Breaking The Silence
Ernest Hemingway said, “Man’s destiny in the universe is like a colony of ants on a burning log.” Oh dear! It seems that all 7.7 billion of us on this planet are on a journey to nowhere. It sounds hopeless and really rather depressing, doesn’t it? But God (The most wonderful phrase in the English language!) has said differently in John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.” In Isaiah:43 He tells us that He created us and loves us. We are precious in His sight. He knows us by name, calls us to repent and, if we do so, He forgives our sins. Wow, what an amazing God!
In the light of all this I share my story of how, through God’s grace, I became one of the “whosoever's”, putting my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Later in my Christian life, as I began to experience SSA temptations, I had to decide if I was prepared to accept that Jesus Christ had to be my Lord and sovereign over all aspects of my life, as well as being my Saviour.
Having been born just after the end of World War 2 when there was a marked increase in the birth rate, I was classed as one of the “Baby Boomers”. This “Baby Boomer” was born into a loving family. My parents, who despite not having a personal faith, were extremely respectful to God. Mum taught me the Lord’s Prayer and helped me to say my prayers at a very early age. My friends and I were brought up at a time of austerity. I remember that all our furniture was second hand and we were taught the value of money and the importance of looking after your toys and belongings. We were allowed to be children without many of the adult worries that face children nowadays and so different from our digitally-led world. It is wrong to think of the fifties, however, as part of the “good old days”. As things have come to light more recently, there were many dark things going on: lots of family secrets, shaming and ill-treatment of unmarried mothers and child abuse. I am really grateful I was spared such traumas.
My time spent at Primary School was not so happy. Apart from two kind teachers, I remember having to face the ferocity of the teachers if I didn’t give the correct answer. They seemed so pressured to get us through our 11+ exam, that they weren’t really helping us to actually understand and love our work.
As the fifties were coming to an end and the sixties approached we seemed to enter a world of colour for the first time. Our parents were able to buy new “modern” things for the house. I did pass my 11+ exam, much to my surprise, and entered a co-educational grammar school, which I loved and made solid friendships lasting to this day. The sixties mantra of “sex, drugs and rock and roll” happily by-passed our school. I remember that we would never bring up any family problems or trouble; even when chatting between ourselves or in school debates we tended to discuss world issues, the environment and apartheid, but never sexual or relationship matters. Sex education was not on the curriculum, and I was even absent the week the family life of rabbits was taught! Later on, a friend who did ‘A’ level biology did fill us in with some basic knowledge.
I respected God but considered Him to be like one of my teachers who watched me closely and was ready to pounce if I displeased him. Little did I realise that He knew me from the beginning of time, and it was in His loving purpose to call me to Himself by His grace.
Two friends told me that they had come to trust in Jesus Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord. They had given their lives to Him and wanted to follow Him. Our RE teacher was a Christian and had set up a Christian Union in the school to which my friends went. All this new talk of Jesus Christ really scared me at first, and I didn’t want to know. But, as I saw a change in their lives, I couldn’t get Jesus out of my mind. I started to pray and ask God to show me what it was all about, and what changes would it mean to my life? After six months I was reading Christian books my friends had given me, and it all began to make sense. I did believe Jesus had died for me. I did believe He could forgive my sins and make me a new person. One evening I simply knelt by my bed and asked Jesus to be my Saviour and Lord. That might not sound very dramatic, but the Bible says it is a miracle of grace whenever a sinner is brought out of darkness into His wonderful light.
Struggling with singleness
The change in me was inwardly dramatic. I knew my sins were forgiven, and my Saviour was with me every day. Outwardly He gave me more confidence and courage and a mission in life to live for Him. It took time, but eventually I found an evangelical church where I received sound Bible teaching and was blessed by good, faithful friends. Looking back I realise that God had planned each move for me.
College followed where I was an active member of the Christian Union, and later we were let loose into the world of work. I was busy developing my professional skills, having Church responsibilities, enjoying exciting holidays abroad, having good Christian fellowship and generally wanting to follow the Lord and serving Him faithfully. Gradually over time lots of my friends married and started their families. This wasn’t too much of a problem for me at first, but as time went on it became increasingly noticeable that the world revolved around ‘couples’. Perhaps even more so in the past than nowadays.
Over time I had had a few Christian boyfriends, but no great romance, no one who I felt was a soul mate. My childhood low self-esteem re-surfaced, where I always felt my peers were smarter than me. I felt that no man could be really interested in me and commit themselves to me when there were far prettier and more exciting girls around. At the time I knew of several marriage breakdowns as a result of husbands’ infidelities, and these seemed to add to my despair of ever finding a trustworthy relationship.
I continued to pray about these matters and tried ‘to leave it with the Lord’, hoping to settle my mind with the thought that lots of Christian women never do get married. Definitely, I wasn’t a man-hater! I got on well with my male colleagues and friends, Christian and non-Christian.
Being without children was much harder to bear. I had and still have an intense longing to have had my own children. Even now, when I am feeling down and lonely I still cry, grieving for the children I never had. However, it has been a privilege to have friends who have ‘shared’ their children with me. The Lord is gracious in giving us ‘spiritual children’ too when He enables us to help others by His grace.
Reaching the menopause
All these feelings seemed to intensify as I entered the menopause. Looking back an extremely late adolescence and an early menopause embarked on a collision course! The end of the 1980s holds so many difficult memories for me. It was a time when same-sex relationships were coming much more into the open in society and particularly in the media. Until then I was not at all knowledgeable about such issues, but as I began to watch television programmes, especially from the new Channel 4, and quite a few films about same-sex relationships, it seemed that my longings for a close, loving partnership could become a reality with a woman. I had probably been experiencing my first feelings towards women for a very long time, but it was so frightening to acknowledge them and no one I knew talked about that sort of thing, that I must have buried them deeply. I didn’t realise how lonely I was until this seed of hope had been planted in my mind, and I wondered how I could go on living without that intimacy. Immediately I knew that this was not what God intended for us. I searched Scriptures to find any hope that a same-sex relationship other than just a friendship would be acceptable to God but found none. A battle for my heart had begun. Embarking on such a course I knew would ‘shipwreck’ my faith; even though I believed I could not lose my salvation and that He would bring me back to a right relationship to Himself before I died. I admit that I fed my temptations by watching programmes, films and nurturing romantic scenarios. It was all in my head, not in practice, but in imagination or indeed I knew it was idolatry. Anything that we place in our hearts before our love for the Saviour displeases Him.
For the next twenty-five years, as well as getting on with my everyday life and work, I struggled. I nearly confided in someone at a conference I attended and my pastor, but the moment passed, and it felt too late. The longer you keep a secret, the bigger the issue seems to get. I now thought I would never be able to tell anyone. I asked for forgiveness, tried to change my thought life, using avoidance tactics to take my mind off my same-sex attraction. Many times I asked the Lord to take away my feelings. I would think I had been healed, and then the feelings would resurface. I loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him, but I had a divided heart. Being honest, I now realise that deep down I was wanting to hold on to my sinful thoughts and feelings. I wasn’t really prepared to let go and leave these on the altar of sacrifice and crucify them. They seem to be like a ‘safety net’ and ‘comfort blanket’ to get me through the difficult times.
The stress and guilt of living almost two separate lives was, at times, enormous, so I learned to compartmentalise my life. Did you, like me, when I was young, have a lockable diary in which you could write all your secrets but keep them hidden so no one could discover them? Well, my thought life became like that. It was immensely difficult too, not being able to share my temptations with the people I loved and trusted. It seemed to me that I was the only Christian to ever have such feelings and I would be locked in silence, sin and shame forever…
Emerging from isolation
But God (Yes, those two great words again!) had a rescue plan. 1 Corinthians 10:13 tells us that God is faithful and won’t allow us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear, but will with the temptation bring a way of escape that we may be able to endure it. In the summer of 2014 I was visiting one of the Christian festivals and, while looking through the programme, I saw that Jonathan Berry, the then Director of True Freedom Trust, was leading a series of seminars. To read of TFT’s work supporting same-sex attracted Christians was a revelation to me. I wasn’t the only Christian ever to be struggling! In the article was a mobile number to contact Jonathan if you wanted to talk privately or arrange a meeting with him. It was as though my heart had been pierced, but for my good. I knew this was my chance to allow God to change my life. I prayed for strength to ring. However, what would it mean for my future? Was I really prepared to sacrifice all that I was clinging to in my thought and emotional life? It would mean opening up the door of my secret life to others. How would I ever be able to speak about it to another human being? By the Monday I knew I had to ring. I wanted to walk truthfully with my Lord and Saviour that nothing mattered as much as getting right with Him and wanting Him to be first in my life.
That phone call was one of the most difficult I have ever made, but Jonathan was so kind and helpful. I knew because he also experienced SSA that he would understand me. At first he suggested meeting the following day in the coffee shop. “But Jonathan,” I said. “My friends might see me with you and ask who you are or recognise you from your photo and put two and two together about me and make four!” My paranoia had set in. Jonathan coped patiently and suggested a less public meeting place. I couldn’t risk being seen, so I took a long way around the venue, constantly looking about in case I saw anyone I knew – a bit like the character out of the film “The Third Man”, skulking in the dark streets of Vienna! If I could have found a disguise I would have donned wig, glasses and fake nose. I felt vulnerable in case someone came along, so I suggested we crossed the car park and found a place to sit and talk. This might sound rather like an excerpt from a farce, but my heart was beating I could hardly speak. It was one of the most poignant moments of my life.
After twenty-five years I was able to tell Jonathan about my struggles and confess my previous unwillingness to hand everything over to the Lord. Jonathan told me all about TFT and how it could support me. As the tears flowed I asked for the Lord’s forgiveness and help in handing everything in my life over to Him. I felt a peace come over me as I experienced the Lord’s forgiveness, love and acceptance. Jonathan prayed for me too. He asked me to contact the TFT office and to choose trusted Christian friends back home with whom I could share my story and also be accountable to.
I did contact the TFT office after about half an hour of walking to the phone, picking it up and putting it down again! One of the staff was so kind and told me all the ways in which TFT could help and support me. She also encouraged me to share with trusted friends. I told my pastor and his wife, and they advised me not to be open with the whole church about my struggles, as I go to a church which is small in numbers and live in a community where everyone knows each other. People are very kind, but they do want to know where I’ve been and what I have been doing! My pastor is protecting me from people’s shock and the fact that I would always wonder whether my friends were thinking I was attracted to them! Revealing my SSA to another 71 year old would be easier if they also were attracted to the same sex, because they would understand the shame, silence and stigma attached to the admission but, even today, I expect I still wouldn’t be able to tell someone who wasn’t a member of TFT about my struggles.
Receiving strength and grace
How I thank God for TFT! It’s not just a great support organisation, but part of my Christian family, where I am accepted and helped to take up my cross and follow the Lord’s narrow way that leads to life. I am in a TFT support group with other strugglers where I am the eldest member. I find a bond with all the members, which transcends age. The Lord hasn’t taken my struggles away, but He gives me strength and grace to cope as we read about Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians:7-10. Every Christian experiences temptations of some kind. But now as the heavy burden of the silence, sin and shame has been taken off my shoulders, I am no longer defined by my temptations. I do find when Christians of my age talk about same-sex attraction in a judgemental way; I wonder what they would think of me if they knew? I still feel personal shame when that happens, despite trying to educate them about the fact that SSA is no worse a sin than greed or gossip. I am His child; He is the best of masters. By His grace I make a conscious effort to resist romantic scenarios and daydreams when they come into my mind. At special times of temptations, for example if new films or TV programmes focusing on same-sex relationships are shown, I ask my accountability friends to pray for me. 1 John 1:8 - 10 assure us of His forgiveness for confessed failings and sins, and Romans 8 tells us that if we are in Christ Jesus there is no condemnation. We are cleansed and clothed in His righteousness.
As a single person life can be lonely of course but everyone, even those in a marriage, can experience loneliness. That is why good friendships for everyone are so important. Only the Lord can satisfy our hearts completely. I’ve come to realise nothing can compare with walking with the Lord in His path for our lives. Jim Elliott, missionary and Christian martyr in South America said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to keep that which he cannot lose”. The Lord graciously says that whatever we have sacrificed for His sake He is well able to make up to us in other ways in this life or the next (Mark 10:29).
Older age (yes, mine!) throws up new challenges. Health problems of various kinds can occur; close friends and family members pass away. I know that I don’t have one special person who I relate to. Thoughts of needing care in later life can trouble us. I have no children. Who is going to look after me? The Lord says, “My times are in His hands” (Psalm 31:5). Therefore I aim to trust Him and make sensible provisions for the future: trying to keep as physically and mentally active as possible, appointing trusted friends as my Power of Attorney, making a will and choosing trusted executors.
I have often wondered why the Lord allows me to struggle with such temptations. The answer is I don’t know. But I have an amazing God who does know and only wants the best for me. Spurgeon wrote, “Thank the Lord for everything that drives us to the Saviour’s heart”. Before, I never really knew what it was to weep over my sin. Perhaps it has taught me to appreciate God’s mercy and forgiveness so much more, made me humble and more understanding of others temptations than I otherwise would have been and given me increased desire to share with others the Good News of our great Saviour.
Recently Acts 5:17- 20 spoke to my heart. Peter and the other apostles had been thrown into prison for preaching the Gospel. “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors and led them out”. Matthew Henry writes, “Note. There is no prison so dark, so strong but that God can both visit His people in it and if He be pleased, fetch them out of it”.
If any of my story resonates with you, and you are still struggling alone, may I encourage you first to seek the Saviour’s heart of compassion, then to contact TFT for help and support. I don’t want anyone to feel ostracised like I did because of their sexuality or to carry guilt and shame. I know what it feels like to grow up in a time where being respectable and conforming to societal norms was expected. I now feel total acceptance in Christ.
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.
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