Serve Your Savior, Even If You Tremble

Back in June I emailed my blog followers to explain why I had been silent for months. I shared with them that I had been working through some intense personal issues. This was the truth. Last year my OCD peaked to an unbearable level. Prior to receiving a diagnosis and learning how to fight it, I was barely able to eat or take a shower, much less write.

But what I didn’t share, and what I had not yet been fully honest with myself about, was that I stopped writing because I had succumbed to the OCD (note: the point of this post isn’t OCD; just bear with me for a moment). Around May 2018, I was in a much better place and could have resumed blogging and book-writing. But I didn’t. I told myself and others, “The Lord is leading me in a different direction; I’m in school now and don’t have time; after two and half years of non-stop writing, I’m just burnt out.”

These things were true. God had led me to resume a college education. Classes and studying do occupy a lot of time. I did need a little breather. But these weren’t the primary reasons I stopped writing. I stopped writing because I was paralyzed by fear.

OCD latches onto the things a person holds most dear. This is why obsessions can differ drastically from person to person. We all have different values and things we treasure. I don’t care if I have germs on my hands and might get sick, so I don’t suffer from contamination OCD. But I deeply value my relationship with God and staying out of trouble. This is why I deal with scrupulosity (which is subtype of OCD) and excessively checking to make sure I abide by every letter of divine and human law.

In the case of OCD suffers who are Christians, the callings God has placed on our lives definitely fall into the category of “things we hold dear.” The OCD tells us that doing X or Y for the Lord is dangerous—that it could bring ridicule, embarrassment, loss of friends, loss of security, or other forms of suffering into our lives. It relentlessly terrorizes us with ridiculous, irrational fears so that we will stop ministering in the way(s) God has called us. I believe writing is one of my callings, and the OCD attacked it with all its fury. It was easier to quit writing than to continue dealing with the fears surrounding it.

OCD’s agenda sounds a lot like Satan’s, doesn’t it? He also attacks us in our weak spots so that we’ll shut up about Jesus and quit serving others in His name. And by “us,” I mean all of us. The whole church. Every Christian. You may not have OCD that bombards you with irrational reasons why you shouldn’t do X or Y for the Lord. Maybe your fears are more legitimate. Perhaps you feel God has called you and your family to serve as missionaries in South Sudan, but you’re afraid that the lack of policing and immediate medical care might result in one of your kids suffering violence or sickness. Or maybe you believe the Lord wants you to start a Bible study during lunch hour at work. Though your workplace would allow this, you know that your superiors aren’t believers and you worry that displaying your faith may affect the promotion you’re supposed to get soon.

Or maybe it isn’t fear primarily that keeps you silent and inactive. Maybe it’s shame. Maybe you’ve sinned in such terrible ways in your far or recent past that you feel unworthy to serve God in whatever way he’s leading you. Every time you start feeling energized to do X or Y in His name, memories of past sins flood your mind. Shame settles over you like a big black cloak. It tells you that you’re not worthy or qualified to serve the Lord in the way you feel led.

I believe the Holy Spirit has a word for all of us today. And that word is this: go serve your Savior, even if you tremble. 

Easier said than done, I know. I really do. It took me months to muster up the courage to write the blog post I published on Saturday. And I’m anxious right now as I write this one! I felt a joyful hope when I posted last weekend. I showed myself that I can do it! I can push through the OCD craziness and write for the Lord. But those bright and sunny feelings were quickly darkened by a storm of irrational fears. “What if there has been too much sin in my life for me to be doing this? What if my readers think I’m more sanctified than I am? What if they think I’m ‘just tempted sometimes’ rather than being a complete moral failure sometimes? What if I need to write a blog post confessing to everyone all the sins I’ve committed since becoming a Christian so they can decide whether or not I’m qualified to write? What if confessing and being accountable to my pastors and church isn’t enough? What if God wants me to tell everybody all the dirty details of my life?”

The rational part of me recognizes these thoughts are absurd. I’ve always been forthcoming (maybe too much, actually) about my weaknesses, failures, and sins. I’ve never made myself out to be 100% pious and pure. And my sins, however numerous and shameful they are, don’t disqualify me from writing about my personal walk with the Lord and all he is teaching me. But nevertheless, anxiety and irrational thoughts persist. I continue to feel afraid, unworthy, unqualified, and tempted to quit.

Feel fear and do it anyway - text on napkin

This blog post is me fighting back. Refusing to quit. Refusing to cower. Refusing to let my life be controlled by fear. I want to stop succumbing to the lies that my broken, sinful flesh (and the Enemy) are throwing at me. So that’s what I’m going to do. I may tremble as I write, but I’m going to write. Come what may, I’m putting my hand back to the plow.

Won’t you join me? I know you can’t just “stop” feeling afraid, guilty, and unqualified. Neither can I. But we can put our shaky hands to the plow and serve the Lord, regardless of how we feel. That’s part of walking by faith, right? And the more consistently we walk by faith, the more consistently our feelings will align with the truths of the gospel: in Christ, we are pardoned; in Christ, we have been qualified to serve; in Christ, we have nothing to fear.

I know there are some vocations from which a person can be temporarily or permanently disqualified if they participate in certain sins. If you cheated on your wife and she divorced you, pursuing pastoral ministry may not be an option. You don’t need to be debilitated by guilt and shame if you’ve truly repented, but you may not be able to serve a church in certain roles (being a pastor is the only one I can think of). Most of us aren’t aspiring pastors who’ve had extramarital affairs, though. Most of us feel called to serve the Lord in other ways and are not biblically disqualified from doing so. We’re just immobilized by our anxieties and our unbelief in God’s love toward us in the gospel. And we need to fight those fleshly inclinations by giving ourselves to the work of the gospel! We don’t have to feel 100% fearless. We don’t have to feel 100% clean or qualified. We just have to act according to what we know is true. We may feel afraid, but we know the truth that God is sovereign over every potential threat. The only sufferings that can touch us are the sufferings that God has ordained to serve our ultimate good. And though our sins are very real, we know the truth that God’s mercy and grace are just as real. Though we may tremble for a while, and though it may take time for our fears and shame to subside, we can begin serving the Lord today in the power of these truths.

I’m a fearful saint with a messy record. You’re a fearful saint with a messy record. But praise God he’s a loving Savior who forgives, cleanses, and empowers us to do his will.

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” – Psalm 56:3

Graces in Unexpected Places

People sometimes applaud my bravery in being transparent about some sensitive dimensions of my life. But in all honesty, sharing about things like my experience of same-sex attraction hasn’t been too scary. I was riddled with nerves the first time I posted about it back in 2011, a mere six months after becoming a Christian. I must have smoked 50 cigarettes that day! But since that time, I’ve been pretty comfortable writing about it.

I don’t feel as comfortable about what I’m going to share today. I’ve gone back and forth for months about whether or not to publicly reveal another experience in my life. I’m not ashamed of it. But it has been painful for me and until recently has been hard for me to talk about with those outside of my immediate friends. Same-sex attraction is a heavy cross to bear. No doubt. Yet for me it pales in comparison to the crushing weight of my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

If you’re not a fan of terms like “disorder” and don’t buy into “all that psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo,” I feel you. Hang tight; I’ll get to that in a minute. I just want to share a bit of my story first.

My parents will tell you that as a small child—even before going through traumas like their divorce and other unfortunate events—I wasn’t quite like other kids. I was nervous. Like, really nervous. My dad recently told me, “You didn’t have the care-free spirit that most children have, and we never really understood why that was.” When difficult circumstances did slither into my little life, my reactions to them were much more intense than that of my siblings (who went through the same stuff). I would frequently get so upset and worked up that I would throw up non-stop and get debilitating migraines. I had a very anxious and emotionally-reactive temperament.

Anxiety accompanied me throughout my adolescence and into my adulthood. I have a tendency to become fixated on and overly concerned about things that don’t warrant the attention and emotional energy I give them. This propensity has progressed in both its constancy and intensity as I’ve gotten older. In my early twenties, I would get “stuck” on something for a couple of weeks but eventually be able to let go of it and move on (until the next sticky thought came; usually a few months later). But over the last three years, this mildly troubling tendency has evolved into a monstrous beast. The things my mind began to get stuck on became increasingly odd and the fears I experienced around those things became increasingly irrational and intense. You’d think that my ability to recognize the unreasonableness of the thoughts would make it all the easier to say, “that’s dumb” and move on. But it didn’t. The extreme fear that was connected to those thoughts made them feel impossible to shake.

The mess really hit the fan when these thoughts and anxieties latched onto God. Have you heard of “scrupulosity”? It’s an excessive, fear-driven concern about spirituality and morality. It can take many shapes. John Bunyan, Martin Luther, and St. Therese of Lisieux all suffered from this (and all learned to fight it by leaning hard into the love and mercy of God despite the presence of their anxieties—more on that later). I had experienced scrupulous tendencies since my conversion, but they began to radically amplify in 2017. I would spend hours upon hours every day evaluating these fearful thoughts and trying to argue them away with logic and reason. I prayed non-stop for God to obliterate my anxieties. I read the Bible for hours and hours, trying to beat my fears to death with God’s promises. I talked with my Christian brothers about the content of my thoughts, hoping that they would say the magic words that would finally relieve me. They kept reassuring me that my thoughts were irrational and my fears unwarranted, and that I could let them go and trust the Lord.

But I couldn’t let them go. I tried every second of every day to trust the Lord (at least I thought I was), but my mind would not stop racing and my heart would not stop trembling. As time went on, the measures I took to alleviate my anxiety became more drastic and unreasonable.

I would call the police to confess to minor crimes I committed a decade ago (until they finally told me to stop calling them!), fearing that if I didn’t do so, I wouldn’t really be repentant about those things and therefore might not have saving faith. The same fears drove me to confess to my friend that one time I yelled at her dog (she laughed), to apologize to my sister for something mean I said to her when I was ten or eleven (she also laughed), and many more things like this concerning past or recent sins (or things I wasn’t sure were sins but might be sins, so I needed to confess just in case). I would mentally review each year of my life since early childhood, searching for anything I might have done that I needed to apologize for.

I would repeatedly call and text a woman with whom I’d gotten into a car wreck to make sure she was still alive. Though she didn’t suffer even a scratch, I couldn’t shake the thought that maybe she had an internal brain injury she didn’t know about, would suddenly drop dead, and it would all be my fault. When she stopped responding to my texts, I searched the internet every day for months to make sure there wasn’t an obituary.

I would check my mail five to ten times a day (even after the mail already came that day), for fear that the IRS or some government agency was going to send me something that stated I was going to go to jail or have to pay thousands of dollars in penalties (though I have no reason to be concerned about either of those things happening!). I would check my tax returns twenty or thirty times before filing them to make sure I filled everything in correctly. I would continue to check them for months after filing them. When filling out other kinds of paperwork, I would check my entries over and over again to verify their correctness—to the point that I started doubting that I actually knew my social security number, street address, etc. I would read each letter or number out loud to myself multiple times to makes sure what I entered was correct and that my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. I would google my address to make sure it was right. I feared that if I made a mistake, something terrible was going to happen.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I share them to demonstrate that what I’ve been experiencing isn’t the normal kind of “worry” that is common to all people—health worries, financial worries, etc. This unrelenting need to attain certainty that I was an honest and truly repentant person (and therefore truly converted) so consumed me that I was no longer functioning. I couldn’t do my work. I couldn’t socialize. I couldn’t eat.

My friends had encouraged me for a long time to go see a counselor. I refused for a number of reasons. The primary one was my belief that psychology was a psuedo-science. I thought counselors were responsible for cultivating both the self-exalting (“I’m so awesome, I’m not bad, I’m good deep down”) and self-pitying (“poor me, my life is so hard, I don’t deserve this”) mentalities that permeate our culture. And those ideas didn’t jive with my biblical worldview. Humans are sinful people, not awesome people. We aren’t victims, we are perpetrators. Moping around and complaining about my problems to a therapist who was going to tell me how awesome I was just wasn’t something I was down to do. I thought it would be a waste of time and might even be dangerous. What if I started to be influenced by their humanistic ideas? What if I was drawn away from a high view of God and right view of myself and headed toward apostasy? No way. Wasn’t risking that.

But I eventually became so debilitated that I decided it was worth a shot. I made an appointment with a licensed therapist who is a Christian and counsels from a biblical worldview. And I am so glad I made that appointment. It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. My therapist was kind and compassionate, but she didn’t coddle me. She didn’t tell me how awesome I was, but rather how much God loves me despite my sin. She didn’t encourage self-pity, but rather self-control and self-denial. She wasn’t quick to throw a disorder label on me, either. But it eventually became quite clear that I had OCD.

My diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder came as no surprise to my friends at church who were trained counselors. They had tried to tell me I was dealing with OCD. But it just sounded so ridiculous to me. I wasn’t washing my hands all the time or checking doorknobs. I definitely wasn’t a neat freak! Like most of our society, I deeply misunderstood OCD.

OCD is comprised of both obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are the irrational thoughts that get stuck and are accompanied by severe anxiety. Compulsions are the things a person does (or doesn’t do) to neutralize that anxiety. The sufferer is able to recognize to some degree that the thoughts are irrational and the compulsions are unreasonable, but the intense anxiety compels them to do the compulsions, anyway. There is an endless variety of obsessions and compulsions that people can have. No two sufferers’ obsessions and compulsions are 100% alike.

Personal Examples of Obsessions/Compulsions:

Obsession: If I don’t confess past minor crimes to the police, maybe I’m not submitting to the human authorities God has placed over me and am therefore being disobedient to God, which may be an indicator that I don’t have saving faith.

Compulsion: Call the police and confess to make sure I have saving faith.

Obsession: If I don’t confess sins (or perceived sins) that didn’t cause any harm or loss to anyone, maybe I’m not really an honest or loving person. And maybe that’s evidence of an unregenerate heart.

Compulsion: Confess to parties I’ve sinned against (or think I might have sinned against), even if it was minor and that person suffered no harm or loss, to make sure I don’t have an unregenerate heart.

Obsession: I’m going to make a paperwork mistake and something terrible is going to happen to me as a result.

Compulsion: Check over it dozens of times, read numbers and letters out loud to myself, compare to previously filled-in forms or identification cards to make sure my social security number and address really are what I think they are—all to make sure nothing bad happens.

Obsession: Though I realize this thought is irrational, if I don’t act according to it, maybe I’ll be acting contrary to my conscience and be sinning against God.

Compulsion: Do the irrational thing to make sure I’m not sinning against God.

I understand many people have trouble with the concepts of “disorders” and “mental illnesses” and aren’t comfortable with clinical language. That’s okay. I tell those people, “You don’t have to believe I have a disorder, just know that the symptoms described in this supposed disorder are the symptoms I experience.” Having a name to put to the symptoms is what’s been massively helpful to me. Rather than it being this abstract, uncontained thing inside of myself that I can’t wrap my mind around, I view it as OCD–something that isn’t me and isn’t the Spirit of God but rather a collection of symptoms fueled by both the chemistry in my brain and my behaviors.

That’s right—my behaviors. There is an element of OCD that is outside of my control and more than likely biological/hereditary. But the degree to which it progresses and consumes me is largely within my control. The gas that feeds the fire of OCD are the compulsions, the things that I choose to do. When I respond to the thoughts by ruminating, confessing, checking—or even by repeatedly praying and reciting bible verses solely to make the thoughts go away—I’m validating the importance of the thoughts. I’m telling my brain, “Oh wow, thanks for sending me that signal; it’s probably a real danger that I need to attend to!” So my brain responds by continuing to send “danger! danger!”  signals so that I will act to protect or preserve myself. When anxiety functions property, it is a very good thing. If you’re getting too close to the edge of a cliff or encounter a bear in the woods or see your toddler wander into the street, your brain sends you a signal—“danger! danger!”—and a surge of anxiety so that you will act to neutralize the threat. However, the brain of an OCD sufferer sends danger signals when there is no danger. It tells you something is a threat when it’s not a threat. And the more an OCD sufferer validates the false signals by acting according to them (doing compulsions), the more frequent and powerfully those signals will fire.

This is what I didn’t understand before I started going to counseling and doing my own psycho-education. I believed the way to get the thoughts out of my head was to “do the right thing” by confessing, praying, reciting Bible verses, and being responsible by checking to make sure I did something correctly. But as I continued to do these things and act according to what I thought was my conscience (it wasn’t), my thoughts became more irrational and my anxiety grew worse. This frustrated the crap out of me. I was doing the hard work of “doing the right things”! Doing them made me miserable and embarrassed me, but I did them anyway because I thought by doing them I was being godly and obedient.

But in reality, I wasn’t being godly or obedient. I was performing fear-driven rituals to try to make myself feel better. Real godliness and obedience in this situation was to say to myself, “I know these obsessions and compulsions are irrational. I also know God is not irrational but is a God of peace who guides his children in ways that are clear and not characterized by debilitating fear. Therefore, I am not going to act according to these thoughts, no matter how much anxiety they cause me.”

This was exactly the conclusion to which my counseling and psycho-education led me. Psychologists have learned that the behavioral component of OCD is the most important and powerful part. The more you act in response to your anxious thoughts, the worse the anxiety becomes. But if you act according to what you know is true (that these thoughts aren’t worthy of your attention and you don’t need to attend to them) rather than to what your misfiring brain is telling you, your symptoms will decrease in frequency and intensity. They may not go away completely, but they will become more manageable.

What contemporary psychology has recently discovered about effectively treating OCD is essentially what the Bible prescribes: self-control and self-denial. The Scriptures exhort us over and over to rule our minds and bodies, to resist the thoughts that are contrary to the knowledge of God, and to walk according to faith—not according to fear, irrational thoughts, lust, greed, anger, etc. Exercising self-control when it comes to OCD is not easy. I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a breeze or that all a person needs to do is read the Bible and pray. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life, and I’ve dealt with a lot of hard things. But thankfully, God has given us special graces to aid us, like godly counselors . . . and even medicine.

Over the years, I have been advised by people I trust to explore the possibility of medication. But I refused. I thought if I took meds I would be shutting down things in my heart that I need to work through. I was also afraid that they would change my personality, make me a zombie, and make me apathetic toward the Lord. I didn’t want to “numb” myself. However, I’ve been on Sertraline (Zoloft) for three months now, and I can joyously say that my perception about medicine was totally wrong.

Sertraline
Sertraline is an antidepressant prescribed for major depressive disorder in adult outpatients as well as obsessive–compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.

Do I still think our culture is over-medicated? Absolutely. I believe there are many people on meds that don’t need to be—they just need to deal with their junk. But there are also a lot of people who are dealing with their junk and wholeheartedly seeking the Lord who could greatly benefit from an SSRI, SNRI, or other medication. Sertraline has helped me tremendously. It doesn’t make my obsessive thoughts or anxiety go away completely. But it does put me in a more clear-headed frame of mind so that I can more effectively resist the thoughts and exercise faith in the God who loves me.

I know this blog post is really long. I’m not sorry! 🙂 I’m sure I’ll be writing more about this and related things in the months and years to come (I’m finishing my bachelors in psychology then pursuing my masters in Christian Counseling at a local seminary). But today I just want to publicly give thanks to God for the gifts of counseling and medication. I never dreamed these would be places where I encountered God’s goodness and grace, but they have been. They so have been. I’m slowly learning that God won’t be boxed into whatever a faith tradition or theologian or preacher says about him and the ways in which he works (though God never acts contrary to what’s revealed in the Bible). God can bless his people through ordinary, so-called “secular” means like therapy and medicine. There are many Christians who despise psychology, criticize therapy, and condemn the use of medication. I used to be among them! But I think a little education about mental health would shift many of these folks’ perspectives. I also believe the more openly sufferers in the Church talk about their struggles, the more opportunities there will be for skeptics in Church to grow in their understanding of mental health. That’s why I’m writing this post today.

If you’re struggling with the kinds of things I’ve described here and have been hesitant to see a counselor, I hope that you’ll give it a shot. It may take some time to find the right fit (not all counselors are good counselors), but there are plenty out there who are wise and godly. And counseling isn’t a forever thing for most people. I “graduated” from therapy after six months of weekly sessions. Also, I’m not a therapist or medical doctor and this is definitely not medical advice, but in my humble opinion I think it’s a good idea to try therapy before trying medication. See first how effectively you can fight without medicine. I didn’t start Sertraline until months after I began “doing the work” of trying to exercise control over my anxiety and OCD. There is no magic pill that will make all your mental and emotional struggles go away. But if you’re willing to dig your heels in and fight your anxiety by chasing after a God who wants you to trust him completely, it can be a great aid in that endeavor.

 

Lord, Teach Us to Number Our Days

“So teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12

Some may consider it a morbid thing to think regularly about death. However, the Scriptures constantly direct our minds to the reality of our mortality. Why? Because thinking about our departure from this world leads to thinking about our entrance into eternity. And thinking about our entrance into eternity leads to thinking about our present manner of life. What are we putting our focus, time, and energy toward? Are we passionately pursuing the “things that are above” (Colossians 3:2)? Or are we consumed with transient, perishing things that are below?

Every Christian reading (and writing!) this article understands that his or her exit from this world is certain—whether that happens at the moment of physical death or Christ’s second coming. But I think many of us would confess that our hearts do not usually function like this is true. As with many other things, we are forgetful of this reality. We operate in this world as if our transition into eternity is not actually going to happen, or, at best, we think it’s so far away that we need not be that concerned about it today. Instead of pursuing and building up the “kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28), we pursue and build up our own little kingdoms. We prioritize our safety over Christ’s mission, our reputations over the proclamation of his gospel, our financial security over his command to live generously, our comfort over his will—on and on we could go.

In Luke 12:16-20, Jesus told a parable about a man whom I fear might resemble many of us. This wealthy entrepreneur found all his meaning in his earthly business and all his comfort and security in his earthly goods. He said to his soul one night, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God came to him that same night and said, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

I’m not sure about you guys, but I don’t want to be like this man. I don’t want to “forget” that I am going to see God face-to-face and have to give an account for how I lived my life. I want to be acutely aware of how brief my time in this world is and labor for the things that last! I want to believe the Word of God when it says man’s “days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone” (Psalm 103:15-16). I want to remember that I am merely “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James. 4:14). I want to “number [my] days that [I] may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).

Wisdom believes what is true and responds to that truth accordingly. May God give us all a heart of wisdom that 1) believes the day when we will enter his eternal presence is quickly approaching, and 2) respond to that belief by living for the things that won’t be taken away from us when we are taken away from this world.

Discovering True Masculinity

My adolescence was a social nightmare. I grew up in the rural South but didn’t fit the mold of Southern masculinity in the slightest. Sports piqued no interest in me; roughhousing made me nervous; slaying innocent animals seemed cruel and gross. Of course I never expressed such blasphemies—I wasn’t stupid! But I was everything opposite of what my Duck Dynasty-like culture insisted I should be. I was sensitive. I liked to read. I liked to draw. I liked to journal. I wasn’t your mud ridin’, hog huntin’ kind of boy.

The nightmare cranked up to a Freddy Krueger level of horror when I realized I was attracted to the same sex. While my male peers were crushing on girls, I was crushing on them. I didn’t utter the word “gay” to describe myself until I was 19 years old, and no one prior to that time knew about my so-called sexual orientation. But I knew. I was painfully aware of how abnormal, unmanly, distorted, and screwed up I was, which made relating to other guys . . . well, I just didn’t relate to them.

You could see how this might make life a little scary for me.

Feeling Other

I really thought whatever god was responsible for creating me must have been a little drunk when he pieced me together. I never felt like a woman, nor did I want to be one, but I also didn’t feel like a man. I felt other, which made me feel inferior to other males and uncomfortable around them. I mean, sure, I had guy friends. But those friendships were a forgery. Those guys didn’t know the person I really was inside; they only knew the fake Matt—the Matt who played football, partied, and dated girls just to be perceived as normal. The real Matt Moore, the one I concealed from their sight, was constantly filled with fear and anxiety in their company since I didn’t believe I measured up to their standard of manliness. I felt less than what I was supposed to be. Incomplete. Distorted. Other.

Fast-forward six years through a lot of junk and drama, and I found myself a Christian in a new community: the church. Though my soul’s deepest need (reconciliation with God) was satisfied through being united to Jesus, the relational sphere of my life remained strangled by insecurity and feelings of inferiority. I still felt inadequate as a man and painfully uncomfortable in the presence of other guys.

So even in the church, the place where I should’ve felt most at home, I felt somewhat alienish. I saw Christian brotherhood beautifully displayed in the various churches I visited during the first two years of my new life in Jesus, but I didn’t believe I was “man enough” to fit into it. And I didn’t think I could handle the rejection I believed would come if I tried. So I lingered in the shadows of church life, attending services and then quickly escaping before any of the men could pin me down and invite me to “hang out.”

But one Sunday morning, I got pinned.

Getting Pinned

After the service concluded, I began to sneak out of the building when some guy literally began to yell my name. I turned around and slowly began making my way toward this unashamed shouter who successfully interrupted my escape. I recognized him immediately: Kyle. A couple of weeks prior, Kyle, a staff member at the church, had introduced himself via Facebook message after running across one of my blog posts, seeing my picture, and recognizing me as a regular visitor.

He reached out his hand to shake mine, introducing himself again, and after a few minutes of chitchat, he released me from what I’m sure he could tell was a terribly awkward situation for me. But little did I know that terribly awkward situation would be the beginning of an incredible friendship—a friendship that would transform my life in a million different ways.

At his prodding, Kyle and I started meeting once a week for breakfast. Most guys I knew only got together to do things: throw the football, build something, shoot something, or other things I lacked the ability to do. This was the first time I regularly met with another man just to talk. I thought our conversations would be forced and awkward, but they weren’t—at all. They were fluid, honest, and comfortable. He didn’t shy away from my messy homosexual past or my ongoing struggle with those tendencies. He spoke comfortably about this struggle of mine, not painting it any weirder or worse than his own struggles. Kyle engaged me in a way that didn’t make me feel my personality and sin struggles invalidated me as a man. He treated me like an equal—an equal in Christ and an equal in manhood.

Pushing Down Walls

When I discovered Kyle was moving to New Orleans to plant a church, I prayed and decided to join him and his team. Months later, eight of us made our way down to the Big Easy and formed our own itty bitty church community. Though I experienced an unprecedented level of comfort and ease in my relationship with Kyle, I still retreated from the other two men in our super small church. However, just like Kyle, neither accepted my retreat. They both relentlessly pursued my friendship and made constant efforts to make me feel I belonged.

And by “make me feel like I belonged,” I don’t mean they tried to shape me into their image. They didn’t give me a guy-makeover, forcing me to go to football games or participate in other culturally masculine activities I didn’t enjoy. They sat down and talked to me. They invited me over for dinner or out for coffee and initiated conversations about things in which they knew I had interest. They asked about my life. They asked about my family. They told me about their life. They told me about their family. They shared their struggles in a way that showed me they didn’t view my same-sex attraction as worse or weirder than their own moral brokenness. These guys embraced the patient work of pushing through my walls and getting to know me.

After ample time with these men, I began to see we weren’t all that different. Sure, they loved football, and I didn’t. But aside from our different interests and hobbies (which I’d finally begun to believe have no bearing on how “manly” one is), we were similar people who loved Jesus and valued meaningful friendship. As I observed their lives they led, the image I had in my mind of what it meant to be a man started to crumble. A man could be gentle and compassionate. A man could be thoughtful and sensitive. A man could be a better conversationalist than he is a sportsman. A man could talk about women with respect and integrity. A man could struggle with various weaknesses. If these men, even with their deep flaws, accurately represented what it means to be a man, then I also met the standard.

Real Manhood

Seeds of healthy confidence in my God-given manhood began to settle into my heart. I started to see God had wired into me truly masculine traits—such as compassion for the marginalized, a desire to protect and care for the weak, and a resilience to follow and obey Christ. And yeah, my sexuality is jacked up. But I finally started to see that my brokenness doesn’t invalidate me as a man. Every day I’m submitting it to the will and power of God. I could be straight as an arrow but still fall terribly short of manhood if I didn’t submit my heterosexuality to the revealed will of God. It’s more masculine to be mainly attracted to men yet obedient to God than it is to be mainly attracted to women and disobedient to God. A celibate same-sex attracted guy is far more of a man than a womanizing guy who bows to the will of his sex drive. Real men obey God.

Growing to see myself as nothing more and nothing less than a redeemed man who struggles with the flesh might be the most freeing transformation I’ve experienced as a Christian. It’s freed me from anxiety, from feelings of inferiority, and from living in the shadows of isolation. And it’s freed me to meaningful friendship and fellowship with a local church—and with a community of men—who love Jesus. If the guys I’ve spent the latter half of this article describing hadn’t rallied around me in authentic friendship, I would’ve experienced none of this.

I’m so grateful God brought men into my life who didn’t try to give me a “guy makeover.” Instead, they sought me as I was, loved me when I didn’t want them to, and allowed me to learn what manhood is really about. They will never know to what depths they’ve enriched my life.