Expecting Rejection. Receiving Grace.
It is often quite strange to look back over my life and see where God has brought me, sometimes with my full awareness, at other times organising events in the background. It would be great to say that my journey has been straight forward and pain-free, but that wouldn’t be honest or accurate. However, I am very aware of God’s love, care and protection over my life over the years.
Growing up in the North East of England in the 1970s and 80s, I desperately tried to live the life I thought I was meant to as a good church-going boy in an industrial town. While my childhood was generally happy, I did have the pain of watching my older sister suffer and eventually lose her battle with cystic fibrosis, a life-limiting disease, when she was 14 years old and I was 7. For a child of that age, who was already struggling with how I fitted in, this had a devastating impact. While my family were loving, they weren’t close, especially my father who spent a lot of time at work and wasn’t around much and was often tired and distant when at home.
I knew I was different to everyone else, but I tried to convince myself that it was simply because I liked classical music and not football. But there was always something niggling deep down that there was more to it than these outward expressions. As I hit puberty, I realised that something much more fundamental was happening, and I slowly started to realise that it was same-sex attraction. In the mid 1980s, as a teenager, I had no way of communicating this. I didn’t know whether anyone would understand, believe or accept me for who I felt I was becoming. So I chose to pretend it wasn’t real and put on the public persona of being a good boy. I even tried having a girlfriend, who was just that… a great friend who was a girl but there was nothing there beyond the friendship.
However, if I could manage to control the public version of me, the private version, inside my head, was running wild and out of control. Acting out these thoughts was starting to take over my waking hours. I was attracted to male friends who were simply being nice to me - but my thoughts and emotions were going crazy. I went to church, but didn’t have a living relationship with Christ. Perhaps there were too many barriers inside which were blocking me coming to Him. Shame and loneliness were my constant companions as I struggled internally, but tried to keep up the persona outwardly.
Perhaps a complete change would help. Shunning any university within 150 miles of my home, I moved to London to study. Unfortunately, the struggles and the shame came with me, and now I had no support network. I kept thinking that, if I just kept trying harder, it would go away but of course it didn’t. Plus, as I grew into my 20s, I realised that there weren’t just the physical attractions which bombarded me, but also the realisation that I was craving a real, loving relationship with someone who understood me and loved me for who I was. There was also the understanding that, if I were to pursue this someone of the same sex, it would take me on a journey that would probably sever connections with my family and church, leaving me even more on my own. The feeling of loneliness could, at times, be overwhelming. Even though this was now the late 1980s and early 90s when the media was buzzing with people ‘coming out’, and university life could undoubtedly have offered a huge range of options for me, there was this tremendous sense that I was completely alone in this.
During this time in university, it was wonderful to be introduced to the real Jesus, surrender my life into His hands, and start that living relationship with Him. I had this new relationship with Christ, as well as a new family in the church I had joined, who genuinely seemed to care for me. But they didn’t know the real me! The real me was still hiding beneath the surface, and the battles were as difficult as ever. This was compounded with the fear that, if anyone in my new church ever found out I was gay, they would be sure to reject me. I was convinced of this because this church was very clear on their understanding of the Bible when it came to relationships and sex.
Perhaps my acting skills were too good but, when I finished university, I started as an intern at the church. It was a wonderful year but, once again, I didn’t feel I could be real. I was a leader (or at least a ‘trainee’ leader), now with a sense of calling to ministry on my life. So, I continued to push it down, tried to manage the emotions and the cravings, and tried to find a way of dealing with the times I felt I let God down. “Sin management” was my priority. The trouble was, I was setting myself up for a massive crash. It was probably a crash that God was quite pleased happened. A friend had let me know that he was struggling with same-sex attraction, but he didn’t realise that I was too. In a fit of too much confidence, or possibly having reached the point at 22 years old where deep down I really wanted something to happen, I agreed to share with him. I was walking into a time bomb, and I think I did it with my eyes open. Well, the next steps are fairly obvious, and a small number of incidents happened.
The guilt and shame now became too much, and overflowed. I went to my closest friends in the church, and to the leadership, and confessed what had happened as well as the emotions and feelings I had been battling with for over a decade. I “knew” that they would reject me, and that I would see disgust in their expressions, so I looked closely into the eyes of everyone I spoke to, waiting for that moment. But I never saw it! I had been ready to walk away from church, and my relationship with Christ, if I had seen that disgust, but all I saw in their eyes was love. I had hurt them by lying to them and let them down by living a life that was not compatible with the Gospel I was supposedly serving. However, they reached out to me in love, held me as I wept, and were the arms of a loving heavenly Father when He felt very distant from me spiritually. This was my lowest point but it was also my turning point.
My church leadership were great and put me in touch with TFT. At that time, TFT had offices in South London, and so I visited and spent a few sessions with them one-to-one. I suppose there was an initial sense of relief that this hidden shame was now in the open. Once in the light, the hard work of a double life was over. Although, outwardly, everything appeared to have fallen apart, I knew in my heart that I now had hope of a new beginning. And I knew that I was supported by my friends, my church and the great team at TFT. I joined the “Steps Out” course run by TFT and, over the course of a year, I started to truly understand all that Christ had done for me and that my identity was in Him rather than my sexuality. I realised that I was complete in Him regardless of my feelings or whether or not I was in a relationship. I started to learn that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I could begin to walk a life of purity and wholeness. Also I could see that, even if life was one of singleness for the rest of my days, that would be OK. I could cope with that – perhaps even thrive in that scenario. The support of my church family and friends in this, often painful, journey was invaluable.
Growing in Wholeness
As things turned out, over a few years, I re-connected with a young woman whom I had been friends with previously. I quickly realised that there were feelings and attractions that I wasn’t used to and, to cut a long story short, we dated, married and have now been very happily together for 21 years, and have two wonderful children. Was I “healed”? I don’t know. But what I do know is that in finding out my true identity, and dealing with many different hurts and issues in my life, I have found true freedom in Christ, and this has meant that I am more fully “me” than I have ever been, including in my sexuality. Does it mean that I have never had a single further gay thought or feeling? It would be foolish to say that was the case. Of course, like anyone else, I am tempted, and for me that temptation can sometimes include thoughts and feelings relating to my sexuality. I am not perfect, but I do have a perfect God who has helped me, saved me, transformed me, and made me whole in ways I could never have imagined, including, but not limited to, my sexuality.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend.