peace that passes understanding

I am, and have been for some time, incredibly content.

Holy crap, you guys!*

For so much of my life contentment, happiness, joy, peace – whatever – were anomalies, rare moments of lightness in the midst of a heavy atmosphere of depression and doubt. My bedrock emotion during that time was anxiety; there was always something that would cause my heart to seize up whenever it crossed my mind.

I was anxious that someone would find out I was gay. I was anxious that my friends woud leave me. I was anxious that, even if they didn’t leave me, they would secretly resent me. I was anxious that God would abandon me, that he might not really love me, or that his love would always have a bitter aftertaste. I was anxious about the future, wondering if all the little problems of the past that were nibbling at me in the present would consume me before I made it to shore, which is to say I was anxious that my convictions wouldn’t hold, that my faith would dissolve around the edges, and that the overwhelming desire just to be held and loved would flay my bleeding resolve.

Which is why this is so crazy! 

Every day, literally every day, I experience frequent moments of exhilarating joy, fiery instants of wonder in which the beauty of life and the excitement of following God are practically luminous. I’m not lonely. I’m not aching. I’m not anxious. I’m alive in the most abundant of ways.

I mean, gosh, I am doing everything in my meager power to restrict my use of exclamation points and question marks but it is very much not easy right now so I am compensating with italics for emphasis.

All this to say, a lot has changed over the year and I am in awe of it all.

But I need to be careful. I don’t want to make the same mistakes as before. When I was in the midst of my whatever-it-was sadness, I thought it would last forever. The anxiety felt so total, so enduring, that I couldn’t imagine life any other way. I was always going to be painfully different, always going to be afraid everyone would leave me, always going to follow God with a sinful flinch just beneath my obedient skin.

It could be so easy to feel the same about my current contentment: to think that I will always be filled with such excitement, always compelled by such passion, always so sure of God’s goodness and overwhelming beauty.

But I won’t. I know I won’t.

Some day, tomorrow or years from now, something will fracture, and the acid haze will return. I don’t doubt it.

I’m not feeling all great and stuff simply because I’ve done something super-right and God is rewarding me with steroidal warm-fuzzies. I don’t think the absence of pain is the direct result of faithfulness to God just as I don’t think the presence of pain is the direct result of unfaithfulness. Such useless theology has done too much damage. The whole witness of scripture speaks to the reality that sometimes the most faithful people sweat blood and sometimes the most debauched possess seemingly untouchable felicity.

But I do think our experiences of pain, the absence of pain, and all the variations in-between, are blessed opportunities to proclaim the goodness and nearness of God.

So instead of constantly wondering, “What am I doing differently that is making my life this fantastic and how can I keep doing whatever it is so that my life remains this fantastic?” I am trying to ask myself daily, “Am I following God with all my heart, soul, and strength and loving those around me as Christ would?”

The former question betrays a hope that is dependent on the balance of volatile chemicals in my brain, while the latter declares a hope that is dependent on the faithfulness of God.

Because let’s face it, there will likely come a time when my dopamine levels randomly drop again. There will come a time when following God will require me to sacrifice “happiness” of one form or another, when serving others will demand more of me than I would like to give, and I’m a little worried that I’ll become so addicted to this easy joy that when that moment comes I’ll just stand there, clutching my pet comfort and refusing to move forward with the confidence of one who knows that my Savior has already gone before me and will be with me through it all. And not just with me, but using me in ways greater than my own capacity or understanding.

I learned in depression that my God promises neither normalcy nor stability, but love and redemption, and that is too valuable a lesson to lose sight of just because I’ve finally caught a glimpse of that mythic species of peace that I sought through all those aching years.

And I’ve found that in both times of crippling doubt and times of quickening assurance this peace has remained, as I guess it always will, beyond my understanding. But I think now, for the first time in my short life, I believe that to be a very, very good thing.

Jordan

* But for serious, holy crap, you guys!

end of the line

I’m sure that any regular readers out there will not find it a surprise that officially, I am no longer going to be contributing to the blog. This has really been going on for quite some time now as Jordan has pretty much been the only one posting the last five months. I’ve been very impressed by his consistency and reliability, not to mention how he finds something new and meaningful to write about.

I’m leaving for three major reasons:

-Writing exhausts me; it doesn’t energize me. When I started writing the blog, I had a lot of emotions pent up inside that I wanted to release through the text. Once those emotions got released, I lost the energy and drive necessary to keep writing.

-My life is busy with graduate school, and my focus is simply on other passions. My gayness actually plays a very minimal role in my life right now.

-I ran out of things to say.

Even though I’m not writing anymore, I am always willing to meet in person with any Wheaton student or anyone else wanting to talk with someone about this stuff. Verbal processing doesn’t exhaust me. If you’re in the Chicago area, I am too. I’ll check the email from time to time, but Jordan still checks it consistently so if you let him know, he will let me know.

When I started this blog back in May, I never thought how God would use it to impact and reach so many people, way beyond the scope of Wheaton College which was my original intended audience. I thank Him for the grace He has shown in my life to allow me to say something of worth on this topic and that He would choose to use me as a vessel to maybe bring healing or hope to someone else. Ultimately, I hope my words made a positive difference in someone’s life and that this difference will cause them to positively impact someone else.

I also want to thank Jordan for his willingness and enthusiasm to jump right into the blog. It was overwhelming when it first took off, and I am forever grateful that God brought him on board (it really was a God thing).

Well, to prevent this from becoming cliche and more cheesy, I’m going to end it here. Maybe in a few years when my story is public to everyone, I will have a personal blog with my full identity revealed. But that isn’t at least for a few years. Until then, God bless everyone, and truly know that no matter what life circumstance you are facing, God loves you, and He has redeemed you. All you have to do is accept that love. And I pray that others would show it to you so that you can show it to others too.

Love

Tony

…just like everybody else

I shifted my legs around to restore pin-prick circulation as the conversation stretched into its second hour. Coming-out was rarely a quick ordeal during those early stages of growth and he was only confidante number eleven, I believe. Equal parts disarming sincerity and riotous impulsivity, he had been a dear friend from the first month of college. And then, two years after he first learned my name, he learned my deepest secret.

As the conversation began to lull, he decided to change the topic a bit. Looking me in the eye he asked, in his typical directness, “So, are you attracted to me?”

Uh. I diverted my gaze and threw out my honest answer with a less-than-natural laugh, “Ha, no, you’re safe, you don’t have anything to worry about.”

“Worry about? Dude, I don’t care if you’re attracted to me. It’s not like it’d be a bad thing. I’m attracted to, like, lots of my close friends who are girls. I just wanted to know.”

Leave it to this guy to turn such an ill-advised question into one of the most profound offerings of grace I’ve ever experienced.

You see, at that point in my life I lived in terror of being attracted to anybody, especially friends. I mean, this is a common anxiety of coming out, right? That not only will those closest to you distance themselves from fear that you might fall for them, but also that, well, you might fall for them.

But more than that, I was still in the midst of a painful war with my body. While the rest of my hormonal peers were frolicking in their dopamine-addled pairing endeavors,* I was beginning to despair of ever feeling at peace because attraction, that bewildering spacial distortion that would sweep over me when I saw him, whoever he was, made me feel abusive and criminal.

It was, I think, the inevitable result of being told, and believing, that an uncontrollable, biological response is a willful act of sin. Like most underexposed evangelicals, I equated homosexual attractions with lust; they were one and the same – abhorrent failures of holiness to be avoided at all cost.

I remember ranting to my accountability partner (poor soul greatly to be pitied) time after time about my crush(es), “I have no right to even look at him, much less tell you his name! It’s disgusting. I just feel like such a monster.”

And to think this was during the “stable” phase of my college career. Good times.

But this is why that friend’s comment lingered so forcefully in my mind. By saying that it wouldn’t bother him if I was attracted to him because, duh, attraction happens to everybody and is totally not a big deal, he offered a distinct manifestation of grace that I had refused myself; the grace of being normal.

The grace of a common experience. The grace of not being a monster. The grace of being human, just like everybody else.

In the two years since we sat together in that light-filled prayer chapel, tears in our eyes, rejoicing in the goodness of it all, I’ve found profound healing as I daily live into my humanity – a lifetime of aching otherness slowly finding its place in the humbly unfolding narrative of becoming whole.

And lust? I’ve finally begun to understand what it really is. By binding that willful vice up with the inescapable neurological occurrence of attraction, I not only turned my body into an enemy of holiness but I also crippled my ability to effectively fight lust.

I used to conceive of it as little more than excessively strong attractions, something beyond my control, something that was ultimately about me and my “purity.”** Wrong. Lust is about ignoring the dignity and inviolable humanity of another and turning them into an object for my own personal pleasure. Lust isn’t so terrible just because it makes it harder for me not to type Google searches of questionable character, though that’s a part of it; it’s so terrible because it makes it harder for me to treat every person as the absurdly beloved-by-God people that they are, because it turns them into a “thing” and turns me into a hypocrite.

But what is more, I’m no longer hopeless in this struggle. Back when I thought it was lustful to even notice another guy, the overwhelming impossibility of “purity” haunted me. I think I knew then, even if I couldn’t articulate it at the time, that to be free from lust as I defined it – as others had defined it for me – would require me to eviscerate a part of my humanity, to deaden myself to the very real desirability of others. But now, rather than fear I will lose my humanity in the good fight against lust, I am thrilled to see it come more vibrantly into focus and fullness as I reclaim the true purposes of the struggle and realize what is actually at stake:

that I might see each person, whether or not they possess that indefinable breath-sapping spark, as beautiful, worthy of love, full of dignity, and to be served with joy.

I’ll be the first to say that I’m a weak and rather pathetic “purity warrior,” but at least now I know that I’m not a lost cause, that I’m not some exceptionally broken screw-up with an entirely different set of rules. At least now I know, and at least sometimes believe, that my body is good and that there are much worse things I could do than realize someone has incredible eyes and great hair.

Jordan

* … or something like that. I might have been a little bitter at the time.

** I don’t really like how we use the word “purity” to almost exclusively reference sexuality, especially as it has historically contributed to the social marginalization of women. Biblically speaking, someone who is greedy or who gossips is just as fraught with impurity as is someone who has committed sexual sin.