When Jesus Redefines Masculinity

man looking out at water

Since coming out you might notice I cross my legs. When I’m animated or struggling to find words, I wave my hands around. I communicate primarily through my facial expressions, and when I do share my thoughts, my voice tends to be tentative and soft. I’m passionate about relational and artistic subjects like social politics, theology, psychological and spiritual flourishing, literature, spiritual memoirs, the craft of writing, film, and music. Culturally speaking, I’m no man’s man. By many churches’ standards, I’m a failure as a Christian.

 

I’m not a biblical man.

 

Or am I?

 

One of the many aspects I enjoy about blogging is the opportunity to interact with other writers. Over the past year I’ve become somewhat acquainted with Pastor Nate Pyle after he shared a lovely post with me about . Nate recently published a book on masculinity called Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. I despise most books on biblical masculinity and gender roles, but Nate’s message resonated with me.

 

Man Enough by Nate Pyle

 

Nate stresses multiple times throughout his book that there isn’t one single biblical definition for masculinity, but multiple ones. Rather than restricting men to a narrow definition of manliness, Nate offers a far more liberating, countercultural perspective:

 

“It is time to stop defining masculinity by what men do and start defining it by who men are. It is time to stop pushing men to fulfill a role and start focusing on helping men become human. Rather than focusing on making men breadwinners, warriors, or even better husbands, it is time to focus on encouraging men to be fully human and alive. If men can learn to be courageous—and not a ‘run into a burning house’ courageous but a ‘be authentic about who you are’ courageous—then men will be better husbands, better fathers, better coworkers, better neighbors, better friends. Better humans. Embodying characteristics such as vulnerability, integrity, gentleness, and courage will serve men far better in a changing world than forcing them to accept some predetermined role.”¹

 

At first, Nate’s message felt obvious for me. I’m nearly 30, and I’ve journeyed far enough in my story to care little about how others perceive me. I’m never going to be the guy who likes sports or hunting or understands the mechanics of a car. I’m never going to date a girl, get married, and have kids. But truth be told, I feel pressure to act more masculine. I lift weights most weeks and in my early twenties I trained myself to say “Man” and “Dude.” If I want to be recognized as a writer, speaker, and activist in a heteronormative culture, then I’m going to feel pressured to act “normal,” meaning masculine. Gay culture, even Gay Christian subculture, values masculinity in gay males. It’s seen as more attractive, confident, and strong. I once pursued a guy I liked during my brief Side A experience. He told me I was cute but not enough of a “bro” to be his boyfriend. I wasn’t good enough; I wasn’t man enough.

 

What I appreciated most about Nate’s message in Man Enough was his call for men to become authentic human beings. It’s a message that doesn’t bash masculinity or femininity, but recognizes of our unique personalities that suffocate under rigid gender role designations. Nate offers a strong warning: “Using the gospel to reinforce gender roles and ideals redirects our attention away from its central goal: that men and women will become like Jesus.”² This goal of developing Christ-like qualities lays the foundation of Nate’s argument. Popular culture and even church culture divides our humanity, esteeming some characteristics while minimizing others. But in Jesus we see complete humanity. We see a man who experiences righteous fury in the temple but also weeps when a friend dies. We see a man willing to face death, but is also comfortable when John lays his head on his chest. We can see great might and courage in Jesus’ personality, but also countercultural tenderness and intimacy.

 

The queer community has a lot to offer the church. Sure, it means pushing people outside of their comfort zones, but why is that such a bad thing? When the church can esteem my masculinity for who I am in Christ, not for my ability to perform certain cultural expectations, the entire church benefits. Straight men are given freedom to be Christ-like without being seen as pathetic and women are elevated as equal image bearers of God and not seen as inferior or a symbol of weakness. I cannot, and will never fit within any kind of biblical masculinity mold, and I don’t have to. God intends for my life to reflect his son, not some hollow macho ideal I could never attain.

 

Most days I don’t worry how masculine or effeminate I appear to the world around me. It’s subjective and not worth my time or energy. Grace establishes the foundation for the Christian faith. It’s not what I do, but what Christ has done. As Ephesians 2 notes, salvation is not of works lest we should boast. So I don’t need bulging muscles, sporty cars, wilderness survival skills, or an impressive career to matter. I’m thankful for Nate’s reminder that I’m man enough right now and I don’t need to prove anything to God or to the world. I’m free to be vulnerable and I can rest knowing who I am: a beloved son of God.

 

  1. Nate Pyle, Man Enough: How Jesus Redefines Manhood. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, p. 61.
  2. Ibid, p. 157.

When We Adventure Together

man looking over the clouds

Today in class we talked a little about ethics and values in therapy, sparking a lively discussion about what happens in the therapy room when our moral convictions conflict with our clients’ values. We live in a pluralistic society, so there’s no way to avoid differing worldviews outside of our safe church bubbles. God calls us into the world to redeem his creation and part of that work includes interacting with those who see the world from a different angle.

 

Our instructor shared two common ethical approaches Christians take in the mental health profession as they navigate areas of tension. One solution is to refer clients to other professionals who share the client’s worldview and values. The other recognizes that the client is on a journey, and we as therapists have the privilege of walking with our clients during some of the darkest moments of their adventure.The client’s journey is not our own, we’re simply present to be an instrument of God’s grace.

 

Conservative Christians often cite their religious convictions as justification to avoid working with the LGBTQ population in any capacity, Christian psychologists and counselors included. That’s their prerogative, I guess. Yet my faith draws me to sexual and gender minorities because I esteem the Imago Dei in every human being. These people are my people, whether we share similar sexual ethics or not.

 

It will never be my ethical place in the therapy room to tell LGBTQ clients what choices they should make for their lives, whether they decide to pursue same-sex relationships, celibacy, mixed-orientation marriages, hormone therapy, sexual reassignment surgery, or a less invasive choice. The responsibility of such weighty decisions lies solely between the individual and God, and to paraphrase Billy Graham, it’s God’s job to judge, the Spirit’s job to convict, and my job to love.

 

I don’t think this means approaching therapy without my own values, though I’m not sure how that will work (especially since my future clients will be able to read what I’ve written). I’m still a traditional believer who has chosen celibacy to find congruence between my sexual orientation and faith. So when a client asks me how to find peace with God in a same-sex relationship, I won’t be able to share from my personal experience. But I will fully inform my client of all positions and respect the autonomy of my client to make his or her own decision.

 

My philosophy of therapy flows into my writing. My blog’s only agenda is to help Christians understand the LGBTQ community and to provide support to fellow sexual and gender minorities who may resonate with some of my experiences and thoughts. I am a storyteller, narrating one perspective of life as a Christian who also happens to be gay. I would never want anyone to feel pressured by me to adopt a vocation of celibacy. It’s not an easy choice, but it’s the only option that makes sense for me. We may disagree about what the Bible teaches on sexuality, but it doesn’t change my commitment to journey with you until my dying day. I will love, respect and value you; I will advocate for your dignity and humanity. You matter to me, Side A or B or whatever.

 

One of my professors describes clinical psychology as redemptive work. I’m in total agreement. There’s no dichotomy between the sacred and secular; it’s all for Christ. It’s my hope as I develop a deeper relationship with my Heavenly Father, his love will radiate through my words and actions in the therapy room—even if I don’t explicitly talk about God in session. Loving LGBTQs is my calling; it’s a major part of how I glorify God with my time on Earth. I’m still in a process and I have much to learn over the next five years in grad school and for the rest of my life.

 

In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Sam couldn’t carry Frodo’s ring, but he could walk with Frodo when the road got rough and all hope seemed lost. Sam could carry Frodo when the weight of his calling had drained him of all strength.

 

I want to be a Sam to my friends and clients. For whatever time our lives intersect, I want to adventure with you through the good and the bad. I will walk with you through the fires of Mount Doom because I believe in a God who redeems, and I will share my hope when you cannot find your own. I’m in this with you.

 

When It’s Time to Write a New Chapter

man looking out at the water

 

I thought my life was over when I buried my dreams in the ground. They weren’t just dreams, but a cultural paradigm. Good Christians get married, have kids, and impact the kingdom; the rest of us are just sitting around, waiting to participate in the action. …Or something like that.

 

Every time I contemplated a life of intentional singleness I’d laugh. Who does that? I’d never seen celibacy modeled. I had no idea what a celibate vocation looked like. I didn’t even know if a celibate could be genuinely happy. Near the end of 2013, I realized I’d run out of options. Celibacy was the only solution that made sense for me. It allowed me to embrace the theology I just couldn’t abandon and it provided the freedom to accept my sexual orientation with grace and without shame, somehow believing God could use my experience to sanctify and redeem my soul.

 

So I went back to the blogs that saved my faith a few years ago. Brent Bailey mostly, but then I began to re-read Julie Rodgers with an openness I hadn’t given her before. I hungered for hope in my bitterness and sorrow, and Julie presented a fabulous feast of joy and inspiration. Suddenly the idea hit me. What if I started a blog? What if I gave my life to love and serve LGBTQs like me? I needed to rediscover meaning in my life and to process what I was experiencing. So I wrote my first blog post February 1st, 2014 and began applying to Regent’s clinical psychology program that summer. The experience broke me, revealing all my deeply rooted insecurities. But God strengthened my spirit through the encouragement of a wide community of family and friends—friends from Bryan College, from local churches in my hometown of Gadsden, from coworkers, and many readers I still haven’t met in person. I stepped out in faith and every time I stumbled, my support system came to my aid. I’m convinced a community is the only way you survive a controversial blog and grad school applications.

 

So here I am, already starting a new adventure. I was just beginning to see what transparent community life could look like in Gadsden, and now I can go further and invest my time and energy into community here in Virginia Beach for the next four years. No secrets, no hiding. My story is part of me and part of how I connect to you. We thrive through storytelling.

 

A few months ago I was burned out with blogging and announced on Facebook and Twitter I would no longer publish posts once I began grad school. Public life had been hard, dealing with criticism from both sides of Christianity while never feeling like I “arrived” as a gay Christian writer after all those hours writing and editing posts, trying to network, and reading everything I could find on the craft of writing (all while working a full-time job and trying to get into a doctoral program). As much as I believed I was writing for the art form and ministry to LGBTQ Christians, I discovered how much I wanted the attention I’d never possessed before. I couldn’t enjoy my blog until I learned to appreciate the writing process more than the response I received. Sometimes a post went viral and received a couple thousand views (ok, just the one…) and then some of my favorites received less than a hundred views. It took awhile to realize page views are a fickle and unreliable measure of my worth. Tim Keller wrote a short but excellent book called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness that helped me a lot this summer. He exhorted me not to care what others may think of me, even to let go of what I think of myself (both my self-hatred and self-esteem). All that matters is how God sees me through Christ: beloved. Rather than worrying if people like me, my only responsibility is to faithfully love others to the best of my ability. It took awhile to apply and embrace Keller’s insight to my craft as a writer, but it was liberating once I could let go of my need for validation from both gay Christian and faith writers (though some did notice my work and liked it). I’m learning not to care so much about “fame,” but to love the people God brings in my life, whether a few close friends or multitudes who receive emotional and spiritual nourishment from my written words. God simply asks me to be faithful in loving people well with whatever influence he gives me, not to magnify Seth Crocker, but Jesus, the Savior of the world.

 

I don’t know what the next chapter will look like for this blog. I may try writing during school breaks or perhaps publish a post every month or two depending on how much I can handle. I don’t have expectations. To borrow some of my favorite terms from Andrew Marin, there are plenty more bridges to be built between conservative churches and the LGBTQ community and many more conversations that need to be elevated above the gay sex question. I’m hopeful I’ll find all kinds of inspiration as I live transparently in community as a celibate gay Christian, as I study sexual identity in Dr. Yarhouse’s research team (fingers crossed I get in), and pursue opportunities to interact and befriend sexual and gender minorities on campus and in the area.

 

So for now, thank you readers for journeying with me, whether in agreement or disagreement or a mixture of both. I’ve appreciated your willingness to listen to my story and the needs of LGBTQs in the church. This is an ongoing conversation and I hope you will continue to listen and dialogue. And most of all, I’ve been honored to hear your stories. I’ve cried and laughed with you and shared your frustrations. You’ve validated my desire to minister to LGBTQs by becoming a clinical psychologist. Thank you for your trust, your many kind words and encouragements, and for your challenging questions.

 

I look forward to seeing what God has in store for the years ahead.

 

Much love, friends.

 

Seth

ocean waves at the beach

When God Uses the Gay to Redeem the World

Girl walking in a field

They are not of this world, Jesus said of us during his high priestly prayer in John 17. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. But before we could be sent, we had to be consecrated—set apart. In Ephesians 2, Paul tells us of a time when we were dead in our sins and following the course of this world with the rest of the human race. That is, until our Heavenly Father intervened. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.

 

Once dead in sin, but now made alive because of Yahweh’s compassion and unmerited favor.

 

No longer of this world, but commissioned back into the world to finish what Christ started.

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. How do we know God’s will? How do we determine if our beliefs and actions are good, acceptable, and perfect? Jesus prayed the Father would sanctify his people in truth. Where in this universe can we find truth? Your word is truth. God’s words spoken in human history provide the foundation of living. God’s words teach us where we came from, what went wrong, the sacrifice he made to set everything right, and our role to play in the redemption of creation. We are not to be conformed to this world because we are in the process of restoring the creation to its former edenic glory.

 

So where does my sexual orientation come into the picture? What does scripture have to say about sexual and gender minorities? What role do we play in redemptive history with the rest of the church?

 

It’s personally helpful for me to look back at the beginning. God creates man and woman as two complementary parts who together manifest his image to the creation. As far as I can tell, this lifelong, monogamous union of man and woman remains God established design for sexuality throughout scripture. Man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife as one flesh. God blesses the man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth for God’s glory. Yet the heroes of our faith, God’s covenanted people, so often fail to submit to this sexual framework. Sometimes they don’t even seem realize their error, but God remains faithful and gracious to his children because of his steadfast love.

 

When I look at my sexual orientation in light of scripture, I understand my same-sex attraction to be a byproduct of the fall. My voice joins the groans of creation as we suffer together under this weight of bondage, as Paul describes in Romans 8. I await our emancipation and redemption in hope for God to set all things right. In the meantime, there is brokenness, but I am not more broken than any other Christian. All of us, straight Christians, LGBTQ Christians—even the Christians we’re quick to demonize like those experiencing pedophilia—experience sexual brokenness in some sense and we all stand in need of the same grace and same Savior. God works within the brokenness of this world, sending us out to bring healing and restoration to the creation—not quarantining his people in a bubble to rapture away while the world burns. Jesus taught us to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will would be done in earth as in heaven. Do we really believe him?

Night Sky

How does God redeem my sexual brokenness as a sexual minority? Many conservative Christians point to 1 Corinthians 6 as proof I shouldn’t identify as gay; that I should be undergoing some sort of process of becoming less attracted to men and more attracted to women or maybe even more asexual—emotionally castrating myself so I’m no longer drawn to men. Now, 1 Corinthians 6 is a difficult passage for me to interpret, but when Paul states “and such were some of you,” I think we often take this verse too far. When God’s Spirit washes, sanctifies, and justifies our lives, that doesn’t mean he wipes away a sexual minority’s gay orientation. In my case, I became a Christian when I was six years old—a couple of years before puberty and the realization I liked guys. Sanctification is a pretty key word here. Is this really a process of going from gay/lesbian to bisexual to straight? Or transgender to cisgender? Or is this a lifetime of pursuing Jesus and becoming more transformed into his image as we daily die to our selfishness and pride to esteem God and others as more important than our own lives?

 

I’ve discovered immeasurable purpose and hope in looking at my experience as a sexual minority through a disability or “differently abled” perspective (mainly due to an  by Spiritual Friendship contributor Chris Damian). C. S. Lewis took this approach when writing to Sheldon Vanauken about homosexuality:

 

First, to map out the boundaries within which all discussion must go on, I take it for certain that the physical satisfaction of homosexual desires is sin. This leaves the homosexual no worse off than any normal person who is, for whatever reason, prevented from marrying. Second, our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will “turn the necessity to glorious gain.”1

 

While homosexuality was not part of God’s original plan, that doesn’t mean my sexual orientation threw God off his game. “Oh, snap. Seth’s gay. What the heck do I now?!?” Lewis compares me to the blind man in John 9. Now you wouldn’t tell a blind man “Dude, don’t call yourself blind. God created Adam and Eve with perfect vision, so surely he wants you to have the ability to see. Just keep praying and believing and someday you’ll regain your vision.” That’s crazy talk, right? I’m not denying God can heal people—we serve a God of miracles. But does he usually heal people? Does he usually remove the pain, discomfort, and challenges that result from the fall? No. It’s debatable whether God predestines our difficulties and heartaches to make us better Christians (I personally think this view takes God’s sovereignty too far), but I sincerely believe Romans 8:28: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. God is powerful enough to take whatever crap this life throws at us and transform and redeem it into something good. In Christ is life and the life is the light of mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it, as John tells us in the beginning of his gospel. So our challenge, Lewis points out, is to find the vocation concealed within our disability or difficult situation.

Woman holding a sparkler

Growing up in the evangelical church, everyone in my little bubble framed my gay orientation as a struggle, a thorn in the flesh, and a curse. I didn’t see anything positive about my situation. Why would I want to identify with something so utterly broken? Something so… ugly?

 

C. S. Lewis continues in his letter to Vanauken and offers a compelling question:

 

Of course, the first step must be to accept any privations, which, if so disabled, we can’t lawfully get. The homosexual has to accept sexual abstinence just as the poor man has to forego otherwise lawful pleasures because he would be unjust to his wife and children if he took them. That is merely a negative condition. What should the positive life of the homosexual be?2

 

This is the question the church should be asking. As Eve Tushnet has written multiple times, “You can’t have a vocation of no.” You can’t build a thriving spiritual life off a negative foundation of “Don’t have gay sex.” The church’s lack of imagination creates a logical dead-end for many sexual and gender minorities, deepening their shame and despair, and driving many of them away from Christ to find purpose and hope that we neglected to give them amid the reality of their situation. You can’t create an illusion of heaven on earth for straight Christians while the rest of us are suffering in hell. If you dare stand up for traditional marriage, you (as individuals and corporately as the church) better be prepared to provide the love you’re denying to thousands of sexual minorities. You better be the family you tell us we cannot have.

 

Maybe my favorite answer to what a positive life might look like for LGBTQ individuals comes from Wesley Hill in his recent book Spiritual Friendship:

 

Perhaps celibate gay and lesbian Christians, precisely in and out of their celibacy, are called to express, rather than simply renounce and deny, same-sex love. And perhaps this is where, for all potential trials and temptations that come with this way of thinking, same-sex friendship represents one way for gay Christians who wish to be celibate to say: “I am embracing a positive calling. I am, along with every other Christian, called to love and be loved.”3

 

This could be why I’m uncomfortable calling myself same-sex attracted or why I feel phrases like “I struggle with same-sex attraction” fail to capture everything God is doing in my life. Yes, I experience same-sex attraction because of the fall, but God is using my situation as a means of grace and an opportunity to share the Gospel. Gay encompasses so much more than mere same-sex attraction. It’s an identity of kinship with those who have shared my experiences, borne my sufferings and struggles, and have found a home—“a sense of peace and belonging … around others whose relationship to the world was the same kind of different as mine,” Julie Rodgers wrote nearly a year ago on her blog. She entitled the post “” Because I believe in a God of redemption, the Rewriter of broken stories my answer will always be a resounding yes! God can use the gay to turn the world upside down for his glory, to teach the straight majority about their own sexuality and what it means to live in the kingdom. Everything belongs to God, including my sexual orientation.

 

“How can you be gay without feeling ashamed?” readers have asked me since the very beginning of my blog. We internalize so much homophobia from the church, don’t we? We hear so many Christians like Jon from the film C. O. G. telling us we’re sick, mentally ill, demon-possessed, rebellious, attention-seeking, reprobate… It’s exhausting, right? But there’s so much freedom in accepting what we cannot change. There’s power in owning our stories and telling them honestly. I don’t personally believe accepting my sexual orientation means I’m meant to marry a man, but it does mean I’m liberated from a futile pursuit of straightness or an attempt to appear straight in church. These words from Rob Bell’s Sex God are everything:

 

You can’t be connected with God until you’re at peace with who you are. If you’re still upset that God gave you this body or this life or this family or these circumstances, you will never be able to connect with God in a healthy, thriving, sustainable sort of way. You’ll be at odds with your maker. And if you can’t come to terms with who you are and the life you’ve been given, you’ll never be able to accept others and how they were made and the lives they’ve been given. And until you’re at peace with God and those around you, you will continue to struggle with your role on the planet, your part to play in the ongoing creation of the universe. You will continue to struggle and resist and fail to connect.4

Thoughtful man in the sunlight

Thinking back, LGBTQ people used to scare me when I struggled in vain to become straight. I’d never met anyone like me and I wasn’t sure I wanted to take the risk. What if they brainwashed me into becoming gay? When I accepted my sexual orientation as an unchanging part of my personhood, I began to discover compassion for other sexual minorities. As God opened my heart to the LGBTQ community, I started to see my life’s calling. I’ve struggled with depression, anxiety, and insecurity my whole life, but suddenly I had a purpose pulling me outside of my self-obsession and self-hatred. God is transforming me into a less self-centered man because of my experience as a sexual minority.

 

As I’ve chosen to live a transparent and vulnerable life, I’ve found greater strength in battling my personal demons like lust, pornography, and hooking up. I’m free to talk about my experience with my friends and family and can ask for accountability and prayer when I need it. I’m able to encourage other Christians who feel called to celibacy and I have the privilege of loving other LGBTQs who disagree with my theology. I’m learning to thrive in community and become truly human.

 

LGBTQ is how our culture articulates sexual and gender minority experience. It’s just our attempt to be authentic and honest with you—how we act based off our experiences is a different conversation. Paul told the Corinthians “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” As a self-identified gay man, I have opportunities to share Christ’s love with the marginalized that many in the church will never have. It’s not my aim to convert gays and lesbians to celibacy, but to encourage sexual minorities to know and pursue Christ. Their path may not look like mine. I am not the Holy Spirit; he is quite capable of doing his own job. It’s my job to journey with the people God brings into my life; to listen and learn; to love and live out my faith.

 

To tell you the truth, I’m not a fan of the term gay Christian, though I often use it for convenience’s sake. I’m not a different kind of Christian, somehow separate from the rest of Christ’s body. I’m just a Christian who happens to be gay. I believe in the Apostle’s Creed. I love talking about Jesus and I’m still developing a love for talking to Jesus (work in progress, folks). As much as the church frustrates and hurts me, I keep returning to her. Of all the pieces of my personality and identity, my faith takes preeminence. It’s my faith that informs my sexuality, establishing an ethical foundation to build my life on. My sexual orientation has taught me to ask questions, pursue truth, and love the suffering and outliers.

 

God calls all kinds of people to participate in his redemptive narrative. He sets us apart and sends us back in our broken world with a message of good news: Aslan is moving; the winter will come to an end.

 

All will be made right.

 

And we will live happily ever after.

~         ~         ~

 

  1. Quote copied from Ron Belgau’s post  from Spiritual Friendship.
  2. See note 1.
  3. Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2015, 76.
  4. Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007, 46.

Great Expectations

man nature

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