Strong in the Broken: In This Tent We Groan

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Strong in the Broken: In This Tent We Groan

Today’s Strong in the Broken post moves from Tolkein to Lewis, from being a missionary kid to homosexuality to suicide. This essay is brave and it is one man’s story, told with complexity and honesty. It is published without a name, if you wish to contact the author, either please leave a comment or email me and I will put you in touch.

Disclaimer: I understand that this is a sensitive topic, and I cannot claim to have all, or really any of the answers. My hope is to tell my story in an honest way, not as a prescription for anyone going through similar struggles. I do not want to cause dissent or arguments over this issue. This is an uncomfortable topic to be sure, but comfort is no good reason for silence. This topic needs to be talked about until the suicide rate declines among this demographic. It needs to be talked about until this demographic falls in love with Jesus.

Falling in love is a terrible thing. Especially when you are the son of missionaries, and the person you fall in love with is another boy.

I never really had a concept of homosexuality growing up on the mission field. And maybe it wasn’t necessary. I was busy roaming the city streets, climbing on fortress walls, learning languages, running away from security guards. But even at the MK(missionary kid) conferences I think I felt a bit out of place, as if there was something different between me and my peers. I didn’t quite fit in even among my fellow TCKs (third culture kids). I couldn’t put my finger on it then. I just tried to love Jesus and obey him.

The subconscious prayer I tearfully prayed throughout high school and into college was, “God, fix me!”, because even though I didn’t know what needed fixing, I was aware of something broken within me. I noticed other guys instead of girls, but I thought it would pass, that it was nothing, that I was just sinful, that if I prayed hard enough, obeyed God enough, studied the Bible enough, I would become the right person. Somewhere in my head I was searching for a magical concoction that would fix me. I dove into theology and philosophy, trying to be the best Christian I could. I ceased to see God as my loving Father who longs to embrace me, and saw him as a genie with the power to grant my wish that I thought would please him, if only I would follow certain steps. I did all of this for at least seven years without the slightest idea that I was gay.

During my junior year at university, my inner world of acting perfect and believing all the right things finally collapsed on itself from sheer burnout and I admitted to myself that I was gay. They don’t prepare you for being this in the transition seminars. No TCK talk could have prepared me for this sort of identity crisis. This sort of world-shattering reality. Because just as I was trying to get accustomed to being in America, and thoroughly enjoying aspects of this culture, I admitted that I was not who I always told myself I was.

Depression pounded against my skull as my heart beat to the rhythm of my pleas, “God, let me be straight!” Shame told me to isolate myself, and my mind went into shock. I didn’t know how to find my Comforter in the Scriptures, because I had spent years treating it as a how-to manual. So I stopped reading this how-to manual that spoke nothing but condemnation into my predicament. I tried to shut my emotions down to give myself time to think, to pray. But then my eyes would catch that guy in the halls and I would break down.

Terror drove me away from my family, friends, people, and God. I was alone with myself and hated myself. My vending machine of a god was not accepting any currency I had to offer, and I became hopeless. My thoughts vacillated between believing I was an accident and that God could not possibly have meant to create someone like me, and blaming God for doing this to me. My God had failed me, or I had failed God. It didn’t really matter, did it? I hated God and wanted to die.

On my darkest nights my feet took me to the train tracks near campus and there I would stand, waiting for a train to come and take my life away. Exhaustion drove me back to my apartment with a fresh anger against a god I was convinced hated me. “Why can’t you let me die?!”

How can I blame God for this mess? I have been told that He is all-good and loving. I must therefore do what comes most naturally to me and imagine myself to be the leviathan beneath the surface of my heart, writhing my scaly body beneath the waves, hunting frigates. It does something to a man when he believes himself to be a monster. I debated whether my heart was more like Hyde or Frankenstein, because in public I could pull off a fair impression of Jekyll, but alone in my room, Hyde was the unwelcome companion who tried to convince me that Frankenstein was a better monster than I because he embraced his monstrosity and accepted it as who he was and called that identity good instead of hiding behind the false form of a doctor.

And yet, if I had to be a monster, at least I might try to be a useful one. If I were a dragon, at least I could feign an impression of Eustace and help to build a mast instead of razing a dwarven city to the ground in order to become king under the mountain. Of course I would be alone, unable to make the voyage to the edge of the world, but at least I might do a little bit of good instead of wreaking destruction before the eremitic storm clouds reigned over my island.

But the truth has a way of shining a light into the darkness. The first time I was honest about this struggle, my body physically revolted, and my throat tightened as I choked on the words. But a weight was gone. In being vulnerable with people I trusted, I allowed them the opportunity to love the unlovable parts of me, and to see light in a place where I could see only darkness; to see hope where all I comprehended was despair. In that moment, a thought flickered in my mind of a God who might be bigger than my small darkness allowed Him to be. I saw a human reflection of Divine love. No expectations. No if…then statements. No “at least…”. Just “I love you.”

A few months later, J. R. R. Tolkien convinced me to begin reading the Bible again by his words, “…I do not mean that the Gospels tell what is only a fairy story; but I do mean very strongly that they do tell a fairy story; the greatest. Man the storyteller would have to be redeemed in a manner consonant with his nature: by a moving story.” (Letter to Michael Tolkien).

I prayed that God would let me perceive the Bible as a fairy story, which is probably the strangest and best thing I have ever prayed. I lived and breathed the second and third chapters of Genesis for an entire month. I hadn’t planned to stay that long in the Garden, but the magic and beauty of the love of God kept me anchored there, beginning to break the spell which had bound me for most of my life. Where before I had seen a vindictive God who is bound by natural laws, I now began to see a God whose every action was done out of a deep and passionate love for Adam and Eve. This God seemed foreign to me, and I dared to hope that His love extended to this scared son of Adam. I began to faintly hear the call of a God in pursuit of me “Where are you?” and I was tired of hiding my shame from him.

I hate that what I fight against every day is becoming normalized and accepted (at least in America), for now I have to fight myself internally and the world externally, both vying for my acceptance as they tell me that they are advocating for my happiness. Sometimes they tell me that God would want me to live into this identity, that He made me good and wants my happiness. There are days when the fighting is exhausting, the desire seems inexorable, and I wish I could allow myself to accept it, grasp for it, lean into it. If I am honest, there are days when I want to embrace a lifestyle in which I could love a man and my God with a clear conscience, convinced that I am obeying God. But then I ask myself: Is my God the sort of God who would ask us to surrender all aspects of ourselves to Him? To say ‘no’ to our most deeply felt desires and longings in order to say ‘yes’ to Him?

C. S. Lewis in “Perelandra” makes a profound statement. In the book, the law is referring to one regarding the Fixed Islands, but it is fitting in describing the Biblical prohibitions against acting on homosexuality, “I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?” There are many times when I don’t understand why this particular law was prohibited by God. I understand that homosexuality does not accurately reflect His love for his Church–that is mirrored in the marriage of a man and woman. I can see that as beautiful, but I often wonder where that leaves me in the context of the corporate Church.

The brokenness I am walking through is twofold: a broken sexuality and a broken perception of God. But as Tolkien said “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer.” (Ioreth, “The Return of the King”) My thoughts and feelings are painful. Some days I just want the strong hug of another man, emotional intimacy and trust, knowing that my imagination is capable of taking me further, and so I fight to stop there, and long for honest touch and true speech. Other days, the old dream of being a father surfaces, and I think of the names for my offspring that my desires steel from me. I romanticize the closeness of a Godly marriage. It hurts, and so I sit alone in my room and weep and pray to God. Not to be made straight, but to be with him.

The Psalms are a magnanimous comfort on the nights that feel especially long and cold and dark. I don’t understand why I have these desires. I don’t understand why God loves me. But maybe that is alright, as I trust that he loves me in bigger, better, and brighter ways than the darkness inside of me can fathom. And I would rather the darkness not be able to comprehend the light than for the light to stop it’s shining. I want to be okay with pressing into the Love of Christ that a part of me does not find comfortable and cannot understand as good and true. I want with my whole heart to leap into His Love, so that maybe His love could brighten the darkness within me.

The truth is that there are no easy answers; my story is one of tension and living in the margins. But I fight to hope in a God who walks with us through this dark and broken valley. And sometimes that fighting looks more like losing, more like retreating. Fighting what Galadriel in the Lord of the Rings calls “the long defeat.” Paul has a poignant way of describing the way that I see my experiences in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened–not that we would be found unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up in life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-7)

The author carries an American passport and was raised on British fairy tales while receiving a post-Communist education in the former Byzantine Empire. Some of his favorite pastimes include climbing trees and castle ruins, hiking in the Rocky Mountains, and sipping chai with a good book. His Eastern heart currently explores and seeks God in the Western United States.

21 Comments

  1. Beth Watkins July 11, 2017 at 4:37 pm - Reply

    What a heart wrenching, honest essay. Thank you so much for publishing this, Rachel. Author — I am praying for you this day. May you find joy and peace on your journey.

    • Author July 12, 2017 at 12:00 am - Reply

      Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

  2. Marilyn July 11, 2017 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    This s story is powerful, hard, and resonates deeply with some of my journey. In The End of Suffering by Scott Cairns, the author talks about how just saying no isn’t enough – because there has to be something more compelling to say “yes” to. You’ve have laid out a compelling Love story, a true Gospel story in every way. Thank you.

    • Author July 12, 2017 at 12:09 am - Reply

      Marilyn,
      Thank you for your encouraging words. I shall look into the book you recommended. I share this because I have found it in your blog, but I have recently been finding strength in the Eastern Orthodox Church to endure my struggle. It is difficult to be downcast when I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses in the liturgy, especially St Mary of Egypt and St Moses the Black. They have been bastions of hope for me.
      Again thank you for your kindness.

      • Marilyn July 12, 2017 at 11:31 am - Reply

        St. Mary of Egypt is my saint – My Orthodox name is Sophia Maria after St. Sophia and St. Mary of Egypt. I love, love her story and it gives me so much hope. If you ever want to chat about Orthodoxy, which I have found to be refreshingly comforting and challenging in terms of our passions – here’s my email: communicatingblog@gmail.com. Also, Scott Cairns (author of the book I mentioned) is also Orthodox. Grace and the Jesus Prayer to you this day.

  3. Rachel July 11, 2017 at 6:36 pm - Reply

    Author- i just want to fling my arms around you and thank you so much! Thank you for striving, for sharing your story and therefore encouraging others to persevere too. You are awesome and i have no doubt how much God beams down at you with love and pride.

    • Author July 12, 2017 at 12:25 am - Reply

      Thank you for listening and for your gracious words!

  4. Colleen Snyder July 11, 2017 at 7:10 pm - Reply

    Author – I too, want to throw my arms around you and love you for your struggle. I want to tell you that God loves you, that your place in the Body of Christ is absolutely essential… and that yes, painful as it is (and I’ve been there many times) God WILL ask us to surrender something that is basic to our being… the very nature of who He made us to be. Jesus surrendered His very nature… His divinity. He gave it up; for something greater: us. Did it cost Him? Spend time with Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the Garden of Eden you see God’s incredible love and mercy. In the Garden of Gethsemane you see God’s demand for total surrender. Jesus didn’t want to go. But He did. His obedience is our model. Painful, bargaining, crying… but in the end, surrender. For the greater good. We may not know this side of Eternity what that good is… but it is the daily surrender to a God we know loves us unconditionally that sees us through. I love you, my brother. And I look forward to seeing you one day in glory.

    • Author July 12, 2017 at 12:31 am - Reply

      Thank you for your kind words. I find life in our Christ who descended into Hades, defeating death and rising again that man may have life.
      Thank you again

  5. Kay Bruner July 11, 2017 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Dear Author, you are loved and safe and chosen, just as you are.

    • Author July 22, 2017 at 4:32 am - Reply

      Thank you for the encouragement! It is nice to hear those words sometimes.

  6. Daniel D. Maurer July 11, 2017 at 9:26 pm - Reply

    After reading this I debated what I should write. It’s obvious that, dearest Author, you have put a massive amount of time and energy into this piece. (Also, you write extremely well.) The honesty and struggle are no doubt very real and come through clearly. So first, kudos to you for writing it, and kudos to Rachel for publishing it.

    I have to agree with the commenter Kay Bruner’s sentiments, but it took me a long while to get to that place. One of my best friends is gay and came out to me in seminary. I’m straight. Long story short, we ended up writing a book together after I changed my views about sexual orientation. Today, I do not believe God-given sexual orientation is a sin. It’s not my place to convince you (or anyone else) otherwise either. I get that.

    Still, I can’t help but feel sad that the whole battle that you are fighting—and the energy you place behind it—wouldn’t better be spent by using your obvious talents for writing and passions for justice in the fertile ground which desperately needs your plough to till it.

    I wish you well and thank you for the gift of reading your strength in your brokenness.

    Peace of Jesus,

    Daniel D. Maurer, Author

    • Andy July 11, 2017 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      Amen. Our sexual orientation is not a sin. There is so much research that backs this up. The choice for a gay Christian is how to live faithfully before God just like those of us who are straight have to do also.

      • Marilyn July 12, 2017 at 11:33 am - Reply

        So true – and how to live faithfully – such a challenge for all of us.

    • Author July 12, 2017 at 12:21 am - Reply

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Daniel.
      I don’t know whether my orientation is God-given or if it is the natural consequence of sinful choices I made as a child, but regardless I am thankful to God that our lives are given to us for repentance, because I have much to repent. You are right that I spend too much energy fighting this. I want to instead run to Christ and be with him, as all our goals should be. I thank you for your challenging words.

  7. Sandy July 12, 2017 at 3:06 am - Reply

    Author,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I applaud your honesty and your integrity. I saw in the comments that you are finding strength in the saints, like Sts. Mary of Egypt and Moses the Black. As someone who spends much of her time reading and writing about early saints and their struggles with sexual desires (whatever their orientation), I encourage you to continue to seek the wisdom of the mothers and fathers who make up that great cloud of witnesses. They give us hope that another way — God’s way — is possible. Their lives attest that though it may be difficult, it is always worth it. (I’m rather partial to the Cappadocians, and you might resonate well with them. St. Gregory of Nazianzus’ poetry is beautiful.) Blessings on you as you continue to navigate the path of Christ!

  8. Nina July 12, 2017 at 3:41 am - Reply

    This paragraph!!!!

    “The brokenness I am walking through is twofold: a broken sexuality and a broken perception of God. But as Tolkien said “The hands of the King are the hands of a healer.” (Ioreth, “The Return of the King”) My thoughts and feelings are painful. Some days I just want the strong hug of another man, emotional intimacy and trust, knowing that my imagination is capable of taking me further, and so I fight to stop there, and long for honest touch and true speech. Other days, the old dream of being a father surfaces, and I think of the names for my offspring that my desires steel from me. I romanticize the closeness of a Godly marriage. It hurts, and so I sit alone in my room and weep and pray to God. Not to be made straight, but to be with him.”

    This Is SO REAL. I love how you are trying to find your identity in Jesus, rather than your brokenness and desires. I know others that have been healed and set free from same sex attraction after they brought it to the Healer…rather than justifying their desires. I love that you are allowing yourself to be examined by God’s word rather than taking on the worlds identity. You are a brave young soul. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. I believe God has plans for this in your life, because I believe that He uses everything for the Good of those who love him and are called according to His purpose. Keep pressing into Jesus.

  9. Abigail July 12, 2017 at 4:33 am - Reply

    Dear Child of the King, because you are his child, you have his mind, his peace, and his face. As a friend had on her wall when we were growing up, “God don’t make no junk.” For as long as I can remember (I’m in my forties), I haven’t liked myself. But I am changing, and accepting his gift of grace, and learning more every day how beautiful I actually am. God asked me the other day, after I read about Paul’s conversion, “Abigail, Abigail, why are you persecuting me by persecuting yourself in your mind?” And so I’m giving that up. It’s been a long road, a process, and I’m still not there yet. Perfectionism toward oneself is the harshest voice you’ll hear. Tell the swirling thoughts to take a hike (easier said than done). Use your name, speak aloud this God-promise: (You) are the apple of his eye. He DELIGHTS in you. He rejoices over you with singing. He is crazy head-over-heels in love with you.

    I’m praying for you right this moment from my table here in Japan. I’m toasting you with my cup of hot green tea. I understand your words so well. Your heart is absolutely stunningly gorgeous. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. None whatsoever. Zip. Zilch. God will give you all the strength you need each moment that you need it. He was tempted in every way, just like we are. He totally gets it. He gets YOU.

  10. Linds July 13, 2017 at 6:56 am - Reply

    Author,

    Your post breaks my heart. I read along and at first I honestly thought you might have been a dear MK friend of mine who came out to me recently. So similar, but of course your own story and path is yours.

    The long sad, painful, agonizing nights where you cry out to God for peace, for rest, and yes for death because surely it would be easier — that part of your story has been felt by so many. Gay, straight, TCK, MK, PK, missionary-mom, and all the lonely heartbroken- heartsick. You are not alone. Don’t believe that for a second. Even in your unique TCK background + being gay. You are not alone. And you are precious, indispensable, irreplaceable just the way you are.

    I read a Martin Luther King Jr quote just before I fell asleep last night, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So I want to speak truth into your life. You need to know that you didn’t mess yourself up somehow by making bad choices as a child/young adult. God can’t possibly work that way. He is love! He couldnt be that, “ahhh, gotcha” kind of God and be love! You looked at porn, the “wrong kind,” or did the “wrong things,” or “wrong” ______.. when you were just a boy and so you must suffer for the rest of your life? I just don’t see it in God’s character. That is wrath and Jesus doesn’t do wrath toward the ordinary sinner. John 9 is a beautiful picture of Jesus’ interactions with the religious community about guilt and blame. Not once does the text highlight the man repenting or accepting the blame being thrown at him. And even at the end he just simply follows Jesus. Now it is tempting to draw similarities and ask Jesus to cure our pain and even homossexuality, but that is because we still see it as something needing to be fixed. A sin we are guilty of. We Christians havê a big problem with this guilt thing. We tear through scripture trying to point out every spot we could possibly be sinning, but that’s not Jesus’ message. It’s freedom. It’s simple. It’s loving God and loving others as we walk through our lives just as they are.

    You said — “Is my God the sort of God who would ask us to surrender all aspects of ourselves to Him? To say ‘no’ to our most deeply felt desires and longings in order to say ‘yes’ to Him?”
    At a recent point in my walk I would have agreed with your conclusion, but now it seems like word gymnastics to me. No, he doesn’t want us to be happy all the time, because that is impossible, but following him, following truth and love can’t be agony. And when you deny a peice for yourself, like your sexuality. It’s agony.

    Where you are is so hard. Groaning in pain between the faith you grew up with, the deepest desire of your heart, and the unknown. I have been there and it’s feels so lonely. No path is without more struggle, but life is worth it. Love is worth it. Know you are not alone.

    • Author July 22, 2017 at 5:25 am - Reply

      Thank you for the encouragement. And yet, following Christ I think is a grand paradox. You speak of happiness and denying a piece of myself being agony, and how following Christ can’t be agony. You are right, but there is more. Denying a piece of myself to run after Christ is not enough. I must joyfully deny anything and everything that stands between me and Christ. I must suffer for the One I love. Daily bring myself with all of my weaknesses and sins to Christ’s mercy and love.

      Secondly, my experience leads me to believe in the unsurpassed love and mercy of our Father while groaning under the natural consequences of choices I have made. The loving presence of God has not eradicated this suffering in my life, nor is that His aim, I don’t think. In my life I have come to understand that, unbeknownst to me, in choosing to engage in certain seemingly harmless sins I think I may have fostered a homosexual orientation, but it is not for me to wonder. All i know is that today I am living with the consequences of my own choices. (This last paragraph is a very novel thought to me, and I have only had a few weeks to mull over this new idea, so forgive me if I am wrong.)

      And lastly, homosexual relational intimacy is not the deepest desire of my heart, although on some dark days it feels that way. Homosexual relational intimacy is (in my experience) merely a perverted expression of a desire common to mankind–a longing for union with Christ, a longing for that which we were made in the beginning. Thus I cannot accept it as anything but a distraction within myself for fear of missing out on that great, unquenchable desire for union and intimacy with Christ. (He is called the Bridegroom of the Church, after all.) And all these words may sound poetic or such nonsense, but the reality is gritty and rough with many setbacks. But God is relentlessly merciful.

  11. a reader July 16, 2017 at 12:58 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing this portion of your life with us.

    While my experiences and struggles in life have been different ones than yours, as I saw some of the same things I’ve learned. And it is exciting to see that whatever our life is, we have the same God who created us and wishes to draw us to himself.

    One of your first paragraphs reminded me so of highschool and college. “…that I was just sinful, that if I prayed hard enough, obeyed God enough, studied the Bible enough, I would become the right person. Somewhere in my head I was searching for a magical concoction that would fix me. I dove into theology and philosophy, trying to be the best Christian I could. I ceased to see God as my loving Father who longs to embrace me, and saw him as a genie with the power to grant my wish that I thought would please him, if only I would follow certain steps.”

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