pain

“If acting on your homosexual attractions is really such a terrible sin, why are so many people who deny themselves same-sex romance depressed or constantly anxious? When Christians faithfully combat greed, lust, rage, or any other sin, isn’t there supposed to be a feeling of liberation, of joy, or of peace? If you really were doing God’s will, don’t you think it would make you feel better, more content, rather than crippled by a compelling and unfulfilled longing?”

This is a composite question made from various opinions I’ve heard over the last few years. The basic idea is that sin is bad, purging sinful habits and desires is what God wants, and doing what God wants should result in happiness and feelings of freedom. And yet most men and women who are not acting on their same-sex attraction have been terribly depressed in the past, are currently depressed, or are planning on being depressed some time in the near future.

So… isn’t that the opposite of what’s supposed to happen? Isn’t that maybe a sign that we who hold to the conservative ethic should reexamine how we are living?

The correct answer is not, “God doesn’t care about happiness, he only cares about holiness! So buck up camper, sanctification is gonna hurt, and you’d better like it.” That approach to pain makes God sound way too much like my 5th grade P.E. teacher.

Pain is a part of Christian life, of human life, and it can produce astounding growth and glory when responded to with a faithful turning to God. But I am increasingly convinced that pain is never an end, never a good in and of itself. Evangelicals have, at times, idolized pain. The beauty of people worshiping joyfully in the midst of suffering is such a potent symbol of Christian devotion that we begin to see that suffering itself as a desirable thing, almost. Pain isn’t to be avoided at all costs. No. But I don’t see Jesus modeling any sort of holy masochism either.

For so long I thought the secret to living the chastely single life was to get used to the pain, to learn how to love it, because that’s just the way it was going to be. But that blinded me from seeing that the pain was actually the result of some pretty terrible things from which God wanted to free me. I thought misery was standard for people like me because that’s the message I was hearing from every side.

Pain arises for so many different reasons. It could occur because of poor personal decisions (I shoot myself in the knee), because of the sins of others (Blaine Anderson dreamily, but sinfully, shoots me in the knee), because of some uncontrollable event (lightning strikes me in the knee), or a host of other physical, emotional, social, or spiritual reasons. Sometimes pain is inexplicable and simply must be endured, and sometimes pain is a sure signal that we should immediately remove ourselves from that which hurts us. The human experience of suffering is staggering in its multiformity, but I’m going to focus on the common turmoil of gay men and women who share my convictions.

When I was in the midst of my season of despair (the first three years of college), should my pain have caused me to “reexamine” how I was living, what convictions I held to and why? Yes, absolutely. That part of the suggestion is dead on. I think all pain is an opportunity to reflect and grow; it’s a warning that something isn’t quite right. Was some of my pain due to the presence of distressingly strong attractions and my refusal to just “let them be”? Totally. A lot of people want me to think, therefore, that the solution to my angst is to remove the friction and become open to a future of same-sex romance.

When you are caught in the teeth of a deep sadness, such a suggestion can seem rather compelling because often the things you are denying yourself, even if it’s for a good reason, become more obvious and alluring in those moments and the will weakens. However, I had a mentor who lovingly reminded me that my homosexuality was one of the least of my “worries.” He rightly saw to the heart of things: to my desperate emotional dependence, my blistering self-loathing, my lack of trust, and my personal assortment of medical issues. Those things generated the pain that would often manifest itself in times of confusion surrounding my sexuality.

Looking back on it, I can only think of a few isolated surges of darkness caused predominantly by my commitment to leaving the option of gay romance off the table, and even then there were unresolved issues of lust and mistrust augmenting the emotions. What is more, as I’ve found healing in those aforementioned areas of struggle (which, just for honesty’s sake, are still not the strangers I would like them to be) I really have experienced the profound sense of joy and freedom that I had been told would come from ditching the archaic, inhumane convictions that guide my sexual practices (or lack thereof). On top of that, my convictions have only grown stronger as I’ve been more convinced of the great goodness of God and his brain-vaporizing faithfulness.

I know there will be dark days in the future that are tied to my convictions. But this past year has shown me that such darkness is not the inevitable pattern of my life as a chastely single gay Christian and that, in those moments, there is usually something else going on that is symptomatic of deeper issues.

I hesitate to post this because, well, I’m just a 22 year-old guy. There’s a lot of life I haven’t experienced, a lot of pain that hasn’t yet ripped into my psyche and challenged everything I know to be true. There are also many people whose personal histories might tell a radically different story than mine. I’m not trying to be arrogant, acting as if I’ve got it all figured out. I simply want to propose three things:

1) The conservative ethic does not and should not breed despair.
2) Often the suffering of people pursuing the more conservative vision is grounded in experiences and pain that wouldn’t be “solved” by pursuing a romantic relationship.
3) My own commitment to a chaste singleness is truly a source of a very real joy and calm in my life, but this didn’t really come to fruition until I found some freedom from actual causes of emotional and spiritual corrosion.

I hope that makes sense, I’m a little tired at the moment.

This post was brought to you by the tunes of Shiny Toy Guns (We Are Pilots. Their new stuff is terrible), AWOLNATION, Wicked, Two Door Cinema Club, and the delicate string and piano arrangements of Joe Hisaishi’s musical scores. Also, the letter B.

Jordan

P.S. I realized as I concluded this that Steve Gershom already wrote a similar post on his ever-blessed blog. You can find it here. He uses the word gregarious, which is delightful. This only reinforces my suspicion that the singular reason I’ve ever written about anything ever is that I’m simply oblivious to the fact that someone else has already done a better job of writing about it.

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7 thoughts on “pain

  1. i was in reparative therapy for about a year.
    I eventually quit because it was expensive and I really wasn’t sure it was effective. If homosexuality is, at bottom, a raw manifestation of our fallenness–then i’m not altogether sure “reparative therapy” can address this fundamental flaw in our natures. Then again, I don’t know much about human nature, let alone my own nature in light of ancient Christian teaching on how grace transforms human nature. if we’re given the grace to overcome and be strengthened (and be saved, depending on what tradition you come from), I’m still responsible for doing all I can to resist temptation.

    That said, I wouldn’t go as far as saying everything in reparative therapy was wrong. A large part of it was addressing the very thing you mention,

    “[your mentor] rightly saw to the heart of things: to my desperate emotional dependence, my blistering self-loathing, my lack of trust, and my personal assortment of medical issues. Those things generated the pain that would often manifest itself in times of confusion surrounding my sexuality.” my therapist tried to get me to see that homo-erotic longings were tied to deeper problems with one’s crippled sense of masculine identity. maybe there’s some truth to that? maybe not. as far as I really couldn’t see beyond the sexual aspect.

    I suppose just one case of a totally confident, non-self-loathing, super-masculine, bronco-riding cowboy of a homosexual would disprove the notion that same-sex attraction arises from this crippled masculine identity. But I suspect we wouldn’t find many gay men who fit this description 😉
    Now, just because a person cuts himself off from sexual activity with other men, does it follow that he’s less happy, as your interlocutor suggests? well, maybe. I guess this begs the quetion: what is the heart of joy? Certainly the heart of joy isn’t sexual activity. I’d say it may not even be a factor at all. Jesus was a perfect human being–the very model of humanity-and Jesus was celibate. Someone may reply, Does it follow that to be a model human being like Jesus, we should all be celibate? obviously not. Or at least, no more than it means we all have to be nailed to a cross on a hill called Golgotha.
    Then again, our faith teaches that the way of the cross actually IS the way of Christ, and there’s just no way around it. The only way around it is by way of setting down the cross and walking away. But that entails a different sort of pain. There’s no escape. Either way, There Will Be Blood: the way of Christ, or the way of the world. The choice then becomes: which one do I think is worth experiencing?

    • The thing that slightly perks my interest in this blog is that it is a unique little bubble that I frankly have very little experience with. But a couple observations 1) ” homo-erotic longings were tied to deeper problems with one’s crippled sense of masculine identity” Is this guy licensed? Because that comes across as psycho babble at best, and utter garbage at worst. I would strongly suggest for your mental health to find a gay affirming therapist. 2) “one case of a totally confident, non-self-loathing, super-masculine, bronco-riding cowboy of a homosexual would disprove the notion that same-sex attraction arises from this crippled masculine identity”. I would absolutely consider myself a totally confident, non self loathing, masculine guy (admittedly non bronco riding, can I substitute rock climbing, scuba diving, sky diving?) gay man in a happy monogamous relationship with a loving partner and we have 2 wonderful children. I have a number of very similar friends, and have known some hyper masculine alpha male gay men, i.e. Navy Seals, Marines, etc. If you mention “crippled masculine identity” to any of us we will assume you are making a joke and laugh in your face. As you should do to your therapist. I sincerely hope you get the help you deserve

  2. Haha! I’m glad you’re around to subvert the presuppositions! I agree with you, I think out self-perception is a complex creation formed in the crazy intersections of culture, biology, and psychology. Never so easy as saying, “Passive father? Domineering mother? Bad at sports? No wonder you turned out gay.” I’m pretty good at most racket sports… but for some reason they don’t count for very much in “man points.”

    Thanks for the comment, I think it’s very insightful.

    Jordan

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