The other day I met with a friend of mine—a non-Mormon, very spiritual man who has committed much of his life to Christ-like service within the LGBTQ community. He is kind, wise, and it is remarkably easy to see my Savior very much alive in both the words and the actions of this man.
We ended up, as we usually do, talking about things of a spiritual nature—specifically, about our own understanding of the nature of God."How," he asked, "do remain so confident about who you are and what you're doing in the face of so many who criticize you?"
Somewhere along the journey of my life, I shared, I bought into a notion of God as a punishing, spiteful, vindictive and judgmental God—quick to smite me if I made a misstep, and slow to love me again, if ever. This concept was resinscribed, it seemed, when I heard others (including leaders within my own faith) interpret scripture to say that God demands perfection and has a zero tolerance policy for those who commit transgression, whether it be by choice or by happenstance.
That was a dark and terrifying way to live. With that kind of vision of God, I had to live a faultless life, and if it were true that God has no tolerance for sin, then it would be up to me to perfect myself first, before I presented myself to Him. Worsening things was the consistent counsel to develop my own, personal relationship with God. Well, quite frankly, when I held a vision of Him as such a terrifying figure not only did I fear building a relationship with Him, but quite honestly imagined myself to have a better life on my own. After all, who wants to have someone—anyone—looking over our shoulder who is just waiting for us to mess up so they can condemn us?
I decided that I had to completely toss out what I thought I knew about my Savior and learn for myself. I began simply, just sitting in a room quietly and beginning to talk to Him the same way I would talk to a trusted friend. By experimenting with a combination of prayer (speaking to my Savior) and meditation (listening for His response) I began, over the course of a few months, to feel more comfortable with this new relationship. This step, for me, was not about church. It wasn’t about any specific religion at all. It was simply about building my own personal understanding of a Savior who would be with me anywhere at anytime—not just one who was accessible for a few hours on Sunday.
And over time, I came to an incredibly simple conclusion—my Savior is my best friend. He shares my hopes, my dreams, my heartache, and my failures. I am free to bring my entire self to this relationship—things that would have been off limits with my previous understanding of God—including intimacy and shortcomings.
Today, I can say anything to my Savior—He knows me that well. Even when I am not at my most eloquent, I can still express my feelings and thoughts stumblingly, and I know He understands my intent. At times, I get angry, like a little child, and kick and yell and want my own way. Then I get to apologize to Him, and through that process, our relationship deepens.
He knows my fears, my defects and my mistakes. He also knows my capacity, my worth, my assets and successes. He knows what I need and provides it for me, even when my sight is not keen enough to ask for it. He gently, and often with a great sense of humor, pushes me in the direction of His will for me. When I have questions, I know it’s okay to ask. My Savior never makes me feel stupid or wrong. He gives me choices—and when I make a mistake, it’s okay. That process only makes us closer.
Developing this relationship with my Savior didn’t only change my understanding of Him, I explained to my friend, it changed my life. Today, I can say with complete certainty, that I am much less reliant on the opinions, needs, and demands of others. I need no longer look outside myself for validation. When I'm right with my Savior, I don't really need to be right with anyone else, regardless of their title or position in my life. All the other stuff falls into place easily and effortlessly, or it falls away completely.
What a much better life it is to have Him as my friend, and to have shrugged off the concept of a God who wants me to suffer because of my mistakes.
Sure, there are those who say my version of my Savior is inaccurate and how I approach Him is even disrespectful—and they are free to have their own understanding of Him, as well. But for me, I’ve genuinely grown to believe that when it comes to my relationship with my Savior the only truly disrespectful thing I can do is to lie to Him, and bring some pre-packaged version of myself to our relationship. After all, He can’t really help me become the person we both want me to be if I am not rigorously honest with Him.
How will you cultivate your relationship with your Savior today?