One of the joys in my life is having the opportunity to be so relationally focused. Much of the personal engagement I’m involved in happens online …. which certainly has its limitations – but as an introvert, it actually makes it much more manageable for me to be in multiple conversations through the day without being too drained.
One of the themes that I encounter fairly consistently from gay Christians is the tension they feel as they struggle to land on a decision about whether to be open to a gay partnership or not. Since this seems to be such a common experience, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on living in the midst of these tensions with this caveat: I would be the first to express my limitation in not living in the skin of this experience. In my own personal life, I have plenty of areas of tension – where I’m seeking to live out the kinds of things I want to suggest in this post. So in that sense, it isn’t just theoretical. But, I’m not gay and I’m not wrestling with this particular decision – so I want to offer my thoughts with a lot of humility – and with the invitation for gay Christians who have walked through or are currently walking in this kind of uncertainty to share their learnings, insights and suggestions. I really hope some of you do – I think that would be invaluable for our readers – and greatly enrich whatever I have to offer.
What I often hear in the conversations I have with people struggling with uncertainty about deciding if they are open or not open to a gay relationship is a longing for resolution. It seems that this is a basic drive in the human heart – we want to arrive, we want to get there, we want the destination. Not only that, we want to understand the meaning behind the journey to get to that destination – perhaps because the journey is rife with hardship, sleepless nights, hours of prayer, mental turmoil, emotional anguish. And we want to make meaning of that – it had to be for some purpose right? It has to be useful for something … right?
What is so interesting to me is how much paradox and mystery seem to be infused through the story of God and his engagement with his people. The very things that drive humans crazy – are the very things we find in God’s story over and over again. In our western expressions of Christianity – we’ve essentially explained all of that away …. made God oh so accessible, so containable, so controllable, so understandable. I’m afraid when we see him – he will ask us why we made so many images of him based on such limited understanding.
I think our desires for resolution and meaning are natural and understandable – but I wonder sometimes if part of following Jesus is the call to resist those things. Not that I want to make that some kind of legalistic or universal rule – or to suggest that we should never experience resolution or understand the meaning of our experiences ….. but only to suggest that we may need to submit our demand or urgency about resolution and meaning-making if we discern that God is simply asking us to trust him in the midst of some paradox and mystery.
It seems that when gay Christians are wrestling to ‘land’ on a decision, it is like they are grasping for an answer to what is a theoretical question. Now, every Christian does this – and it can be very helpful. When I made a decision at age 13 to not have sexual intercourse before I was married – I was essentially making a decision about a theoretical question. I wasn’t trying to decide in the heat of the moment whether or not to have sex – I was making a commitment that could then inform my decision making if and when I got hot and heavy with someone I was dating. Little did I realize at the naïve age of 13 how important that decision would be down the road when I found myself in vulnerable and passionate moments. So, please don’t misunderstand me when I say that I wonder if sometimes when we’re trying to land on a decision about our convictions based upon a theoretical scenario, we’re just trying to control the outcomes, ensure we don’t err, build the right walls around ourselves.
It seems to me, that there is a time to make clear commitments that will serve us when we are confronted with a challenging choice ….. and ….. there may be times when we may need to rest in walking step-by-step with Jesus, growing in our capacity to trust and obey him, and discern how he leads and guides us. And I wonder if for the adult gay Christian person, they might be served by the second response as they continue to move forward in navigating their faith and sexuality.
As a naïve 13 year old and a horny 18 year old, I lacked the maturity and experience to discern and obey God’s direction in the heat of the moment. So even though my decision had more to do with fear and control than conviction and trust, it was still a decision that ended up bringing blessing into my life. But what about that 25 or 37 or 42 year old gay Christian – who isn’t trying to make a decision in the passion of the moment – but who is trying to walk out the integration of their faith and sexuality and confront the possibility of developing a same-sex relationship or not? Is landing on a decision, potentially motivated by more fear and control than conviction and trust, the only way to go?
(Note: I am speaking here about the gay Christian individual who is wrestling with uncertainty. I am not suggesting this is where every gay Christian should or needs to be. There are those who have landed, not out of fear or control, but on the basis of their deepest convictions – and they are content and living in congruence with their beliefs and values. I honour and respect that. What I am commenting on in this post is how we navigate ongoing uncertainty.)
When someone is uncertain, they may inevitably ask, “What does my experience mean?” Maybe they find themselves longing for a relationship. Maybe they aren’t longing for a relationship. Maybe they’re just dealing with a lot of sexual desire (and frustration). Maybe they’ve shut down their sense of desire. Maybe they worry they have too much desire – or not enough. And maybe they wonder if their experience will change in the future.
The frustration over trying to make meaning of it all can consume a lot of energy. But, maybe while we want “the answer” …. God is simply saying to walk with him day-by-day. Drink deeply from his well of Living Water. “Find your life in Me – and from the overflow – extend love to the people around you – without fear.”
For the person who is wrestling: Might you fall in love with someone some day? Maybe yes, maybe no. Might that be someone of the same sex? Maybe yes, maybe no. How will you respond – what decision will you make? Well, you will go to your first Love, you will wait on him, you’ll invite his Holy Spirit to lead you in the way you should go, you’ll be in prayer, you’ll invite discernment from trusted brothers and sisters in Christ who will pray with you and discern with you …. and then follow however God leads you.
Maybe that sounds very relativistic or inconclusive. I mean, we should just know what sin is and decide not to do it – right? Well ….. is it sinful to buy a brand new car? Is it sinful to face the pain for divorce in your life? Is it sinful to walk past someone you know needs love, care and conversation? Is it sinful to want to be loved by another?
I think sometimes, we just try to control all the outcomes in our own and other’s lives. We don’t want to get it wrong. We don’t want to disappoint God. We don’t want to fail. But in all of that there is a lot of fear, control, “it’s up to me” kind of stuff. I feel like I’ve learned more and more that God wants us to walk with him – day-by-day – through the experiences of our life – looking to him moment by moment for guidance and direction – where we live a life of trust and faith – in a beautifully child-like way …. that is not fearful or controlling – but trusting and dependent – because we know that each situation we are confronted with, God can be trusted to lead us. And we can let go of getting it “right” ….. we can let go of our fear of failing ….. we can live in freedom – and therefore be free to love and offer ourselves to others – not afraid of where that might take us.
This is true for anyone – married, single, gay, straight. We all have fear and control around opening ourselves up to others …. and if we do that, “what if we cross a boundary” – or “what if we find ourselves in in over our heads, or being caught up in sin” ….. And please don’t mishear me – I’m not saying we should not be alert to temptation or wise about the kinds of situations we put ourselves into. Of course we need to do those things with common sense and maturity. But we don’t need to be afraid to love, we don’t need to be afraid to open ourselves to other people, we don’t need to be afraid of what we might end up desiring. The capacity to desire is a gift from God. If along the way we find ourselves confronted with a situation that we’re just not sure of – then we can wait for God to give us direction. I am more and more convinced that what is critical is that our hearts are committed to obey God’s leading – not that we have every scenario figured out ahead of time.
(Note: I can already hear the critique – “But we’re so prone to self-deception …. What we tell ourselves is God’s leading is really just our own selfish desires.” No question, we have an incredible capacity to deceive ourselves and justify going our own way. What I hope, however, is that followers of Jesus grow in the discipline of obedience – and obedience that is shaped by discernment through Scripture, prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit – not just a pre-determined set of theoretical decisions that keep our life controlled and ordered – and frankly not in much need of God, not in much need of hearing his voice and trusting his direction. When we control things ahead of time, we don’t need him – because we already have it all figured out.)
What I would want to say to a gay Christian who is wrestling with uncertainty is: “If and when you might some day be confronted with the reality that there is a same-sex person you desire a relationship with ….. you can trust God and yourself that your deepest passion to love and serve Christ will lead you into the decision you need to make. That invites some uncertainty – but it also invites freedom. You don’t need to try to avoid that – you don’t need to try to prevent it ….. you can just “be” …. free to love, free to build relationships ….. free to worship with abandon, create beauty and meaning and purpose in your life. Maybe ten years from now, you will be single, never having had to face a decision about a relationship. In the meantime, those ten years will have been full of opportunity and honesty and connecting to your own core of desire (speaking here of much more than just sexual desire – but of our deepest desires for love, beauty, creativity etc.). Maybe ten years from now ….. you will have faced falling in love with a same-sex partner, wrestling with God and deeply sensing you were not to be involved in that relationship – and you obeyed – and it was painful – but you live with peace and depth and meaning. Maybe ten years from now you will have a partner ….. and you experience joy in loving your partner and in together serving God – and you will tell of an audacious faith that waited on God and felt his invitation to really believe he loved you enough for you to risk entering that relationship and to receive it as his gift. I don’t know where you’ll be ten years from now – and neither do you. What I do know – is that He will be there with you. He will lead you. He can be trusted. You don’t need to fear. You don’t need to control or get it all figured out. You can just look forward knowing you will walk each day with him, that he will lead you, and that your heart is committed to obey and trust him. That is freedom to live.”
Sometimes …. I wonder if we might be served by resisting the urge to “land” and instead to focus on walking each day with Jesus – in honesty and trust. Along the way, God may very well solidify your convictions – which is great. But either way, I think if we stay close to Jesus step-by-step, we will have every opportunity to live a life that pleases him!