I live in a beautiful part of the country, but not all of it is beautiful. I think that we live in wonderful times, but not every thinks like I do. So much depends on what you’re looking for and your attitude in how you look.
The other day, I went to lunch with some people. It was pleasant enough, but the conversation turned, naturally enough, to current events. I don’t mind discussing what’s in the news entirely, but people tend to get so worked up and even unkind to anyone that doesn’t share in the pessimism about the fate of the world. I don’t enjoy that because I’ve always tried to be courteous even to people I don’t agree with. To me, nothing is more important in this life than relationships.
Starting with my relationship with God and working through to my family and to my friends, all social connections matter far more to me than the backdrop of the issues of the day. I’ve always believed you can get through anything with friends, family, and God.
As the various topics in the news were touched on, one of the lunch party said something about “the death of optimism.” No one at the table could say anything optimistic. Everyone’s expectation of the future was bleak. From global warming to war to the economy, it was all just plain depressing.
I wouldn’t say that I’m not concerned about these things. I am, but nothing seems quite so devastating that I wouldn’t be able to find a way to be happy, even if most of the gloomy predictions of the pundits come true. I have my friends, my family, and my God. I also have a firm hope in the resurrection and a world to come that is infinitely more glorious and secure than this one.
As grim as the future seems, there is also a difference in how people view the past. I’ve had hardships, including abuse in all its forms. I’ve been falsely accused, treated with contempt, attacked, threatened, had my livelihood in peril, suffered financially, and, in short, everything that most people experience. I know I’m not alone in this. I tend to think that nobody escapes life unscathed by all of the ways you can suffer.
Among abuse survivors like myself, there sometimes seems to be a competition as to whose abuse was worse. I don’t even want to join in that. Suffice it to say, my childhood was a nightmare. Though I’m willing to acknowledge the difficulty of my past, I don’t want to live in it.
Most hardships are still with me. Everyday is a struggle to rise above the forces in the world that want to drag me down. I fight for every penny. My health is an ongoing challenge. And yes, there are people who despise me and not afraid to say so. I remain optimistic.
I converted from pessimist to optimist one day while sitting in a living room while I listened to two friends sing at a piano. Three years before, I had promised God I would go back to church and give up the way of life I was pursuing. Giving up that life was easy compared to going back to church.
My first Sunday there, I told everyone that I was returned like the prodigal son. Mind you, I was only sixteen years old. These people didn’t know me. I had been an inactive member of the Church beginning in another part of the country. A man followed me to the Sunday School class and asked the teacher if he could say something to the class. He told the whole class with me sitting there that even though the prodigal son’s father was happy to see him, the son could never inherit anything else from his father. He already wasted his inheritance.
Remembering my promise to the Lord, I didn’t walk out right then and there. Instead, I stayed and dealt, over the next three years, with all sorts of opposition to my resolve to stay active in the Church. I was bullied at Mutual activities. I was treated many times just like what the man said, as the prodigal that everyone was glad was back, but whose past wouldn’t let him ever be full heir of the kingdom.
Not everyone was unkind or judgmental. In fact, most weren’t and I clung to those people. Yet, every time someone said something unkind, I questioned whether I would ever feel completely at home in the Church. People who claimed to be disciples of Jesus Christ weren’t acting much like the Lord that I promised I would stay in church.
So, on this one afternoon, listening to my friends Kathi Knowles and Renee Reck singing hymns at the piano, I was pondering my discomfort and, frankly, being quite pessimistic. Then they began to sing, “Ye Simple Souls Who Stray,” words by John Wesley.
I loved the beautiful harmony sung by two beautiful and good friends. The order of the verses has changed since that hymnal, but the words that struck me and turned me from pessimist to optimist were these, now verse 2 in the current hymnal:
Madness and misery
Ye count our life beneath,
And nothing great or good can see
Or glorious in our death.
But thru the Holy Ghost
We witness better things,
For he whose blood is all our boast
Has made us priests and kings.
Over the next few days I pondered those words and the whole hymn. It resounded with me and I learned from it that whatever anyone else may think of me, what mattered most to me was what God thinks of me. And for me, what God thinks of me is no mystery that I’m waiting some day to learn the truth about. I know today, right now, and without uncertainty, what God thinks of me.
From that day that I got on my knees and wrestled with God over my same-sex attraction, I’ve felt led and loved by God.
Also, since that day, I’ve been the subject or rumors, the brunt of jokes, the object of policies, an enemy to be defeated, and have seen friends be afraid to be openly associated with me lest someone think they’re “one of them.” Most of these things have been on the subject of my experience with same-sex attraction. None of it feels good, but it all seems so trivial compared to the vastness of the better things I’ve witnessed through the Holy Ghost and the profoundness of the honor I feel that God deems me worthy to be challenged on my faith in Christ and the story behind how I came to trust.
The words of Peter are a comfort to me:
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:
But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified (1 Peter 4:12-14).
To my friends who face daily fears and turmoil in this world, who wonder from day to day if faithfulness is worth the effort, and who see mostly the loneliness and fear of life, the path to optimism relies in relationships, not in the daily heartaches. It is wonderful to have good and true friends. It is a deep blessing to have good relationships with members of your family. It is the essence of optimism to have faith and trust that God will compensate you for all of your losses.
The God of Israel has revealed what he thinks of errant sinners. I think of these words daily.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.
And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11-13).