A friend of mine got me thinking about love yesterday. Not just romantic love, but all kinds of love. Especially the highest love of all: charity, the pure love of Christ. I started thinking about how difficult it can be to keep love pure, in all sorts of situations with all sorts of people. I thought about pure love with regard to my children. It is difficult to avoid manipulating in attempts to get them to obey. And to avoid having a "natural man" response when they're busy acting out from their "natural child." Charity can hurt, too, when you have so much love for a child and have to watch him or her making poor choices while exercising agency. That pain continues for me. I suppose it may for quite some time. However, I am getting better about doing all I can, loving purely, and turning the rest over to the Lord.
I also thought of the difference between having charity toward a person and avoiding feelings that are inappropriate. I haven't struggled with that for many years, but I started thinking about how I got to this place.
There was a lot of praying, a lot of introspection, and a fair amount of therapy. I remember the last time I ran into my therapist's office, in a panic, and said that I'd met a woman I felt attracted to. I started into the old, "See, I haven't changed a bit! I've done all this work, put in all this time, and tried so hard to avoid relationships. And here are these feelings again. I really am gay and I'm just avoiding the inevitable!"
In a calm voice, my (LDS) therapist replied, "Of course you've changed. You've avoided inappropriate relationships. You've been living true to your covenants. You've gained a greater understanding of yourself and what it takes for you to be more faithful. Just because old feelings come back up, that doesn't mean you're in the same old place. That's a lie that Satan would like you to believe."
After that, my reactions to women I thought were attractive began to change. Rather than thinking, or even feeling, that I wanted a same sex relationship, I called to mind, and to heart, the feelings of conflict, guilt, and pain those relationships caused. The "natural reaction" is to reminisce about the exciting and rewarding parts of those relationships. Just remembering or longing for those relationships tends to bring momentary pleasure. I came to learn that even experiencing that momentary pleasure ended up causing pain and conflict. I learned that calling to mind all the negatives and the reasons why I decided to leave same sex relationships were far more helpful and healthful. Over time, it became easier and easier to resist the reminiscing and, instead, to remember the equally strong reasons for leaving.
I guess you could say it has been an exercise in educating and training my desires, which Elder Neal A. Maxwell discusses in his talk, "According to the Desire of our Hearts." It's a great talk, definitely worth a listen.
Charity, the pure love of Christ, is so important in all aspects of our lives and in our various relationships. "Charity never faileth." (Moro. 7:46.) And how many things can you say that about?