The waiter hands me the receipt, folded over my credit card, and looks me in the eye as he tells me to have a nice day. I wish him the same, then weave my way between the haphazardly placed tables toward the exit of the crowded Thai restaurant.
A hundred feet from the entrance I casually pull out the still-creased lunch bill, make sure neither of my friends is watching me, and unfold it. Date, cost, tax… no phone number. That odd, electric feeling fades, thirty minutes after it first flared up. As it bleeds out of me and mixes with the dirtied rainwater running to the nearby drain, a cold disappointment takes its place. I am so, so, so stupid! I’m a ridiculous infant! What did I expect, what did I want? But I knew the answer to those questions already: I wanted to be flirted with, and I wanted to throw away his number. I wanted to know I was attractive, desirable, intriguing…something… with the easy out of not having to actually deal with the guy.
Semi-flirting (if it could even be called that…which it probably can’t) with the waiter was immature, selfish, and, retrospectively, embarrassingly laughable (emphasis on embarrassing… and laughable). Hey, I’d never been in New York City before, and I assumed that was just how things happened there.
But there was something more profound going on amidst the foolishness. I’ve talked frequently, both on the blog and in real life, about how important it is for Christians attracted to the same sex to turn to the infinite beauty and desirability of Christ when they find themselves longing after someone. I’m not suggesting God’s love for us is a direct substitute for the good of human romantic/marital love – it is of a different character entirely – but for those of us who are giving up romance and sexual intimacy, the natural ends of attractions, such a practice is a redemptive act that allows us to still affirm our sexuality as good and holy.
However, there is an obvious flip side to all of this that I have mostly taken for granted and not explored. For me, wanting to have someone toward whom I can direct all of my romantic and sexual impulses is only half of it, and it’s often the less compelling half. On a daily basis I struggle with feelings of being, you know, ugly. I can usually tell how I’m doing mentally and spiritually depending on my initial reaction to looking at myself in a mirror. Consequently, I can be horribly vain, switching clothes multiple times in a few minutes, moving my hair around (when it isn’t cropped super short), or just staring at myself trying to figure out what is wrong with me, why I can’t seem to shut out the whispering informants of my insecurity detailing the million little imperfections that render me particularly undesirable.
Praise God the fog is lifting, slowly, and I’m becoming more comfortable in my skin, learning to love it, rejoice in it, admire it. But I have a long way to go. I don’t perceive myself as attractive to women (or I am simply oblivious to any hints they give to the contrary…which is not unlikely), and my life would be easier if I weren’t attractive to men (thus I don’t ever think it could be true). So, for me, it would be effortless to become fixated on feelings of being “non-attractive,” so to speak.
But just as I think trying to suppress all sexual desire to be an improper response to my homosexuality, I think it is harmful for me to perceive my desire to be desired as unavoidably problematic. It, too, must be redemptively redirected, turning me to dwell on the overwhelming fact that God. Loves. Me. He desires me. Me, of all people, and not for anything that I’ve done for him.
And that’s enough. I know it’s enough. Will I ever get to a point where that truth is more arresting than all the inventions of my mind? I don’t expect it to ever completely replace my longing to be the exclusive locus of someone’s affection, but I don’t think it should. Giving up sex and romance is always a sacrifice. It’s not just that I miss out on being able to fully give myself to another human, I also won’t know what it’s like to have someone find me so enthralling that they would be willing to become one flesh with me, to unite in a bizarre, sacred, holy way.
But! Isn’t it the blessed truth that Christ is willing to unite himself with me, with all who follow him? Isn’t it true that whenever I find myself longing to be desired, longing to be looked upon with love, I can cling to the assurance that the most pure and awesome love is already enfolded around me, piercing through me, and lifting me up? The best reaction to my desires is not to fear them, squash them, or hate them, but neither is it to try and become unshakably confident of how humanly desirable I am. Such responses would only contribute to the vanity spiral, turning me evermore inward. I am desirable to God because Christ lived, died, and rose again to reconcile me to himself.
Every part of my life should serve to point me to the work of Jesus, and this is no different. It can seem slightly more distant, slightly more abstract than is helpful, but it is anything but that – it is as near and real as Christ is.
The process of writing this post was very much an exercise in preaching to myself. I need to learn this, and I need to learn it every day, over and over and over. I have had many moments since that afternoon in New York, weeks ago, where I’ve found myself sinking into the same patterns of thought, and though I haven’t been perfect by any means, God has been good to help me find some encouragement in turning to him in those moments. And that, for me, is truly sufficient.