Between the ages of 15 and 20, I was wrestling with how to be both same-sex attracted and a Christian. I’m a woman who’s attracted to men sometimes, but more often I find myself attracted to other women – the shorthand label would be ‘bisexual’ – and everything I’d learned about this in church had me convinced that the two weren’t compatible. It felt like I had these two conflicting parts of myself, and that in order to fully embrace one, I would have to give up the other. And I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t just decide ‘that’s it, I’m bi’ and give up on Jesus. I couldn’t turn my back on the God who, though our relationship was admittedly distant (my fault), I knew had loved me my whole life.
But I also couldn’t get rid of or deny these feelings of same-sex attraction. They were there – they were a part of me – and so I couldn’t commit to wholeheartedly following Jesus when, at the time, it felt like he was asking me to cut out a piece of myself.
As I wrestled with this over those five years, I learned some things which helped me to understand that this was not the impossible situation that I thought it was. I learned that who I am and what I want are two different things; that Jesus is better than anything else; and that God is God, and I am not.
I’m not what I want
Our culture has made sexual attraction synonymous with identity. We are gay or straight or bi – we don’t talk about attraction as something we feel, but as something we are. My struggle was about who I was going to be – a follower of Jesus or bisexual.
There is a difference between what we want and who we are.
But there is a difference between what we want and who we are. Sexual attraction or orientation is a feeling, not an identity. Who I’m attracted to doesn’t define who I am. Only Jesus gets to define that. He made me. He knows me, deeply, back to front and inside out, all the bits I’d rather he didn’t and all the bits I don’t even know about. He is the only one who gets to define who I am.
Understanding that – relegating attraction back to the realm of emotion, rather than identity – was so helpful to me. I stopped thinking that Jesus was asking me to cut out part of who I was in order to follow him. Instead, I understood that he was asking me to respond to my emotions in a way that pleased and honoured him – whether those emotions were anger, or sorrow, or joy, or sexual attraction. And I could come to him for help or wisdom in responding well to these feelings, just like any other.
Jesus is better
There is a cost to following Jesus. Saying ‘yes’ to Jesus means saying ‘no’ to other things – just like saying ‘I do’ at your wedding means saying ‘no’ to a life of singleness or other sexual partners or some of the dreams you cherished that aren’t compatible with this new life you’re choosing.
Jesus acknowledges that there’s a cost. He tells us to count it before we commit to him (see Luke 14:25-33). He wants us to make sure we’ve considered what we’d be giving up by choosing him.
But here’s the thing – Jesus is worth any cost.
Jesus is better. Life with him is better than life with anyone else. Being loved by him is better than being loved by anyone else. He’s more beautiful and more satisfying. He gives more joy and peace and value. He’s better than anything you would even know to ask for. He is completely, infinitely good.
Jesus is better. Life with him is better than life with anyone else. Being loved by him is better than being loved by anyone else.
When I started to see this, it changed everything else. Why choose something lesser when I could have him? Why go after things that aren’t going to satisfy my soul, that aren’t going to give me the purpose and the hope that I’m really looking for, when I could have him?
If I love him, why would I do anything that would offend him or hurt him or come between us?
If he says ‘no’ to me on some things, how can I do anything but trust that what he has for me is better than what the world offers or what my own heart suggests?
I’m not God
The final thing that started to dawn on me over those five years was that there is one King of the universe, and it isn’t me.
There is one God, one Lord, and I am a rebel who needs to surrender. I owe him my obedience and my allegiance.
That’s just how things are.
And so that means that I do what he says whether I like it or not, and whether I understand it or not. In the end his word is final, and what he says goes. Even if he tells me to do something that I think is crazy, or unnecessary, or weird, I can trust that it will actually be wise and for my benefit because God only ever commands things that are for my good.
Sometimes I don’t understand God’s commands, but I still need to follow them. What if he said that I could eat nothing but mushrooms for the rest of my life? (You need to know – I really, really hate mushrooms. I was trying to think of the worst possible thing God could ask me to do, and this is what I came up with!). So what if he said I had to eat mushrooms three times a day for the rest of my life? Here’s the thing – he’s God! He’s very good, and he’s very wise, and he only ever does me good. Even if I don’t like or understand something he says, I can trust that he has a good reason for it. The best and most sensible thing for me to do is to start chowing down on those fungi.
What if God says something a bit more serious to me – something like, ‘You cannot be with this person or pursue that attraction, because that’s not my best for you?’
You see where this is going.
He. Is. God.
Of course, I don’t like that at all. But I am not God – and he is. He’s the King, and what he says goes! But I also know that it is safe and good for me to obey him, even when I don’t understand why he’s asking something of me. God never gives arbitrary commands. I can always trust that what he says will lead to my flourishing. And so even if I don’t like or don’t yet understand it, I trust him and surrender to it.
I found this incredibly helpful because it points the challenge in a different direction. Instead of me challenging God – ‘How could you say this, God?’ or even ‘Did God really say that?’ – suddenly it’s me who’s being challenged. Will I surrender? If I disagree with God on an issue, will I still surrender to him? Will I follow Jesus in saying to the Father, ‘Not my will but yours’?
If I disagree with God on an issue, will I still surrender to him? Will I follow Jesus in saying to the Father, ‘Not my will but yours’?
Talking about all this in the past tense doesn’t mean that all my wrestlings have now ceased, and I walk a path of peaceful enlightenment! But my struggles now are more about the daily walking out of my convictions and beliefs, in a world that doesn’t quite match up to them. In those first five years, the struggle was different. It was the process of coming to those convictions and beliefs – and then testing them, jumping up and down on them to make sure they could bear the weight of my life.
If that’s the process you’re working through at the moment, I hope that what I learned through it has been helpful to you. And I hope you know that it’s OK to take your time figuring this out. It’s OK to be unsure, to wrestle with this stuff, to research and think. Jesus can handle your emotions. He is so patient. He’ll stick with you, bearing with your tantrums and comforting you in your tears. So, keep hanging on to him.