I believe that those who are committed to principles of righteousness have much more support than they often realize—and which may not be visible to the natural eye. Just as the prophet Elisha’s eyes were opened to see “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about” him, such that it could be declared, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” (2 Kings 6:16-17), we too may have the blessing of having our eyes opened, and of knowing that there are many in the eternal world loving, supporting, and blessing us in our efforts to live true to eternal principles and covenants.
First, a Story
Several years ago, while I was teaching at the MTC, there was a young man in a district I was working with who was a convert from Sikhism. Living in England with his family, when he was fifteen or sixteen he was introduced to missionaries by a brother who had previously joined the Church, married an LDS girl, and was disowned by his family. He was forbidden by his parents to have any contact with his brother, including attending the wedding. Although he and that brother had been particularly close, he obeyed his parents.
Months passed after the wedding with no contact with his brother. One day, however, (as he wrote in a testimony he gave me while still in the MTC), “I had been playing with my friends outside my home. When I had finished, I began to walk in my house and suddenly I heard the sound of many voices screaming at once to visit my brother. Not thinking twice I rushed inside and told my Mother I was going to see my brother. Without waiting for a reply, I was gone.”
Once he got to his brother’s home, he, without hesitating, “grabbed the handle and opened the door. As the door opened I beheld my brother standing there as if he had known I was coming—as if he had been waiting for me. Both he and I stood there starring eye to eye. I saw his arms gradually opening and welcoming me. My eyes fell to the ground; I couldn’t even look at him. I eventually looked up and saw tears falling from his eyes. At that moment we both wept, and I embraced my brother with a hug. He knew why I was there; he knew I had come to hear the gospel of Christ.”
The missionaries taught him in his brother’s home, unbeknownst to his parents. His spiritual experience that initially led him to his brother’s place notwithstanding, he read the Book of Mormon and prayed for answers, but didn’t receive anything. Then, one day he opened it up and read it through. He wrote:
“I was amazed with the feeling I had got after reading that book. And decided I should pray with an open heart and a faith in receiving an answer. I closed the curtains and switched off the lights. I knelt down on both knees near my bedside and began to pray. The missionaries had showed me how to pray, so I began with ‘Oh Dear Heavenly Father, thank you.’ As soon as I had spoke them words, I felt all my worldly problems leave me—all my body being nourished, even the feeling of all my sins fleeing from me.
“Within that split second something else had entered my body, something I had never felt nor experienced before. It had filled my whole body with its strength and power, yet made me feel both calm and at peace, my heart felt so warm. The feeling became stronger and stronger, until the point I opened my eyes and switched on the lights. I had stopped my prayer. Even as I stood in amazement I could still feel the comforting and warm presence. I felt I should return and finish my prayer. In my prayer I asked if all the things the missionaries had taught me were true. The answer I received was ‘you already know that these are true.’ At that moment a tear fell from my eye—a tear of both sorrow and joy. Sorrow because everything I had been led to believe in was false; it wasn’t the truth. Sorrow, because I had mocked and ridiculed my brother for his belief in the gospel. And sorrow, again, because I began to grasp that Jesus Christ had not only suffered for my sins, but for the sins of the world, which caused him to bleed from every pore… From that moment I knew that the gospel was the truth, and I knew I had to be baptized to be a partaker of the wonderful and many blessings which my Heavenly Father has in store for me.”
Because he was sixteen years old at the time of this experience, he couldn’t be baptized. Without express permission from a legal guardian, Church policy dictates such. He never thought to even ask his parents, having seen how they reacted to his oldest brother joining the Church. In the two years before his eighteenth birthday, he tried to learn about and live the commandments of God as much as he could. He studied the scriptures and secretly attended Church activities and Sunday meetings. Finally, once he was eighteen, and through some trying and revealing family circumstances that I won’t include here, he was baptized into the Church and continued to actively prepare to serve a full-time mission. He shared his testimony in these words:
“I know that Heavenly Father lives and loves me, and like my earthly father he only wants the best for me. I know that my Heavenly Father has watched over me and blessed me throughout my life, I just hope and pray that I am found worthy to live with him in his Kingdom. I know that Jesus is the Christ, he is our Savior, our Eldest Brother and our Redeemer. I know like my brother Peter he will always welcome me and love me, and wants me to return to him so we can live as one family. I know that the Holy Ghost is very real, he is our guide, comforter and he reveals to us truths and answers to our prayers. I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and we have a living prophet to this very day.”
Now, fast forward over a year to when I worked with this young man in the MTC—this is when all this background becomes more relevant to what I’ve been thinking a lot about here.
This elder was on fire! I taught few missionaries who equaled him in testimony, commitment to the gospel, and fire and enthusiasm to teach and share that which had so blessed his life—and I worked with hundreds of missionaries in my years there at the MTC.
About two weeks into his MTC stay, however, something changed. One day I walked into class—after a weekend break—and his countenance was drastically different. He was quiet, consumed with something on his mind, and looked to be on the verge of tears. No one knew what was wrong. At one point that evening he asked me if he could leave for a few minutes. I told him he could, so he took his companion and sat on the stairs outside our classroom.
A half hour later, I went out and sat by him to see if he wanted to talk about what was bothering him. He did, so we went into an empty room and he began to cry has he related some really disturbing experiences and feelings he had been having during the night. The previous two or so nights he woke up to what he described as demonic presence. It terrified him! He prayed the presence away only for them to return the next night. He couldn’t seem to shake it, and wondered if he had done something wrong to merit such an experience. Fear that it would happen again consumed him. It was the worst feeling he had ever had in his life, he said.
So, for a few minutes we discussed the situation, and he asked for a priesthood blessing. It was this particular experience that has stayed with me all these years. As I put my hands upon his head, I was a bit nervous because my mind was completely blank; I had no idea what I might tell or promise this beautifully faithful missionary. After a few moments of quiet, I felt the Spirit fill my heart and mind.
I’ve given a lot of blessings in my life, and over time I’ve come to have a sense that those individuals for whom I receive the most clear inspiration are those who have put the most time and heart and energy and faith into seeking and preparing for answers. There have even been times when I’ve questioned my own worthiness and ability to hear and hearken to any spiritual impressions that might come. There have been times like this when I’ve felt some of the most powerful guidance and direction, and I knew it was because of the faith of the individual being blessed that I was allowed to be such a vehicle.
In this experience, as the Spirit rested upon me, I felt strongly that this elder had an important mission upon this earth. It was a powerful blessing, but there was one thing I felt prompted to tell him that was a little disconcerting. It wasn’t a principle I was personally familiar with at the time or had any meaningful connection to, and I didn’t want to share anything with him that wasn’t true.
I felt the Spirit prompt me to tell him that legions of his family who has passed on, all of whom were of the Sikh faith tradition in this life, had been praying for him personally on the other side. They longed for him to remain true to the gospel so he could see that their ordinance work was done for them in the temple. Just as importantly, they would be with him on his mission to strengthen and support him when he needed it. Satan knew of the magnitude of the work that this elder would perform and was doing all within his power to overpower and discourage him.
I ended the blessing and embraced the elder as the Spirit confirmed to both of us that what was said was true. Since that time, I have often pondered that impression regarding support those on the other side offer us. It seems to apply to so many other aspects of our lives.
Feeling Alone in the World
There are times, I think, for everyone, when we wonder if we are alone in the world—if there is anyone who really understands us or if we are the only ones trying to live true to the commandments of the Lord. At least I’ve had moments in my life when I felt that way. And in a popular culture that is saturated with the sensual and obsessed with the temporal, it can be hard to keep focused on things of spiritual importance. This seems to be particularly true in the context of homosexuality when it often seems that the only voices speaking up are those who believe the only way to find true happiness is in embracing a gay identity and pursuing a gay relationship.
For the first year after I started coming to terms with my own feelings of attraction to other guys, I didn’t speak to anyone about them except for a bishop, a university counselor, a religion professor, and a couple girl friends. While it was good to finally talk to someone, I still felt entirely alone in regards to this issue. I still believed there was no one who could understand how I felt.
After that year, once I finally started to seek out other Latter-day Saints who dealt with this, I quickly became even more discouraged—and still felt very alone—because I couldn’t find anyone who truly wanted to be faithful to the Church. And if they did want to be faithful, it was usually a distant future goal. For now they were quite content to let spiritual things go, or to be living double lives—or they were keeping Church standards only until they graduated from a Church-owned school (when they would be released from honor code obligations) or found the man of their dreams, whichever came first.
So, I began to buy into the myth that it is only inevitable for anyone who experiences homosexual attraction to leave the Church and find a partner. I didn’t want to believe it, but I couldn’t find any more hopeful voices. Other than some of the clinical community to insisted “change is possible,” I couldn’t seem to find anyone of their proclaimed “success” stories. If they existed, they certainly weren’t speaking up for themselves. The only “faithful” voices I could personally find didn’t seem to be very happy. They seemed to me to be in constant conflict with what they felt and, usually, were caught in self-destructive patterns of sexual or pornographic addiction. Or the way they talked about this issue didn’t seem very helpful or hopeful to me.
Finally, however, after a year or two of continually meeting people, I slowly came across an increasing number of more quiet voices who were living the faith with genuine peace and contentment. The majority of these voices still experienced homosexual attraction to some degree, but it didn’t consume their lives, and they were earnestly striving to cultivate the Spirit in their lives and live true to their covenants.
Blessings and Balconies
One of these men shared with me a powerful experience he had had that helped him find spiritual hope in his efforts to live true to his gospel covenants while trying to understand and work through his experience with same-sex attraction. My friend had had a feeling that he needed to receive a priesthood blessing from his bishop, but he had never yet told his bishop about his attractions. He said:
“I had decided to tell my Bishop about my challenge and seek a blessing. I had no wrongdoing to confess, but I had wondered for a while if my attractions would ever change in this life and if there was something further that I should do. I wanted advice and counsel from the Bishop. I waited to speak to him after the 3-hour meeting block. I didn’t want to be rushed with the Bishop so I waited until everyone else had left the building. I didn’t have to wait too long. It was Fast Sunday, late afternoon, so I imagine the congregation was drawn home quickly by the thoughts of a steaming dinner. Within ten minutes the halls were vacant.
“Each time I had previously shared my challenge with a bishop, I felt nervous. This time was no different. As the clerks were finishing their work and leaving, the Bishop invited me into his office with a big smile. He made it easy for me to share the vulnerable things of my heart. He listened, he counseled, and he was understanding. He had great insights. He had comforting words. Then, as the profound silence of the building settled over us, he offered to give me a priesthood blessing. I eagerly accepted his invitation.
“As the words of the blessing entered my ears, a vision opened to my mind—my eyes began to see, even though they were closed. In my mind I could clearly see the Bishop with his hands on my head and I could see myself seated with my eyes closed. It was as if I was viewing the scene through the lens of a camera that was floating upward. The ceiling became invisible as the scene widened and moved away from us.
“Surrounding a hole in the ceiling that was about seven feet wide, I could see a balcony supported by short white columns. Standing side by side around the edges of the railing there were about 15 people, dressed in white, looking down on the Bishop and me. They were young people, men and women, in their 20 or 30’s. They were looking down so I could not see their faces. As the scene expanded and moved back I could now see a second balcony, above the first, but wider with about 30 people looking down. Then a third balcony was visible above the second and it was filled with about 50 or 60 people. In total there were about 100 people, all gathered and looking down at the blessing that I was receiving. All of this time I could hear and comprehend every word of the blessing. What a remarkable experience this was to witness this scene while I sat with my eyes closed under the hands of my Bishop.
“I had the distinct impression that the people watching from the balconies were not there by assignment, they were there voluntarily. Somehow they knew my challenge and they knew my struggles. I somehow knew that they wanted me to know that they were offering their support. They loved me. What a comforting thought. Maybe I wasn’t going to get a huge thrashing when I showed up in the Spirit world after all. Maybe I have some friends there who are not ashamed that I have this unpopular challenge.
“As the blessing ended, the view of the balconies and friends faded away. Before I left the Bishop’s office he hugged me and told me he loved and respected me. I left and walked slowly down the darkened hall and out the building into the evening twilight still feeling electric from the experience of the blessing. I got into my car, sank into the seat and remained motionless for several minutes as I pondered what had happened. Returning from my thoughts, I dug out some paper. I wrote the things that I saw and heard hoping that I could preserve a small ember of the Spiritual glow that had filled me.” (Voices of Hope, p. 72-74)
“They that be with us are more than they that be with them”
There are two ideas I want to comment on in light of this experience:
One is, again, it’s reminiscence of Elisha’s vision as recorded in the Old Testament. In a war with Syria, a man saw that they were surrounded—”an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots”—and he cried, “how shall we do?” To that inquiry came the faithful response, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 6:15-17).
The second point is that each of us must know that, even today and in the context of efforts to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ while navigating issues related to sexuality or gender identity, “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” Even as voices of the world get louder and louder, and the voices of the faithful seem fewer and fewer, we have no reason to fear, to fret, to be discouraged, or to feel hopeless. Elder Neal A. Maxwell noted that the hope we feel in genuine acceptance of the revelations “keeps us “anxiously engaged” in good causes even when these appear to be losing causes on the mortal scoreboard (see D&C 58:27).” The Lord has promised, “I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up” (D&C 88:84).
There are mountains full of horses and chariots of fire round about us as we strive to live true to our gospel covenants and the spiritual privileges of those striving to become the sons and daughters of God. We need only to believe in Him and honor His sacred name. We need only to pray, as Elisha did, that our eyes may be opened to see and understand that this is true. I know that it is, for the Lord has, on occasion, gifted me that vision through His Holy Spirit. I often forget and become lax in my gospel commitments, but when I return to Him with full purpose of heart, He is just as quick to remind me of this beautiful truth—this one truth among many others He has taught me. I love Him for the mercy and grace He so willingly grants me when I am so undeserving of it.
I want to close with a final quote I came across recently by Elder John A. Widtsoe, an apostle who served earlier in this dispensation, and which confirmed to me the truth expressed both in the blessing I gave to the elder in the MTC and in the vision granted my friend during the blessing he received through his bishop.
Elder Widtsoe said,
“Those who give themselves with all their might and main to this work receive help from the other side. … Whoever seeks to help those on the other side receives help in return in all the affairs of life. I can think of no better preparation for one’s labor on the farm, in the office, wherever it may be, than to spend a few hours in the temple, to partake of its influence and to give oneself unselfishly for the benefit of those who have gone beyond the veil. The things of the spirit are the great things of life. Things material come and go, they vanish, they are temporal; but things spiritual live and endure and never fade, never end. The strong men in this Church and kingdom live the spiritual life. Help comes to us from the other side as we give help to those who have passed beyond the veil” (Archibald F. Bennett quoting John A. Widtsoe; “Genealogy—PUT ON THY STRENGTH, O ZION!,” Improvement Era, 1952).
When we engage in the work of the kingdom, particularly the work that involves the blessing of those on the other side, they are there to bless and help us in all the work we are called to do on this side. Truly, we are not alone, and “they that be with us are more than they that be with them.”