When We Find Our Resilient Selves

Man walking among sunflowers

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I’m not ready.

 

Words I’ve said too many times over my lifetime. I’m not ready for adulthood and responsibility. I’m not ready to risk rejection within community. I’m not ready to pursue my ambitions because maybe I don’t have what it takes.

 

I spent five years after college waiting for some spark of bravery to ignite my life and burn away all the fetters that kept me from moving forward into adulthood. I would start a goal and panic when the struggle became too intense. I learned to run from my problems and retreat within an inner prison where no one could reach me or know me.

 

Blogging became one of my first steps out of the shadows. I wanted connection with the Gay Christian subculture, and if I could befriend the writers and speakers who represented it, then maybe I’d finally be someone. Maybe my voice could matter. Many established Gay Christians did become aware of my existence and then moved on. I doubt their disinterest was personal, but I took it as another crushing reminder that I wasn’t good enough—that I would never be good enough for any community.

 

I’d write a post and sink into depression for weeks because I had no idea what I was doing. Clearly I wasn’t ready to write publicly and connect to readers and other writers. Most of my life I’ve convinced myself I’m trash: useless, worthless, and undesirable. The more I spoke, the more I revealed how pathetic I was. I just wanted to quit and go back to my invisible life.

 

But then I’d write again and slowly my posts became less about obtaining the attention I’d never possessed, and more about the art form. I began to feel life through my story. I experienced moments of growth as I took another step of faith through one more blog post, one more vulnerable conversation, one more deep breath.

 

Every month I cycled through depression, refinement, and redemption.

 

Studying under Dr. Mark Yarhouse had been my dream since transferring to Bryan College to study psychology in 2008. I intended to apply to the clinical psychology program every year since graduating, and every year I would tell myself I wasn’t ready. But blogging changed something in me; it provided a sense of courage I’d never known. Surviving a year of blogging had taught me readiness would never come. I could only try and wait for God to make the next step clear.

 

And then to my delight and terror, Regent accepted my application.

 

Like blogging, I arrived in Virginia Beach with many unrealistic hopes. I thought I’d left my depression back in Alabama because now I had purpose. I was out as a gay man in a Christian academic community that valued diversity and I even found quick support in my new church. I would belong, God would fix all my issues, and everything would be perfect for the rest of the semester.

 

Not so much.

 

It didn’t take long for my doctoral studies to overwhelm me. When I freak out I shut down, and when I shut down I isolate myself from others, and when I isolate myself I begin to self-destruct. The melancholy would sink in every Thursday evening after classes ended for the week. I would spend my weekends in bed, weighed down by anxiety and sadness because I wasn’t connecting. I’d worry if the loneliness would define the rest of my life and maybe I’d just made a stupid, super expensive mistake. I started turning in homework late and I declined offers to hangout with others. By midterms I ruminated about dropping out. I had set my ambitions too high; I’d flown too close to the sun.

 

I am trash. I am nothing. I am invisible.

 

The week after midterms I initiated a meeting with one of my professors about my late work. She empathized with my pain and fears, but also challenged me with compassion to receive the help I needed to continue moving forward.

 

Find your most resilient self, Seth.

 

An old friend from Bryan encouraged me to open up to a few people in my cohort. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t want them to see me as unstable or to further alienate myself if I somehow managed to survive the semester. But I finally brought my depression, anxiety and other self-destructive tendencies into the light to a few cohort mates and upperclassmen. I learned telling people I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m out of the closet—emotionally I’m still there. But by lowering my walls just a bit I could receive my friends’ grace and lay the foundation to meaningful relationships that provided the support I needed.

 

The first night I knew I would be okay happened as I went out for drinks with a few cohort mates. We walked across the street to a club and I danced for my first time in public as the music blared. I mimicked the other dancers and laughed at my terrible dance moves. I didn’t feel like the depressed, crazy guy for one night. I was with friends and I was wanted and I was okay.

 

Redemption happens in unexpected places. God is everywhere, even on a dance floor.

 

I found my first moment of purpose towards the end of the semester transcribing an interview of a sexual minority student at a Christian university. The interview reminded me how grateful I am for this honor to tell our collective story—even statistics and research data reveal an art form; themes that resonate and unite our individual narratives. I love moments when I feel part of this beautiful and diverse community of sexual and gender minorities—a community who has so much to offer the body of Christ. I needed this reminder. There’s a reason why God wants me at Regent and it’s worth the stress, tears, all-nighters, loans, and five year commitment to fulfill this calling.

 

God has already enabled me with the ability to pursue my calling. I will never be ready until I step out in faith, fail, and pick myself back up. I’m still learning how to be human; it’s an awkward, painful growing experience. I’m a man lost and thirsty in the wilderness, but like Hagar, I’m finding my salvation in El-Roi—the God who sees me. Not seen as trash, but as a beloved child. Transformation is happening, and slowly I’m becoming the man God is shaping me to be. Slowly I’m allowing people to touch my life.

 

Resilience only requires one step at a time.

  • Jeremy

    Seth, I had to read this twice with a long gap between, in order to really take in some of what you are saying and give it justice. I’m glad I did. The second reading touched me with your vulnerability and gave me some insight into your calling. Being gay and being at Regent is somewhat of a contradiction and seems, from my limited view, a really extraordinary thing to have happened. I think of Regent in terms of 700 Club and Robertson (Have I got the name right?) who is outspokenly anti-gay from a died-in-the-wool conservative, blinkered, Christian perspective that is bigoted in the extreme, to the point of making exceedingly ridiculous public declarations that have resulted in my totally refusing to watch another 700 Club or read another thing associated with him. And there you are in that lions’ den of Regency. You do need a special medal, man! So brave. And now I understand how easily you might be feeling vulnerable, though much of that comes from being gay too. We all feel that and hide from ourselves (I was in the closet until my 30s even to myself, and then to the world until my 60s) and from the world. I am only in the last 4 years learning something about what it means to be gay, and still in many ways wanting to hide and afraid to take steps that maybe I should. I’m feeling that maybe it’s my calling at this time of my life to stand up for my gay fellow men in a place that is homophobic in the extreme, and maybe be a voice, but I’m scared to be too bold. One can still be imprisoned here for being gay, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that! Thanks for sharing this and being a beacon and an encouragement to others like me.

  • Seth, once again I am deeply impressed by your vulnerability and openness. I cannot say enough how important it is for you to continue on this way. I had no idea earlier when I encouraged you to continue blogging just how important that activity was to your own identity and sense of purpose/self-worth. I’m really glad that I was able to encourage you before to keep up the posting, and I would say that again now. Your worth as an individual comes not from what you do or how well you perform, but simply from within, from who you are, because of the imago Dei you bear… I am not a psychologist but have many good friends who are, and one of them told me many, many years ago that trust is not something you find or look for in others. It’s something you find within yourself, when you choose openness and vulnerability, risking and fearing rejection if others really knew what you were like inside, yet going ahead and being open and vulnerable in spite of this fear. For me, it turned out that this was the way to become real (re: The Velveteen Rabbit). Rest in the unconditional love of God, my friend, and know that you are having a real impact on others less able to express themselves than you are!