I’ve been trying to write this blog for over a month. I’ve written several drafts that have gone several different directions, and I’m still struggling to narrow down my line of thought and figure out what I really want to communicate and how.
To be honest, this has been the worst year of my life, but that’s actually exactly why it’s been the best.
I needed it, for sure.
Up until this year, my life as a Christian was too easy. When I tried to write about why I feel that way, it just ended up sounding prideful, so I deleted it. It doesn’t really matter.
When I started this journey around February of 2015 by seeking professional help from a psychiatrist, I promised myself that I would be completely, 100%, brutally honest with myself, my doctors, and God. That eventually expanded to include whoever in my community and online that has followed along. Everything I have said, written and done over the past year has been a mixture of right and wrong, a conflict between pride and humility, an attempt to learn and unlearn, a struggle to accept and deny, and a journey both to and from. The juxtapositions and contradictions of real life have enabled me to understand on a deeper level the truth in the juxtapositions and contradictions of The Bible. If the last can be first, and the weak can shame the strong, and we find our lives when we lose them, then it makes sense that the worst year can really be the best.
I’ve experienced a wide range of thoughts and emotions, a lot of ups and downs, and some very extreme extremes, and I feel I’ve been pretty honest about it. It’s uncomfortable at times for me, and probably for others, too. Much of what I’ve done and said this year is not often said and done. It’s kind of taboo, especially in Christian leadership and affluent communities, to be so open about “negative” emotions like anger, sadness and bitterness, and to highlight disagreements and conflicts. I’ve always been a little different, right? I try to rationalize that with the understanding that Jesus did and said a lot of things that contradicted the social norms and religious expectations of His day, but that gets pretty old pretty quick. I keep talking about how the I was able to predict the actions of religious Christians because they’re just so predictable, but I would be kidding myself if I looked back over my own words and actions this year and denied that any of it was predictable. Some it would be laughable if it wasn’t so pitiful. Some of it’s pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. It’s definitely all real, and that’s what I’ve been going for.
There are some people who agree with me and some people who disagree. Most are pretty indifferent because whatever I have to say is pretty irrelevant to them. I’ve gotten a wide range of responses, and I’ve gone through periods of caring a lot about them, not caring about them at all, and wondering if I should care more or care less. In the best and worst year of my life, the most peaceful moments have come when I’ve had a breakthrough in the midst of the storm and been able to focus on what God thinks of me rather than what others think of me or what I think of myself.
A lot of Christians have tried to talk me out of my anger and bitterness and tried to help me see things from a different perspective. One of the best things I’ve done this year is allow myself to feel exactly what I feel and see things exactly how I see them. I’ve made a conscious effort to be present with myself, my thoughts and my emotions, to confront them and work through them. Everyone with any background in social work, psychology or health care in general has encouraged and supported that. When you’re depressed, anxious and suicidal, all you need is to be heard and to be honest. The worst advice you could be given is to feel this instead of that, or to see it this way instead of that way. Have I been angry and bitter? Absolutely. Is that wrong? Absolutely not. I am very thankful that I allowed myself to have the worst year of my life, so that it could really be the best.
I came out super quickly, and I’m thankful for that too. It may not seem like that because I came out at 26, but it took four months in counseling to understand and accept it for myself, one month to prepare to come out, and one month to come out. I had no idea that it takes a lot longer for most people, and especially most gay Christians. Shortly after coming out, I joined an online community of gay Christians my age around the country. You would be surprised how many gay Christians there are out there who have known they’re gay for years but are still closeted, continuing to serve in ministries that they know will betray and reject them as soon as they come out. Even though coming out was hard for me, and the results of coming out were hard to deal with, I cannot imagine continuing to live a lie once I had realized it was a lie. From what I can tell, staying closeted as a gay Christian isn’t really working for most of them health wise, faith wise and life wise, so I’m glad I just went for it. Every openly gay person I’ve talked to has said that the first year was very hard and then it got better after that, and I am hopeful that the worst is really behind me. If you’re gay, you will have to come out eventually, and I honestly believe the sooner the better. If you allow it to be the worst year of your life and not try to pretend that it’s not, it can also be the best year of your life.
The other thing I noticed in that online group is that so many of them seem to avoid so many things. The group has strict rules about what can be posted, and pretty much only gay-affirming theology and materials are allowed. I learned about trigger warnings and micro-aggressions, which seem to just give people more reasons to whine and complain. I’ve done my fair share of whining and complaining this year, so I’m not above that, but I actually eventually stopped interacting within it because it was kind of out of control. I have read a lot this year, and I have made a point to read material that I know will challenge me and trigger me. I want to be triggered, and I want to doubt what I’ve come to understand and believe, because I want to intentionally face and address the feelings and doubts raised by respectable (and even unrespectable) Christian thinkers. I want to sit in it, stew in it, wallow in it, whatever you want to call it, because I refuse to do what everyone else does in this area. Most Christians flat out refuse to research these issues or to consider differing perspectives, and most gay Christians refuse to engage with people and materials that don’t affirm them as gay Christians. If we can’t trust God enough to research and consider opposing viewpoints, we don’t trust God very much at all. I don’t want to be like that, and reading a lot of different material from a lot of different perspectives has been really great. In fact, the most helpful books I’ve read have nothing to do with sexuality and all, and were written by Christian authors who are most likely not gay-affirming.
I also noticed pretty quickly in my interactions with gay people that most of them had never fully addressed and dealt with some pretty deep-seated issues. Someday it won’t be like this, but most gay people still face a lot of social rejection, which causes deep hurt psychological trauma. I would say I’ve always been pretty good at reading people, but going through everything I’ve gone through and being more present with myself this year has probably increased and heightened that. I could tell from my conversations with most gay people that they had not fully unpacked and dealt with a lot of past trauma and hurt, and it’s easy to make the connection between that and the high rates of chronic depression, anxiety and suicide attempts among LGBT people. I refuse to live the rest of my life with those burdens, and I also refuse to self-medicate with drugs, alcohol and sex as many LGBT people (and people in general) also tend to do.
I am still committed to pursuing mental, emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual health, and that has also helped make this the best year of my life. I used to work pretty much non-stop, but this year I slowly weened myself off of work and eventually went from working as much as I possibly could to working as little as I possibly could. Not everyone is able to do that, and many LGBT people are still fired from their workplaces, especially if they work in religious settings. There is a season for everything, and I am thankful that one season of my life enabled me to do what I’ve needed to do in this season of my life. Time away from work enabled me to be present with myself and allowed me to pursue health in many ways. I did hot yoga almost every day, spent a lot of time at the dog park, fulfilled a long term goal of cycling in the Seattle to Portland bike ride, and pursued other passions. I became more intentional and more proactive about spending time with friends, which kept me from isolating myself too much. We always say that you don’t know who your real friends are until you really need them. That’s kind of cheesy, but it’s actually pretty true. My friends were great during this time. Not all of them agree with my beliefs regarding sexuality, but that doesn’t matter when they’re real friends. I’m an introvert, so part of being present with myself requires time alone. Too much time alone for a depressed and anxious person is not good, so that’s why I did individual activities in public. Yoga, going to the dog park and cycling are all individual, personal activities that allow for personal reflection, but doing them in public also prevents unhealthy isolation. I found a church I like and joined a group with other gay adults, and that has been a positive experience.
An important part of emotional, mental and psychological health is being able to ask yourself, “What am I really feeling when I’m feeling what I’m feeling, what am I really saying when I’m saying what I’m saying, and what am I really doing when I’m doing what I’m doing?” I’m still working on all that.
This year I feel like I’ve been “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-10.
My blog post A Difficult Conversation was pretty heavy because it discussed my suicidal thoughts. That was definitely a pretty dark time, but I should have been more clear that I never actually got close to actually harming or killing myself. The thoughts themselves are bad enough, but I can’t imagine how much worse they would have to be to actually attempt to carry out that plan. I hurt for the people who are still trapped in those situations. Going down into that darkness and making it out alive has enabled me to identify much more personally with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus tells His disciples that if they try to hold onto their lives they will lose them, but if they would lose their lives for His sake they would find them. Jesus taught and acted in contradictions, and there’s nothing that seemed to contradict what I had built my life around than the idea that God had created me as a gay Christian, and that remaining obedient to His call on my life meant coming out as gay at the age of 26.
If we really think about it, Jesus taught in parables, which were stories that allowed the hearer to think, reflect and draw their own conclusions regarding their meaning and application. As far as we know, Jesus only interpreted one of His own parables, and He left the rest up to his audience, and later us, to try to figure out. Pastors spend their Sundays interpreting and applying parables that Jesus Himself never interpreted or applied, and somehow we all think our approach is “right,” or at least right enough to take on the responsibility of teaching it. One of the most important things I’ve learned during the best year of my life is that implying that I am “right” inevitably requires implying that someone else is “wrong.” I believe in absolute truth, and I believe in absolute rights and wrongs, but I also believe Jesus taught through story. I hope my journey can serve as a story that allows people to draw their own conclusions, and I hope I can continue to trust God enough to be ok with whatever conclusions they draw, and however they choose to apply those conclusions. I’ve worked so hard to demonstrate that being both gay and Christian is not a contradiction, and that God still works in and through me. Jesus lived and died to contradict everything we know think we know about real life.
Only a life lost and found in Jesus could make the worst year of my life the best year of my life.