This past Christmas ended with my friend Zach and I watching Love Actually with a glass of wine. I love Zach, and we love wine and Love Actually, so it was a solid ending to a quality Christmas day. But I was keenly aware of the fact that as much as I love Zach and wine and Love Actually, I wanted a girl on the couch with us. I wanted a girl by my side, giggling with me and feeling a rush of warm fuzzies when all the gushy moments caused an explosion in my heart.
I find so much joy in the life I’ve been given, and I tend to write about the joy more than the challenges because the joy far outweighs the difficulties. But I’m human and humans are wired with natural desires for romance—innocent desires to shower affection on that one special person. People often say to me (even here on the blog): “Julie, maybe you just have a special gift for celibacy, and that’s what makes it sustainable for you, but not everyone has that gift”. When it’s fleshed out further, they seem to imply that “the gift” would mean I have a lower level of sexual desire or that I don’t experience romantic longings. The gift would be that thing that makes it easy and convenient to fly solo in a culture crawling with adorable couples.
I don’t know what goes into the “gift” of celibacy, but I do know I’m called to be celibate if I’m not in a heterosexual marriage (which feels about as likely as becoming Santa’s chief elf). My resolve to remain chaste is in no way contingent upon the extent to which my desires do or don’t align with that call; it’s entirely based on what I believe honors the Lord. I find that it doesn’t feel natural, and it comes with a lot of “ohmygosh this is ridiculous” moments, but I live in a never ending state of surprise over the grace God gives me to say “yes” to His ways. Sometimes it’s a whisper of a “yes” that comes out really slowly, with much deliberation and more mess than I would like, but He surprises me in the process every time. I truly believe He knew what He was doing when He laid out how we would thrive, and it doesn’t require a natural disposition on my part to live into it; it requires a lot of faith and trust that He’ll carry me through the process.
Since I don’t have superhero strength that makes this easy for me, what do I do when I experience all those natural desires that are sometimes sexual, sometimes romantic, sometimes warm-fuzzy-gay-gushy butterflies? I don’t cut them off; I don’t detach; I don’t go into relational robot mode where I squeeze my heart, body and emotions into an intellectual box void of feeling. I pray. I chat it out with my community more than they care to hear. I pray more. I chat it out more. I think about what it would look like to truly love that person I desire, and I allow the Scriptures to inform and transform my desire into a love that I believe honors God. Since I really believe He knew what He was doing when He laid down how we would thrive, I trust that the most loving thing I can do for others is to strive to love them in the manner God’s deemed good. If I were to act on the desires (no matter how strong they might be), I feel I’d be withholding true love from them by re-writing the definitions of love to make room for my feelings in that moment (or season). If I were to act on those desires, it would be an inauthentic love because I would be stepping outside of my convictions, cutting of an integral part of myself and my beliefs, and entering into something that would be outside of what God intends for that relationship. Because I don’t want to cut off or shut down (which is what I’d be doing if I cut off my convictions or silenced the Spirit’s voice), I choose to sit in the tension of desire that can’t be consummated and wait to be surprised by how God shows up. And He does. Every time. And I believe love is expressed in and through that, even if it’s not the sexy version of love we see in Love Actually.
All of that is a slow, messy process that plays out in an environment of grace. Those of us living into it need a solid community of Christians to walk with us through the complexities. We need a place to talk about gay desires and gay love and confusion about how to express it. If we’re going to be relationally connected and in touch with the whole of who we are, then we can’t shut it down or turn it off; it’ll spew out sideways or cause us to combust. I know it’s kind of awkward and that others would prefer we just not have those desires (most of us would prefer that too), but we do, and there’s healing in sharing it with others. If gay Christians are going to live out our convictions with honesty and integrity, we need you to be a part of that with us. What’s crazy is that God sanctifies us in the process and it’s the most surprisingly beautiful thing ever, so if you share in the difficulties then you’ll also get to share in the seasons when we’re surprised by grace.