I think most Christians know that comparison is a poisonous practice. Measuring your gifts, life circumstances, and callings against those of another believer always leeches away at personal contentment and fractures Christian fellowship. Yet, even still, the vast majority of us are chronic measurers. We are so prone to overlook the abundance of grace God has showered upon us as we enviously eye the lives of those who seem to have received more of it—permitting all kinds of evil to enter into our hearts as we do. Feeling like we have been dealt a bad hand in specific areas of life, we grow bitter toward our friends in the faith and skeptical of God’s impartial love. Why does God bless others in ways that he doesn’t bless me? Why does he provide for others while he withholds from me? Why does he call others to a seemingly less painful path than the one to which he has called me?
Even Christ’s handpicked apostles weren’t exempt from this weakness. Right after Jesus informed Peter of the suffering that would accompany his allegiance to the gospel, Peter looked over at John, his fellow apostle, and asked, “Lord, what about this man? (John 21:18). Peter’s crucified and resurrected God had just called him to costly devotion—devotion that would inevitably result in a painful, public death. And Peter’s initial reaction was to ask, more or less, “Why me and not him (John)?”
I can understand how Peter might have suspected that Jesus had a soft spot for John. He had recently witnessed John basically lying in his Lord’s lap at the Last Supper. And the Bible, at that very point in the gospel story, does describe John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” If I were Peter, skepticism and bitterness likely would have welled up in my heart as I looked over at this other brother from whom Jesus didn’t seem to be demanding all that much. If I were Peter, I would have wondered why I was being called to intense suffering while others weren’t. If I were Peter, I would have questioned Jesus in the same way—in fact, I have! Just a couple of weeks ago, my sinful tendency to compare got the best of me and I uttered questions identical to Peter’s. Let me provide a bit of context before I get to the details of that situation, though:
I experience same-sex attraction and generally feel no physical or romantic-emotional attraction toward women. Since the day I began to follow Jesus (which was actually six years ago, today), I have anticipated that I would likely remain single until I die or Christ returns. God forbids me to be in a homosexual relationship, and I don’t desire to be in a heterosexual relationship. Therefore, singleness seems to be my only option if I want to be faithful to Jesus. However, spurred on by both my own desires to avoid closed-mindedness and the well-meaning encouragement of other Christians, I have spent the last two years exploring the possibility of a heterosexual relationship. I have gone on numerous dates with beautiful, spunky, sweet women of God. And I have almost always enjoyed the interactions we’ve shared. The conversations have been intelligent and intriguing, and the company has been far from boring. But as I have journeyed onward in this exploration, I have become increasingly sure that God has called me to long-term singleness. Though I have enjoyed the company and conversation of women, the romantic attraction generally has been missing—and when it has been present, it has been in teeny-tiny, unsustainable doses. Furthermore, as I have pondered all that marriage entails, I have found the idea of sharing a life and home with someone for the rest of my days unappealing. I enjoy my own space and am not fazed by spending prolonged periods alone. I truly feel I would, in many ways, be happier as a single man than I would be as a married man.
I know many of my readers will likely advise me to “be patient” and “keep waiting” because maybe I’m “just not ready” or I “haven’t met the one yet.” But please hear me: marriage just isn’t something I desire. I do desire to fit into the mostly-married Christian culture in which I find myself. I do desire to stop feeling awkward in my singleness at holiday gatherings and other events. I do desire the smiles and affirmation I receive from other Christians when they see me pursuing the possibility of marriage. But I don’t desire to marry. And unless God decides to change a number of things in my soul (which I realize is possible), I don’t think that I ever will. I honestly prefer to remain as I am, and I know the Lord supports me in this preference (1 Corinthians 7:7-40).
Okay, so back to my Peter-situation. A few weeks ago, I expressed to a [married] friend the things written in the previous paragraph—after another bout of seeing someone and being reminded once more of my lack of desire for a heterosexual relationship. When I told him that I wanted to exit from the dating world and rest in what I believe is my call to singleness, this is how he responded:
“That’s probably a good idea. It’s not like you are burning with passion and unable to control yourself. You can be holy in singleness. I am praying for you that you can continue to find fulfillment and rest in Christ and his church.”
As I re-read his text message today, I am deeply encouraged by it. But when I initially read it, I was in a self-pity funk and wanted someone to feel sorry for me. Though I prefer not to marry, I am not oblivious to the burdens of being single in a mostly-married world. And on this particular day, those burdens felt crushingly heavy. When I received his text, I thought to myself:
“Oh, shut up with your feel-good, pie-in-the-sky, Christianese crap. You haven’t a clue what it’s like to live, at my age, as an unmarried person in the Church. Yeah, you were single for a time—but you have no idea what it’s like to embrace this as your long-term lot in life. You don’t have to worry about feeling like a social abnormality for the rest of your life. Your coupled lifestyle allows you to nestle quite nicely into this culture that is tailor-made for married people. I, on the other hand, will always stick out in all my strange and peculiar, unmarried glory. So don’t talk to me about ‘finding fulfillment in Christ and his Church’ when you have zero idea of how difficult that is to do in my position.”
As I seethed in sinful anger, I questioned why God has allowed me to struggle and suffer in the ways that I do. What’s so awfully special about me that I get to be afflicted with this same-sex attraction crap and bear this socially abnormal cross? As I thought about the seemingly easy life to which Jesus has called my married Christian friend, my heart cried out, in the words of Peter, “Lord, what about this man?”
The Holy Spirit immediately directed my mind to Jesus’ pretty forceful response to Peter after he had asked the same question. Jesus didn’t pity him. He didn’t wrap his arm around him and offer a few consoling words. Rather, he quickly silenced the sinful comparing taking place in Peter’s heart, saying, “ . . . what is that to you? You follow me!” (John 21:22). Ouch! There are “Johns” in all of our lives who, from our limited perspectives, seem to be sailing smoothly toward Jesus. They seem to have never suffered a day to the degree that we have suffered for years. It appears they have not yet been forced to make the painful sacrifices like the ones we are continually making. However, Jesus’ message to us today is short and to the point: “My will for them is none of your business. You follow me!”
I’m tempted to go on a spiel about how we shouldn’t judge by appearances or assume that other believers aren’t suffering to the same degree that we are. Part of me wants to make this lengthy blog even longer by writing about the spiritual benefits of suffering. But Jesus didn’t go to such lengths with Peter. He simply shut down Peter’s question and said, “You follow me!” So that’s the note on which I’m going to end this article. May the Holy Spirit give us all—especially me—grace to stop worrying about John. May he fill us with power to contently follow the all-satisfying Son of God whose burden really is easy and whose yoke truly is light (Matthew 11:30).