When The Loneliness Keeps You Up at Night

Person in hoodie at night

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I couldn’t sleep last night. Anxiety pulsed through my body, and for hours I couldn’t determine the cause. I stayed up past midnight reading P. D. James’ take on Jane Austen and binge watching Empire while wondering what was bothering me and keeping me up way past my bedtime. By 2 a.m. I was exhausted but refused to call it a night. A strange question popped in mind. Are you afraid of dying, Seth? No, I didn’t think so. A simple statement followed: You are afraid of aging alone. BAM. My eyes welled up with tears.

 

Celibacy never felt all that costly for me. I moved back in with my family after college and pressed pause on life for five years. I have four younger siblings, so there was always someone at home, always someone to remind me I’m not alone.

 

In childhood psychology, we learn that children go through developmental forms of play. One stage is called parallel play, where children play in the same space, but don’t really interact with each other. I joke sometimes that my introverted family is a little like that. But there’s comfort in living in communal space, knowing you’re free to interact when you have something to share.

 

But now I live in Virginia with my roommate from church. He travels a lot for his job, and there have been a few weeks where I’m on my own. I joked about his absence on Facebook earlier in the evening last night, but it didn’t hit me how much this empty house impacts me emotionally. Coming home for the evening to the emptiness chips away at something in my soul; it feeds a paranoia which tells me this is all I can expect for the future.

 

So I avoid sleep to hold onto one more day that included friends and laughter and happiness. The next day doesn’t guarantee any of those things. In fact, I may blink and grad school could be over. What happens then?

 

I reread a chapter Philip Yancey wrote about Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and prolific writer who experienced same-sex attraction. Nouwen’s deep insecurities and craving for meaningful connection always resonates with me. Yancey describes Nouwen’s conflicted life:

 

“He would give inspiring addresses about the spiritual life then collapse into an irritable funk. He would speak of the strength he gained from living in community, then drive to a friend’s house, wake him up at two in the morning, and, sobbing, ask to be held. His phone bills usually exceeded his rent as he called around the world, disregarding time zones, in desperate need of companionship.”¹

 

My two o’clock breakdown didn’t involve driving to any of my cohort’s or church friends’ homes, because I would never want to impose my emotional mess on anyone else. Honestly, my breakdowns are usually over as soon as they begin: I’ll laugh at how silly I’m being and repress my deepest emotions. I’m fine. I got this. How are you?

 

Sarah Bessey wrote a must-read this week on the traumas we gloss over and refuse to process called “The Sanitized Stories We Tell.” I think she provides a brilliant analysis of our human inclination to cover up our hurts:

 

“It makes me wonder how much pressure we feel to sanitize our stories so that they don’t make people uncomfortable, how we anecdote our experience with the lightness or the healing or birth or new life alone in order to make it acceptable. We simplify and sanitize and so we miss the healing we could have if we only spoke the whole truth.”

 

I would love to tell you I eventually experienced some profound sense of peace or realized some comforting insight about my celibate vocation or God’s goodness, but nothing came in the silence of the night. Celibacy has its sucky moments. A lot of the time God doesn’t feel present in my suffering. That’s probably not what the church wants to hear, but that’s the truth. Nothing about obeying my convictions is easy. Sometimes I’m just a mess like Nouwen, going through an existential crisis and desperately wanting to know I’m not journeying through life alone. And sometimes I just need to sleep, hoping my neurochemistry will reset in the morning.

 

Yancey wrote more on Henri Nouwen’s thoughts about loneliness:

 

“He once described the wound of loneliness as resembling the Grand Canyon: a deep incision in the surface of existence that has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding. That insight typifies Nouwen’s approach to ministry. He did not promise a way out of loneliness, for himself or for anyone else. Rather, he held out the promise of redemption through it.”²

 

Faith tells me there’s redemptive hope, even in a lonely, late night. My suffering connects me to my Savior, with humanity, and the creation. Together we yearn for God’s restoration of all things. Faith promises God will provide the friendships I need for my entire life.

 

But for now, I think I’ll take a nap.

 

  1. Philip Yancey, Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. New York, New York: Doubleday, 2001, 301.
  2. Ibid, 303.

When Friendship Feels Like a Fairytale

depressed man

 

I don’t really believe in friendship.

 

Those were the words echoing in my mind as I wrote draft after draft responding to Wesley Hill’s new book Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Don’t get me wrong, Wesley’s written a beautiful, brilliant book. The church needs to read it. But parts of Wesley’s book felt too good to be true, more fairytale than reality. Maybe the best thing we can hope for in our busy lives is just friendly acquaintances—moments of connection to get us by. Maybe we should just take the advice of a song in The Phantom of the Opera: learn to be lonely.

 

I tell myself I’m good with the solitude. I’m not a great communicator; sometimes when I’m around people I feel clingy, awkward, unwanted. Whatever. I’ve lived most of my life emotionally alone. I generally accept complacency and apathy over risk and disappointment. Who cares anyway?

 

Apparently I did.

 

After college I developed a bad habit of flirting with guys to feel wanted and seen. I craved being the center of someone’s attention, even if I knew it wouldn’t last for more than a few days. Over the years I’ve tried to make social media and long distance “text-pals” replace the adventures and face-to-face conversations I was missing in real life, often because I avoided vulnerability with the people I knew locally. I’ve sent out too many texts and Facebook messages at existential low points and received far too many I’m sorry, buddy and Praying for you responses to last me a lifetime. They did little to assuage the hurt.

 

This is not enough.

 

I’ve had some great friends over the years (and still keep up with many of them), but as a gay celibate, there never seems to be anything permanent and immutable about friendship. Friends move on to new priorities and new rhythms of life; they marry and have kids, they move up social ladders, and they move away. Nothing stays the same. Can I really bear the losses again and again? Is life just a cycle of inevitable abandonment?

 

Perhaps it depends on the relationship.

 

Wesley discusses two kinds of relationships from Catholic writer Maggie Gallagher in Spiritual Friendship.1 “You’re mine because I love you” and, “I love you because you’re mine.” The first doesn’t include any serious attachments or commitments; convenience and feelings of endearment are all that bind the relationship together. Either person could walk away when the friendship is no longer easy, comfortable, or uncomplicated. But Wesley elaborates on the more hopeful alternative:

 

“In this latter type of friendship, my love for you isn’t the basis of our connection. It’s the other way around: we are bound to each other, and therefore I love you. You may still bore me or wound me or otherwise become unattractive to me, but that doesn’t mean I’ll walk away. You’re not mine because I love you; I love you because you’re—already, and always—mine. We’ve made promises to each other; we’ve committed to each other, in the sight of our families and our churches, and in the strength of those vows, I will, God willing, go on loving you.”2

 

Christians expect this level of commitment from husbands and wives, but Wesley offers a compelling question: what if friendships could contain some level of this fidelity and structure? What would that look like?

 

Maybe we’d see more nontraditional homes—families practicing communal living with other families or with singles like me. Maybe we would be more intentional about extending hospitality and creating regular routines to hang out. Maybe we wouldn’t be so quick to shrug our shoulders and put old friendships in the rearview mirror when people move away; maybe we would make more sacrifices to keep investing in the people who matter.

 

Yet it’s these same sentiments that feel so unrealistic and hollow. Of course it sounds great, but right now I find myself caught somewhere between neediness and reticence—never able to find a happy balance. It hurts too much to hope for more.

 

See, I can embrace a life of service to others, that’s not a problem. It’s not hard for me to show kindness to everyone while keeping them at arm’s length. But accepting another person’s love? That’s terrifying; the risks are so great. It’s easier to remain closed off to everyone around me. True, no one can hurt me, but to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, a life without love is just a living Hell. Christ came so we could experience abundant life—including the ability to experience intimacy and belong to a spiritual family. Unfortunately, the abundant life doesn’t liberate us from the crosses we must bear to walk with Jesus. In order to thrive, we’re going to suffer like Jesus did. No prosperity gospel can shield us from a broken world. Maybe loneliness is my thorn in the flesh I will bear to the end of my days. Perhaps God is teaching me to see his power made perfect in my weakness, in my emotional pain. Maybe an insecure guy like me can find strength to persevere another day, knowing it isn’t only me, but Christ working in me to will and do of his good pleasure. My Heavenly Father promises his grace is somehow sufficient. I freely confess I don’t know what that means, but I have to believe I’m going to be ok.

 

~         ~         ~

 

I flipped through Spiritual Friendship again and discovered Wesley had already anticipated a response like mine. He knew his words would come across hollow to those who had not tasted the richness of intimate companionship or those who had lost close friendships. But I think Wesley had people like me in mind too, people with beautiful friendships that occasionally dig deeper into the things that matter, yet people who still feel the sting of dissatisfaction. The sting feels especially potent when the best form of connection some of us can attain most days is through texting, email, or social media. But at friendship’s best, even marriage’s best, there’s no way to escape the pain of loneliness. No one will ever feel fully understood or like they completely belong. I love this quote from Wesley:

 

“Friendship … doesn’t solve the problem of loneliness so much as it shifts its coordinates. Just as marriage isn’t a magic bullet for the pain of loneliness, neither is friendship. It does, we hope, pull us out of ourselves, orienting our vision to our neighbors. But no, … it’s not enough. It’s never enough.”3

 

This is where the Gospel steps in to redeem our stories. Yes, the fall severed the perfect unity we experienced in Eden with each other and God, but Christ came to restore all things, and that includes our relationships. We still face conflict and misunderstandings, we get busy and neglect the people God has entrusted us to love and nurture, but God is still redeeming his people and still building his kingdom. One day the work will end, all will be made right, and all our suffering will cease—including our loneliness.

 

In the meantime we need faith—faith God will accomplish all he has promised and will provide for our emotional needs. Faith supplies the motivation to risk disappointment and heartbreak to develop and maintain intimate friendships in order to thrive as social beings. It takes a lot of faith not to become cynical when attempt after attempt has only resulted in rejection. And it takes faith to keep digging with patience when those attempts have only led to superficial acquaintances—while trying not to stifle the potential friendship.

 

Friendship requires a delicate balance. As the Christian boy band Plus One sang, “If you need love / Take the time and be love / Breathe it out create love / See how things can turn.” Sometimes we need to be more intentional about loving others and proactively pursuing their friendships. But sometimes we have to realize we’ve done all we can do; love can’t be one-sided. We have to step away and give people space believing some will return. And believe me, I know how scary that is when you’re convinced people will forget your existence if you don’t consistently remind them. God help my unbelief, I guess.

 

I don’t pretend to have this all figured out, nor do I present myself as some poster child for celibate gay Christians. Celibacy sucks, but I think there’s beauty in the pain, any form of pain, when our suffering drives us to each other and to our Savior. There’s something so powerful when we can say, “Hey, me too.” Rachel Held Evans says church should look more like an A. A. meeting than a country club, and I think we’d be far healthier and more joyful if we’d all take more risks and show more vulnerability rather than trying to impress others and pretending like we have our you-know-what together. I feel a sense of connection when Rachel Held Evans talks about her doubts on her blog, when my friend Addie Zierman writes about the darkness of her depression, or when several of my local friends share their struggle to hold onto God’s goodness in their infertility. The loneliness doesn’t hurt so badly when we hurt together.

 

Most days friendship feels like a fairytale. But you know what? I still choose to embrace Wesley’s vision of friendship in faith. I still believe it’s a model the church needs to rediscover for the benefit of the entire Body. Jesus said not to be anxious about the future, and for me that means not worrying if I’ll end up old and alone because I chose celibacy to reconcile my faith and sexuality. God will provide. Life will never be perfect, but God will never stop offering little reminders to smile and remember how much he loves me. Those reminders often come from the people in my life. Yes, I am scared of disappointment and rejection, but I will continue pursuing friendships until my last day because I intend to thrive.

 

 

  1. Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, 41-42.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid, 98.
river in fall

Wilderness Conversations

Let’s take a walk out in the crisp autumn air, shall we? It’s easier to talk about the hard things when we’re moving. The silences feel less awkward, the fears less stifling. The trees are all arrayed in reds and oranges. It’s peaceful here, leaves crunching under our shoes as we duck beneath tree limbs, and shiver with the breeze.

 

Listen to the wilderness calling.

 

I’m crouching next to river’s edge, poking drifting leaves with a stick. I look up to your eyes with a sad smile. I have so little to say, so I speak with nonverbal gestures. They speak loudly if you could only read the language.

 

I don’t know your thoughts these days

We’re strangers in an empty space

I don’t understand your heart

It’s easier to be apart

We might as well be strangers in another town

We might as well be living in a another time

We might as well

We might as well

Be strangers1

 

I’m guarded; a chaos of emotion running through my brain. Questions, so many questions. So many things good Christians shouldn’t ask. So many things an out gay man shouldn’t bring up. Where do you turn when you’ve been walking in no man’s land for so long?

 

How do you choose between integrity and just a drop of intimacy? A glimmer of connection? When can I look into another’s eyes and find…

 

Home?

 

~          ~          ~

 

There came a day when I realized my crushes on men would never cease. The evangelicals had gotten it wrong. I didn’t know what that meant and the questions scared me. I learned to listen, but the listening only brought more questions. I processed my thoughts alone.

 

I didn’t want to believe the traditional Christian sexual ethic. I fought belligerently, actually. I despised evangelical weddings. I hated sermons on marriage. I rolled my eyes and swore silently in disgust. Bitterness and anger simmered beneath the surface. I didn’t know what to say. I just knew to smile and hide the feelings.

 

Some of the happiest times in my life occurred while I was reading Justin Lee’s Torn and James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality. Meaningful friendships with other LGBTs were forged. This new perspective felt liberating. But doubts lingered. I struggled deeply with my reformed background and God’s goodness. I would beg my gay friends to reassure me I wasn’t a reprobate, usually after explaining what that word meant. I became convinced the gospel didn’t conclude with a happy ending. So I fought this angry, narcissistic being God had become in my mind. I stopped going to church, I avoided evangelical friends.

 

My blood pressure shot up for the first time in my life during that season. I discovered a health kick in college and never abandoned it. As I wavered between career choices after college, I took exercise science, nutrition, and anatomy classes. An exercise physiology professor told me with confusion and concern that I was nearly hypertensive. The anxiety of fighting God day after day was hurting me. I needed to rest; I needed a ceasefire.

 

I’ve only cried twice in the last ten years. I just don’t know how to; so many barriers and inhibitions stand in the way. One of those two times came after fighting with my pastor about Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality. He thought I was talking about my future, but by this point it had stopped being about me. Now, my pastor wasn’t one of those angry, shouting pastors. He was just a man trying to be faithful to his reformed interpretation of scripture. He reinforced the God I had been battling for so long. A God who would damn Christians for their blind spots and unconquerable struggles.

 

Barbara Brown Taylor brings up a fascinating question in her book An Alter in the World. “What is saving my life now?” I haven’t read the book yet (it’s on a very long list), but I often hear the question asked. It’s an invitation to storytelling. What things, ideas, or people in this world are meaningfully representing God in this moment? What keeps us holding onto hope when it would be so easy to surrender to despair? For me it was my gay Christian friends. I couldn’t deal with evangelical Christianity, the black and white answers that ignored the complexity of my life. But my gay friends challenged me to trust God. They helped melt the ice around my heart so God could touch me again.

 

Arguing with my pastor represented changes that were happening in my theology, shifts that were returning me to previously held beliefs. But I was also coming back with a new perspective. I was no longer fundamentalist, but a Christian skeptic. Every stone had to be turned over and examined. I would not go back to the old me. Those days were over. I sobbed alone in my car because I didn’t know what to do or what to believe. I haven’t cried since.

 

~          ~          ~

 

I believed the only way to remain a loyal, compassionate friend to the LGBTs in my life meant affirming same-sex relationships. The other side of the false dichotomy meant becoming a Bible-thumping jerk. As I realized the revisionist perspective just didn’t connect to my reading and interpretation of scripture, I became determined to find another way—a way that encompasses both my sexual ethics and my love for sexual minorities.

 

My friend David Owens comes to mind when I wrestle with these questions. He’s one of the most Christ-like men I know. David also has a solid relationship with his boyfriend Phil; they’ve been together for as long as I’ve known David. His faith and his relationship is not a contradiction for me, just a discovery outside the evangelical bubble.

 

I appreciated these words from a love letter David wrote for LGBTQ Christians on Ben Moberg’s blog Registered Runaway:

 

“As someone who leans admittedly Reformed in theology, I don’t believe I’ve ever had anything to do with my salvation. He is, after all, the Author and Finisher of my faith. My story begins and ends with Him. To live according to someone else’s convictions out of a place of fear and shame is hardly what I call living in freedom. Rather, I recognized that I would have to respond authentically to what He’d revealed to me. If I believed that God is good, then I would also have to trust that He wouldn’t let me remain on a path that would lead to my eventual destruction but would lovingly intervene as a good father.”

 

To my surprise I also found a lot of comfort in my reformed background. I grew up as a Primitive Baptist, a small denomination that emphasizes sovereign grace. What I remember clearly was a sharp division over whether scripture teaches the perseverance or the preservation of God’s children. Like many reformed believers, those advocating perseverance believed the Christian may have occasional setbacks, but will ultimately “persevere” in his or her faith until the end. I struggled deeply with this perspective; a traditional sexual ethic didn’t make room for Gay Christians in a perseverance framework. But my parents were part of the other faction. They held that sanctification was both the work of God and the individual. They made room for God’s children who became addicted to alcohol or committed suicide. Christians may screw up because we live in a broken world; sometimes the darkness is too great. But they firmly taught me that nothing can separate us as God’s children from His rich, abounding love. We are “preserved” in Christ and we can do nothing to earn or lose our salvation. To keep my sanity, part of my return to evangelical faith meant returning to my roots.

 

I’ve invested a lot of time interacting with gay Christians who affirm same-sex relationships. I’ve spent the weekend with one of my best friends and his boyfriend, having breakfast and spending the afternoon on the lake. In all these conversations and moments of life lived together, I’ve discovered plenty I don’t understand. When I see pictures of David and Phil together on Facebook I don’t feel judgmental or freaked out. I don’t agree with same-sex behavior, but I believe in love. You can’t reduce gay people to just sex. But that’s what so many evangelicals do. Many evangelicals don’t see the affection and concern gay Christians have for each other, nor the sacrifices that these people beautifully make.2 They genuinely want to express Christ’s love to their partners. I respect that. Amid the disagreements, I can still see God’s image within their lives.

 

~          ~          ~

 

I interact with several young guys who aren’t sure how they envision their future; they don’t know what position they’ll take. I tell them to follow Christ. Come to Christ as you are, feed on His Word, become part of a corporate body of believers who fervently love and welcome you. If the traditional position causes you to feel shame, despair, and suicidal ideation, then please don’t pursue celibacy. Be open to where God leads you. I promise God won’t abandon you. And you’ll find so many brothers and sisters in Christ from both perspectives who will still support you and love you unconditionally no matter what you choose.

 

Thankfully there are straight Christians like Jen Hatmaker in evangelical churches who speak from conviction with so much love and hospitality. Evangelicals who will listen. Jen wrote a few months ago,

 

“The gay community has been spiritually beaten, stripped of dignity, robbed of humanity, and left for dead by much of the church. You need only look at the suicide rates, prevalence of self-harm, and the devastating pleas from ostracized gay people and those who love them to see what has plainly transpired.”

 

Jen believes in a traditional Christian view of marriage. Ben Moberg wrote on Rachel Held Evans’ blog that Jen had done the impossible. “She wrote that same-sex marriage is sinful and yet left me in layers of love. It was a startling and confusing moment for me.” For those who wish to love sexual minorities better but want to remain true to their beliefs about sexual ethics, I highly recommend it. The church would be a better place for us all: straight and gay, celibates, those in mixed orientation marriages, and yes, the gay-relationship affirming.

 

There’s a lot of conflict and tension when you try to build bridges in war zones. It’s hard to remain neutral, and maybe it’s best not to be. But there are important qualities to have in this debate, primarily openness. I’m not God, you’re not God. Just because we have His Word doesn’t mean we can understand all its mysteries. So I choose to journey with my brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of agreement and disagreement. As Jen Hatmaker wrote, “I am convinced we need no more soldiers in this war. We need more neighbors.”

 

You’re welcomed in my life, neighbor.

 

~          ~          ~

 

So maybe we are strangers, me and my evangelical friends, me and my gay Christian friends. Maybe I will continue walking in no man’s land.

 

Maybe.

 

But here in this wilderness, among the trees ablaze with color or next to the chilly river’s edge, I’d like to think there’s space for us, for the questions, for the tension. I don’t expect people to always agree with everything I say or do, but I do hope for a little grace and humility.

 

And maybe, just maybe I won’t always wander the wilderness alone.

 

/ / /

 

  1. Keane, “We Might as Well Be Strangers” from Hopes and Fears
  2. Nick Roen wrote a really great post for Spiritual Friendship on this topic.

 

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user ChattOconeeNF

depressed woman

When I Fear God Is Not Good

God sometimes feels something like Sid from Toy Story.

 

A sadistic kid with evil plots for his toys.

 

I grew up in a denomination that emphasized God’s sovereignty over history and our salvation. God chose some through predestination to Heaven, while abandoning others to their fate in Hell.

 

We had proof texts like

 

“For his dominion is an everlasting dominion,

and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;

all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,

and he does according to his will among the host of heaven

and among the inhabitants of the earth;

and none can stay his hand

or say to him, ‘What have you done?’”

Daniel 4:34-35 ESV.

 

I believed in God’s absolute sovereignty without question like any good Reformed Christian. I believed scripture was black and white. God is good because He promises I can trust Him.

 

But there came a day when I didn’t trust God. I realized at Bryan College I was never going to become straight and I didn’t have a clue what that meant for my life. It scared me. Celibacy scared me. The idea of marrying a guy scared me.

 

I had invested all my hope in healing my sexuality. I am not gay. I cannot be gay. I AM NOT GAY. I just had to figure out God’s secret plan to make myself straight. I felt at home among conservative, straight Christians because I believed eventually I was going to be one of them. Beautiful wife. A couple kids. The American dream.

 

I woke up.

 

What now? The church hadn’t prepared me for this reality. I didn’t feel like God had prepared me to be gay in the church. Suddenly the safe, familiar home amid conservative, straight Christians felt foreign and threatening. Everything I believed was called into question.

 

Who are you, God?

 

C. S. Lewis wrote amid the grief of losing his wife “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’”¹

 

After college I developed friendships with other gay men. I didn’t want to freak anyone out, so I kept my new friends a secret from my family and church. Secrets kill the soul and damage relationships. I made a lot of mistakes and got hurt multiple times. But over those years I made a few friends and acquaintances I still care about. Out of a lot of men driven by lust I found a few who loved Jesus or at least had the maturity to value friendship.

 

I found myself in a tension of old beliefs and new ideas I wanted to believe. The God I had known was one who loved the elect, not every single human being. I didn’t want to get on His bad side. How could I reconcile this image with the Jesus who came in grace and truth and hung out with sinners? But I also felt like a man looking into two storefront windows. One, the conservative Christian church; the other, the lives of my gay friends. Some of my gay friends were very dear to me. One pastor had told me that not only were gay Christians going to Hell, but they had an even worst place in Hell prepared for them because they knew the truth and used Jesus to cover their sins. That really helped my anxieties.

 

Could I be more righteous than God for loving those He refused to love?

 

Suddenly my faith fell apart. I felt that in order to be a Christian, I needed to give up my compassion. It made sense why so many evangelicals stick to their own. They have certainty that the people they love will be with them in Heaven. You don’t have to be stressed out, anxious, depressed, and angry all the time. You can coldly tell someone, you’re a sinner. Repent or get the hell out of my life.

 

I was mad at God. I could totally relate to Lewis when he wrote, “Sometimes it is hard not to say ‘God forgive God.’”² Scripture told me not to be anxious, but how can you surrender your anxiety to God when you can’t trust your Heavenly Father?

 

I was mad at Christians. Their ignorance and lack of concern for the marginalized infuriated me. I ranted on Facebook. A lot. My friend count dropped as I offended my evangelical acquaintances. I drifted away from church. I didn’t go most Sundays, and if I did, it was only out of obligation.

 

God felt silent. I could only read scripture through the paradigm of my denomination and it hurt. I had questions and the answers Christians gave me were hallow. The answers closed off my spirit. If I wasn’t working or in a class, you would likely find me in bed. That’s all I had energy for those days. When awake, my mind would go back to the same questions. They repeated over and over. I preferred sleep over the migraines I gave myself worrying about others. Worrying what this all meant for my life.

 

“Go to Him when your need is desperate,” Lewis wrote, “when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence.”³

 

It’s one thing if you’re conservative and believe in complete free will. Maybe you can convince a loved one to change. But if you’re convinced that God predestines all things, then you’re powerless. If everything is preordained, why pray? God’s made His choice. Why feel? I might get attached to a Hell-bound sinner. Maybe I had chosen to be a Christian because I feared Hell more than I loved Jesus. Maybe that’s what God wanted—my fear rather than my love. I finally assumed this must be what it means to be a reprobate; incapable of accepting the harsh reality of God’s nature. I was a bad Christian. Bad, Seth. Bad.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

So here I am today. I’m still a Christian. I’m still in love with God. And many of my questions still remain.

 

I met a new acquaintance earlier this year. He said something in a coffee shop that shifted my perspective. Maybe when God leaves a question unanswered, the problem is that we’re asking the wrong question.

 

C. S. Lewis came to agree with this concept.

 

“When I lay these questions before God I get no answer. But a rather special sort of ‘No answer.’ It is not the locked door. It is more like a silent, certainly not uncompassionate, gaze. As though He shook His head not in refusal but waiving the question. Like, ‘Peace child; you don’t understand.’

 

Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable. How many hours are there in a mile? Is yellow square or round? Probably half the questions we ask—half our great theological and metaphysical problems—are like that.”4

 

I lost sight of grace. I’d been drenched in Calvinism for so long, I had forgotten what grace feels like.

 

I believe salvation is all of God. It’s not what I do, believe, say, think, or feel. It’s what Christ accomplished and finished on the cross. It’s not of works. It doesn’t demand perfection, because I can’t meet that standard.

 

I don’t know exactly how grace works. Where does God’s regenerating work end and man’s freedom of will begin? I don’t know.

 

“He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:11-13 ESV. Awesome. That clears up everything.

 

I know many Christians want to have their I’s dotted and their T’s crossed, but I’ve realized if I want to have a thriving relationship with God I don’t need to have perfect doctrine. I need Jesus. I need His relationship. I need to discover Him in scripture, prayer, and community to shape me into His image. I don’t have to know everything.

 

There will always be a tension between passages like John 3:16 and Romans 9. You can choose either side and use one to interpret the other. We can get lost in debates over which perspective best glorifies God. And it’s a major issue for some Christians. It’s all scripture though. And maybe we’re supposed to wrestle with these questions. It’s nothing new for me as a gay Christian—spiritual wrestling and questions.

 

The Bible is more than systematic theology. Scripture is a narrative of how God redeemed us from our depravity and brokenness. We don’t want the Bible to be a story. We want to know the basics. Tell us the rules. Give us a life manual. How do we avoid Hell? But the Bible is so much more. It’s His love letter. It’s our history. It’s our vision for the future. If we strip it down to doctrinal points, we lose the hope of the gospel. We lose the opportunity to know God.

 

Lewis continued from the quotation above and wrote, “And now that I come to think of it, there’s no practical problem before me at all. I know the two great commandments, and I’d better get on with them.”5

 

My compassion is not weakness. I need it to live out God’s overarching commands. I fell in love with the people the church ostracized; the ones who may never come to the “right” conclusions. That’s real agape love. I don’t love people with an agenda. I don’t have a timetable for you to conform to my beliefs by a certain length of time. I just love people. And I love Jesus.

 

I’ve found comfort from a passage of scripture as I’ve returned to God:

 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 4:43-48.

 

I’m thankful for this passage. If God calls me to love my enemies, what does this say of His heart? Would God call me to a higher standard than He can meet? God is the standard. I am to love my enemies because He loved His enemies. When I fear God is not good, I turn to one act, God’s substitutionary death on the cross, and it reveals something of God’s character. Rather than Sid, an immature, evil brat, I see Aslan. Fierce, dangerous, and holy. But most definitely good.

 

I don’t really have a position on homosexuality. I’m not “Side A” or “Side B.” I’m a man who wants to walk alongside the church and LGBTs and get my hands dirty with love and grace. I’m not positive what God thinks on the subject. I’m not God. But as I’ve encountered my Father apart from hardcore Calvinism, I’ve found a God of mercy and compassion. He’s not so much wrathful as He is concerned with justice in a corrupt world. I have held my gay friends tightly in my fists. I had to solve the questions for them. And I finally trust God enough to let go. They’re in good hands. Whatever eternity reveals, I know my responsibility in this life. Love God. Love my neighbor.

 

I’d better get on with that.

 

photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Yuliya Libkina

 

1. C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed (New York: HarperOne, 1961), 18.

2. Ibid, 40.

3. Ibid, 18.

4. Ibid, 81-82

5. Ibid, 82.