In reaction to my early environment I laid a foundation for an egocentric self-awareness. I turned inward, transforming my legitimate need for intimacy into a heightened form of neediness. My relationships were filtered through my perceived needs, which became the focus for determining my path. Here in isolation is where my unwanted same-sex attractions began to take form.
My discovery of masturbation created feelings of confusion, excitement and shame. The sexual release was euphoric, and yet inwardly I was unsettled, uncertain. As sources for visual stimuli became more available, my hunger for them grew. Like Smeagol after being consumed by the power of the ring, I too became consumed, retreating from the light, hiding in my inner caverns. I became Gollum, losing sight of who I was, caught in a dialogue with myself and cut off from community.
After eleven years living as a gay-identified man, my heart knew this was not the life I was meant to live. In August of 1987 I rededicated my life to Jesus, but this time I invited Him to be truly Lord and not just Savior. I knew I had to come out of my isolation and alienation from the body of Christ. I joined a church and risked my first step in becoming known: I told my pastor of my sexual struggles. I made my first real entry into the body of Christ, His church.
Pastor Paul was an approachable man. After sharing my story with him, he indicated he did not know how to counsel me. He then said, “I love you and want you to be part of our church!” Paul imaged Jesus and the true church to me. Because he was honest in his response, I knew I could trust Paul. As I began to meet with him on a regular basis, he provided the counsel I really needed: how to embrace Jesus as my life. But no-one else in the congregation knew my story.
Three months later, I had a sexual fall with a former lover with whom I had been codependently enmeshed. I went into a spiritual breakdown. I then took the next step in becoming known by reaching out to a married couple from the church. I was invited to their home where I shared my story in great detail. They listened, questioned and reflected on my words. In an extended time of prayer, they led me through confession, renunciation and blessing. I left their home that evening more known than I had ever been within the body of Christ.
In 1990 I joined an Anglican church which was to become my community for fourteen years. I continued my process of becoming known by joining a home group. All of them knew my story. The men especially came around me. I was no longer on the outside, feeling excluded from the men around me, but welcomed into their lives. I was in a band of brothers who were not afraid to hug me and tell me they loved me.
It was with this core group of brothers that my integration of the true masculine began to form. I held nothing back and was completely transparent, even when it meant feeling really exposed. These men did not recoil but drew even closer. Their response to me was one of gratitude. My willingness to be honest freed them to do likewise; my risking to become known allowed them to become more known, to embrace in greater capacity their own masculinity. We all more deeply embraced the call to wholeness through our relational intimacy.
The fruit of risking to become known had far greater impact than I could realize. As my legitimate need for intimacy and the deep desire we all have to know and be known in community were being met, my unwanted same-sex desires waned. I was present to others, entering into relational intimacy without questioning if I was okay, welcomed or loved. I was told I had no idea of how I was impacting the men within the church. God intended my sexual brokenness to become transformed beyond what I could envision. It was not just about me. My process transcended into a vehicle to bring God glory and bless His church!
As I read chapter nineteen, key words rose to the surface: to become, to stay, to share, to receive, and to extend. These are wonderful but deeply challenging words. In the church, we do encounter pain, rejection and fear. Community is messy, uncertain and difficult. This is the reality of being in relationship. Although I learned to become and share, my ongoing relationships within the body of Christ, His church, required the hard work of choosing to remain.
To remain in community requires discipline. This is especially so for those who have come from backgrounds of heightened self-awareness and self-loathing. There is often a filter we carry which causes words and actions to be perceived as rejection. The challenge I had to face was if I was going to turn inward into myself or look up and out of myself to the Lord. I learned to continually ask God for His divine objectivity. Would I see my experiences with His church through the skewed lenses of the past or with His present clarity and insight?
We all go through periods of vulnerability, times when it is challenging to “stay.” Loneliness can be an area of vulnerability for me. During a particularly difficult time, I remember becoming offended by not being invited out to lunch after Sunday service. I became critical, bitter and angry at the church. Here the voice of the Lord challenged me. He asked me, “Bob, instead of waiting for others to ask you to lunch, will you not ask them? Instead of leaning into others to somehow assuage your loneliness, will you choose to engage with another? Are you willing to extend yourself as the gift you could be for others?” His insight enabled me to rise up and stay rather than retreat into isolation.
The church, the body of Christ, is not perfect. However, it is not an option but a necessity for our becoming. As Andrew indicates in chapter nineteen, “We become whole as we take our places there.” That which I learned through Living Waters is to be worked out in application within the church. I have to walk in the state of forgiveness as a reality of being. I embrace walking in the state of purity as forethought and not an afterthought. My rough places are made smooth, iron sharpening iron, as I choose to remain an integral part of the body of Christ. As I continue to live in the incarnational reality of Christ, He increases my capacity to embrace His church. Here in His body we begin to realize the greater reality of who He intended for us to become.