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  • Sytske Smellie

An Unexpected Gift

In my experience, growing up as a lesbian Latter Day Saint, I held two truths that contradicted one another. The first truth was that I enjoyed spending time with my girlfriends, and often fell in love with one of them. This truth was an observation of my lived experience. The second truth was that I could not pursue a relationship with a girl that I was in love with. This truth came from a doctrine of the religion I chose as a beacon to guide me towards God.

Joseph Smith said “By proving contraries, the truth is made manifest.” By prove he meant to test, struggle with, and work out through practical experience. As we work constructively with the opposition within ourselves, or between people, and struggle with paradoxes at an experimental level, the truth will reveal itself.


I want to share some ways God has elevated and enlightened my understanding of love, through working out these two contraries. According to the Greeks, there are four types of love. Agape represents God’s love for us, Storge represents a parent’s love for a child, Eros represents passionate or romantic love, and Philia represents brotherly love or friendship.


When I experienced romantic feelings towards women, I wasn't quite sure how to react to that. My first instinct was to pursue a romantic relationship, but I knew the doctrine of my religion, and I wanted to honor that. So I became more thoughtful about how to navigate and express the love I felt, rather than react to instinct.


The term Kenosis refers to Jesus’ emptying himself to become a vessel for God. Part of Eros is desire, a desire to possess and cling to the object of one’s adoring. In a book called The Meaning of Mary Magdalene, it is suggested that Agape is learned through the process of combining Eros and Kenosis. Eros is an active energy, it propels you to do something without thinking too much. It’s what causes us to do crazy things for love, like drive 3 hours to surprise someone, without any guarantees. But with Eros, we do these things in hopes of winning the affection of our loved one. Kenosis comes in when we recognize our desire to possess another, and then practice self-emptying, letting go of our agenda or expectation. The result is that we go to great lengths to deliver pure love to the receiver without needing anything in return… Agape love. The greater the degree of Eros present (desire), and the stronger the practice of Kenosis (self-emptying), the greater the magnitude of transfigured love (Agape).


One of the first times I experienced this love without attachment was in my early twenties. I had a roommate that I loved instantly. It was not a physical attraction, but more spiritual, like something drew my soul to her. It's hard to describe the depth of care and concern we felt for one another. Living in the same home with someone who cared about me deeply gave me extra energy, it gave me courage, it was an abundant gift.



I found myself waking up early to clean the snow off of her windshield in the morning. I often surprised her with little things, like a flower on her bed. To an outside observer, it may have looked like I was trying to win her over. But it was simply a way for me to channel the love I felt into expression. She gave me energy, and I experienced life more abundantly. I wanted to pass that on to her and bless her life in the ways that I could. Our friendship, 25 years later, continues to be a gift to me, and she has expressed that it is a gift to her.


Dr. Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen expressed “When we fall in love, we feel ourselves more connected to the universe, more connected to God, more connected to life, more like the joys of life are abounding to us, and we see purpose in things, and we feel motivated to be selfless, and we want to expand ourselves to be with others in new ways. The future unfolds before us. These feelings of love are given to us to help us become more Christlike.”


I think one of the damaging things I have experienced as a queer person is trying to shut off my heart, trying to stop loving, trying to close that door. It took alot of effort to do, but I thought that’s what God’s commandments were instructing me as a lesbian to do in order to remain righteous. It caused nothing but pain, shame, and depression. I was made to love. When I close that door, I am not myself. I closed that door for many years.


In my mid-thirties, I started having dreams that were clear as day. They were different than regular dreams in that they were linear and told a story and were accompanied by a feeling of sacredness and left a permanent imprint on my heart and mind. Every one of these dreams encouraged me to love, to build relationships with women, to put myself out there, and that in that process I would discover the mind and will of God. These dreams also carried a feeling that if I didn’t act in faith, I would stay stuck and stagnant in my growth.


So I followed what I was being taught, I acted in faith, I opened my heart, I loved. I experience the drive of Eros, and the practice of Kenosis, over and over again. What I am learning is Divine love - to go to great lengths to deliver pure love to my siblings in Christ, without attachment to a specific person.


As I learn this Divine love, I begin to recognize it more readily when others offer it to me. It feels different to receive love without attachment. We are accustomed to having expectations tied to love. So when I receive love without attachment, I don't always know to label it as love. The people who offer it are heavenly, and bless my life immensely.


Cynthia Bourgeault states "This way does not require one to renounce, suppress or numb the energy that surges through romantic love, but merely to carve a deeper channel in which it can flow." I believe if we could all learn Agape love, not by stifling our desires, but instead becoming a vessel through which love can flow freely, then Zion would abound among us.


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