"If only God would take away this same-sex attraction, I'd be a pretty good guy. Still sinful, mind you! Depraved since birth! But really--overall--pretty darn good. (See? "darn." I don't even cuss!)"
I wish I could attribute this quote to someone else...I really do...but I can't. I've never said this statement out loud. I've never even thought it--not consciously, at least--but this sentiment ran very deep in my psyche for years. There was even a point where I decided God had given me this burden to keep me humble, because otherwise, I wouldn't have a whole lot to confess.
What a bunch of shit. (Okay...so I do cuss).
My same-sex attraction was always my "go-to" during silent confession time in church. I knew I only had about 30 seconds of silence before the assurance of pardon, so I'd slip it in real quick. "God, I confess my attraction to other guys. I'm screwed up. This is not your will for me. Please forgive me. Amen." Or something like that. Sometimes I'd be a little more eloquent, and sometimes I'd also confess more specifics, but in general, my personal confessions of sin usually revolved around my sexual orientation.
It was a lot easier that way. It's my obvious "thorn in the flesh," right? In many ways, it was like I'd just made peace with it...like the eccentric uncle who lives upstairs that you just have to put up with because he's always been there and he's not going anywhere anytime soon.
I have been taught and always believed the doctrine of total depravity. I believe that we are born in sin, unable to choose Christ on our own. But how convenient...I always had such a nice, clean-cut way to view my depravity: I was the guy who liked other guys. That's messed up, right? So messed up. Wow. Glad I understand my sinful nature! When's lunch?
Last February, I sat in my little church with the green carpet waiting for the Ash Wednesday service to begin. Now, I'll be honest, I had grown a lot over the past couple years in understanding my same-sex attraction. I'd begun to understand that while my orientation is a tragic result of the Fall, my attractions themselves are not the sinful part. The sin is my lust, just like it is for everyone. I'd also begun to see how lust was just the tip of the iceberg--that my idolatry was stretched far wider and rooted far deeper than just my sexual attractions.
But as I headed to church that chilly Knoxville evening, I was looking forward to my first Ash Wednesday since admitting to myself that my sexuality didn't work the way it was designed to. After finally being honest with myself about the extent of my same-sex attractions for the first time, wouldn't I be that much more in touch with my brokenness when I took the ashes? It would be so moving...so raw...so powerful.
So there I sat, the piano playing softly in the background, waiting for the service to begin. I remember the atmosphere in the sanctuary was somber...but hopeful. I silently looked over the order of worship, reading and internalizing the words of the hymns.
I felt at peace.
Then he walked in. The guy that everybody knows...the one who never seems conscious of where he is or how loud he's speaking...the one who can take even the most solemn of occasions and turn it into a joke. He saw me, smiled, and started heading my direction.
I no longer felt at peace.
He plopped down next to me and immediately started asking questions...loudly. He started telling me about his day...so, so loudly. He seemed almost giddy about being there. Did he even know what this service was about? I smiled--it might have even been a warm smile--as I quietly wished he wasn't there, that he had just stayed home.
The service began, and he quieted down. But then, as we were reciting the corporate confession, a baby starting wailing, shrieking. The piercing cry sent a shiver down my spine. There I was--having a moment--and this child...no...those parents thought this child needed to be there wailing in the sanctuary with us instead of the nursery. They probably thought it was cute. I tried to focus on the confession while I quietly wished the baby wasn't there, that he was back in the nursery where he belonged.
As the pastor started the sermon, the parents finally took the baby to the nursery. Peace. I listened to the message about our sin, our brokenness, and the hope that is found in the Cross. Then I realized that my friend wasn't there. Why wasn't he there? What, did he have something better to do? Something more important? I knew he wasn't working. Did he think he didn't need to hear about his sin, his brokenness, our hope found in Jesus? Was he too good for an Ash Wednesday service? Too proud? Too Protestant? Really, it was pretty typical of his whole attitude lately. Oh wait...there he was. He must have slipped in late. Oops. I smiled, smugly. I was glad he was there, but I was more glad I was there first.
Now you're probably waiting for the part where I had some epiphany, where the ashes were placed on my forehead and, all of a sudden, I realized the anger that was in my heart. There was no such moment. To be honest, I was perfectly aware of my hypocrisy...right there in the midst of it...the whole time. As I was wishing that guy wasn't there, as I decided that my life in that moment would be better without him...I was hating him. By Jesus' standards in the Sermon on the Mount, I murdered him. I knew exactly what I was doing. I tried not to. I tried to love him. I managed to pretend love on the outside, but inside...I just couldn't.
My heart sank.
It was the same with the baby. Ironic how I'm all in favor of babies when they're in the womb, but when they're crying in church and disturbing my "moment," I wish they weren't there. I hate them, and thus, I murder them.
I judged my friend when I thought he had skipped out on the service. I made up reasons why he probably wasn't there. Never mind the fact that he actually was there, and never mind the fact that I had been late to church dozens and dozens of times--usually because of a long line at Starbucks. This time though, I judged him, and I felt prouder of myself for obviously caring more about my brokenness than he did.
Once again I realized, as I sat there in a sanctuary full of God's people, full of people marked by the sign of the Cross, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, all admitting their brokenness and placing their hope in Christ...as I sat there in the midst of that beautiful picture and couldn't shut off my heart's faucet of hate, I realized my sexual orientation was the least of my worries.
The root of my sin isn't finding the wrong sex beautiful. It's that I don't find Christ beautiful. My problem isn't "loving" the wrong people. It's that I don't really love anyone at all.
So no...there was no great epiphany moment. No clouds opening or angels singing. That night was nothing new. I had been there before, and I have been there many times since. I was simply reminded once again just how deep my brokenness runs, that my sexual brokenness is just the icing on the cake. I'm not just the guy-who's-attracted-to-other-guys.
I'm the guy-who's-attracted-to-other-guys who also lacks patience...and hates babies...and judges his friends...and stretches the truth just a little bit in some details to make his stories more dramatic. [artistic license, right?]
I remember driving home after the service and sitting on my couch upstairs, the ashes still on my forehead. I looked in the mirror and saw the faded remnants of a smudged cross.
That ashen cross, that mark of hope in the midst of depravity, of beauty in the midst of brokenness...that mark reminded me that I'm the guy-who's-attracted-to-other-guys, who lacks patience, hates babies, judges his friends, stretches the truth, and so on and so on and so on...but most importantly, that ashen cross also reminded me that I am the guy who is loved by Jesus more than he'll ever be able to fully imagine or understand. I'm the guy who by the grace of God has a story with way more beautiful things to talk about than just his brokenness.
Life is easier when we can put our sin in a box, label it with a marker, and stick it up in the attic. But our sin and brokenness won't all fit in boxes. It won't even all fit in the attic. It's not that simple and clear-cut. It's just a mess...a mess we can't even fully comprehend. Pack one box away in the attic, and inevitably, you come back downstairs to find a whole lot more.
On Ash Wednesday, the ashes remind us that we are broken. The cross reminds us that we are helpless on our own. Our mess is too big for us even to fathom, let alone deal with. We need a Savior who is far bigger than our mess to come take care of it. We don't just need a renovation...we need to be made new.
Friends, whether or not you attend an Ash Wednesday service this year, I encourage you to imagine the cross, smudged in ash on your own forehead, marking you out as a child of the King. Marked in your brokenness.
From dust we came, and to dust we will return, but one day, our broken bodies will be raised up with Christ. We will be made right.
Yes, my sexuality will be redeemed, but far more importantly, I will finally know Love...and know Him deeply.
Kyrie, Eleison...Lord, Have Mercy
Christe, Eleison...Christ, Have Mercy.