First posted on Facebook, September 19, 2013 at 5:41pm
You’ve seen the pictures on TV, online, in magazines and newspapers – happy, tearful, sometimes surrounded by cheering crowds at a city hall, other times with a close group of family and friends. For some, the fact that the couple is made up of the same gender may still be a bit of a shock. For many in our culture, and a few other places around the world, it’s just another happy couple.
A few months ago I read Will Vaus’ biography of Sheldon Vanauken (Sheldon Vanauken: The Man Who Received “A Severe Mercy,” (available on Amazon.com). It brought me back to when Sheldon was grappling with whether or not to become a Christian. In Vanauken’s book, A Severe Mercy, he writes:
Christianity – in a word, the divinity of Jesus – seemed probable to me. But there is a gap between the probable and proved. How was I to cross it? If I were to stake my whole life on the Risen Christ, I wanted proof. I wanted certainty.*
Vanauken goes on to describe coming across an illustration (in a play) of the paradox that he found himself in, and then he relays this recognition of the place he’d come to at that point in his journey:
One day later there came the second intellectual breakthrough: it was the rather chilling realization that I could not go back… The position was not, as I had been comfortably thinking all these months, merely a question of whether I was to accept the Messiah or not. It was a question of whether I was to accept Him – or reject. My God! There was a gap behind me, too. Perhaps the leap to acceptance was a horrifying gamble – but what of the leap to rejection? There might be no certainty that Christ was God – but, by God, there was no certainty that He was not. If I were to accept, I might and probably would face the thought through the years: ‘Perhaps, after all, it’s a lie; I’ve been had!’ But if I were to reject, I would certainly face the haunting, terrible thought: ‘Perhaps it’s true – and I have rejected my God!’**
When I’d started going to the small group in Philadelphia, I didn’t know what to expect – I didn’t know if there would be some secret knowledge that would suddenly unlock a door to attractions for men, or series of spiritual tricks to learn, or hoops to jump through. I didn’t know what challenges would be put before me. It turned out that there was just a group of women there who were wanting to learn and grow in the same direction. We shared how we were feeling when we came in, discussed a topic that was brought up by the group leader (sometimes it was something I found relative to me, other times not), and we closed by sharing our thoughts about what we’d learned, and what we’d like prayer for. And we prayed. No secrets, no tricks, no hoops. Just doing life with Jesus – looking through the Scriptures, talking and thinking about how this might apply to our lives. The only difference here was that we could talk about “it” openly – our sexuality.
Although I didn’t have any mind-blowing revolutionary changes occur in that first year, I did notice a difference. I became more aware of my own inner life, and started learning how to relate to women differently. Just baby steps, really, but steps. And that is how Jesus worked on this part of my life – very slowly and gradually. There was a good amount of fear, a desire to be in control, junked-up stereotypes about men, self-sabotage, along with big chunks of time that needed to be dedicated to school, work, and living life that slowed the process along the way. Yet there were also moments of breakthroughs – where I could see a glimpse ahead to where things might be going.
There were many times when I wanted to quit, to just give up. But I knew that I was in the kind of place that Vanauken described above – I could not go back to things being just as they were before. For, even with the little changes I was seeing, there was accumulating a growing gap behind me. For years I had lived with what seemed like a huge chasm in front of me, with no way to get across…and that space continued to be there for many years to come. It was very frustrating and, at times, fatiguing. But I was floating off shore, and there would be a leap required to take me back. And I really couldn’t honestly return to where I had been before, when there was no hope of seeking or finding change. I’d been out on the sea, taken by the current, and I would not be able to erase that from my mind.
So now, when I see the pictures and video of same-gender couples getting married, it strikes me that if I would have gone in that direction, I would have been forever haunted by the question, “What if I hadn’t quit?” Looking back, I can see that there are fears that I would never have confronted, along with a good deal of other rather personal matters I won’t outline at this time. There are things about Jesus that I would not have known in any other way.
CS Lewis wrote the following in Mere Christianity:
Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later… and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.***
To elaborate further, only those who try to resist temptation over the long haul know how strong Jesus can be in the midst of it all. The Lord has called us to live holy lives – that’s a tall order for anyone to fill. But He hasn’t just left us hanging on by our own strength, He empowers us and provides a way out, no matter what we’re going through. (1 Cor. 10:13)
I love this illustration in Isaiah 42:3…
“A bruised reed He will not break,
and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”
It comes to mind often as I’m hiking through meadows or paddling in lakes or creeks with tall grass. I’ve seen people rip apart reeds, or bushes, or trees just for sport. Jesus doesn’t kick us when we’re down. He takes time to bind a support around us, to heal us. And He will take, surprisingly, the smallest effort. Even a flickering flame about to go out – instead of snuffing it, He’ll add just the right delicate kindling and fan it into a flame.
Another favorite quote, again from Lewis:
I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious provide self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. doesn’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we each reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes are in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present to us: it is the very sign of His presence.****
We’re going over the book of James in our Wed. morning study group, and verse 4 of the first chapter reads, “…and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” (NRSV) I thought about how my clients who are long distance athletes guard their endurance base – it’s a great concern when they’ve got an injury. Often it takes months of grueling work to build – getting up early in all kinds of weather every day – in the dark, the heat, rain, hail, what have you. I made it a priority to give them as many options as possible on how to keep that base going while at the same time allowing their injury to heal. These athletes know how valuable allowing endurance to have it’s effect is on their performance in meeting their goals. You can’t complete an Ironman without putting some serious miles in the water, on the bike or on your feet.
When I look over my own wedding pictures, I think about how I would have missed out on so much if I’d given up, if I’d not allowed endurance to have its effect on me. I’ve completed a 100 mile bike ride, but in truth dealing with my sexuality seems to be the greatest endurance event in my life. And I’m continuing to grow. Especially as I’ve been traveling more over the summer with a variety of people, I’ve noticed deeper changes in this part of who I am. It’s hard to explain, but I know that I belong here – there are no haunting questions of “what ifs.”
There is a classic Christian book by Eugene Peterson entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. That is a great description of the Christian life. I read recently that author Wes Hill turned the wording a bit to “a long repentance in the same direction.” In this series of essays, really in anything I write or do or say, I hope that I’ve not left the impression that I’m a finished work. I’m far from it – in this area as well as many others in my life. There is far to go. But I’m thankful for how far He’s brought me, and I’m all the more confident that He who began this good work will be faithful to complete it. (Philippians 1:6)
And I’m thankful, too, for you who have taken the time to read through these words.
He’s a hedonist at heart. All those fasts and vigils and stakes and crosses are only a facade. Or only like foam on the sea shore. Out at sea, out in His sea, there is pleasure, and more pleasure. He makes no secret of it; at His right hand are “pleasures for evermore”. Ugh!… He’s vulgar, Wormwood. He has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel ‘disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.*****
~ C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Letter 22
*Vanauken, Sheldon; A Severe Mercy, pg 98, Harper & Row, first paperback edition pub. 1987.
***Lewis, C.S.; Mere Christianity, pg 126, Macmillan Pub. Co., first Touchstone edition [paperback] pub 1996
****Lewis, C.S.; from a letter to Mary Neylan, Jan. 20, 1942
*****Lewis, C.S.; The Screwtape Letters, pg 112, Barbour and Company, Inc., Christian Library Edition pub. 1990