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family reading the bible

Finding rest from anxious thoughts

I was privileged enough to be born to Christian parents. They both are brilliant parents and brought me up in the faith. My father would read the Bible to me and my brothers every night, right until the end of primary school. I owe a large amount of my Bible knowledge to him and my mother. This knowledge has been really helpful as I have learned to deal with same-sex attractions (SSA), so I am incredibly thankful to my father for that.

I remember my parents leading me in a very simple sinner’s prayer when I was about 6. Even though I maybe didn’t understand everything that was involved in being a Christian, I believe God honoured my prayer and has been in relationship with me ever since. As a result, my relationship with God did not start with a single defining moment of salvation. My testimony will therefore be more a story of how I grew in my Christian faith.

OCD is not something you can combat on your own

About SSA in my Life

As a kid, I was much more interested in creative things, such as art and music, rather than the stereotypical things that boys enjoy, such as sport. However, all my crushes during my primary school years were on girls and not guys. I did have one or two intense friendships with guys, which were probably early signs of SSA. Like many pre-teen boys (I suspect), I had a lingering fear that I might grow up to be gay.

I started experiencing SSA during puberty. I remember the first time I had an attraction to a boy. It was about 2 days before my 14th birthday. It completely freaked me out and, for some reason, I told my parents about my fear of being gay. I don’t think they really believed me though. I think they thought it was just a phase I was going through and that I did not really understand what it meant to be gay. We had a chat and they calmed me down. I remember believing that it would go away after a while.

As you might expect, the SSA did not diminish. I cannot remember much about my early high school, but I do remember a lot of anxiety - especially regarding my sexuality. I was petrified that people would find out and so I kept it to myself and tried pretending to be straight. However, not dealing very well with my new experience, led to unhealthy ways of coping. I wish I had reached out for help sooner, but I was so ashamed of my feelings that I preferred to suffer alone and pretend that everything was fine. 

I was convinced that the fact that I experienced same-sex feelings was in itself a sin against God and I needed to somehow stop these attractions. I did not understand the difference between a temptation and a sin. I thought that experiencing an attraction to a guy was in itself a sin, like stealing is a sin. This led to an almost constant state of guilt and shame, since I could control who I was attracted to. (See towards the end of the article for the difference between sin and temptation.)

All this came to a head around the time my grandmother died when I was 16. Since I had already learned to suppress my feelings, my family thought I was OK. In the two years that I had been experiencing SSA, I had learned to cope with my emotions through a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). To deal with the shame and guilt, I would “confess my sins” non-stop, over and over again, until the bad feeling went away.  This might seem like a good thing, but because being same-sex attracted is not a sin, the temptations have no need to be confessed and the guilt was unwarranted. Confessing doggedly, in that manner, was not the correct way to deal with those feelings of guilt and shame.

Once my grandmother died, the OCD grew to become an all-encompassing reality as I tried to suppress the SSA as well as the grief associated with her death. Thankfully, at that time, I had been meeting with a pastor who was discipling me. He noticed that something was not right. He suggested to my parents that I go for counselling to sort through the issues that were clearly causing me distress. My parents organised for me to see a local Christian psychologist. We worked through the OCD, and he gave me some useful techniques to deal with the negative emotions, the most noteworthy being that instead of confessing to get rid of the unwarranted shame and guilt, I needed to remind myself of God’s love for me. That, as well as some meds I was put on, really helped. My mood greatly improved and the OCD also decreased. I am thankful to my parents who continued to love and support me despite not knowing what to do. I am thankful to my counsellor who reminded me of the gospel. I am also thankful to God whose Word brought great comfort to me at that time. The Psalms came alive to me too.
Here are some instances of what I have learned along the way:

Temptation is not intentional sin

Everyone is tempted differently depending on their make-up. Some are tempted to eat too much, some struggle with greed, others with envy. However, just because one is weak in a particular area, does not mean that they are sinning by being tempted. Even Jesus was tempted with his own unique temptations (Matthew 4), yet the Bible makes it clear that He was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). In the same way, just because we find members of the same sex attractive, does not make those attractions wrong. It becomes a sin if you entertain it through something like lust or porn.

Feelings can be deceptive

Until recently, I believed that if the feeling was strong enough, then it must be God who is causing it. For example, if the feeling of guilt is so strong, then it must be God convicting me. That lie did mean that I was at the mercy of my feelings. Following that line of thinking meant that I was forced to obey whatever the feelings told me to do. If I was overcome with an intense sense of guilt, there would always be something that I could do to make it go away (i.e. the compulsion). However, that compulsion never did decrease the feelings for long. The feeling would resurface again a few days or weeks later.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help!

OCD is not something you can combat on your own. Find a few trusted friends whom you can chat to; chat to a counsellor or your pastor. I have needed my friends to help me sort out the truthful thoughts from the lies. 

Fight the OCD using God’s Word

For me, one of the reasons the OCD feelings have so much weight is because I convince myself that if I do not obey the compulsions, God will reject me. Bible verses that speak against that are, for example, Jeremiah 31:36-37:
“If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, 
then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” Thus says the Lord:
“If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored,
then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,
declares the Lord.”

God will only abandon me if the heavens above can be measured and the fixed order falls apart. We can be assured that we are safe with God and our very lives are safely hidden with Him in heaven, where no one can steal them away (Col 3:3). We can be sure that He will never abandon us.
Your “core fear” might be something else. Let me urge you to find verses that will encourage you with truth to counteract any lies you may be believing.

My current experience with OCD

Ironically, while I was writing this article, I was experiencing OCD like I experienced at high school. I hadn’t been on medication for OCD for many years, but I needed it. That was the only thing that gave me significant rest from the thoughts and feelings. Honestly, I was angry with God for not healing me as I needed. I had expected Him to take the thoughts and feelings away as I prayed to Him and read the Word, but that is not how He chose to help me. He chose to help me through medication. He gave many intelligent men and women talents and insight to create these medications. God does not always heal in the supernatural way that we sometimes expect.
This was also a very humbling experience as I learned that all my methods and means of dealing with my disorder did not work - some of them being religious means. It left me realising how dependent I am on God for everything.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2024 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Spring 2024 edition of Ascend