At a recent Living Out training day, we were asked a great question that got me thinking:
How has experiencing same-sex attraction helped you grow in your faith and trust in Jesus? Are there any unique joys about this particular struggle?
There are certainly many times in my life where I have felt sad or angry or confused about my struggle with same-sex attraction, but as I look back on my twenty-three years of Christian faith so far, I can see that God has used it for good in a number of ways.
1. It has compelled me to take the Bible seriously
I have not had the luxury of sitting on the fence and deferring a decision about the ethics of homosexual practice. I have had to grapple with Scripture and decide whether I am going to bring my life in line with what it says, or whether I am going to try to use it to support my pre-conceived philosophical and ethical convictions. I have had to face up to the question of who has ultimate authority in my life, and decide that I’m not going to pick and choose which bits of the Bible to obey. Jesus is the living truth and his word has authority over me, not the other way round.
‘Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
John 18: 37
2. It has enabled me to be honest with God, and deepened my intimacy with him
My struggle has also enabled me to be honest with God, and all my wrestling and grappling has drawn me into a deeper relationship with the Lord who loves me. Nothing is hidden from God, and as I’ve opened up my heart to him, I’ve been met with kindness, patience and forgiveness, not the criticism or condemnation I had once expected. As my faith has matured, I have appreciated more and more the wisdom of entrusting my life to the one who loves me unconditionally, desires intimacy with me, and knows me better than I know myself.
‘You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’
Psalm 139:1 and 23-24
‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…’
3. It has stopped me thinking too highly of myself
My temptations in this area have stopped me thinking too highly of myself and have – often painfully – underscored my complete need for and dependence on God. I came from a background of academic, musical and sporting success and there has often been a pull to derive my self-worth from my achievements. I am thankful to God that he doesn’t allow me to become conceited and full of my own importance. My experiences have humbled me and enabled me to have a healthier self-image. Our weaknesses serve to show God’s power and glory.
‘…Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.’
2 Corinthians 12:7b–9
‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’
2 Corinthians 4:7
4. I have been drawn into a more wholehearted discipleship in other areas of my life
There are areas which may have been left unchallenged and unchanged had I not faced this battle. Right at the start – when I became a Christian at 19 years old – I realised that following Jesus would involve a great cost. I was giving up the prospect of having a romantic relationship. Unless God changed my sexual orientation, I would not get married or have children. This was a painful realisation, but the love of Jesus overwhelmed me and I wanted him more than any human relationship. As the years have progressed, I have become more prepared to be wholehearted in all areas. There’s no point in sacrificing a sexual relationship for Jesus’ sake only to become selfish and squander my life in some other area (as I had to remind myself when I realised I was addicted to smartphone games). Jesus is worth complete devotion and my same-sex attraction has helped me realise this.
‘Then [Jesus] said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”’
‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.’
5. My experience has enabled me to embrace life-long singleness from an early age
I have been able to focus on living the single life well. I have been freed from wondering whether I will get married or seeing singleness as a ‘holding pattern’ before I get into a relationship. My experience of singleness has been much deeper and richer as a result, and I’ve been able to work on friendships and commit to Christian community in a way in which I doubt I would have done otherwise. My same-sex attraction also means that I’ve been spared an experience that many of my other friends have to endure – being set up with potential marriage partners or being constantly questioned about why they are ‘still single’.
‘Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.’
1 Corinthians 7:8
‘One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’
‘God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.’
6. My struggle helps with evangelism and mission
All Christians are to live counter-culturally and our distinctive lives are to point to the truth and power of the gospel. I love this quote:
‘Answers worth hearing flow from lives that are worth questioning.’ 1
One of the most counter-cultural things you can do at the moment is not have sex. My singleness and celibacy invite questions which give me the opportunity to talk about the good news of the gospel and the way that Jesus has transformed my life. The way I am living shows the goodness of God’s plan for sexuality. In a climate where the orthodox biblical pattern of sexuality is increasingly being rejected and even seen as harmful, it is hard for someone to argue against my personal experience.
‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’
1 Peter 2:12
7. Walking this path has helped me to identify more closely with others in their struggles
It’s much easier to condemn and judge others if we think we’re making a success of life and fail to see our weakness and need for God’s help and strength. Knowing the daily battle to bring my thoughts and actions under Christ’s lordship in a personal and painful area helps me to relate to others who battle difficult issues and temptations, whether that’s grief, loneliness, sexual temptation, addiction, anger, jealousy, pride or any number of other things.
‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
I would never have chosen to experience same-sex attraction, but God has used it to bring about so much good in my life. He is indeed the great Redeemer and I look forward to seeing him face to face, when everything else will pale into insignificance.
‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’
2 Corinthians 4:17
- Dean Flemming, Why Mission? (Abingdon Press, 2015)