In his excellent book The Plausibility Problem, my friend and colleague Ed Shaw talks about his ‘kitchen floor moments’.
I have what I call “kitchen floor moments”... I’m there crying. And the reason for my tears is the unhappiness that my experience of same-sex attraction often brings. The acute pain I sometimes feel as a result of not having a partner, sex, children and the rest.1
I remember reading that a number of years ago and immediately empathising. For me, it wasn’t normally the kitchen floor (since it didn’t tend to look that appealing) but sometimes it was sitting on the stairs or walking around the block in a state of emotional turmoil. Was it really possible to keep living for Jesus with a sexuality that I didn’t choose and which seemed to have no useful outlet?
Apart from striking me at the time, though, there is another reason why Ed’s kitchen floor is in my mind. As I’ve been involved in or watched discussions about the Christian sexual ethic, I’ve twice heard Ed’s observation used against the traditional view that sex is for a marriage between a man and a woman. ‘Stick to that view and you’ll end up with kitchen floor moments like Ed,’ is what has been said, or words to that effect.
That has left me with a dilemma. As I’ve talked on sexuality in recent months, I’ve softened my language. ‘Very occasionally, living for Jesus with my sexuality can feel mildly inconvenient in little ways,’ would be an example of the kind of thing I might say. Now, in part, that is an acknowledgement that I’ve probably found sexuality less painful as the years have gone on. But, truth be told, my change of language has largely been around avoiding giving opportunities for arguments to be used against the biblical position.
However, I’ve had some pushback in the last few weeks. After a recent event, somebody noted that me playing down the sacrifice involved didn’t show empathy with those in the audience who might be finding life with their sexuality hard. Somebody else commented to me that Ed’s ‘kitchen floor’ confession was the most helpful part of his book for it showed one who understood what it was like. Instinctively, I agreed with both observations.
Jesus regards the road of suffering and sacrifice as the normal path for the Christian.
So – what to do? As I’ve pondered this, I’ve been reflecting on the experience of Jesus. The road he took to the cross was both unique and a pattern for all his followers. None of us will bear human sin and take the punishment for it – that is unique. But it is quite clear that Jesus regards the road of suffering and sacrifice as the normal path for the Christian. ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me’ (Mark 8:34). Both for Jesus and for us, death (and in our case several mini-deaths to our own will) is the pathway to life and resurrection.
All of which leads me to Gethsemane. As Jesus sweats blood and prays in agony for his father’s will to be done, there is something unique going on. And yet Jesus clearly regards it as a vital learning moment for his disciples, which is why he takes them with him and urges them to pray. For many of them, there will be Gethsemane moments in the future – moments where doing the Father’s will in following Jesus will be massively at the expense of their own comfort. Indeed, if the path of discipleship is the path of the cross then Gethsemane moments should be part of the normal Christian life for all of us, whether that it is in the area of sexuality or something else. If I can put it like this, ‘kitchen floor moments’ are Gethsemane moments.
So, when Christians talk about us changing theology to avoid such times, I’m not sure they have the right image of the Christian life in their mind. And when I play down the emotional cost of following Jesus, I’m in danger of giving a false picture of what it means to walk his road.
Perhaps then I might use these words in the future: ‘There are times when obeying Jesus’ teaching on sexuality can feel like a mini-Gethsemane. I’ve never sweated blood but there have certainly been tears. And yet I know that’s part of the deal if I want to know and follow Jesus. I know that’s the pathway to life that he took. I know it is worth it for the sake of knowing him. And I know he sympathises as I walk it. So the call on me is to keep saying “Not my will but yours be done.”’
- Ed Shaw, The Plausibility Problem: The Church and Same-Sex Attraction (IVP, 2015), p.62.