This year, the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church manual for Priesthood and Relief Society is Teachings of Joseph Smith. It is, I think, a wonderful opportunity for us to study the words of that humble servant of God who was an instrument in the Lord’s hand in the Restoration.
Yesterday, my quorum read the lesson on the First Vision. I’d like to share a portion of his own account of the events:
15 After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction.
16 But, exerting all my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction—not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being—just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.
17 It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!
If you served a mission, there’s a good chance you can quote at least parts of this account in more than one language. But as with most scriptures, I find that each time I read it intently, there is something new to be found. One thing I recently realized has to do with Joseph’s account of the evil that assailed him as he attempted to pray.
Now, before I say anything else, I would like to make it clear that I am not attempting to compare myself to the Prophet Joseph. I am nowhere near that level of righteousness. But I have felt something akin to what he felt. I have felt thick darkness gather around me, and I have felt doomed to destruction. I have even felt the opposition of evil so intensely that I could not open my mouth to pray for deliverance.
I think one of the darkest moments was a night when my wife and I had had a fight. I don’t even remember over what, but I remember feeling angry, despondent, worthless, bitter, and hopeless. I retreated to the couch and tried to sleep, but I was so overcome with those dark feelings, that I could not rest. My mind was filled with terrifying thoughts of violent self mutilation and suicide. I was very, very scared. And I could think of nothing else to do but to pray.
I wish I could say that I had some immediate, miraculous manifestation, but like I said, I am not Joseph Smith. In spiritual matters, I am far behind even where he was at 14. But I did feel a measure of peace, which was at least enough for me to calm myself and sleep. In the morning, we had both calmed down enough to apologize to each other, and I was able to press on (as an aside, this is why I don’t believe in the platitude “Never go to bed angy”—I find that “sleep it off” works a lot better for us; YMMV).
Even though I did not have an immediate manifestation, I can see now, in hindsight, the same principle at work. Satan cannot bear the presence of light; he cannot abide where light is present. He must and will flee from the soul that is filled with light.
As I look back on that dark period, I can see that I have come a long, long way since then. But it’s not because my GID has become any less pronounced. My feelings are as strong now as they ever have been. What has changed is that I have more light in my life. I have worked hard to fill my life with light. Intense scripture study, sincere prayer, meditation, conference talks and good music are all sources of light that help to lift me out of despair. I try to truly feast on these things as often as I can, because they are the nourishment that feeds light to my soul.
There was a time I had resigned myself to a life of misery. I knew no way to change my feelings of GID, but I could not rebel against the revealed word of God. So I decided it was better to be miserable and keep the commandments than to sin and be happy (as I supposed I would be). But then I realized that God commands us also to rejoice. If I am miserable, then I am not keeping His commandments. I had to believe something that was very hard—that living the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the gender role that had befallen me would make me happier than trying to adopt the gender role I very much wanted for myself. This was not easy to accept. It is still something I need to remind myself of frequently. But I believe it now in my heart. I have seen the joy that has gradually come into my life as I have come closer to the Savior. And as the light has increased, there has been no room for the darkness and despair. I have felt delivered from the enemy that held me bound.
I would like to emphasize now that this does not mean that it has become easy. There are still times where I sit at work and literally tremble as I am overwhelmed with my feelings. I am still susceptible to seemingly insignificant triggers that can throw my mind into a frenzy. But when that happens now, I can feel my Savior’s presence through the Spirit. I can feel His love for me. And because I can feel that, I can feel joy.