I wish I could attribute this quote to someone else...but I can't. No, I've never said this out loud. I don't even think I've thought it (not consciously, at least). But this sentiment has run deep in my psyche for years. There was even a point where I decided God had given me this burden to keep me humble, because otherwise, I wouldn't have a whole lot to confess.
What a bunch of shit. (Okay...so I do cuss).
My same-sex attraction has always been my "go-to" during silent confession time in church. I know I only have about 30 seconds of silence before the assurance of pardon, so I slip it in real quick. "God, I confess my attraction to other guys. I'm screwed up. This is not your will for me. Please forgive me. Amen." Or something like that. Sometimes I'm a little more eloquent, and sometimes I also confess specific instances of lust, but in general, my personal confessions of sin usually revolve around my sexual orientation.
It's easier that way. It's my obvious "thorn in the flesh." In many ways, it's like I've made peace with it. It's like the crazy uncle who lives upstairs that I just have to put up with because he's not going anywhere anytime soon.
I've been taught and always believed the doctrine of total depravity. I believe that we are born in sin, unable to choose Christ on our own. But how convenient...I have such a nice, clean-cut way to view my depravity: I'm the guy who likes other guys. That's messed up, right? So messed up. Wow. Glad I understand my sinful nature. When's lunch?
Today, I sat in a little church building waiting for the Ash Wednesday service to begin. Now, I'll be honest, I've grown a lot over the past couple years in understanding my same-sex attraction. I've started to understand that, while my orientation is a tragic result of the Fall, my attractions themselves are not the sinful part. The sin is my lust, just like it is for guys who lust after girls. I've also started to see how lust is just the tip of my iceberg, that my idolatry is far more expansive and rooted much deeper than just my sexual attractions.
But as I headed to the church today, I was looking forward to my first Ash Wednesday service since admitting that my sexuality just doesn't work the way it was designed to. After finally being able to write the words, "I'm gay" for the first time, I would be in touch with my brokenness like never before when I took the ashes. It would be so moving, so raw, so powerful.
There I sat, the piano playing softly in the background, waiting for the service to begin. The atmosphere in the sanctuary was somber, but hopeful. I silently looked over the order of worship, reading and internalizing the words of the hymns. I felt at peace.
Then he walked in. Him. You know him. He's that guy. The guy you never really want to walk in. The guy who can take even the most solemn occasions and turn them into jokes. The guy who talks too loud. The guy who can't take hints, who doesn't pick up on social cues. The guy who always comes and sits by you, probably because you're too "nice" to ever tell him to be quiet.
I was no longer at peace.
He plopped down next to me and immediately started asking questions, loudly. He started telling me about his day, so so loudly. He seemed downright giddy about being there. Did he even know what this service was about? I smiled (I think it was a warm smile) as I quietly wished he wasn't there, that he had just stayed home.
The service started, and he was quiet. But then, as we were reciting the corporate confession, a baby starting wailing, shrieking. The piercing sound sent a shiver through my bones. Here I was, having a moment, and this child...no...these parents thought their child needed to be there in the sanctuary with us instead of the nursery. They probably thought it was cute. I tried to focus on the confession while I quietly wished the baby wasn't there, that he was back in the nursery where he belonged.
As the pastor started the sermon, the parents finally took the baby to the nursery. Peace. I listened to the message about our sin, our brokenness, and the hope that is found in the Cross. I realized that my friend wasn't there. Why wasn't he there? What, did he have something better to do? Something more important? I knew he wasn't working. Did he think he didn't need to hear about his sin, his brokenness, the hope found in Jesus? Was he too good for an Ash Wednesday service? Too proud? Too Protestant? Really, it was pretty typical of his whole attitude lately. Oh wait...there he was. He must have slipped in late. Oops. I smiled, smugly. I was glad he was there, but I was more glad that I was there first.
Now you're waiting for the part where I had some epiphany, where the ashes were placed on my forehead and all of a sudden I realized the anger that was in my heart. Well, there was no such moment. No, to be honest, I was perfectly aware of my hypocrisy...right there in the midst of it. As I was wishing that guy wasn't there, as I was hating him, as I murdered him (by Jesus' standards), I knew exactly what I was doing. I tried not to. I tried to love him. I managed to pretend love on the outside, but inside...I just couldn't. My heart sank.
It was the same with the baby. Ironic how I'm all in favor of babies when they're in the womb, but when they're crying in church and disturbing my moment, I wish they weren't there. I hate them, and thus, I murder them.
I judged my friend when I thought he had skipped out on the service. I made up reasons why he probably wasn't there. Never mind the fact that he actually was there, and never mind the fact that I've been late to church dozens and dozens of times, usually because of a long line at Starbucks. This time though, I judged him, and I felt prouder of myself for obviously caring more about my brokenness.
Once again I realized, as I sat there in a sanctuary full of God's people, full of people marked by the sign of the Cross, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, all admitting their brokenness and placing their hope in Christ...as I sat there in the midst of that beautiful picture and couldn't shut off my heart's faucet of hate, I realized my sexual orientation was the least of my worries.
The root of my sin isn't finding the wrong sex beautiful. It's that I don't find Christ beautiful. My problem isn't "loving" the wrong people. It's that I don't really love anyone at all.
So no, there was no great epiphany moment. No clouds opening or angels singing. Tonight was nothing new. I've been here before. I'm reminded once again just how deep my depravity runs, that my misplaced sexual desires are just the icing on the cake. I'm not just the guy-who's-attracted-to-other-guys.
I'm the guy-who's-attracted-to-other-guys who lacks patience...and hates babies...and judges his friends...and stretches the truth just a little bit in some details to make his stories more dramatic.
But as I sit here typing this post, the ashes remain on my forehead. I look in the mirror and see the faded remnants of a smudged cross.
This ashen cross, this mark of hope in the midst of depravity, of beauty in the midst of brokenness...this reminds me that I'm the guy-who's-attracted-to-other-guys, who lacks patience, hates babies, judges his friends, and stretches the truth...but who is loved by Jesus more than he'll ever be able to imagine.
The more I see my debt, the more I see the One who paid it. The greater I see my rebellion, the more I see the One who pursued me and captured my heart.
Friends, whether or not you attended an Ash Wednesday service (and it's really okay if you didn't), I encourage you to imagine the cross, smudged in ash on your own forehead, marking you out as a child of the King. Marked in your brokenness.
From dust we came, and to dust we will return, but then one day, our broken bodies will be raised up with Christ. We will be made right. Yes, my sexuality will be redeemed, but far more importantly, we will finally know Love, and know Him deeply.
Kyrie, Eleison...Lord, Have Mercy | Christe, Eleison...Christ, Have Mercy.
Grace and peace,
Your Brother Behind the Mask