Road Trip Lessons

traffic at night

I’ve driven nearly all day on my way back to Knoxville from Virginia Beach, the day after my interviews for grad school. It’s getting late as I take a break at a rest stop. The nippy air stings my face as I get out of the rental car and stretch. I walk a little bit, and notice an attractive blond walking his cute golden retriever in the grass. He makes eye contact; I smile and nod because I’m southern and friendly to everyone. He nods back and looks away. I walk a little more, examining trees and glancing at the heavy traffic on the interstate with dread knowing I’m about to get back into that mess. I happen to look back at the cute blond and his dog and jump a little when we make eye contact again. I look away quickly, a little embarrassed, and walk back to the car. I scroll through Facebook on my phone, liking kind comments people have made about a silly selfie I took in my interview suit the day before. From my peripheral, I see the guy opening the back door to the car next to mine, letting his dog in. He gets in the driver’s seat, takes out his phone, and just sits there. Suddenly he turns and looks at me again. I look back at him longer than I should—confused, but beginning to understand what’s going on. He gets out of the car and walks towards the restrooms, looking back several times to stare at me. I’m floored. This isn’t really happening. My heart thumps as intoxicating desire creeps in for a few brief moments. I utter a not so nice four-letter word. What are you doing, Seth!?! I take scripture’s advice about fleeing from temptation quite literally, shifting the gear into reverse and getting back on the interstate.


I alternate between cussing at my stupidity and praying to my Heavenly Father. Gradually I calm down. I begin to think a little like the psychologist I want to become. What just happened?


An attractive, cool looking dude had just noticed I existed and liked what he saw. It was flattering from that perspective. Most days I don’t see myself as attractive and I try to suppress those insecure thoughts. In male gay culture, looks are the most valuable resource a gay guy has to offer. The plain gay man has to work that much harder to impress and be noticed. Even in gay Christian circles, those trends tend to remain true. There are a lot of talented gay Christian figures out there, but attraction still plays a role in popularity, probably even in celibate gay subculture too. It is what it is, I guess.


An attractive, cool looking dude had also just objectified me, reducing my humanity into a sexual fantasy. C’mon man, I have more value and worth than risky, gross sex in a bathroom stall. While I have a need to be seen and loved, this wasn’t the way to meet that longing. I’m a son of God and purchased with the blood of Christ. I’m not cheap; I’m not trash. My body and soul is the sanctuary where the Holy Spirit dwells, works in me, and in my best moments represents His love to the world. I am beloved.


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I’ve been thinking a lot about the discussion of appropriate attraction and lust since that uncomfortable incident at the rest stop. This morning I read Nick Roen’s  on Spiritual Friendship’s blog, “Same-Sex Attraction in Real Life.” While physical desire is part of attraction (and Nick clearly states we should put lust to death), Nick suggests there are other components to attraction, other desires that should be examined: “desires for friendship, hospitality, emotional intimacy, sacrificial service, and love were there as well. All different desires, all colored by the same initial attraction.”


I’m a guy who likes being a guy. I love my female friends, but I love hanging out with my guy friends too. And yeah, I’m still attracted to men, occasionally developing crushes on my guy friends. It’s always a surprise when it happens, and not exactly a pleasant one. But it’s a world of difference from what happened Saturday, feelings of lust stripped of any connection to the man’s personality. Just a random dude in a town I don’t remember. Reading the comments on Nick’s post left me frustrated, namely Denny Burke’s confusing statements. From what I can understand, Burke believes all same-sex attraction is sin—attractions formed from hormones and neurotransmitters I have no control over. It doesn’t matter I’ve committed to not acting on those feelings, whether physically through sexual behavior or internally through lust. Just the attraction itself, this complicated mess of a situation I find myself in, means I am sinning and need to repent. But how do you repent of desire itself? Do I avoid all friendships with men? Do I isolate myself from the Body of Christ in fear of developing another crush? Frankly, my life would be so much easier if I could say, “infatuations, be gone!” It would save me a lot of heartache.


I’ve learned feelings come and go. Usually they were more emotional than physical anyway. When I’m drawn to guy, I’ve learned to stay present. Don’t back away; don’t become clingy and dependent. Ride it out. Grow.


There’s a difference between attraction and lust. Beauty is a gift. Those who possess it can use their appearance to direct others to the Giver of all good gifts, and when we are attracted to a person, we can view that individual as a holistic being made in God’s image. We can also learn to be aware of any discrimination we may carry against those we don’t find as attractive—learning to value the qualities that our Heavenly Father prioritizes.


And of course there is a major difference between lust and love. Lust is selfish and temporary. Lust throws you aside when everything has been taken and you are no longer needed. Love is giving and enduring. Love pours hope and affirmation into the emptiness of your heart and doesn’t quit even in your hardest, darkest moments.


Being around men, especially gay men, requires boundaries. Sex isn’t an inevitable outcome, and we can thrive without it if we can’t obtain sex within God’s protective parameters. As Julie Rodgers said somewhere, it requires being loved well. And I am loved incredibly well. A random hookup may seem tempting, and though I’m not perfect and flat out selfish some days, that hookup can’t compete with the radical love of our Savior and family of faith. I’m not scared of my sexuality because that love is where I place my trust.