Finding Grace in the Wilderness

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The wilderness resonates with me. It symbolizes uncertainty, internal wrestling, and solitude. I find myself wandering the wilderness every now and then, as God shifts my perspective and turns my world upside down. Comfort and certainty transforms into tension and reservation. I’ve found myself back there since moving to Virginia. Real life uncovers questions I’ve tried to suppress and ignore. But the more I learn and the more diversity enters my life, the more tentative I become–the less tightly I hold onto my assumptions. As I’ve interacted with LGBTQs over the past few years I’ve found less confidence in definite positions. I don’t have absolute assuredness about Side B or Side A, celibacy or same-sex relationships. I just know grace. I know I can trust God with these gray areas, because I believe he is good and he loves. Oh, yes. He loves.

~     ~     ~

I was recently interviewed by Nico Lang about my experience as a celibate gay Christian. My thoughts revealed some of my internal tension and some of my doubts as I shared pieces of my faith that I found beautiful and inspiring. The article arrived with little notice, so I sighed a breath of relief and moved on.

 

But then Queerty featured a story about me that was, well…interesting. The story revealed a major misrepresentation of my faith, and the comments stung with cruelty as people hit below the belt. But as I reflected on the piece, rather than experiencing anger, I felt a desire for compassion, grace, and forgiveness. So I wrote Queerty an email they may never read, but I want to share it with you:

 

“Hi there,

My name is Seth Crocker; your website recently ran a piece about me regarding my interview with Nico Lang for Mic.

I would like to humbly submit your article mischaracterizes me and my faith. I have repeatedly stated in my public writings that I have no desire to convert other gay and lesbian people to my perspective. I believe God loves all people, and that includes the LGBTQ community. You don’t have to change your sexual orientation or choose a life of celibacy to be ok with God. God loves you just as you are in this moment.

I have spoken publicly about celibacy to share with a specific demographic my story of faith and sexuality. It’s never been intended to shame anyone or change anyone’s mind. We live in a multicultural world filled with different perspectives and values. I respect your dignity and autonomy, and I would hope you would respect mine even if you disagree. The beauty of our diversity is our ability to challenge each other so we can grow.

I realize my position may trigger negative emotions and painful memories with insensitive and homophobic Christians and traumatic experiences with the church. I can simply say I don’t condemn anyone. You don’t have to be celibate, or even believe in God for me to love you. You are loved unconditionally.

I confess that I could be wrong about my position. I have doubts and uncertainty. I’m ever seeking to learn and interact with other Gay Christians and local LGBTQs. I might not always be celibate. Who knows. I’m simply doing my best to reconcile my faith and sexuality according to my conscience. Others will choose different paths, and I extend no judgment to them. I’m just trying to make it through life like any other human by God’s grace.

Much love to you and your readers,

Seth”

~     ~     ~

I’m still journeying through the wilderness. I don’t black and white answers. Maybe celibacy isn’t the answer for me, or maybe the future will strengthen my previous convictions. Despite my doubts, I am committed to deepening my relationship with Christ and following where he leads. If I’m learned anything, it’s that the world hates uncertainty. It pressures and intimidates, when we just need room to think and reframe and breathe. No one can interact with God’s Word and the world and remain unchanged. A dance occurs between scripture and the stories we tell. Each reveals something marvelous about the other. The more we learn from both, the more questions we may discover than comfortable answers–at least I have. I question whether I’ll ever find certainty again–maybe it’s just an idol holding me back from trusting God. To my surprise, I’m finding peace sitting with this tension. “Walk by faith, not by sight.”

 

So what I want to extend to Queerty, to every sexual and gender minority, every Christian, whether conservative or liberal, is grace. The wilderness may seem barren and lonely, but there’s grace here. God is here. And I’m learning to extend grace to myself. Grace to question, grace to learn, grace to grow.

 

Grace to live life.

Great Expectations

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I grew up in a large homeschooling family. We went to Primitive Baptist churches and stood out among the older congregants. Other than my siblings, I didn’t have a real-life friend until I was fifteen. I had a Mormon pen-pal for a few years and somehow made diverse friendships on message boards as the designated fundamentalist. After a devastating week at Boy Scout camp, I really didn’t know if I could do real-life friendships. Maybe I was just too sheltered and too different.

 

It didn’t stop me from trying.

 

When I became a teenager, my family joined a new church and suddenly I had connections to people in my age range. I loved to write, so I decided to create a newsletter for other Primitive Baptist youth, especially those who felt isolated like me without friends their own age. The newsletter gave me a voice and purpose; I could present myself as confident, intelligent, and maybe just a little bit cool.

 

Unfortunately, my social deprivation quickly revealed itself in church camps and out-of-town church meetings. I talked way too fast, stuttered, or just didn’t know what to say to other teenagers. I cried myself asleep many of those nights away from home, embarrassed because I felt like such a freak. I didn’t realize the only way to overcome awkwardness was to work through it, and as Elizabeth Bennett advised the reticent Mr. Darcy, “Practice.” But there weren’t a lot of opportunities to learn when most of the teenagers were hours away from home. Every time I went to a church meeting or camp, I swore I’d never go back. …And then somehow I’d find myself back again a year later.

 

In junior college, I fell in love with stories, partly because I had an amazing English Literature instructor who would let me hang out in her office and talk about characters, symbolism, and religion. I particularly loved gritty stories with redemptive endings or the sad ones that kicked me in the gut and left me depressed and haunted for days. I majored in psychology so I could hear real-life stories and take part in people’s journeys. I had two dreams: become a psychologist and an author.

 

Blogging sorta accomplished one of my goals, but it also forced me to face my deepest insecurities. It honestly didn’t matter how much progress I made, I still felt like that awkward, stammering teenager with nothing interesting to say. Worst of all was getting to know some of the writers I’d read for years. I really wanted to belong in their cliques; I hoped they would like me. But the writing community is a fickle, forgetful place. Often you have to do your time before you fit in. The disappointments often hit me hard.

 

My life has a pretty consistent theme: I depend on others to validate me. I expect to embarrass myself and prove to you how socially incompetent I am. I just know people will inevitably lose interest and concern and I’ll be right back where I started. Alone. Surely I missed out on some vital social script to maneuver through life. How can I convince cool people to teach me? What can I do to attract their attention? I’m ambitious. I work pretty hard to hide my insecurities behind my successes and I’m constantly doing something to feel worthy of your attention: create a newsletter for Primitive Baptist teenagers, start a psychology club in college, publish a blog about being gay and Christian, get accepted into a doctoral program… But success doesn’t guarantee belonging. I still have to do the vulnerable, delicate work of interacting and developing friendships. I can’t run and hide in my room whenever relationships get a little messy and complicated or when it looks like another person has ignored me or doesn’t reciprocate my interest.

 

I need another perspective.

 

Marlena Graves wrote a beautiful blend of spiritual memoir and theology last year in her book A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness. Marlena spoke of our suffering as a wilderness, a place to practice spiritual disciplines to deepen and mature our relationship with Christ. The wilderness is a place to face our insecurities and even has things to teach us about our desire for attention:

 

“We all, every one of us, want our God-given dignity affirmed by others. We want to receive attention. We want to be valued, appreciated, admired and sought after. We want to feel cherished and adored—to be ‘in’ with others. We want to know our lives matter. We want to be loved. That’s why some of us so desperately want to be famous. It’s why we are overly concerned with our reputations, why we loathe obscurity, and why our confidence hangs on the opinions of others. When it comes right down to it, some of us believe that we matter if and only if hordes of people are fawning over us.”1

 

Blogging quickly revealed I had some unhealthy motives for writing. Sure, I wanted to help people, but I didn’t feel like I was making much of an impact if the established writing community didn’t notice my posts. Rather than staying faithful to what I loved, I allowed certain people’s lack of enthusiasm to crush my love for the craft of writing and my hopes of becoming writer—a profession that a requires a ridiculous amount of failure and disappointment and honestly never guarantees anything. And when I actually had a viral post, I felt like a deer in front of headlights. I had no idea what to do with the attention.

 

Marlena offers incredibly helpful insight:

 

“Pursuing fame and prestige will corrupt my soul and in all probability prove elusive. An out-of-control need to be seen is an addiction that will drive us to compromise the Jesus life. In the kingdom of God, being seen and pursuing fame and prestige are not to be our motivations. That’s why Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). Perhaps our endeavors will lead to fame, but that’s not what we should aim for or why we do what we do.”2

 

I’m slowly learning not to care what others think of me; i’s not my responsibility to know. All I’m expected to do is live transparently and honestly. Maybe I’m just meant to be the guy in the background. If I can be completely open with just a few close friends, that’s more than enough. Maybe I have a place in the broader discussion of LGBTQs and the church, maybe I don’t. There are already great spokespeople leading the conversation, so I don’t have to strive to be something I’m not. The word is slowly getting out there. Whatever platform God gives me will suffice.

 

My recent graduate school interview was an incredible experience. It revealed a different paradigm than the one I’d imagined. I’ve spent my life trying to win over people I found interesting, but never really believing I had anything to offer. During my interview I openly shared how my story as a sexual minority deepened my empathy and compassion for the marginalized and the suffering. I spoke up in a student panel and asked a question on the treatment of minorities on campus, revealing I was a gay applicant. In one day I had accomplished what I never would have dared do before I published my blog. My approach during the interview was completely “take me or leave me,” a perspective I’m not normally brave enough to feel. And yet, people would stop and ask me questions about my experience. They told me about gay people they knew. I was shown kindness, respect, and surprisingly, interest. Huh. Who knew?

 

I’ve built all my dreams on some fairly weighty expectations. Do more, be more and then you will be loved. But all along God has been calling me to minimalism. Do less. Just be you. I have made you enough as you are.

Write and become a clinical psychologist because you want to, Seth.

Pursue your passions because you can’t imagine doing anything else with your life.

Follow your dreams because they still matter even if no one knows your name or thinks you’re worth knowing.

The best friends you’ll have in this life are the ones you don’t have to impress, convince, or win over. They don’t care about your popularity or influence. They don’t want anything from you except your love and friendship. They like your personality, your interests, and your story.

 

My journey has been long and weighed down with baggage and insecurity. I’ve lingered far too long in the desert. But Marlena reminds me that God hasn’t left me in the wilderness without a purpose. Rather, she writes, “I experience the greatest divine growth spurts deep in the wilderness, in the midst of wild and unwelcomed pain. God uses the suffering I experience in the desert wilderness to show me who I am without him, to drive me to repentance, and to make me holy and wholly alive.”3 For all the insecurity I’ve experienced throughout life, I’ve also found resiliency and optimism to keep giving intimacy another shot. The blog has shown me my fears, but also my courage.

 

Intimacy scares the heck out of us because we aren’t perfect; we screw up and reveal our selfishness, pride, and yes, our insecurities. But you have to let people show you grace rather than run. The friends worth keeping will stick around. Just love people and let them be. Lose the expectations and live. Embrace the wilderness.

 

  1. Marlena Graves, A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2014, 131.
  2. Ibid, page 132.
  3. Ibid, page 195.