Chances are you’ll reach a tipping point sometime during your life. You’ll reach the end of your rope and realize brokenness festers in the dark, but restoration happens in the light. If that’s already happened to you, then you’re not alone. It happened to me too, but amidst all the tumultuous self-discovery I’ve found it to be strangely healing and life-giving.
Growing up, my life seemed fairly stereotypical for a white, middle class PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) kid. I lived in a two-parent household in suburban America, attended church every Sunday, went to a Christian school K-12, did Awana and Boy Scouts, got good grades, and played a few sports. And, like many kids in my context, I prayed the sinner’s prayer at a young age. Ironically, though, I didn’t really think of myself as a sinner, and my pharisaical nature still ran full throttle. I distinctly remember judging kids in my elementary school who didn’t come from backgrounds as good as mine. However, after my junior year of high school, I finally came to grips with my holistic brokenness and need for a Savior. Jesus reoriented me away from “moral therapeutic deism” and toward a more robust understanding of grace.
Externally, everything seemed great—my church and school friends cared about me, I was succeeding in most areas of life, and I genuinely loved Jesus. In youth group I considered myself fairly vulnerable—willing to share my struggles with pride or that I didn’t read my Bible or pray enough. But internally, I felt I couldn’t be fully vulnerable. There remained a dragon that kept rearing its ugly head in my heart, but if anyone found out, my perfect Christian life would come crashing down.
In middle and high school, my friends started talking about girls like they’d discovered El Dorado, but I couldn’t understand what the hype was all about. Maybe I was a late bloomer. Maybe I would start thinking about girls—like the typical teenage guy—a little later than the rest of my friends. Yet not only was I not thinking about girls like the rest of my friends, I actually started noticing some guys in ways I hadn’t before, as my thoughts lingered on their inward and outward beauty. I struggled to make sense of it, wondering if all guys felt this way at some point during their teenage years. Hormones are tricky little bastards, so maybe this was just a phase everyone passes through before the true and right romantic feelings arise.
Well, that theory quickly sank as my sexual desires remained fixed on guys throughout college. Externally, I had a similar college experience to high school, thriving academically, socially, and athletically. But behind the idyllic facade, the secret dragon remained nestled deep in the caverns of my heart. Despite attractions to various guys, I tried forcing myself to be interested in women. I went on a few dates in college with girls I really appreciated as friends but now realize I wasn’t romantically attracted to, and I would get excited when I thought I liked a girl because it meant maybe I had a chance at heterosexual normalcy. Yet the only normalcy in reach seemed to consist of romantic feelings toward guys. I felt trapped in the darkness of Pandora’s box.
Growing up in the church, I was implicitly taught a binary view of sexuality in that you were either straight and would marry a woman or you were gay and going to hell. Even if people believed in a middle ground, I never heard them talk about it. This added to my internal confusion: if “gay” implied “non-Christian,” that label didn’t fit, but if “Christian” necessitated “straight,” that label didn’t fit either. Talk about emotional and philosophical limbo. Either I had to choose a pre-existing option, or I needed a way to categorically redefine how I thought about sexuality. In the meantime, though, unable to understand how I was feeling or why I was feeling that way, I continued to suppress my thoughts and desires.
Then, a few years into college, my school announced that a Christian speaker, Sam Allberry, was coming to talk about sexuality. When I heard about the event, I immediately resolved not to go. What if I went and everyone who saw me there assumed I was gay? I would be ruined. Better to play it safe and stay away, I thought. The dragon seemed more comfortable in the dark anyway. Although I’m still not sure why, in the end I decided to go under the cover of intellectual curiosity.
Sometimes it takes other people to describe our reality for us before we truly start making sense of it. For example, if you only know the colors black and white and someone asks you the color of an elephant, you’re going to be confused. It’s not exactly black, but it’s not exactly white either. You’re unable to describe the elephant as grey until someone explains to you what grey is. Similarly, going back to my crude categories of sexuality where you are either straight and would marry a woman or gay and not a Christian, I needed someone to provide a new category in which I could place my foreign feelings.
The Lord divinely appointed Sam as that person. I’d never heard the term “same-sex attraction” until Sam said it, and my mind was blown when he professed you could simultaneously struggle with attraction to guys, believe it wrong to act on those desires, and still be deeply in love with Jesus. He presented the new category I needed, trampling the pre-existing notions that had plagued me for years. Even though Sam was speaking to a group of about 200 people that night, I felt like I was the only one in the room.
Despite the Divine appointment, not everything clicked right away. Part of me was still in denial that I exclusively felt attracted to guys, and this same part of me remained optimistic that, even if I did, those attractions would completely disappear in the future. It took another year of wrestling before I internally reconciled this new category Sam presented with my emotional experience, and eventually I reached the point of wanting to talk about it with someone. I was finally ready to shed light on the area of brokenness that had remained hidden for so long. However, I had no idea who to tell. What would my friends think, even my closest ones, if I told them? What would my mentors think? What would my pastor think? I balked. The dragon had started working its way toward the door of my heart but shrunk back into the shadows at the thought of what might be on the other side.
The rest of college flew by, and before I knew it, I was thrust into the throes of adulthood, trying to figure out what that new stage of life should look like. Of course, I still had my internal baggage to deal with, too; I was still searching for someone to talk about everything with. But before I could even devise a plan, it spontaneously happened: I told someone. During the first summer after graduating, I went on a walk with one of my closest friends late one night after we got home from a friend’s wedding. This person shared with me out of the blue that they struggled with same-sex attraction, and before I knew it the dragon fumbled out of my mouth. “Me too,” I said. Relief flooded me when I was met with unexpected safety and warmth.
This was the first time I had ever admitted my struggle out loud, but I was so grateful to have someone who cared about me and could understand better than most to share that struggle with. The Lord provided a safe place for me to wrestle openly with the most hidden desires of my heart, and over the past few years, as I’ve opened up to more people, I have been blessed by much love and support from most of my friends and family.
My secret coming to light allowed me to start wrestling more openly with questions of sexuality. What does sanctification look like for me? Are my sexual attractions sinful, fallen, or maybe even good? What do healthy friendships with other guys look like? By choosing not to act on these desires, am I resigning myself to a life of loneliness? These are complex questions, but I’ve found much encouragement along the way through my friends and the writing of people like Preston Sprinkle, Greg Coles, and Wesley Hill.
Now, a few years removed from that initial conversation with my friend, I can look back and see how the Lord has worked in and through my struggles. Through it all, I’ve been immensely grateful for my friends who have laughed with me, cried with me, sat with me, and pondered with me. And as faithful as my friends have been, I’m even more grateful for the faithfulness of Christ. It’s easy to think that Jesus only showed up when I admitted to myself that I was attracted to guys. But He was really there the whole time, through my doubts and fears, emotional wandering and philosophical questioning. Christ has called me into His cosmic narrative, a story that requires immense sacrifice yet turns loss to gain and sorrow to joy.
People have asked me if I’m bold enough to ask God to make me heterosexual. That’s a fair question and a bold prayer, indeed. However, I wonder if that’s not asking too much of God but too little. I wonder if it’s not actually bold enough. Maybe praying for holiness is the bolder prayer. Maybe it’s more to ask of God to make me more like Jesus than to make me a still-broken heterosexual.
Christ’s redemption extends beyond my sexuality. Yes, this is a story of God’s profound faithfulness to me amidst my struggle with same-sex attraction, but He’s also redeemed my whole being, not to mention the entire cosmos. Our brokenness is not just sexual, it’s holistic. Like Lazarus out of the grave, Jesus has called us out of all our guilt and shame, out of darkness and into light. And, not only did Jesus call us out, He went in—joyfully entering the darkness of the grave and reemerging so that, in our utter brokenness, sexual and otherwise, when God looks at us in the end and sees Christ’s righteousness, He’ll proclaim, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” His story of light is now my story of light, and the end is worth fighting for.