I've been in plenty of Christian small groups where the "grizzly bear" card gets significant play. We want to have the most dramatic prayer request, the craziest conversion story, the deepest confessions of depravity. Okay, I'll stop using the royal "we" here. I do this. I want to have the best story. I want you to hear my trials and struggles and think...well, to be honest, I'm not sure what I want you to think. Maybe I want your sympathy? Your awe? Your respect? I'd say that I want you to hear my struggles and praise Jesus, but I doubt that's what I'm usually hunting after.
Because let's be honest. I have the perfect trump card for any group of American Christians today trying to be edgy and relevant. It's like the "Helen Keller" card in Apples to Apples. "I'm attracted to other guys." BOOM. Game Over. Thanks for playing.
I've started to deeply appreciate the older hymns of the Church and the full spectrum of the Christian experience that they so powerfully represent. I love their honesty, in joy and in sorrow. I love that I can identify with the cries of some dude's heart who lived more than a hundred years ago. I love that, when I'm tempted to think that my personal struggle with sin is somehow unique or special, I can find my smaller story's connection to the bigger story of Christ rescuing and redeeming his Bride.
One hymn in particular that reminds me of this is Henry Lyte's "Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken." As I read these lyrics, I read the cry of my heart that I could never write, the prayer I wish I could pray. My cross is my own to bear, but I haven't been called to do anything more than every other follower of Christ throughout history. In these words, I find my unity with the Body of Christ as we follow our Savior to Calvary, only able to carry our crosses in the first place because of his sacrifice on our behalf.
1. Jesus, I my cross have taken | All to leave and follow Thee.
Destitute, despised, forsaken | Thou from hence my all shall be.
Perish every fond ambition | All I've sought or hoped or known.
Yet how rich is my condition | God and heaven are still my own.
Perish every fond ambition. These words strike to my very core. They rip and claw at the dream I desperately believe God owes me. How could God ask me never to marry? Never to know the deep, unconditional, exclusive love of a wife? How can he tell me sex is good, and then tell me my own desires for sex, desires I have no control over, are bad? How can he expect me to remain celibate, to go through life...to grow old...to die...alone? Would he really deny me the joy of holding my first child, watching him or her grow, hearing people comment how much they resemble me? Will I never get to change a filthy diaper in the middle of the night? To video-tape every single dance recital or tee-ball game? To teach my son what it means to be a man? To give away my beautiful daughter in marriage?
This...all of this...is all I've sought or hoped or known.
But even as I ask these questions, as my heart aches over all these fond ambitions, I'm quickly reminded that I'm not alone. How many fellow children of God are lonely? How many fully heterosexual brothers and sisters, who also desperately wish to marry, are never able to? How many couples are unable to have children of their own, or can't afford to adopt? How many lose spouses or children to early death? How many are born with physical or mental disabilities that keep them from chasing the various fond ambitions in their own hearts?
Yes, I join with every other follower of Christ as I realize the fond ambitions of my heart that must be laid aside to follow the Savior. But that's not the end of the stanza:
Yet how rich is my condition! God and heaven are still my own. He never promised me a spouse. He never promised me sexual fulfillment. He never promised me offspring. He never promised me anything on my list of "must haves to be happy." He promised me Himself, and that is all I could ever need. He promised me the hope of a glorious future, one in which all the sadness and pain of this life will come undone.
2. Let the world despise and leave me | They have left my Savior, too.
Human hearts and looks deceive me | Thou art not, like them, untrue.
O while Thou dost smile upon me | God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate and friends disown me | Show Thy face and all is bright.
3. Man many trouble and distress me | 'Twill but drive me to Thy breast.
Life with trials hard may press me | Heaven will bring me sweeter rest.
Oh, 'tis not in grief to harm me | While Thy love is left to me me;
Oh, 'twere not in joy to charm me | Were that joy unmixed with Thee.
The road ahead will be bumpy, and I have no idea where it leads. Will I forever remain "in the closet," only sharing this struggle with my closest companions? Or will I one day take off the mask and speak publicly about God's work in my life? I've been blessed that everyone I've shared my struggle with has responded with love, grace, and understanding. However, there will undoubtedly be those in the future who don't understand. Surely there will be believers who can't understand why I don't actively pursue gay-conversion therapy, who don't like the wrench that my story throws in their "us vs. them" theology. Surely there will be plenty more from the other side, who say I'm only repressing my true identity, who can't understand why I don't pursue my own happiness and seek out a same-sex relationship. If I "go public," I will probably face misunderstanding, suspicion, doubt, and maybe even ridicule--from both sides of the debate!
No matter what the road ahead holds in store, loneliness on the inside or ignorance from the outside, that grief doesn't hold the power to truly harm me because of the life-giving power of his love. Whatever joys I could possibly chase after, the comfort of community or the fame of a platform, they don't hold the power to truly fulfill me if they aren't mixed with the love of Jesus.
Again, I find myself in the countless company of faithful saints before and beside me, saints who faced (and still face) far worse affliction than I can ever fathom yet found their hope and their joy in Christ.
4. Go, then, earthly fame and treasure | Come disaster, scorn and pain.
In Thy service, pain is pleasure | With Thy favor, loss is gain.
I have called Thee Abba Father | I have stayed my heart on Thee.
Storms may howl, and clouds may gather | All must work for good to me.
5. Soul, then know thy full salvation | Rise o'er sin and fear and care.
Joy to find in every station| Something still to do or bear.
Think what Spirit dwells within thee | Think what Father's smiles are thine,
Think that Jesus died to win thee | Child of heaven, canst thou repine?
How refreshingly beautiful. God calls us not to do, but to know. My rest is not found in my work or accomplishment, but rather in the knowledge of my full salvation. This is what empowers me to rise over my sin, my fear, my care. When I'm tempted to repine (or complain...thank you, google), when I want to grumble and gripe about this burden I've been assigned, my loving Abba Father doesn't expect me to just grin, bear it, and say it's all okay. Rather, he reminds me of His Spirit indwelling me, the joy with which He looks on me, the Sacrifice that was made for me...the burden may be great, but His Love is greater.
6. Haste thee on from grace to glory | Armed by faith, and winged by prayer.
Heaven's eternal days before thee | God's own hand shall guide us there.
Soon shall close thy earthly mission | Soon shall pass thy pilgrim days,
Hope shall change to glad fruition | Faith to sight, and prayer to praise.
How can I look ahead at my life and say it'll all be worth it? What's in it for me? What could possibly keep me from pursuing the desires of my flesh in the here and now? Sure, everyone has their cross, but isn't mine way too big? Surely He would have to understand. I know God loves me. I know Jesus is enough. I tell myself that over and over and over. But what about those nights...those long, lonely nights? I enjoy my friends and my community, but every night, I come home to an empty room, an empty bed, with no good reason to expect anything different for the rest of my life. I know Jesus is enough, but he's enough for other people too, and they also have a mate, a wife, a best friend.
I have strength in the here-and-now because of the Hope he's given me in the yet-to-come. This is my earthly mission; this is his holy calling on my life. A pilgrim's journey is a hard one, but it is a journey headed for a destination. Like the huddled souls in the dark, damp belly of an old ship, being tossed and tumbled across the angry Atlantic, I look ahead to the hope of a promised New World. I look ahead to that moment when I step out of the darkness into the glorious light of true Liberty.
Right now, I rest in hope, but one day, I will no longer need that hope. One day I will no longer need faith because I will see. My prayers for strength and endurance and comfort will change into eternal praise of the One who brought me through. Any emptiness from this life will be filled to overflowing in the Life to come, and it will be as if I never thirsted in the first place.
I set my eyes on the horizon, but I dare not forget the path he still has laid out for me. Amid the sorrow, there will surely be joy. There will surely be friends and community and laughter...in this world! I will have a Family. I will have a Home. I will have Him.
"Peter began to say to him, 'See, we have left everything and followed you.' Jesus said, 'Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.'” -- Mark 10:28-31 (ESV)What is your cross? What fond ambitions in your heart must perish in order to follow the Savior? Very often we don't get to choose our crosses. I certainly didn't choose mine. Our fond ambitions might be very good and holy things. Certainly a wife and family are good and holy things! But if we are to follow Jesus, we must leave anything behind that would hinder us...our nets (career), our possessions, our loved ones. This is a hard call to follow, but thanks be to God. His grace is sufficient.
The peace of Christ's finished work on the Cross be with you,
Your Brother Behind the Mask