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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Schilaty

Creating Sacred Spaces

There are 40 people in my social work cohort at school. 40 people who I’m in class with all the time. 40 people who are some of my closest friends. And I’m the only gay one. Or so I thought.

I share the following story with permission. In class on Thursday one of my classmates came out to 20 of us in the middle of class. It was unexpected and seemingly came out of nowhere. I was pretty shocked, actually. The teacher later said that he saw my jaw literally drop at the announcement (which isn't my most attractive facial expression). In the minutes after this student’s disclosure we had a beautiful conversation about why they decided to share this information with the class. Why they chose to go from four people in their life knowing this secret to suddenly 24. I thanked this student for sharing their heart with us and told them that they were brave and courageous. This classmate mentioned multiple times how my being open had helped them so much to be okay with their sexuality.

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I don’t know if anyone else in the class noticed, but I started to get really emotional as I sat in my chair. Part of me was so grateful that I had been a help to this person. Another part of me ached so badly at the same time. One thing my classmate said was that they previously didn’t feel it was okay to discuss their sexuality. They didn’t have permission to do so. And I thought about all the people I know who have felt similarly and the pain that that loneliness and isolation causes. And then I thought about the 15 months my classmate and I had sat in the same room together and I had no idea, not even a clue, that they were fighting an internal battle the entire time. And it struck me how many people are dealing with things that they feel they don’t have permission to talk about.

During the discussion, another class member told the class that we were on sacred ground. That having this conversation created a sacred space. And it did feel sacred. It felt holy and real, like we were building heaven on earth. It led me to wonder why it is that when we open our hearts we create sacred spaces.

Here’s a piece of my heart; a sacred space.

I recently really liked a guy. The most I’ve liked a guy in years. I didn’t tell many people about this. I assumed that I would get two responses if I told people I had a super huge crush on a guy. My churchy friends would warn me that I was on a dangerous path and should be careful. My not-so-churchy friends would tell me to stop letting my church hold me back and to just live my life. And so the people I did tell were people that I knew wouldn’t tell me what to do, but would just want to be with me on my journey.

This guy and I became fast friends and I loved having him in my life. I felt like maybe, just maybe we could be super awesome best friends and I’d have someone I could platonically share my life with. I remember sitting with him on my front porch when the nights were still warm and just talking about our days. I thought to myself, this is exactly what I’ve been yearning for. He and I never held hands, or kissed, or anything like that, but I thought that maybe I could be his person and he’d be my person. But that’s not what happened at all.

I told one of my older and wiser gay friends how stupid I felt about the whole thing. “I know better,” I said. “I don’t get to have a special someone and I know better than to think I can. I’m so stupid.” He immediately corrected me. He told me that I can’t pretend like I don’t have a heart. I’m a human and we’re divinely wired for connection. “You have a heart,” he said, “and it’s good to be reminded of that from time to time.”

I often tell people: “I used to think the Atonement of Jesus Christ was supposed to make me straight, but instead it healed my broken heart.” And that is so true. My feelings of brokenness and internalized shame because of my sexuality are gone. My heart doesn’t feel broken or filled with holes anymore. It feels healed and complete. But something is definitely missing, something that I can’t fix on my own. And I don’t know how that will all be made right, but I know that it will.

The thing that is missing is a lack of connection. Yes, I have so many wonderful friends and family members. I’m one of the least alone people I know. But there’s a role that friends can’t fulfill. I know that this lack of connection isn’t unique to gay Latter-day Saints. There are plenty of married people who feel disconnected, too. It’s common to the human condition. What I wish I had was the opportunity to truly connect my heart with another person’s, to knit my heart with theirs.

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking of what Jesus did when He visited the Nephites. After telling them that they were weak and not yet ready to receive all the words He wanted to teach them, He invited the multitude to bring any who were sick and afflicted to Him and He would heal them. The people, who had just been told they were weak, were told that their faith was sufficient that they could be healed. They “did go forth with their sick and their afflicted, and their lame, and with their blind, and with their dumb, and with all them that were afflicted in any manner; and he did heal them every one as they were brought forth unto him” (3 Nephi 17:9).

Christ healed those who were both weak and faithful. I find this scene and the two adjectives He uses to describe the multitude incredibly beautiful, but what has struck me recently is that they were brought to Him. I’ve been asking myself two questions: What does it look like to bring my afflicted loved ones to Christ? What does it look like to allow myself to be brought to Him? And I wonder, can this yearning for a partner I feel so frequently be lessened or erased as I develop a strong connection with the Savior?

The people in 3 Nephi 17 performed roles that created different kinds of healing. There were the physically strong who literally carried the physically weak to Jesus. As the physically weak were healed, their testimonies of the Savior grew in ways different than those who hadn’t needed to be physically healed. What did it do for the physically strong to carrying the physically weak to the Savior to be healed? I can imagine the formerly physically weak, now spiritually strong, sharing their testimonies with those who hadn’t been physically healed. The spiritually strong were then able to strengthen those who Christ had described as weak. Through this shared experience everyone who was weak in some way was strengthened. They brought each other to Christ.

Part of the emotion I felt on Thursday in my class was healing. Over the last 15 months my classmates and I have created an environment of trust, one so strong that a classmate felt comfortable disclosing something so personal. It was this person’s vulnerability and trust in us that created the sacred space we felt. I was brought to the Savior that day as I witnessed a measure of healing in my vulnerable classmate. And hopefully they were brought to the Savior as the rest of the class listened and did our best to help them feel welcome. Now this classmate doesn’t have to walk the path alone. We will all do it together. And when there is a burden, it will be lighter because we will bear it together. And when there is rejoicing, it will be more profound because we will rejoice together. Our hearts were knit together that day. Trust and vulnerability knit hearts together.

On the day when I realized my friendship with this guy couldn’t be what I wanted it to be, I made a lunch that I accidentally left at home. I got to work feeling even dumber than I’d already felt. I mentioned how stupid I felt for leaving my lunch at home to a coworker and then without telling me, she drove home and packed me a delicious lunch. I wrote in my journal that night: “It was such a Christlike thing to do on a day that I really needed it.” By making me lunch, my colleague brought me to Christ that day.

I’ve been alive for 34 years. I still have a lot of living and growing to do. I don’t have a lot of things figured out. But one thing I do believe I know is that at some future day, and maybe in the next life, I’ll look back on my life and think, “Wow! So that’s how the Lord did it. That’s how He shaped me into the person I was meant to be. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.” And I will rejoice. It’s easy for me to believe this will happen because when I look back on my 34 years that’s already how I feel. My faith in God and my hope for a better world compel me to believe that there are brighter days ahead filled with peace, love, and connection.

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