There are a variety of qualities one might think a “good bishop” should possesses. Enduring faith, abiding patience, abundant charity, a commitment to nurture and strengthen God’s kingdom are just a few to consider. However, in a recent interview with Kurt Francom, Why Recovering Addicts Make Great Bishops, Mike Houghtaling explained how life experiences of leaders help prepare them for a variety of callings. Just as Houghtaling admonishes us to never trust a skinny cook, he also advised that “I would never trust a too holy bishop.”
A Leader That Accepts “Our Story”
From the outset, Mike Houghtaling’s candor suggests he’s a leader who’s been where many of us are, plus one who can relate with those who have been dealing with habits, behaviors, or addictions. By openly sharing his story, he’s telling us he accepts our story.
From the tender age of ten, pornography seized much of his life, his preoccupation with it became a hurdle to feeling God’s love, and was a constant battle he fought for decades. He explains,
“Pornography has nothing to do with sex. Porn has no more to do with sex than alcoholism has to do with thirst. An alcoholic does not drink because he’s thirsty.”
In his experience, the underlying issue of addiction is unmet needs.
Being an Outlier
Even now, as a grown man in his 60s he admits he still feels like a little boy who just wants to be loved and accepted. While he refuses to place blame on past circumstances, he acknowledges that addictions do work for a very short period of time, thus, allowing some reprieve from the issues in our lives. But as a younger person, bathed in continual guilt and shame, he dismissed the idea that God could love him, leaving him feeling alone and beyond help, convinced that God’s love wasn’t available to him, that he was simply a “bad” person.
While he always felt the gospel was true and considered Christ’s atonement to be efficacious for all, he admits he didn’t feel it covered his sins; he was the outlier.
I wonder if we’ve all been in that state of mind at some point in our lives, ashamed of what’s essentially taking us away from God. While pornography hasn’t been my particular issue, he related how his addiction with pornography would be no different than challenges with anger, hair pulling, gambling, cutting, or always needing to be right, I felt validation.
I remember as a young mom, so full of anger and frustration—at both my kids and myself—crying in my bed. I’d tell God every night how sorry I was for yelling at my kids, for losing my temper, for being such a “bad” mom. I wish I had had his insight back then to help me see that, while we’re all prone to some type of struggle, we’re always worthy of love and acceptance. He doesn’t require—or even want—us to wait until we’ve overcome ourselves.
His grace and love are always available for us as we seek healing. Yet it seems that we feel swallowed up in humiliation because we aren’t stronger in our resolve. If we were, perhaps then His atonement would start to work in our lives. But Houghtaling passionately clarifies that this is absolutely never the case. At one point in his odyssey a woman in his ward pointed out, “You know what your problem is? You don’t love anybody because you don’t love yourself.” As dissonant as that may have felt, he recognized the truth in her accusation. The most incredible turn-around came as he began to understand God’s love and started to love himself. He was then able to move forward loving God’s other children. It was when he finally reached rock bottom and started to understand the difference between sobriety and healing that he turned to God and began the 12-step program, which took years.
One Day at A Time
I appreciated his honest acknowledgment that, even after all this time, he could still fall. He carries One Day at a Time coins as reminders to both himself and those he shares them with that we all live the gospel just one day at a time.
What a liberating message. We don’t have to overcome ourselves or our addictions today or all at once. I have clung to this idea many times throughout my life as I’ve celebrated more space between episodes of getting angry or gossiping or whatever’s been my current challenge. There is motivating power that comes from minor victories and from making it just one more day.
Wanted – Grace and Connection
So what can we do to support those who struggle? They don’t need to be told what they’re doing is wrong, believe me, they already know that. They need our grace and connection, to be embraced, loved, and accepted. Never rejected. Even if we feel awkward or clumsy in our attempts to support, Houghtaling suggests continuing to show them we’re present and care, that we’re here.
4 Steps to Success
As we all struggle with our personal challenges, we can face weak moments. Houghtaling suggests four things we can do to help us overcome that moment and future moments that are sure to come.
- Noting what a trigger might be – For him possibly a billboard or magazine.
- Face it – Don’t cringe and look away, acknowledge that she is a beautiful woman.
- Replace it with truth – But she’s not MY beautiful woman, she is someone else’s daughter, wife etc,
- Most importantly—connect in a personal way with someone – This isn’t a time to talk about what triggered you, it’s time to just connect in a meaningful way with someone and that not only gets you through that temptation, it gets you to be relational with someone and that helps meet your needs.
This four step method can help with all kinds of challenges that may “trigger” us to anger, judgement, and more. For example, we may notice someone who looks different than us and we may start to be judgmental of those differences. With this method we just need to acknowledge that we noticed they were different, but our next thoughts need to be on replacing judgement with love or seeking to understand those differences. Step four could included connecting with that person which would allow for better understanding and more.
We All Have Stones in Our Path
We can be that friend who is available and who will provide security. “I’m glad you walked this path and recognize some of the stones along the way.” What a comfort for this young member, to have a leader who truly understands what an obstacle-laden course feels like because he’s actually been on the journey himself. Because his own voyage has been rocky, he has credibility with—and empathy for—his fellow travelers as he points them to Christ, our ultimate Healer.
Caren McLane has a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Community Health Education from BYU. She met her husband, Todd, her freshman year while at BYU. They are the parents of 5 children and live on a 4 acre “hobby farm” with chickens, cows, and dogs. She volunteers at the library and hospice and has blogged since 2014. Caron has served in a variety of callings in the Church and is currently serving as the Relief Society President in her Montana Ward.