Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fears

Life has both calmed down and sped up considerably recently, which can explain the lack of blogging around here. On the one hand, I feel that I've calmed down recently, at least emotionally. Okay, I did have one pretty epic outburst (which I'll get to later) but for the most part my days pass by without much incident. I have a few depressing hours every now and again, and I might even be in one while writing this, but I've become quite amazed by the world's unflinching ability to keep going, whether I feel happy or not. I think God has given me the resolve to keep going along with it, and I thank him for that. On the other hand, I have been really busy recently. I work almost every day, I have a lot of things to read for class and I'm already starting to develop ideas for my thesis. I just signed up for summer courses, I have to write two more short stories to complete my coursework this semester, I wish to revise and edit the two that I've already written, I am applying for teaching jobs in Baltimore and I also have a strong desire to go through my old blog and edit each post for grammar, punctuation and precision. I know, my perfectionism knows no bounds, right? Yesterday I looked at the journal that I've been keeping since college. A large part of me wanted to buy a new blank volume and re-transcribe everything I had written in it, word for word, since I deemed my handwriting in freshman year to be too sloppy.

Perhaps that last anecdote is indicative of my emotional state for the last few weeks. Aside from all the busyness, there has been an undercurrent of fear. Oh, sure, I've had great times in the midst of everything. I visited a good friend in West Virginia, and had a great weekend. I walked around Baltimore on a spectacularly sunny day and took pictures with another friend of mine. I've gone to dinner with friends, read great books, had great conversations on the phone with my mother and have basically carried on the routines of a normal, healthy life. However, I can't fully let go of the past. I still have a lot of emotional anxieties related to that horrible month of July, a full seven months ago. In many ways, I still feel like I'm living in the postlude of that month, since the relationships that were lost then still reverberate very heavily in my heart. Even though I know that my mental health has improved greatly, and my life seems to be on track to any outside observer, I still have so many fears and anxieties related to what happened then. I know, I haven't really blogged extensively about that time period in my life. There are a lot of issues involved there, the greatest of which is the desire to protect the privacy of myself and others, and I just haven't had the time to begin the delicate process of examining this past summer in a public way that would be both fruitful and respectful to all parties involved.

To make a long story short, though, I still fear the same things I feared then. Namely, I fear losing the people in my life. When friends who you love and trust, and who say they love you in return, abandon you, it's extraordinarily difficult, for me, at least, to recover. I still haven't. Every relationship that I've made since, I feel that I've only put half of my heart into it. I'm afraid of people getting to know the real me, because I'm afraid that once they do, they'll want to pull away, just like a good friend did in July. Worse, people who I haven't talked to in awhile... I feel that they are avoiding me purposefully. Even though I know that folks drift apart naturally over time, ever since this summer I've been paranoid about my personal relationships. If someone doesn't talk to me, even if they say they're busy, I fear that it's due to an indictment against my personality. I assume they don't like me. This is especially true with regards to anyone who I had conflict with, or who was connected to the issues and broken relationships I had over the summer. Trust me, this isn't a really pleasant way to feel. Cognitively, I know that it's not rational and that it's not even true. Emotionally, however, it's intensely sad and almost crippling at times. I've learned to cope with it and continue living, but I would really like it to be gone, to be perfectly frank.

I suppose in order to clarify what I consider abandonment, I guess I should define what I consider to be personal closeness. That's difficult to do, however. In truth, I've had a difficult time recently trying to bring clarity and precision to my own definitions and premises. I know what I believe when it comes to God, Christianity, the Bible, politics, etc. However, I know that my fear of losing people often keeps me from saying those beliefs boldly and clearly. I'll easily hem and haw about a subject if I fear that the person will no longer want to spend time with me should they ever learn what I truly think. There's no other term for this attribute of myself than sheer cowardice. Similarly, I can keep my emotions repressed for awhile, in order to simply enjoy the artifice of someone's company. However, neither of these repressions can last for long. One example should serve as a model for any. A friend of mine, a fellow struggling guy, recently started dating a guy. Although he had been trending towards this position for awhile, I told him that I would support him and be his friend no matter what. On the surface, those words are still true. I do still consider myself his friend, and I do support him. Naturally, though, I want to support the decisions that will ultimately lead him towards Christ, not away from Christ. That wasn't clearly implied in our earlier conversations, and in fact, I willfully kept it hidden because I feared coming on too strong about the dangers of approaching gay-affirming theology would cause me to lose the friendship.

Ultimately, when I learned that he did indeed have a boyfriend, both my emotions and opinions burst forth, and they weren't tempered in any way. I'll be the first to admit that I made an awful show of it. I was harsh and abrasive, condescending and rude, and even though I do think that heaven and hell are absolute, literal realities and that unrepentant sin is a sign that a believer, well, isn't a believer at all, I think I was more "fire and brimstone" than I ever had been. That's saying a lot. The conversation was heated and I haven't talked to him for the past two weeks. I hope we can reconcile, and of course I have an absolutely crippling fear that we won't. I just realize that a lot of this would have been avoided if I was more consistent and honest with what I believe from the start, rather than letting it burst forth when, really, it was too late to change his mind. Not only that, but I fear for him. I remember a post that was posted on Revelife recently, where the author reviewed the fascinating Lisa Ling documentary about the ex-gay and gay Christian movements. He mentioned something about one of the struggling men interviewed for the show: "After seeing his tear-rimmed eyes, I could never be convinced there's not something Special rooted deep inside him, beckoning him to abandon himself for something far greater."

I have met many men and women who have cried, who were passionate about their commitment to God and the denial of their feelings, who seemed beckoned to abandon themselves for Christ... Many of them have helped me on my own path, and have kept me fighting when I didn't feel like fighting anymore. The friend who broke ties with me in July, and the friend who I recently shouted at for having a boyfriend, they're both very significant to me for that reason. The first, though I know next to nothing of what he's up to, is still fighting, I hope. The second, I fear, is giving up. And if he has, I fear that that love of Christ I sensed in him might not have been there at all. I know I shouldn't judge. I really know nothing about the state of one's eternal soul on this side of eternity. However, I can't pretend that that's not what is at stake, here. God didn't call us out of homosexual behavior simply because celibacy or heterosexual marriage are so much nicer. He called us out because our sins bring his wrath. If we love him, we are to keep his commandments. Sure, we'll stumble. We'll hem and haw about our convictions, we'll sometimes lose our battles with the flesh, we'll have moments of pride, anger, doubt, lust, jealousy... But we'll be committed to winning the war, despite all of that, won't we? To succumb to the flesh in a moment of weakness is one thing. To rationalize and justify sinful behavior, and even claim that it is a gift from God, is quite another, and is a sign that one might not be truly saved, despite how much they tugged at our heartstrings while they were still fighting.

That's why I fear for friends when they begin slipping away from this struggle. There are many things I may admire about them. I have nothing but respect for those who stand in the face of public opposition, and who are willing to be who they are despite the fact that they may lose friends. I know many ex-ex-gays, as they're called, have lost a lot, and they have my fullest sympathy in that regard. And I know that simply having a boyfriend doesn't mean you're bound for hellfire. I think it's pretty established that our stories are complex and tumultuous. I've had a boyfriend once, and I've stumbled more times than I'm usually willing to admit. However, I think there's a genuine cause for concern, isn't there? When someone is driving towards a bridge that you know is going to collapse, you want to hold up warning signs, don't you? You fear for their safety, and you'd rather that they stop far away from the bridge, rather than have a near-miss, right? That's how I feel about this. I fear for those drivers. I don't want to see them plunge into the cold waters beneath the bridge.

The only difference is, by saying this sort of thing, I'm holding up the warning sign. Even if my methods of holding it up are abrasive and rude, and I wouldn't disagree with anyone who said that those are dominant personality traits of mine, I'm still holding it up and doing something that, I think, is ultimately loving. But the drivers who hear it might not see it that way. They might hate me for it, and abandon me as a friend. I fear that, too. I fear it so much.

5 comments:

  1. Oh MY Gosh! I congratulate and applaud you Jay... I completely relate to everything that you're saying here. I do agree that there is a clear delineation and we must check our hearts to see whether we are TRULY saved or not, 1 Cor 6 speaks sooo clearly to the issue that there's no way around it. But at the same time, it IS hard to form close relationships especially when we want to remain true to "who we are" and how we feel, yet we still have these huge, seemingly contradictory beliefs, and we end up just kind of glazing over the crux of the issues in the hope of still forming a solid relationship while avoiding rejection... I think the fear tends to be the fear of rejection and I encourage you to throw it to faith that God will place people in your life who will love you and accept for who you are and not ask you to compromise (which at times results in a blowing up) what is at our core... I urge you to keep fighting the fight though! and know that you have a fellow brother, fighting with you and not giving up! God bless you brother :)

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  2. When I first started blogging and chatting to people online about homosexuality, I found myself to be more than a little pious and judgmental in my approach. I've tried hard to learn from my mistakes. One thing I've tried to keep in mind is that people are given free choice by God. I can't make decisions for other people, and nor should I want or try to. Furthermore, just because someone is heading for the bridge, doesn't mean it's a definite they'll make it that far. That friend of yours who started dating another guy may seem to be heading toward the bridge now, but what if five years from now he decides to turn around? We can't see into the future and know what works God will enact to bring a person back to him. And what relationship a person has with God is literally between that person and God alone.

    Personally, I don't think "telling" people how to live is nearly as effective as "showing" them how to live. Setting a good example is really the best way to reach a person. If you show them what is best, remain kind, understanding, pray for them, and be respectful, but still hold to your values and beliefs, then you are in a much better place for influencing them toward what is best. In my experience, telling people how to live, in itself, has never worked. You must also be a friend, willing to stand by and be there for the person as they make mistakes. Allow your friend to make his own decisions, but show him through your life that living God's way really is what's best. Even if he never changes, at least you did what is right.

    Your approach really is everything when dealing with others. I know it's hard watching a friend speed off in the wrong direction, and you are right to call your friend on that, but you have to do so in a way that is patient, loving, and understanding. You can't do this is desperation, anger, or self-righteousness.

    As for being rude, or blunt, perhaps you should give more time to thinking about how to respond before you actually do. In other words, try being quicker to listen than to speak. Just because you think something doesn't mean you should always say it. Sometimes some things really are better left unsaid (if even for just a moment of time).

    And one more thing I think I should elaborate more on. We can't always control what goes on around us. Often we will have far less control over the situations and circumstances that surround us than we'd like. But that is just the way of things. We have to let other people live their lives, and in the meanwhile live ours to the best of our abilities given what cards we are dealt.

    God bless ya, and cheer up! :)

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  3. Randy and Brandon, thank you for the encouragement and the wisdom. As always, I don't have that much time to comment, but I'll be reflecting on what you've written. I know I can't control everything, but I'll be totally honest: I really wish I could.

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  4. While the labels liberal and conservative have taken on meanings that don't really apply for a lot of us, I think part of your strength and appeal as an individual has been your free thinking. I've watched you try to shoehorn yourself into a conservative space, and it seems quite unnatural for you. Indeed, I think it has made you less honest, less "you."

    You are too young to lock yourself into that kind of ideology. Certainly don't make such changes for the sake of any other person or group. You have chosen to be celibate because, presumably, you believe that is what God wants you to do. I don't believe that is what God wants of me, but neither of us has the right to make that decision for the other.

    However, your decision does have some consequences. You will have to find successful ways to divert what is probably the most powerful human drive, and the things that surround it. You can ignore it, or write it off as unimportant to you, but it will surface in ways that can disrupt your life. I think what you have described is an example.

    These things are not easily ignored, and while it may sound "unspiritual," casually assuming that God will take care of all that can result in a very rough road. This is all part of what you have chosen, so you better find a way to deal with it constructively. As far as I can tell to date, Exodus and their ideology is one of the least healthy ways of doing so.

    I would suggest you focus outward a bit more, see what you can do for other people. Get involved with social work of some kind where you can give of yourself. Avoid the spiritual gatekeepers and try to connect more with humanity in real life. This is the antithesis of the divisive, angry American Religion we have so much of today, and which raped all the good from classic conservative thinking.

    The typical ex-gay frame of mind seems to lead people to a rather selfish place -- ironic actually. Fight that. And while it may seem counter-intuitive, when possible, seek out those outside your comfort zone. "Accountability groups" have limited value, and tend to make others in their image. You need to grow into who you really are.

    You started out in a positive direction as I remember, try to find that again. And at the risk of overstepping my boundaries, throw out the John Piper stuff. It will crush your soul eventually.

    FWIW, that's my candid, honest assessment.

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  5. Thanks for the assessment, David. You're a good friend. A lot of what you say is true, and I'll be thinking it over over the next few days. Thank you.

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