Thursday, January 16, 2014

Mormon Essays: Virtue in Pain

We were, by all appearances, the “perfect” Mormon family.* My ex-wife and I appeared to have a good marriage. Our children were (and are, and always shall be) awesome. We were all active and faithful. The Gospel was at the center of our lives. We were, by all appearances, living the Plan of Happiness.

But things weren’t quite what they appeared to be. 

Both converts to the Church, my ex-wife had I had both felt (i.e., we had a “testimony”) that we were supposed to get married (even though I knew I was strongly attracted to men), that this was God’s will for us and, therefore, what would bring us happiness.  

Like many Mormons, we believed that the rather huge obstacles we would face in the short- and long-term were merely confirmations of God’s will (rather than indicators that we had perhaps made a mistake). This belief, i.e., we can tell how “true” or “right” something is by how difficult it makes our life - that there is virtue in pain - infuses the Mormon worldview. (Not sure how this jives with "... men are that they might have joy.")

This life is intended to be a struggle. 

We are diamonds in the rough, which must be polished by the buffetings of life in order to bring out our true beauty. (But weren't we always diamonds, just not as buff?)  

We have to be tried and tested in all things, and the greater the trials, the greater the glory at the end of the race. 

Challenges are an indication that we are on the right path. After all, Satan doesn’t bother people who aren’t doing Heavenly Father’s will. Right?

How many Mormon households have a picture on the wall of their home that features an image of Jesus and the words, “I never said it would be easy; I only said it would be worth it” (which is actually not scripture but is in fact attributed to Mae West)?

The fact is that my ex-wife and I had very little in common when we got married. We were raised in locations 3000 miles from each other. We were in fact from different countries. We had totally different interests and had had very different life experiences. Common sense would tell us that we didn’t belong together.

What had brought us together in the first place, however, and what had convinced us that we were meant to meet and marry, were some unusual circumstances and experiences that occurred shortly after we met that convinced us that it was Heavenly Father’s will that we marry – despite our differences and despite the warning signs that arose before and after our wedding.  

As we encountered them, we both truly believed that the challenges and obstacles we faced were (i) indicators that we were on the right path, and (ii) refining experiences that would, in the end, help us to overcome “baggage” from our respective pasts and ultimately make us better and happier people. The fact that I (as well as she) was intensely unhappy most of the time was simply confirmation that I was doing something right, that I had done the right thing by getting married.  Right?

We would face many, many challenges in the years ahead. Graduate school. Having children. Dealing with financial stresses and strains that were present from the very beginning of our marriage and would never cease to plague us. Dealing with cultural differences. Unpacking and working through “baggage” that each of us brought into the marriage – baggage that in my case included dealing with the after-effects of child abuse.  Cross-country moves.  Career changes.  Other challenges.

These challenges took their toll on our marriage. There were times when we both felt like we couldn’t go on. Yet, the memory of those extraordinary experiences that had led to our marriage in the first place continued to sustain us; the belief that God had brought us together was the central myth of our marriage. We believed that true happiness would come from continuing to work through the challenges we faced (including, in my case, dealing with my inner homosexuality) and forging ahead on the path that lay before us. Besides, we couldn’t deny those early experiences because that would mean that our marriage had been based upon a fraud – a thought too horrible to contemplate.

Looking back, it was precisely these challenges that (deceptively) united us. I later realized (as I think did my ex-wife), that these challenges merely deflected attention from the “chronic” problems of our marriage. Thus, when these challenges passed, when these hurdles had been cleared, the unifying effect of these experiences evaporated and we were faced with some stark realities that we had successfully swept under the rug for years.

These realities led to conflict that had long been suppressed. Though we had experienced difficulties in the past, it became clear that our marriage was in very serious trouble. We continued limping along, having good days and bad days, more bad than good, sustained by the belief that, since God had arranged our marriage in the first place, we would eventually get through these challenges; we just had to find the way out of the maze and everything would be fine. 

We were wrong.  

As I’ve written elsewhere, my acceptance of my homosexuality was the final nail in the coffin of our marriage. It was only after coming out that I realized the degree to which my repressed homosexuality had probably affected our marriage from day one. I realized that we had been wrong to ignore the warning signs, wrong to view life simply as a challenge to be endured, a cross to be borne, a vale to merely pass through. 

We had sacrificed ourselves to an ideal, and at the end of the day, what we discovered is …

We had sacrificed ourselves.

*This post was originally published on my Invictus Pilgrim blog (now closed) in August 2011. It is the first in a number of posts that I plan to re-publish here. These posts probed my changing relationship to the Mormon Church and my evolving beliefs concerning the truthfulness of Mormonism and its impact upon my life.


  1. THank you for reposting as I missed the original. This is so incredibly similar to my story. Your last sentence - why was the story so important to us that we would willingly offer up ourselves? That begs further investigation. In fact, it may shed significant light for those of us who might be trying to reexamine the trajectories of our lives that we took.

  2. I don't think this is a unique event, i.e., my story. The Church by its nature exacts sacrifice from its members for a "higher goal." It is greater than the sum of its individual parts. Sustaining and defending the Kingdom of God, etc. Thus sacrifice comes to be seen as a virtue, which of course carries the subliminal message that individual members are "less than." They exist for the Church and not the other way around. Make sense?