If There Is Any Other Way

cup

“As we gradually come to befriend our own reality, to look with compassion at our own sorrows and joys, and as we are able to discover the unique potential of our way of being in the world, we can move beyond our protest, put the cup of our life to our lips and drink it, slowly carefully, but fully.” Henri J.M. Nouwen

Suffering is one of the only things that is guaranteed in this life. Some say that Christianity is a spiritual crutch that makes life more bearable. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christianity is not about making life easier. Christianity is about an eternal, unconditionally loving, intimate relationship between a Creator/Savior/Father and the created/saved/child. The price of this relationship is costly, for both sides of the relationship. In fact, the Christian life could by almost all accounts be considered unbearable (outside of God’s grace), especially when we look at the boundaries God has put in place for us with which modern society views as backwards-thinking and intolerant.

Many people feel free to warm themselves by the fires of all their desires. By contrast, Christians are called to acknowledge and see the good, God-given longings in these very real and sometimes desperate desires and then to be willing to lay them down if necessary in order to pursue a greater love, a higher truth, a more fulfilling calling. We are asked to do this daily, not to save us from eternal damnation, but to have the honor of walking the same road as Jesus did, so though we also share in His sufferings, we too can share in His inexpressible joy.

On the surface, especially from an outside perspective, a Christian’s life may look like self-inflicted torture.

On the contrary, a Christian is called to choose to live in God-inflicted grace.

36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” – Matthew 26:36-39

Jesus pleaded not just once but three times in this one desperate evening for His Father to take away the suffering He had been asked to endure. Like Jesus, we beg of God to take the cup of suffering from us. If there is any other way to obey You . . . please, Daddy, let me have what I want, what I think I need . . . please, Daddy, don’t make me carry a grief I don’t understand . . . please, Daddy, there must be a different, less painful way . . . 

Like Jesus, we weep and try to say, but You know what’s best. You have my ultimate good in mind for me. Help me to trust You. Help me to follow through with what you want me to do. Jesus fully embraced this truth, and the reward was this grace: untold millions destined to enjoy an eternal intimate relationship with God and with those who love Him. 

Who knows what grace will come if I, if we, choose to follow the paths God has laid out for us, heartbreaking and confusing though they may be?

The cup of suffering I have been asked to drink has stifled my joy with nauseous disappointment. I have been holding this cup for nine months, tears dropping into what looks and smells like liquid death. This is not what I thought I signed up for . . . but this is what I have been given . . . cycles of grief and anger and death and acceptance and surrender . . . how can this possibly be worth it? Oh, God . . . if there is any other way . . . 

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. – Hebrews 12:1b-2

 

The Shit of Life

I have had a lot of candid conversations recently, profanity included. Those who know me know cursing is not a habit of mine. But sometimes, there are no other words to describe the stuff of life. Consider Aleppo. The slaughter that is happening there deserves the worst profanities known to man. Consider the deepest pains in your own heart. That pain does not deserve censoring. I was so angry at my own personal situation yesterday that I started hitting things . . . and bruised my hand in the process. Yep, at twenty-four years old, I threw a temper tantrum.

And ended it icing my hand with a bag of frozen fruit.

I don’t trust God. He does not seem like a good Father to me, as He chooses suffering to be the primary tool to bring people to Himself and to bring glory to His name. I resent the evils that He allows. I despise the things that don’t make sense.

Why must anyone suffer? Why are there no limits to the intensity of pain people can experience in this life?

My dad recently sent me this profound excerpt from a Phillip Yancey book entitled The Bible Jesus Read (208 – 9):

Job reluctantly concluded that, no, God could not care about him or about other suffering people. “How faint the whisper we hear of him,” sighed Job. The psalmists cried out for some sign that God heard their prayers, some evidence that God had not forsaken them. I know of only one way to answer the question, “does God care?” and for me it has proved decisive: Jesus is the answer.

Jesus never attempted a philosophical answer to the problem of pain, yet he did give an existential answer. Although I cannot learn from him why a particular bad thing occurs, I can learn how God feels about it. Jesus gives God a face, and that face is streaked with tears. Whenever I read straight through the Bible, a huge difference between the Old and New Testaments comes to light. In the Old Testament I can find many expressions of doubt and disappointment. Whole books—Jeremiah, Habakkuk, Job—center on the theme. Almost half of the psalms have a dark, brooding tone about them.

In striking contrast, the New Testament Epistles contain little of this type of anguish. The problem of pain has surely not gone away: James 1, Romans 5 and 8, the entire book of 1 Peter, and much of Revelation deal with the subject in detail. Nevertheless, nowhere do I find the piercing question Does God care? I see nothing resembling the accusation of Psalm 77: “Has God forgotten to be merciful?”

The reason for the change, I believe, is that Jesus answered that question for the witnesses who wrote the Epistles. In Jesus, God presents a face. Anyone who wonders how God feels about the suffering on this groaning planet need only look at that face. James, Peter, and John had followed Jesus long enough for his facial expressions to be permanently etched on their minds. By watching Jesus respond to a hemorrhaging woman, a grieving centurion, a widow’s dead son, an epileptic boy, an old blind man, they learned how God felt about suffering.

How do I want God to respond to my situation? I want Him to give me what I want, because it seems good and right. But all He ever guarantees to give me in my deepest pain . . . is Himself. I find myself asking, again and again . . . is that enough?

My counselor reminded me of the story of the stoning of Stephen in Acts 7 . . .

54 When the members of the Sanhedrin heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

God did not prevent Stephen from suffering a terrible death.
But God did show up. The result? Inexplicably, Stephen’s mind and heart were transformed into the will of Christ even as he lay bloodied and bruised, the life quickly draining out of him.

I’m not there yet. I honestly don’t see how I would ever get there. But that’s not the point.

The point is . . . God gives Himself as an answer to my suffering not to change my situation, but to suffer with me.

I complain of my own suffering, but God chooses to enter every person’s suffering that asks Him for help. The greatest intensity of pain pierced his body on the cross, and pierces his heart even now. And He chooses it, so we don’t have to suffer alone.

And isn’t that really what I want? What has ever given me the greatest comfort? It has never been well-meaning advice. And while changing the situation certainly seems the most ideal, the sweetest expression of love to me, the one that brings tears to my eyes, is when a person willingly comes down into my valley of grief and sits with me there, holds me there, cries with me there . . . for as long as it takes for me to move forward.

And that is the heart of God.

 

Hiding and Wholeness



At the time, it felt like I was trying to get God’s attention, but now I know it was the other way around. I was taking a long walk in my neighborhood in the budding days of early spring, 2016. As is common for me, I was restless, wanting to go deeper in my relationships with my friends, yet not knowing how. Long have I had a tendency to idolize friendships. Simultaneously, I have often felt unsatisfied and discontent in the guarded vulnerability and brevity of commitment I have found there.

From the time when I was little and preferred sad movies like The Fox and the Hound to the princess movies other girls my age would fawn over, I began to feel isolated. The forbidden friendship between Todd and Copper in The Fox and the Hound spoke to a longing in me much more than romances between Befox-and-the-hound-2lle and the beast, Prince Eric and Ariel, Cinderella and her Prince Charming. In fact, I resented those romantic relationships, because each of those pulled the main character away from their friends. I didn’t know why this made me so upset. My little heart didn’t even know I was hiding anything.

For the longest time, I stuffed all of the pain and confusion into a confined space in my mind, where occasionally I would hear it crying and pounding on the door trying to get out of the cell to which I had condemned it. I heard the pain weeping again, during that long neighborhood walk.

It’s time to unlock the door and let this part of your heart be heard.

fox-and-hound-3I felt the inaudible whisper in my soul. Interestingly, I felt a thrill of excitement, of adventure calling me. I felt ready. I simultaneously felt a whirlwind of fear and uncertainty. Was this some semi-conscious manipulative scheme I was formulating to attract compassion and comfort and deeper friendships? Was this really something I needed to bring up? I began to doubt my own motives.

But sometimes, you can’t wait until you have full confidence in your own completely pure motives. Sometimes you can’t want something completely before taking steps to explore it. Sometimes you can’t want to let go of addictions before trying to do it anyway. If I chose not to move forward in my warring motives, a part of my own humanity would have remained ignored until I reached a boiling point.

Back then, I was safer.

Now, I am in danger.

Then, my heart was incomplete.

Now, my whole heart is being allowed a chance to speak.

I’m allowing myself to fully experience a tension similar to what Tod and Copper experienced in their chaotic friendship.

fox-and-hound-1I thought by locking a part of my heart in a cell, I was doing my duty in restraining a monster. In actuality, I was ignoring a very sad, tender, isolated part of myself. I have come to embrace this part of me with simultaneous love, understanding, and grief.

Whatever you are hiding, Satan and yourself are going to tag team against you, telling you that it is not necessary to bring those things to light.

They’re right. It is not necessary to acknowledge the real, vulnerable areas of your heart. That is because there will be a time when the things you hide will come to light whether you want them to or not.

It is your choice: to confront your own heart or to wait until your heart confronts you.

I see you now, heart, in your desperation. I see your scared hound dog of a self wanting something that seems for all the world to be good, but, like the song says above: “if only the world wouldn’t get in the way.” And I’ll add to that the more important aspect – if only God wouldn’t get in the way.

At this point, perhaps you’ve guessed it. But maybe you have not, in which case here is the big reveal:

For one year I have wrestled with God and with this part of myself.

I am going to define the identifier before saying the term, to minimize confusion.

I am holistically attracted (emotionally, socially, sexually) to women. As of right now, I experience nearly an exclusive attraction to the same sex. My feelings have been as such for at least ten years, but for those ten years I denied my feelings any expression, thereby denying any sexual or romantic longings in their entirety. Can you perhaps see how this was unhealthy?

Thus, at twenty-four years old, I have gone through those intense and inexplicable and chaotic and painful hormonal feelings of turmoil that the scientific world likes to call: puberty. The chaos has only been magnified by the fact of where my attractions are directed. The chaos has been magnified even further by the fact that I claim to follow Christ. I say this in all seriousness . . . this internal chaos has been my own personal hell. It has been hell even when, in comparison to most, the responses of friends and family have been overwhelmingly positive and loving.

I can honestly say that I would love to be in a committed, Christ-following, sacrificial, mutually encouraging, physically intimate same-sex relationship. I have a homosexual orientation. I am gay. There we go . . . I’ve said it. That is the identifier to which my last 20+ blog posts have alluded.

I am not going to try to defend myself, my feelings, or the term I identify with to you here. I will leave the depth of such questions to face-to-face conversations . . . and I pray you will be kind and courageous enough to have these conversations with me.

However, let me explain why I am publishing this post.

To my gay friends and acquaintances, I am opening this part of my life in hopes that you may be encouraged that you are loved and you are not alone, not by any stretch of the imagination. Nor do you need to be ashamed of this part of who you are, wherever you are in the midst of questioning your sexuality. “Gay” and “Christian” can seem on the surface to be irreconcilable truths. They are not. I am living proof.

To my straight friends and acquaintances, I want to put a face to an “issue” to which you may not have had a personal reference. I guarantee you that I am not the only person you know who is gay, but I might be the only person who has yet spoken to you about it. I want to encourage you to be especially careful with your words and your social media posts in regards to anything LGBT-related. I want to encourage you to be a safe person for your friends wrestling with their sexuality. Safe people listen and empathize and love unconditionally.

To the Christian Church at large, I want to help bring the conversation about sexuality to the surface. Every topic, even and especially the most “uncomfortable” of topics, should be discussed. LGBT people, like every other person in the world, need their stories to be heard.

To myself, I just don’t want to hide anymore.

In a world that is encouraged to “come out” in countless ways and a Christian tradition that is encouraged to “conceal, don’t feel” in just as numerous ways . . .

It has become essential to see the real faces of the real people who all of this is affecting.

We must humanize the political rhetoric of the LGBT world, particularly in the Church. People’s lives are at stake.

I am passionate about this. I am sick-literally nauseous when I think about it-of hearing stories of people who are created in the image of God and who should be treated as such being demonized, ostracized from churches, and in extreme cases committing suicide simply because they have so bravely chosen to bring to light something that is a part of them: same-sex attraction. Guess what? Gay people who are in gay relationships are also still human. There are much worse things I can think of than living in a loving and committed same-sex relationship. Can’t you?

Forgive my soapbox. I know people who have been severely harmed by the Church in this way.

If you want to know how I’ve personally chosen to live with this truth, you’re going to have to wait, because I don’t even know.

Meanwhile, how can you tell me you love me? Invite my story into yours. I welcome questions about where I am on the journey, but I ask you to respect my response . . . there may be stretches of time when I do not want to talk. There may be a whole day when all I can do is cry. A week may pass where all I want to do is answer your questions. I will tell you what I need, but only if you ask me what I need.

One lie I struggle not to believe is that I am “destined for loneliness” and that I will never have committed lifelong relationships in my life. This is not just a gay problem (though it definitely is exaggerated by this fact) but a fear of many single people as well. From my observations and my own personal experience, Christian singles (particularly of the same sex) tend to form their own little tribes of single support groups. But is that all we really need? As a gay single Christian, I seriously wonder if I will ever have a family. Part of this longing can be met by entering into the ordinary chaotic lives of my married friends…the errand-running, the screaming babies, the folding laundry. Unfortunately, the lives of singles and couples/families are often segregated in Christian circles… I can’t help but wonder how much we are all missing. I ponder what it might mean that “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6). But I digress.

In summary, this is the metaphorical crossroads I have been at all along: will I keep the seemingly reasonable option open of pursuing a mutually loving and committed same-sex relationship or will I vow to remain celibate for the foreseeable future for the sake of God’s will and in some mysterious way, supposedly for the sake of my own flourishing?