design in it. It’s complicated. Its like holding the crow pose in yoga. Sometimes I can do it and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I can look at the people around me and give everyone grace, and sometimes I just have to run out of the room. Today I could give grace.
So I started a fight in Relief Society. Yes. It was kind of intentional. I knew what I had to say would throw a grenade into the lesson two minutes before the lesson was supposed to end. Still, I am the queen of uncomfortable, so I did it. My Lord said speak, so I spoke. After a few sentences she was cutting me off, but I kept speaking. I knew I needed to speak this message, and it didn’t matter that the primary kids were leaving and it didn’t matter that I was nobody and she was the one in charge. It didn’t matter because my Lord wanted me to speak.
The lesson was on truth. The Family Proclamation was on the chalkboard. I thought about how I used to display it prominently in my home. That was before I knew the truth I know now. Would I want to hang it on my wall now? I still believe it is true. But I also know that other things are also true.
Its true that gender is so much more complicated than I thought it was. That mental and emotional health is such a fragile thing, and that simplistic views spoken at the wrong time to the wrong person can drive people away from the Savior. That people can and do have same gender attraction and that it isn’t their fault. That some people are born female, and feel they are male and vice versa. That these people are valuable. Yes, the Proclamation on the Family is true, but they have truth too. We need to listen to them. We need to help them make the church work in their lives. That takes the grace and balance and skill of a dancer.
In the past, we could get by with a simplistic football style gospel. It got the job done. Today, we need to dig a little deeper to find the grace that the Savior has. We need the humility to understand that we know nothing of God and his design. We are as babes on his lap when it comes to his wisdom. Can we listen to his children? Can we hear their pain? Can we make his church a place they feel accepted and welcomed no matter what their sins are? Can we gracefully tip-toe through the minefield of their emotions to give them the love and the acceptance that Christ has?
I don’t have the answers. I know people who hang the family proclamation in their homes in a prominent place. I also know people who can no longer go to church because they feel too much emotional and mental anguish because people don’t take the time and effort to understand their unique challenges and meet them where they are. I know that we can do better as members of Christ’s church to see others as he does; not focusing on their outward appearance, but upon their hearts; to love first, and judge later, if at all. To stand for the truth, when its hard and uncomfortable; to speak for those who have no voice.
We need grace! We need HIS grace. He didn’t turn away from the beggar in his misery. He didn’t ignore the outcast. He welcomed all to come unto him. He showed us grace. It came from him like light emanating from the sun! If he were here, he would not turn away from the LGBT people. He would embrace them. He would accept them. He would tell them they have value and worth. He would explain to them why they were created in God’s image and the purpose and meaning of their unique experiences. He would lead them gently on their path without force or compulsion; with encouragement and praise. He would give them knowledge about mysteries that I don’t understand and perhaps never will in this life. He would give them grace.
It isn’t that the Proclamation to the Family isn’t true. It absolutely is. But there are a lot of things that are true and good and righteous that I fall short in. There are challenges that I face that others don’t understand. I am learning to give myself grace; to allow myself to be the person He wants me to be instead of the person others want me to be. As I have allowed myself to receive his grace, I want to give it to others.
I have three dear friends I know who identify as LGBT. I have one cousin by marriage who does. They are each different and have chosen their paths. I don’t see evil in them. I do see evil in those who shut them out. None of them goes to church anymore. My closest friend that I have had many tear jerking conversations with told me that she tried for many months to work with her leaders and make the church a place she could be comfortable. For her mental health, she had to stop going. She told me she still takes bread and water at home in a lonely sacrament. With lessons like the one we had today, I understand why she was uncomfortable. It saddens me to think that we are missing out on the truths that they might share with us if we had the humility to listen to them.
I have never met anyone that doesn’t have a friend or the friend of a friend who is LGBT. If not LGBT, then they are drinking coffee, or having sex outside of marriage, or not living the law in some other way. I don’t know if I would feel comfortable inviting these friends to come to church. What would they hear? Would they feel accepted? Is our ward a place where we can be honest and real about our journey and our experiences? If not, can we really call ourselves the Lord’s church? If we are so eager to show everyone what we know that we fail to listen and nurture his sheep that have strayed, do we resemble the Savior or the ones who killed him?
So I shared the story of my friend who came out as bisexual after being raised in the church. I told those sisters that we don’t have all the answers, as much as we like to think we do. I told them that God loves my friend. He has a path for her. It was awkward, and part of me thought, “Mother’s Day sucks so hard. Why didn’t they just let me teach in Primary?” Part of me was glad I said the uncomfortable thing even though it was kind of a hand grenade in that room of well dressed women and pinterest perfect muffins and cookies. Sometimes life isn’t Pinterest perfect.p
It isn’t that I want to take out a whip and beat my fellow members of the church. I love you. You are smart and dedicated and faithful. I’m just handing you a tutu. We are at a crossroads right now in the church. We as members can choose to follow the Savior (do ballet), or to follow dogma and tradition (play football). The prophet and our leaders are showing us that love, compassion, and grace are the way. I don’t have the answers yet. I just know that I love my LGBT friends. I want them to feel loved and welcomed at church along with all those, like me, who see themselves as sinners. It is possible to hold up a standard to the world, and yet fully love and embrace everyone who falls under it. The Savior showed the way. Put on your tutu, and let’s dance!