My Faith

My Faith

[June 18t, 2017]

One night when I was 7, my mother tucked me into bed and reminded me to say my prayers. Growing up Roman Catholic, it was expected of me to say my prayers every night and, being the good boy that I was, I always said “The Lord’s Prayer”, the “Hail Mary”, and the “Glory Be to the Father”. They were the ultimate trifecta of prayers, and after I said them I was always confident that I had completed the holy transaction that I was obligated to perform. I suppose, in praying, I was looking for God to protect our family, our friends and our home, but I never asked him to do so nor do I even remember thinking it. I just knew it was my duty to pray to God every night so I did it without question.

That night, however, before I could queue up my holy playlist, my mom paused before she turned out the light and said something to me that would forever change my nightly interactions with God. I don’t know why she said what she said, if she could read my face and know that the prayers that her son recited were shallow and bereft of meaning, but she saw something in me that night that needed guidance and - like the loving mother she was - she did her best to provide it. “You know Mark,” she said, “you don’t just have to say the prayers that you have been taught. Sometimes it is okay to just talk to Him”. With a gentle smile she turned out the light and went downstairs.

That night, I began to believe that I had a direct connection to God. I believed that, because my mom told me that I could just talk to Him, that He, of course, was always listening. That night, God became a friend of mine; someone that I could talk with at the end of each day, someone to bear witness to what was going on in my life, someone to confide in.

As I grew, this belief that God was always with me and always listening became a great comfort to me. At the end of each day, I would simply check-in with Him and review the events of the day. I would rejoice with Him when the things in my life were going well and seek consolation from Him when things were tough. To many this practice may just seem like I was being mindful, but to the faithful like myself, it is definitely a link to the Devine. However you classify it, this belief that God was by my side meant that I never felt like I was completely alone and, for a boy who spent most of his early adolescence isolated and by himself, this connection was a lifeline.

Making the transition from elementary school to middle school was a very difficult one for me. For some reason during that transition, my best friend decided that he would prefer to hang out with other people and no longer wanted to be my friend. He never actually said those words to me, but his actions communicated that message quite clearly as he began ignoring me in the schoolyard. Embarrassed, ashamed and heartbroken I tried to make new friends but no one seemed willing to make any room for me. To make matters worse, at some point labeling me as a loner, the boys at school decided that I must be gay and began to ruthlessly bully me. Once the bullying started, my fragile self-esteem shattered and I began to feel truly hopeless. Internalizing everything that was happening to me, I started to question why people didn’t want to be around me and came to the conclusion that there must be something wrong with me. With this mind-set firmly entrenched I soon became withdrawn, quiet and shy and unfortunately remained that way through middle school all the way to Grade 11.

Alone and sad, I took my troubles to God. Not wanting to add to my mother’s burdens, for she was dealing with my eldest brother’s drug and alcohol addiction, I kept what was happening to me at school to myself. Instead of confiding in my family, I prayed every night that God would help me find a friend. Failing that, I prayed for the strength to carry on. Though I cried myself to sleep many nights alone in my room, I never once felt like I was shouldering the burden by myself. Talking things out with God at the end of each day made my isolation bearable and I believe with all of my heart that I would not have been able to endure it had it not been for Him. In the end, despite all of my struggles, I got what I so desperately wanted.

Now, God didn’t miraculously make a friend appear but instead gave me the strength to be vulnerable with people and the empathy to build real and lasting friendships with those who would always have my back. I am proud to say that I still hold a number of the friends I made in high school very dear to me. Of course, it would have been far healthier for me to seek help outside of my relationship with God but circumstance in my life, at the time, kept me from sharing my feeling with anyone else and because of that I will always be grateful for my close connection to God.

When I think about my younger self it takes everything that I can muster not to openly weep for him. Being lonely I think must be the most horrible feeling in the world. And though, later in life, I tried very hard to surround myself with people it was, nevertheless, a feeling that I would revisit when I was struggling with my sexuality. Living in the closet is a very lonely place to be and again I was so blessed to have had the lifeline that was my relationship with God. Without Him, I never would have been able to navigate my way through my isolation and had the courage to share my truth with those that I love.

After coming out of the closet, I learned to share my feelings with the ones that I love and, because I have surrounded myself with people that I trust, I no longer feel the need to bottle things up inside. I am not embarrassed or ashamed now when someone hurts me and I no longer feel that I deserve to be mistreated because of a misguided sense that there is something wrong with me. With a healthy self-esteem, my relationship with God has also grown and is not as dependent as it once was. That said, I still check in with Him daily, unpacking my day every night before I go to sleep, rejoicing in the triumphs, seeking consolation for the defeats, and looking for guidance as I continue to make my own path in this world.

My faith, as you can tell, is very important to me. And though my belief in the Roman Catholic Church has wavered since coming out, my faith in God has never once faltered. I know Him. I have spent hours in contemplation with Him and, unlike the Holy Church, God doesn’t have a problem with me because I’m gay. He has walked with me as I denied who I was. He has held my hand as I struggled to come out, and He has embraced me when I was brave enough to tell the world who I truly am. I have no secrets from Him. He sees everything that I do. God loves me and He sees nothing sinful in my relationship with my husband, for He brought Stacy to me just when I was ready to receive his love and partnership. I know in my heart that He was by my side when we got married in a lovely chapel with my family and friends bearing witness.

I believe nine years ago God called me to write a book about what it feels like to be gay and living in the closet and, with the unending support of my husband, I believe that I was able to answer that call. I know all too well the loneliness associated with living one’s life in the closet, and I feel it is my responsibility to - because I have made the journey to the other side – share my experiences and my story with those who are as isolated as I was. Though I would never claim to speak for God, He certainly has been part of my process right from the start, and it is my sincere hope that I not only reach a gay audience and the families and friends of gay people, but also the faithful who I pray will see God’s hand in my work and begin to change their mind about how they feel about LGBTQ people.
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