Welcome to Part One of Justin’s week taking over the Blog! Be kind to him, he’s doing a really brave thing, as we have the honour of being the first to ever receive his story. Find him on Twitter at @thejustingriggs, go say Hi and Well done! – R
You know those moments in your life where whatever happens, the outcome completely alters the way that you move forward, or sometimes even completely changes the course of where you are going entirely? I have had a few such moments, and would like to share some of these if you would indulge me?
One thing that I want to make clear is that this is in no way intended to knock the church in any way, or to talk against any congregation, this is simply my own personal experiences and what I have learned from those experiences. This is by no means intended to be malicious against the church, or church goers.
Going all the way back to the beginning I feel would be irrelevant, so rather here is my basic back story. Being a young homosexual boy is something I am sure many people out there can relate to. The struggle of acceptance is something that is very real to all of us. Accepting yourself, being accepted by others or generally just how to deal with the lack of acceptance all round. I grew up knowing deep down inside who I was. The challenge was trying to come to terms with that reality, especially in the society that we live in. This is something, or rather, used to be something that very few people understood and even fewer people accepted. This was very hard for me, because how was I supposed to accept myself in the years of identifying who I am, or discovering myself, if I grew up in a world that would do its best to make you believe that it is an unnatural way of living and the very definition of being gay goes against any kind of belief and even the natural order of things. This is what we are taught to belief, and for many people it was a forbidden topic that nobody dared discuss. The sad thing about this is that as a young man, a lot of who I (or all of us for that matter) will become one day is a direct result of the way people not only see us, but shape the way that we see ourselves through affirmations, acceptance, rejection, judgement; words or actions that will either build us up or break us down. All of these have the power to either help us see ourselves as having worth to the world, or in some sad instances cause us to see ourselves than less than who we actually are.
Thing is, few people understand the fragile state of a human heart. Not the actual muscle that pumps blood through your body, but the condition of your mental state of mind; the spiritual or immaterial part of ourselves that make us human. If there is a flaw in moulding this part of ourselves growing up, the part that make us who we are, then no wonder so many out their struggle with finding their own identity. All of this taken into account, I went through a journey of self-discovery and tried to make sense of who I am and where I fit into the world.
Eventually I came to a place where I had made up my mind and for the first time in a very long time had peace with being gay, or at least with what I understood what being gay meant. Regardless, I knew that I was uniquely created and equally loved just the way that I am. I think that from a young age I had to learn that there are parts of who you are that people will not accept or agree with, but that you are given one life, and it is up to you to live it as authentically as possible.
I have always been one of those people who went to church, not because I was forcibly woken on a Sunday morning by my parents because I HAD to go to church, but having an actual relationship with God has always been a part of who I am. I made up my mind that He still loves me regardless of what identification I find in gender, but that He sees my heart and loves me, in spite of all of that. This was hard at times, because I struggled to understand how God could love me for who I am, because for such a long time I couldn’t love myself, and I didn’t know how to be happy in that state of mind. It was a confusing time of my life! You see this came from the way that society made me believe that being gay, or being different was wrong. It boils down to the way that people feel like they can enforce an opinion, even though these opinions are built on the premise of understanding. Have you ever tried telling someone else with a strong opinion that you do not agree with the way they see the situation, but they just refuse to budge? Or refuse to see your perspective of said situation because they are convinced that sexuality is a fairly black and white context, with no real ‘grey-room’? But how can you fully understand something or a situation if you have not actually been there yourself? Or at least actively standing in it. I ask myself this question many times.
If you build your premise on homosexuality as being a sin, and use the Bible to prove this by saying that we should be more God-like and follow the rules outlined by God, but then overlook the fundamental principle on which salvation and God Himself are based – which is unconditional love – and using this as a point of argument, are you not putting a condition on the love of God and then calling it biblical?
To me church was safe. I felt like I have a home in the church, and it gave me great joy to worship God in whatever form. I have always been someone drawn to music, and eventually started playing music in the local church band and then inevitably joined the church. I believe that God will equip you with whatever you need in order to walk in whatever purpose He has called you for, and to me at that stage felt like it could be music for me. This is what really got me into the church, and I knew that this is a place that I wanted to be in. I remember though when signing the membership form that there was a portion in their statement of faith saying that as a church they believed in natural heterosexual relationships between man and woman. I remember thinking that maybe that disqualified me from joining the church, and for a moment I thought that maybe I should not become an official member but rather just ‘causally’ attend weekly. Part of the requirements of being part of the music ministry was that you had to be an official member of the church, so I signed the form thinking that I will just keep that part of who I am a secret – my first mistake.
Regardless, things were great. Things were looking up. I even came to a place where I met someone (outside of the church) and I would even go as far as to say that we were dating for the better part of three years. I truly felt that life could not get any better. Even though I was in a gay relationship, I still maintained a good and healthy spiritual life, committed myself to prayer and read my Bible, faithfully went to church and loved serving. I was not prepared to let a relationship compromise that.
I have to note at this point that somewhere along the way my parents found out about the relationship as I was forced into a situation where I had to come out to them; even though it was a hard thing to do, they eventually started accepting me for who I am, and the relationship that I have with them is great even to this day. This made it all a whole lot easier, having parents that accepted me for who I am, and not causing anymore unnecessary pressure to have to change in order to fit into the norm. I think that a lot of the pressure that young people face with being gay really comes from home first. In a way, you can expect outsiders to have an opinion or judgement about who you are or how you choose to live your life in terms of sexuality (even though homosexuality is not a choice, but living true to yourself is) but if that rejection starts at home it can be a really difficult thing to deal with. At the end of the day a child relies on a parent to love them no matter what, and I think that the acceptance I found from home made me more comfortable to be honest and open with myself which allowed me to accept and love myself.
So, all this said, fast forward 10 years later and this is where one of the biggest life changing moments happened.
One of the greatest days of my life was the day that I got the call. That which I had worked for so hard, and for so long had finally become my reality. I was offered a full-time position at the church. This was the dream. This was what it was all about, this moment right here. I remember sitting in the pastor’s office when they broke the news, and an overwhelming sensation of joy, excitement; an array of emotions came over me because I felt like it had all finally paid off. The years of struggling with acceptance, confusion about sexuality, finding purpose and discovering the all-important question – “Why am I here?” suddenly meant nothing because of this very moment right here. At this moment, nothing else mattered.
But. Looking back at it now, I realised that was where the problems began.
Maybe saying problems is the wrong way of phrasing it, but this is where things started going wrong. I was somewhat consumed by the fact that I finally got the job that I have wanted for so long, that a part of me forgot about what was really happening on the inside. I still knew that I was gay, but since I started lying to myself when I joined the church, it became easier to suppress that feeling. I found myself being one of those people I referred to that just avoided the topic and refused to deal with my sexuality. I have made peace with it after all. Fact is, I was still scared or partially ashamed for having this secret, so I made an appointment with the pastor before this to talk about it, and we agreed that it would be something that I would fight and ultimately overcome. I still don’t know why I said that I really wanted to change this part of me, but I think it all comes down to the fact that all I wanted was to be accepted, so I did the only thing I knew to do, and that was agree with the belief that being gay was wrong, and that I wanted help to change.
One of the first things that I thought was that I am not sure if I agree that it was something that needs to be overcome, because I did not see anything wrong with it. Having to overcome something implies that there is an issue or a challenge, but I did not believe that there was. I realised that the notion of being gay could potentially cause me a lot of trouble, so I told myself that maybe it is something that I can fight off. I started believing the lie that I was living a life that was unacceptable to God. If I am completely honest, a part of me did actually believe that it was something that I really wanted to beat, as if it was a disease, a cancer inside my body that they still haven’t found a cure for, and it was all up to me to just force my brain to think differently. To re-write, or re-program a life time worth of thinking. To change my thought patterns on how I saw myself, how I saw my life, how I saw my relationship with God, how I saw the church. It was basically a brain reboot, and whatever I thought for the past 30 years of my life had now become irrelevant. This is what happens when you allow the opinions or voices of others to silence your own voice, and let their opinions cloud your own judgement.
Before all of this I was at a place where I was happy with who I am, and accepted myself for it. I knew that God loved me and that He had such great plans for me, but for some or other reason I completely pushed all that down because I felt like I met people that completely accepted me and loved me for who I am, but not realising that there was a condition attached to that acceptance and love. I had to change who I was in order for them to accept me for who I wasn’t. I had to pretend that I was something that I wasn’t.
How do you even begin to comprehend what that means? I had no idea what the damage would be to myself, or to my self-esteem to consistently live with the thought of “who you are is wrong, you have to change”. Looking back at it now, I realise that if you seek approval or acceptance from people, they will make it really hard for you to be who you actually want to be, or sometimes even need to be. As I mentioned above, their words or actions can cause you to see yourself in many different ways. Unfortunately for me, the acceptance of the people that I met through this time meant a lot more to me than being comfortable with who I am, that I sacrificed my own happiness in order for people to like me. I never realised that these relationships were built on a dishonest truth, and ultimately could not be sustained because of it. All I knew was that these people showed me love and acceptance (albeit built on a lie) and I felt a sense of worth that I had not felt before. I should have built my relationship with God in order for me to grow stronger in who I knew I was, but instead my trust shifted to people. But these are lessons that I had to learn unfortunately.
Like any kind of disease, I did not realise that there was a problem, and that a lot of things that were happening was not allowing me to live an authentic life. I didn’t realise the symptoms of what was happening straight away. You see, I refer to being gay at this point as having something like a disease, because ultimately it is something that we are led to believe is by choice, and ultimately if a choice was made to be this way, then there is a choice to change. Almost like getting vaccinated against this unnatural behaviour and eventually being ‘cured’. This is purely a perception of the world. Don’t get me wrong, this was not my way of thinking, I accepted myself. But this is what I was taught over the years as a part of belief, built on biblical principle. By this point I think a lot of damage had already been done, and I could start feeling it in the way that I saw myself, or the way that I thought other people saw me. I had this consistent fear of never being good enough, never meeting the expectations of others or live up to their standards. I think that that is what happens when you live in a constant lie, or suppress what you really feel or think. It’s like a part of yourself is hidden on the inside, and no matter how desperately that part wants to come out, you refuse to acknowledge your inner-man’s cry, and continue to live a suppressed life. I have to point out that the way I felt at was completely on me, it was my own doing. Whatever happened over that time I allowed it to happen.
R – Justin. You were a victim of Spiritual Abuse and you need never take ownership of that. Thank you again for your courage to share and I pray you will see from the responses your get that you need never, ever blame yourself for the actions of those cruel enough to take away your self-love, falsely using the name of God to do so.
Peace be with you.