Are your struggles so much different from everyone else?
Over past two decades of ministry, I’ve walked with many men and women who have felt that because of their specific sexual struggles, they are worse off than others. Their concerns usually go something like this: Christians accept people who deal with X, Y, or Z, but if the moment they find out you struggle with what I struggle with, they’ll always see you as different.
One area where I hear this more than others is among LGBT+ Christians—men and women who are committed to Jesus and Scriptural teachings about sexual expression, but who experience same-sex sexual attractions or sexual confusion.
I want to help dispel the myth that men and women who struggle with LGBT+ issues have a unique problem that divides them from others.
CHICKENS AND EGGS
Ned told his spiritual coach, “If only I could trade my attraction to guys for attraction to women, my life would be so much better.” He believed this shift would make him feel better about himself, improve his relationships with others, and be happy. But I believe for the most part, Ned has this backwards.
It’s true that for many people who experience same-sex attraction, having these attractions is disconcerting as they try to relate with others in same-gender friendships: “What will they think? Will I be accepted? Will they always feel funny around me? What if I become attracted to one of them?” But for those who press through and develop authentic, healthy, and upright man-to-man or woman-to-woman friendships—including with close friends who know of their attractions—the anxious, disconcerting feelings go away.
What’s more, these healthy same-sex friendships play a significant role in meeting needs for healthy same-sex relating, building self-esteem and strengthening an inner sense of masculine or feminine identity. Consequently, for some this also may play a role in diminishing same-sex attractions and temptations. Foundational to this in every case is the discovery that other men and women also wrestle with low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, shame, fear of rejection, jealousies, and competition. I don’t know any man who hasn’t wrestled with feeling he doesn’t fit in with other men or who doesn’t find himself comparing his physique with other guys. Meanwhile, the man or woman who waits for the same-sex attractions to go away before pressing into same-gender friendships finds him or herself continuing to wait.
YOUR STRUGGLES ARE COMMON TO ALL
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, Paul makes this assertion: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man.” The Greek word used here for ‘temptation’ is the same word translated elsewhere as ‘test,’ and so The Message paraphrases this passage as “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face.” Do you believe this? I know many men and women who don’t. They take their personal perspective and give it more credence in their relationships than trusting in the Word of God. But Paul penned these words for a reason. When we believe our sin struggles are unique to us, we’re more prone to shame, isolation, and walking in darkness instead of bringing our temptations, sins, and selves into the light of Christ. Paul knew this and was exposing the lie of uniqueness. And we should find it comforting that he wrote this to the infamous church of Corinth, who struggled with perhaps more sexual sin (including homosexuality) than any other church of its time.
In what ways are your struggles common to other men and women? In what ways are the tests, temptations and trials you face experienced by your brothers and sisters around you? I’m sure there are more, but let me offer three I’ve observed.
ATTRACTION TO ATTRACTIVE PEOPLE
So frequently in our ministry people confuse attraction with sin. Noticing an attractive person’s body is not a sin. Lust is using another’s body for selfish sexual gratification; it takes from the other without regard for his or her welfare. Lust is a sin, looking is not. One can look upon an attractive person with admiration, with love, with compassion. The reason this distinction is so important is because people are more easily enticed to continue to sin than they are to start sinning. This is true for two reasons. First, feelings that frequently follow sin (shame, anxiety, frustration, sadness, etc.) are painful and a common response to pain is to medicate with something that feels good—like lust. Second, a person who feels badly about him or herself is more likely to behave badly. It’s sad but true.
Men, if you notice an attractive, shirtless jogger running by, this is no cause to assume guilt or take on shame. Everyone is attracted to attractive people. Non-SSA men also notice and are sometimes attracted to attractive male bodies. This isn’t a sexual thing. Though other men may not say it plainly, it comes out in comments like, “Wow, that guy is built,” “That guy is a tank,” “He’s got guns,” “I used to look like that,” or “I’ve got to get back to the gym!”
Women, if you find yourself taking special note of an attractive woman (whether attractive to you physically or for other reasons), this is no reason to assume you’re doing something wrong. Other women notice attractive women also. A woman’s confidence, strength, inner beauty, or other features may simply be gifts from God, an expression of His image in her that others notice and admire, too.
Again, if you notice an attractive person and believe noticing is sinful, you will wrongly conclude that what you’re doing is yet another piece of evidence that you’re not like other men or women. This is a set-up to give in to doing what men or women “like you” do. But in reality, men and women “like you” are all men and women because everyone notices attractive people to varying degrees I know that for some, particularly men, looking at an attractive person has become so sexualized that it’s nearly impossible to look without it turning lustful. If that’s you, then for now, by all means look away (I’ve had to deal with this as well). Over time, Jesus can de-sexualize these attractions, turning “opportunities” to lust into opportunities with Christ to celebrate the goodness of His creation. In the meantime, accept that others notice and find attractive people attractive too and remember that noticing is not a sin—it is not unique to you because of your SSA.
CONNECTING WITH OTHERS
It is not your SSA that is the primary obstacle to your ability to connect in healthy relationships with others. It may feel that way, but I’m convinced it’s not. Many, many, men and women have difficulty connecting in healthy and meaningful ways with the same gender and the other gender. I know I do. And I know others who are in the same boat. I take a step forward and three back, sometimes enjoy sweet fellowship and then run scared under the guise of busyness. And I believe there are entire churches of men and some women who struggle in this way. Why is this so?
First, they don’t know how. It’s never been modeled for them. They grew up in families where people didn’t talk, didn’t share, didn’t need friendships, and so as adults, they’re still living under these faulty beliefs. Or they grew up in environments where one gender or the other wasn’t safe—either overbearing (perhaps even abusive) or too distant emotionally or physically. And so for the child, that became the perceived norm for anyone of that gender.
Melissa Coffey, past chair of the board of directors for Exodus International, relates this, “Many heterosexual women have difficulty trusting men because they’ve been wounded by them. This is an opportunity to encourage one another to honor the men in their lives, not to have a male-bashing session.” I think the same could be said of heterosexual men.
Also, relationships are risky. Opening up to each other is a risk for anyone. It means being vulnerable and that could mean rejection. Physiologically, when men feel distress, endorphins are released in their bodies that make it difficult to sit still. This is why it can be easier for men to “go deep” in conversation while doing something else—hiking, working on a house, playing ball, driving somewhere.
And lastly, as one of the members of the Ransomed Heart Ministries team put it, healthy relationships among men (and I’d add women) are “fiercely opposed.” The enemy of our souls does not want men and women to be living life together. He wants them isolated from one another—married men leaving the relational thing to their wives, single men feeling ostracized from churches because they’re not married, professional men (including those in ministry) pouring their lives out in their work, and those struggling with same-sex attractions isolated from the rest of the church.
So many who come to Regeneration for help dealing with SSA feel so isolated and alone in their struggles, never realizing that the many others with non-SSA struggles feel the same way and are struggling sexually, too. I’ve heard those struggling with SSA say, “It’s not fair, people can struggle with all sorts of sins in the church, but this one is viewed differently.” Guess what? I’ve heard the exact thing from men and women struggling with heterosexual sexual sins. And if Regeneration helped those dealing with drugs, depression, overeating, or gambling, I bet I’d hear it from them, too.
Here are some other statements we hear: How can I ever give this up? It feels so much a part of me. Something is wrong with me. If anyone ever does find out, I’ll be rejected. I’ve tried everything I know and I keep falling. Maybe I’m not really a Christian. God must have given up on me by now. Sin is addictive, produces shame, and does all sorts of damage; It’s why God commands us not to sin! It also feels good and is difficult to give up. We all need a rescuer. You are not unique.
There is one other vital reason for you to crucify your chronic uniqueness: other men and women need you. Have you ever considered the possibility that the men and women around you in your church are not all God wants them to become because you are not as much a part of their lives as they need you to be? If you are not connected in ongoing, real-to-life relationships with other men and women in your church, then this is true. Read what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:15 and 16:
“We are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (italics mine).
You need them, yes. And they need you. Or as Alan Chambers put it at this year’s Exodus Freedom Conference: The body is not all it needs to be because you are missing. Quit looking for your brothers and sisters to be your dad or your mom. God may move through them in a fatherly or motherly way, but if you see a need, it may just mean Christ is calling you to be the one to move. Are you frustrated with how unavailable men seem to be? Perhaps they need to be invited. Do you wish people in your small group would confess honestly? Maybe God is calling you to go first. Does it seem married men and women never have time because of the demands of their families? Perhaps they could use the help of a brother or sister who is single who, as Paul pointed out, can be completely devoted to the building of God’s Kingdom (see 1 Corinthians 7:32). Are you yearning for someone to share a real prayer request or disclose something real from the heart? Then perhaps Christ is inviting you to ask or to lead through example.
Men, other men need you. Women, other women need you. The church needs you—to press forward, to pursue Christ with abandon, to persevere into purity (including continuing to get help and support as you need it), to grow in godly manhood and womanhood, and yes, to relentlessly pursue godly relationships with other men and women in the church. As I said at the outset, this is my struggle, too. So together, let’s crucify chronic uniqueness.
By Josh Glaser
Originally Published September 2009