ugly

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.

Jordan

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28 thoughts on “ugly

  1. The platitude that beauty is only skin deep is never helpful. However, we have all met beautiful people with nothing to offer or draw you in, and seemingly innocuous people to whom others are drawn and attracted. To pin this on confidence falls short. It is peace. A soul at rest and resolved with a healthy perspective of its position and purpose in the world is rare and is a magnet for the millions swept away in (ultimately, self-) desire.

    Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
    in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
    Put no trust in extortion;
    set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, set not your heart on them.
    (Psalm 62:9-10 ESV)

  2. “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)”

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. Just two days ago I said something to Gregg about how you’re such a loss to the world of straight girls. 😉

  3. Hey Jordan,
    I just read your blog while travelling by train from Amsterdam, through the Dutch countryside. The reason I comment is to encourage you by the fact that your thoughts and blogs are read oversees. I find myself inspired everytime i read it!
    Thank you do much for sharing this with the world.
    Jeroen from Amsterdam

    • Hi Jeroen!! Dank je wel for the comment. Only two weeks ago I was on a train speeding through the Dutch countryside myself! I *loved* it. I definitely left thinking that I would like to live in Amsterdam for some time. I hope you weren’t the one (or three) I almost killed with my bike.

      I really appeciate your words of encouragement, and I hope you are well! Eat some Stroopwaffle and vla for me, please, I’m going through withdrawals.

      Peace,

      Jordan

  4. I just want you to know that I respect you immensely for giving up sex because it is what you believe you need to do. I agree, but I feel like if I was in your shoes, I would try to rationalize it because I couldn’t imagine trying to keep myself from sex forever. I struggle immensely with not being able to have sex before marriage, but I feel for you, because you don’t believe you can have a marriage. You have extreme perseverance in this, and I hope you keep on going. Also, I don’t know what you look like, but anyone that thinks the way you do is highly attractive to me… I’m sorry that your insatiable desire is the result of our fallen world, but I do think you bring insight to those of us not from your perspective. Thank you so much for writing this blog. It has shown me so much.

    • Insatiable, maybe, but not so overwhelming or terrifying when I’m sane! There are so many things I see others endure that I don’t think I could handle for even a second, but God gives us grace in each moment, and I’ve found the single life to become increasingly compelling as I’ve really started to prepare myself for it. Marriage seems like such a given in evangelical culture that we never really consider how beautiful a life of singleness could be, but now that I’ve come face-to-face with that possibilty I’ve seen, in a small way and by the grace of God, that it’s really pretty sweet! Not free from difficulties, but, well, welcome to life.

      Thanks for the comment, Ryan! We appreciate it. As for how I think, well, it feels like for every attractive thought I may have, I conjure up ten others that would make me resemble Master Thénardier from Les Mis more than anything. But thanks :).

      Jordan

      • Oh, I just read my comment and realized that it is neglecting the HUGE wonderful part of marriage, which is the mutual love and friendship. Marriage is not just sex. Just wanted to let you know that I’m not that messed up. That is the biggest part of marriage to miss.

  5. The Spirit is alive in you. Slowly but surely, God is redeeming your (and all) desires. This beautiful post is evidence of that redemptive work. Grace and peace, brother.

  6. Jordan, thank you. Again. You write about SOOO many things I’ve been thinking about/wrestling with. Too much to comment on.

    So I’ll just say thank you again. Keep writing about what you’re discovering on your journey!

    P.S. Just came across this quote in Prayer and Our Bodies, by Flora Slsson Wuellner. Thought you might appreciate it.

    “As the body is clothed in cloth
    and the muscles in the skin
    and the bones in the muscles
    and the heart in the chest,

    so are we, body and soul,
    clothed in the Goodness of God
    and enclosed.

    God is the means
    whereby our Substance
    and our Sensuality
    are kept together
    so as to never be apart.

    Because of the beautiful oneing
    that was made by God
    between the body and the soul

    it must be
    that we will be restored
    from double death.”

    -Julian of Norwich, 14th Century

  7. I’m a mid-twenties straight single, wondering if I’ll ever be married. Thank you for the reminder that life is complete in the Lord, with or without marriage and sex!

  8. As a woman discerning a call to consecrated life (Catholic, you know), I was so blessed by this post. I expect that I, too, will be living in the world, continuing to be surrounded by happy families, attending weddings of holy Christian couples, and aching, aching, aching for all that entails. I am blessed that my particular call to celibacy stems from a desire to belong completely to Christ–but, then, so does yours. There’s a reason that holy men and women from the beginning of the Church have sought the undivided heart that celibacy makes possible, and you’re so right to point out that it’s not a matter of rejecting romantic and sexual desires but of recognizing the deeper truth they express: our desperate desire to be seen and loved by Love himself. I’ll be taking this post to my meditation later–thank you!

  9. “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.”

    Jordan, I got a little misty-eyed when I read this post. No lie. Just a couple weeks ago, I was out running in a public park, and experienced this mysterious, but overwhelming desire to “flirt” with a cute guy walking his dog (and that’s not an isolated incident). Fortunately, with God’s help, nothing inappropriate happened. But thank you for the post and the encouragement to seek our affirmation in God. Keep writing, please.

  10. Just wanted to let you know, I’m aware of several women who have been very much attracted to you… I also understand that even despite that, it\’s easy to see yourself as ugly and undesirable. Keep seeking Christ wholeheartedly!

    • Shoot me an email so I know who you are, haha. It’s getting hard to balance all the comment monikers!

      A big part of this for me is not so much trying to finally believe that I’m attractive (though it’s not a bad thing by any means) but learning to turn my desires to be attractive toward God, resting in the fact that his loving gaze is unwaveringly upon me. That’s a lot more difficult, I think, but so worth it.

      Jordan

  11. I came to the conclusion several years ago that, try as I might, I’m not physically attractive in the traditional sense and never will be. It was a pretty freeing realization, honestly, and I came to the same conclusions that you did about Christ, I think (though those are still difficult to keep present and relevant in my mind).

    Someone mentioned it earlier, but peace and confidence really are the most compelling things about a person, even if they’re of modest looks. Real peace and confidence — not the false chants of the mystics or the insecure rants of the proud — come from a strong relationship with God.

    One more thing. I always found this quote from Henry James, written about fellow writer Mary Ann Evans (better known as George Eliot) a good quote about attractiveness:

    “She had a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth and a chin and jawbone ‘qui n’en finissent pas’… Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a very few minutes, steals forth and charms the mind, so that you end, as I ended, in falling in love with her. Yes, behold me in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking.”

    In terms of attractiveness, I’ll shoot for that! (Although I hope I’m not “horse-faced.” Yikes!)

  12. Thank you for the post. I understand. I think I am truly ugly. The other day I looked at some high school photos from way long ago and was amazed how cute I was. Not handsome but cute with a great smile (thanks to braces) and great hair, a very light brown. I really am not longer cute but what amazed me looking at the photo is all though high school I never noticed I was cute. Then again nobody told me I was. But it is there in the photo proving I was cute. I am not sure what point I am trying to make (probably none!) but I can relate and am grateful for your blog and so grateful for this site.
    Love, Eddie

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