Young, evangelical writer, Jonathan Merritt, recently posted an excerpt from his latest book at Christianity Today. It is both a heartbreaking and hopeful account; Merritt’s writing overflows with honesty and vulnerability about his early, childhood sexual abuse and struggles with same-sex attraction.
A few days later at the Washington Post, Merritt explained why he decided to go forward with his personal story:
“I shared my sexuality story chiefly because…vulnerability is one of the essential ingredients to being alive. And, I would add, to being human. When we share our stories, we share ourselves. This act creates a portal to community, to be being known, to being loved. When we refuse to share our stories and ourselves, we stiff-arm those around us and keep others from being conduits of grace in our lives.”
This vulnerability and desire to live in the light is powerful. His story reminded me of one of my favorite lines from Tim Keller:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.”
Keller helpfully identifies two fundamental human experiences. Known, but not loved and loved, but not known. He goes on later to lay out the alternative: to be known and loved in Christ, which is transformational love.
As I read Jonathan’s chapter, I realized how powerful one’s story of vulnerability can be. For those of us who seek to better understand and counsel people like Jonathan, stories like his are both insightful and helpful. In the past few years, several people have come forward in the evangelical church expressing their honest struggle with SSA. As one reads and reflects, several observations from their stories become apparent.
Identity Is Everything
I’ve blogged here at the BCC about the dangers of reducing a person’s identity down to their sexual orientation. As human beings, we are designed to tell God’s story about us and what he created us for: worship.
Our culture thrives in labeling people and consigning them to compartmentalized areas of life. These labels intend to distort and diminish our primary calling to be image-bearers of God. In his story, Merritt voices this concern, “The essence of who I am is far more shaped, influenced, and guided by my spirituality than by my sexuality.”
We Are More Alike Than We Are Different
To often we buy into the lie, which segments off the same-sex struggler as uniquely different than us. As one reads their stories of struggle you see how many struggles we experience collectively:
- Fear of being known
- Fear of not being loved
- Superficial interactions and relationships
- Sense of insecurity
- Anxiety at being discovered
- Shame as a result of another’s sin
- Guilt about a secret struggle
- Anger at God for his perceived absence
We are quickly reminded there is nothing new under the sun, and human beings to some degree or another have and possess common struggles. The good news in all of this of course is the gospel. There is not a gospel only for the heterosexual, and then a different one for the homosexual. No, the good news comes to sinners desperately in need of God’s saving grace.
Relationships Are Key
God built and designed us for community and relationships. This is neither surprising or news to many of us. Unfortunately, knowledge in many ways remains exactly that: knowledge. Actually getting involved in people’s lives and building those relationships is another thing entirely. Speaking the truth in love on this issue of SSA is indeed necessary, but must be done through the context of a relationship.
In counseling, I have found building relationships for the long-haul is key if any person, regardless of sexual orientation, is to experience true, biblical change. In the instances I have had the joy to observe, change in the area of sexuality has been slow, incremental, and at times painful; yet through all of it, our God is faithful and true.
The Future Is Sanctifying
We all acknowledge life on a fallen earth is difficult. Paul says we are groaning for redemption. Peter tells us to “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” As believers we often do not fully grasp the sanctifying benefit which is found in meditating and anticipating our Lord’s return. Consistently we see in Scripture that an eternal hope has an impact on lifting our gaze out of the mire of this world and focusing on what is truly real and eternal.
The Apostle John puts it this way:
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).
What amazing truth! The hope of what we will become when we see Christ has a purifying affect!
Jonathan Merritt closes his article writing, “Honesty has a way of humbling us, and it has me. It has softened my heart. As I’ve been honest about the bruised and broken parts of myself, the openness has become a doorway for God’s healing.”
May his honest story lead others to come forward in our church looking for the amazing grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we in turn seek to bring God’s grace and good news to bear to those who struggle in this way.
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How has the power of story become evident in your counseling ministry?