Trust has always been the issue. Who is trustworthy? How do I place my well-being in another person’s hands? Can anyone handle the secrets I keep? I do not want the secrets. Their burden is heavy and they eat away at my soul and bring only torment. I long to be known and loved. Who doesn’t want this?
Not lagging far behind my secrets came shame—shame for my actions and choices. By God’s grace I knew I was blowing it. But the shame I’m referring to was crippling. This shame made me wonder if I was worthy of forgiveness, friendship or love.¬
I remember at the age of six how I longed to be like Steve. He was nine, popular, engaging and strong. It appeared Steve did not struggle with trust or shame. He was perfect, lacking in nothing, which only underscored my shame and isolation. It’s amazing to me how early in life I allowed deception to take hold of my heart. Of course Steve wasn’t perfect. He was just another awkward boy looking for the same things I was. However, he had a more firm foundation to exercise the skills of relating. He was secure enough. I was not.
Patterns like this quickly became the framework of my life. Me, bad; everyone else, good. And in my impressionable heart, the lack of trusting others with the frailties of my life birthed a new image of me. I created a more acceptable version of myself. I chose to be “good.”
Feeling cutoff from same-sex friendships created a deep cavern of longing, envy and, eventually, lust for my own gender. Why was it so difficult to be one of the guys? Why could I not trust that I could be accepted? Was there not a place for someone like me? These are difficult questions for a youngster. The new “good” image of myself was a sham, of course. That was not the real me but a seemingly kind and accommodating fellow. I said “yes” a lot, didn’t create waves and found a safe distance from relationships. And as my needs for normal relationships with other guys remained locked away and unmet, my same-sex attractions only intensified.
Gratefully, my parents loved Jesus. I knew this from a very early age. His presence in their lives brought salvation to our home. My growing understanding of Christ’s love offered me hope. Even though this hope was buried deep in my heart, it remained and continued to call out to me. As I grew older, two tracks were laid: (1) Jesus’ love, offered to me, and (2) a shame-filled life pursuing illicit sexual encounters. I could never reconcile these two paths, and my connections with Jesus always revealed my need for forgiveness. Ultimately I knew that without Him I was lost.
As I grew into adulthood the anonymous sexual experiences became more frequent and bold. Eventually I responded to the sexual advances of a friend. Our broken hearts and deep needs for connection propped up a strange relationship. As time passed I saw myself in him. Like a mirror, he reflected the false self in me. There was no authenticity in this relationship, only two young men using each other. And while this relationship appeared to offer companionship, it ended up suffocating my true self and creating more loneliness. All the while, God continued to pursue me.
There were these intermittent times of hope—small glimmers of light God used to reveal His trustworthiness. Specifically, His grace came to me through a whole-enough man of God. His name was Ron and we met while serving at a Young Life camp during my summer break in college. He was older and engaged to be married soon. His passion for Jesus was like no other I had known. I was drawn to his confidence and strength. He was also dependent on Jesus. His masculinity seemed secure, not grasping for recognition nor needing to conquer a woman. He shared his feelings of insecurity with me which, ironically, only made him seem secure.
He shared some of the broken places in his heart that Jesus was healing. He shared his need for good, trustworthy male relationships. And in time, I realized he trusted me! That was a first. Apparently I had become a trustworthy person. Deep down I knew I could be trusted in spite of my broken past. I had just never been, well, trusted. I know now that Ron was responding to Jesus’ call to love me unconditionally. He was discipling me and pouring his life into me. He trusted me with some deep secrets of his own life. I realized he was not perfect, only dependent, dependent on Jesus.
Slowly, I began to trust. This was part of Jesus’ plan. As my friendship with Ron grew over the next year, so did my trust in him. I still needed a savior and Ron knew this. I’m not sure how Ron knew when to ask the probing questions he asked. All I knew was that he loved me and had no intention of using me. Then one day he asked me about my sexual struggles. Intuitively, he knew something was up. And given the foundation of trust that had been established, I was honest for the first time. It was a difficult conversation, filled with pain and shame. However, this time the pain produced life in me and the shame was lifted. Ron was not an expert in healing those with homosexual affections. He was just in tune with his own brokenness and his deep need for Jesus. That’s all the qualification one needs to truly love another.
Ron went to be with our Lord later that year, his new marriage cut needlessly short. My heart was broken and I doubted God’s provision for my life. I realized I had depended on Ron and wondered how I could begin the journey toward trusting once again. However, it was evident this friendship led me to trust Jesus. The yoke of shame cracked and I experienced God’s healing and, ultimately, hope.
Quickly I learned God’s grace for me was offered in the light of authentic relationships. It came through this whole-enough man who loved Jesus and could hear my confessions of sin and insecurity. Yet, within the following year, fear of rejection and the shadow of shame followed close. My addictive sexual struggles flourished in the absence of being known by a Christian brother.
But God had another plan for me. He seemed to illuminate the next step I needed to take, walking in dependence of the Savior. As I look back over the last twenty-five years, Jesus only asked of me what I could endure. Each step revealed the opportunity to trust Him and necessitated me being known. Through involvement in countless Living Waters groups, where I both participated and led others, I experienced and exercised the rhythm of the Christian life: relationships, confession, forgiveness and healing. My growing community in Christ became the bedrock of a changed heart. The change continues.
The summer I met Ron I also met Karen. She captured my heart like no other. Many years later the legacy of Ron’s pursuit of God and friendship with me birthed my passion and strength to pursue Karen. I trusted her and trusted Jesus to sustain us. He remains faithful and trustworthy as I have grown as a husband and father. With the assistance of a community of friendship steeped in Living Waters, Karen and I proceed in integrity and fruitfulness with our four kids.