When I had decided to stop attending church more than ten years ago, I also stopped reading the Book of Mormon. I remember how I had tucked it away in a drawer in a little black filing cabinet where I also stored other things I had no interest in seeing. Why did I go so far as to essentially hide the Book of Mormon from my sight?
I don’t remember having a conscious reason for doing that at that time, but I think it was because every time I saw my Book of Mormon, I felt uneasy. It’s interesting to me that during the 10 plus years of my being away from the Church, I would often read the Bible, even obsessively so, but the Book of Mormon I could not even seem to look at. I think I now know why. Every time I saw that book, I was reminded, at least subconsciously, of having experienced an unexpected and undeniable encounter with God when I had first begun reading it many years before.
Before that experience, I had no intention of ever joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I had only decided to investigate the Church for reasons of mild curiosity. But the missionaries, who just happened to come to my door during a time in my life when I was experiencing a significant faith crisis–those same missionaries I invited into my home because of this “mild” curiosity, challenged me to read the Book of Mormon and to pray about its truthfulness. So I decided that I would make that little experiment, not expecting any answer in the affirmative to be coming from God. Three months into my investigation of the Church, it had gotten under my skin. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even dreamed about it. My mind was in constant tumult. Why, I thought, am I seriously considering questions about the truthfulness of the claims made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I did not at all want to become a “Mormon.” I had spent the previous 20 years of my life as a very committed Evangelical Christian, but at that time I was preparing to leave my church. I had just informed some of my church leaders that I was considering living openly as a gay man. I had plans and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not figure, in any way, into those plans.
But there was the Book of Mormon, and I was reading it, and it had gotten under my skin. I could not stop thinking about it. Finally, one night as I was reading it again in an agitated state of mind, I prayed out loud, “Lord is this true? What should I do?” Immediately, after praying that prayer, a quiet, inner voice spoke distinctly in my mind these two words: “Join them.” My anxiety melted away and I felt a deep peace come over me. It was as if the Lord had spoken into the storm of my mind, “Peace, be still.” I knew at that moment it was the Lord. I had made the experiment and I had experienced an unexpected answer.
Yet even after that experience, I was a reluctant convert. I thought, “Okay, that was unexpected, but I’m still not too sure if this is really for me.” I decided to be baptized, despite my doubts. I was confirmed the Sunday following my baptism, and the next week was given the Aaronic priesthood, but from that point I was unwilling to go any further in the Church. I could not trust myself to make any more covenants with the Lord, so I refused to move toward receiving the Melchizedek Priesthood. I believed that because I was gay, I could never truly belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I did remain semi-active for a number of years, always feeling like someone just on the outside peering longingly in.
Eventually, I made what seemed like a sudden decision to leave the Church behind so that I could pursue the life I thought I really wanted. I came out as gay to my family, friends, and basically to my whole town by writing a coming out letter that was published in the local newspaper for National Coming Out Day.
About a year after that, I entered into a relationship with a man and thought I had finally achieved true happiness. The next ten years proved anything but happy. I quickly descended into anger because I had not actually found the happiness I had hoped for, which then led to alcoholism, which then led to despair, and finally to suicidal depression. I was in an unhealthy relationship, all my hopes for happiness had been shattered, and I was certain I would soon die a hopeless alcoholic. Then one day–out of the blue, it seemed–my mind turned to the Book of Mormon. I remember that day so well, in the midst of so much darkness, how I looked at that little black filing cabinet where I had tucked my Book of Mormon away out of sight, wondering to myself if my experience with the Book of Mormon so many years ago was just some anomalous accidental occurrence. I remember walking over to that filing cabinet, opening the drawer where I had my Book of Mormon stashed, taking it out, sitting down, opening it to 1 Nephi 1, and beginning to read. I remember reading these words:
“And it came to pass that I, Nephi, said unto my father: I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them.”
Upon reading those words, peace seemed to flow down into me, and hope awakened as those words pierced my heart with their undeniable truth. I knew at that moment God was speaking to me through those words. The door of my heart was flung open once again, and light and hope came flooding in.
That day was the beginning of a long climb out of a deep pit. It has not been an easy journey from that point. But it has been worth it. I may at times still feel uncertain about my place in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I now know with much more certainty that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my true spiritual home. I know that the Book of Mormon is indeed the Word of God, because, through that book, at the darkest time in my life, the Holy Spirit spoke love and hope into my wounded heart to give me the strength I needed to begin my journey back to God.