14 Jan 2014
Your heart is racing. You’re not sure what to think. You feel a little uneasy, maybe a lot. Your roommate has just revealed what you already thought; maybe you had no idea at all.
You are no longer wondering what’s up with your roommate, but now you’re wondering how you are going to deal with his or her homosexuality. Time seems to stand still for just a moment as you look into each others eyes, both wondering what your reactions will be.
It could just as easily be your office mate. Maybe instead of, “I’m gay,” this person with whom you spend so much time in such close quarters has said instead, “I’m bisexual.” Maybe someone else had already told you; maybe everybody else seems to have known already. Maybe you’re thinking about what this means for your relationship or for your reputation. But right now you have someone before you who’s revealed something so personal and important that you must respond. What do you say? What do you do?
If something is difficult for one roommate, that difficulty is likely to affect the other. Your roommate may have a keen interest in how you handle this disclosure. What you think and feel about your roommate matters. Like yourself, your roommate is a precious person made in the image of God. Like you, this person is a sinner, prone to doing the wrong thing and to taking things the wrong way. Like yourself, your roommate doesn’t know what is going to happen next and may be a little ill at ease waiting to see your reaction.
You may feel a tension between standing up for what you think is right and living out what you believe. Standing for the truth and acting in love can seem almost completely at odds with each other. This is a kind of pressure Christians feel all the time, but homosexuality is such an emotional issue it can heighten the tension. Sharing a common space with someone usually involves conflict, and living or working together everyday creates a lot of opportunities for friction. If you are a Christian, these conflicts are also opportunities to extend the grace of the gospel.
What not to do!
Before considering what positive things you can do to extend this grace to your roommate, you might want to take the time to make sure you avoid some common mistakes that may interfere with showing God’s love. Things you will want to be sure not to do include the following:
Yes, it is of course appropriate and even necessary at times to communicate clearly to people what God says is true about their conduct, even or especially when what they are doing is sinful and destructive (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Nevertheless, believers frequently give in to the temptation to feel better about themselves and their situation by communicating God’s truth in a condescending, self-righteous, impatient, and/or indignant manner. What’s the difference between speaking boldly and simply scolding? Your heart. Let’s face it: You, like every human being, are prone to sin with your speech, and to be proud in your heart, and to be irritable at having to deal with something you’d rather not deal with at all, especially when it involves conflict. You need to take a long look (and maybe a second or third look) at your own heart and motives before you pronounce God’s judgment in God’s name on your roommate’s homosexuality (James 1:26).
Alternatively, you don’t want to just concede convictions that are based on God’s truth, but it can be very tempting to abandon what seems to be an impractical set of beliefs in favor of values that make it easier to get along with folks. If your roommate is nice or emotionally fragile, misunderstood or mistreated by others, it doesn’t help anyone for you to give ground to falsehood for the sake of convenience (Proverbs 25:26).
Sometimes we are tempted, not so much to say “no” to God’s truth and “yes” to falsehood, but rather to say “maybe” to both. To put the truth up for grabs only makes things more confusing (Proverbs 24:10-12). If you are really not sure what God thinks about same-sex attraction, or if you are not sure you really care all that much what God thinks, it is important to be honest about your doubts. However, if you are sure about what’s true, don’t hide behind the fact that other people hold differing opinions in order to avoid a conflict about your own.
You may be tempted to quietly smolder in resentment, thinking your roommate has mistreated you by putting you in this situation. Every little thing—even things that haven’t the remotest connection with your roommate’s sexual preference or practice—can become an aggravation because of a largely unresolved conflict that remains unaddressed. Better you should have a conflict over something important than about who left a dish out on the counter or who left the window open when it rained (1 Corinthians 13:5).
The disclosure of sensitive and potentially damaging information by one person to another is an occasion for caution, not for chit chat. Someone may or may not care a great deal about what you say about them or to whom you say it. Either way, you may find yourself itching to talk with someone about your roommate’s disclosure, not to help you sort out what to do, but rather to satisfy a delicious hunger to tell others something personal and private about someone else. Address the desire in your heart to gossip. To help you process the information, perhaps you can identify one trustworthy person whose insight you think might be helpful to you and who will keep the information confidential. Talking with one good confidante is fine; choose well and stop there (Proverbs 11:13; 25:9-10; 26:20).
Especially if the person telling you he or she is gay appears hostile, defiant, or overly assertive, you may be tempted to fight fire with fire by being similarly hostile, defiant, or assertive. Even if the person with whom you are speaking is mild-mannered and polite, just the potential for conflict can provoke you to want to forcefully destroy what contributes to your tension, even if that something is another person. Fighting only gives your roommate good reason to dismiss everything else you might say or do (Proverbs 15:1-4; 20:3).
In avoiding a fight, you may be tempted to take little jabs here and there at your roommate, moving from holding a grudge to spiteful, indirect conflict to effectively mistreating a person because he or she has told you they are gay. You may find yourself wanting to get back at your roommate in little ways, only to find you are reinforcing what he or she may have already taken for granted C Christians hate gays (Proverbs 24:28-29).
Finally, in an attempt to avoid both conflict and mistakes, you may be tempted to retreat from the situation altogether. You may look to minimize your contact with this person, restrict your conversation to “safe” topics, and avoid situations where you are likely to have to deal with anything related to your disagreement. You may even consider having your room assignment changed. What this may communicate (though perhaps not your intention) is that the other person’s sexuality is not something you can or want to deal with (Proverbs 25:19, 28:1).
What you can do
So what can you do to respond as a Christian to your roommate in these circumstances?
Before you do anything, before you say anything to anybody else, pray. If you are not sure what to do or say, you can ask God for wisdom and know he will give it to you (Nehemiah 2:4, James 1:5).
Sometimes the person making this disclosure may not want to talk with you anymore about it, but that would be unusual. If your roommate thinks you are someone with whom he or she can be open, that’s a good sign that they might want to continue the conversation. First off, you can ask questions like, “Is this something you’ve talked with a lot of people about?” “Were you concerned about telling me?” “How long have you been aware that you felt this way?” “How has that been for you to grow into this understanding of yourself?” When in doubt, ask and listen (Proverbs 15:28, 18:13).
You can volunteer your own thoughts too, being careful not to insist that the other person agree with you. For example, you can say things like, “That’s different for me. I’m not used to folks telling me that,” or, “Thanks for telling me. I appreciate you being honest with me that way.” If you are asked something like, “Well, what do you think?” you might respond along the lines of, “Well, I’m not sure—I feel a little confused and at a loss,” or, “Actually, I have religious beliefs about homosexuality, and I’m kind of concerned about how you might react.” This then puts the other person in a position either to leave things where they are for a bit, or to go a little deeper with you knowing you are sensitive to how delicate a conversation it may be (Proverbs 15:18, 17:14, 20:3).
Know your options
Sometimes people can feel trapped by a roommate’s disclosure of homosexuality. One way not to feel like your options are taken away is to know what those options are. For example, there are circumstances in which you could understandably request a room reassignment. You may not necessarily want to change your living situation, but knowing whether and how can make you feel a little more like you could if you had to. At the same time, roommates are often very insensitive to how they use their common space, and there are some concerns that, while not unique to having a gay roommate, may make a move advisable. If your roommate is participating in activity in your room that bothers you (e.g., using sexually explicit language or material, hosting late night visits or parties, sexual activity, etc.), it would be appropriate for you to bring up your concerns directly with your roommate. If for whatever reason this discussion doesn’t resolve your concerns, you should plan to discuss them with your resident adviser after inviting your roommate to come participate in that discussion with you. Your RA can help you sort out your options in a peacemaking role. These may not be concerns related specifically to same-sex attraction, just average roommate problems. Knowing your options can help you feel less trapped by your circumstances.
Showing compassion may be the hardest part of dealing with your roommate. On the one hand, you may not feel a lot of compassion, so that being motivated to be compassionate can seem impossible. At the same time, you may not meet with a warm reception in your attempts at compassion, so that you may feel rebuffed or just a failure if you don’t have “success” in your efforts. However, if you focus on your responsibility to show compassion rather than on your feelings or on the other person’s reception, you will find it a lot easier (James 3:17-18).
Compassion involves caring about those aspects of your roommate’s life where and when you can—caring about what they care about, sorrowing where you can and rejoicing where you can. Obviously, as with all people, your roommate may rejoice in sin or despair under conviction, and you may not find it appropriate to rejoice or sorrow with them in all instances. Still, there is likely a lot more to your roommate’s life than rejoicing in sin, and these are circumstances and instances in which you can care about a fellow human being without requiring ideological agreement. Jesus did not wait for us to agree with him that we are sinners before he showed us compassion. On the contrary, “This is how God demonstrates his love toward us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Sometimes if your religious convictions are known to others, folks will have (understandable) assumptions about what you think, feel, or believe. Often the relative importance or particular place that same-sex attraction holds in your own world view may not be immediately apparent, and the more you talk about it, the more likely it will appear to others that it is a colossally big deal in comparison with other issues in your mind. Without trying to prove that you are right, you can try to help your roommate understand why you are uncomfortable, why other issues make you uncomfortable, etc. At the same time, you might want to go out of your way to demonstrate clearly how you don’t fit an evangelical or fundamentalist stereotype of hatred, hypocrisy, etc. Where you do fit such a stereotype, you can model repentance and humility, putting your own sin in a perspective your roommate, by God’s grace, can understand.
Include in your life
If you are uncomfortable with your roommate, without realizing it you may be withdrawing yourself from that person in such a way that he or she may feel excluded. While this may not be your intention, what you communicate to someone when you are reacting unconsciously out of personal interest is that such people are to be avoided. They may notice you don’t talk with them about the same things you do with others, that you act differently, do different things. You can go a long way towards relieving tension and living out the gospel just by deliberately including your roommate in all kinds of things in your life. Talking with your roommate about your relationships, your fears, your goals, and your questions can show that God’s people can welcome him or her into their lives without being contaminated (Luke 15, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
What you can’t do
Even as you think about what you can do, and try to avoid things you shouldn’t do, it may be helpful to be clear in your own mind what you can’t do.
Because you are a Christian and your roommate is gay is no excuse for your sins. Indeed, if you think you can sin openly with impunity is to communicate that hypocrisy is okay, but same-sex attraction is not. Show your roommate what confession, repentance, asking for forgiveness, and restitution look like. Maybe he or she will catch on.
Make everything okay
Life is not easy, neat, or okay, and neither are people. There is an understandable impulse to change conflict and tension into peace and order. All you can hope for between two sinners is either (a) honest humility amidst sin in our hearts and conduct, or (b) superficial conflict avoidance amidst sin in our hearts and conduct. Take your pick: One’s messy now, one’s a lot messier later—and later may be too late to show the gospel to someone in need.
Make anyone different
Think about your own sin. Is it in your own power alone to change your whole heart and life to be what it should be? No! What makes you think you can change somebody else, or talk them into doing what you can’t even do yourself? What you can do is ask God to help you change, and then ask him to work that same kind of change in your roommate’s life.
Make God do what you want
God doesn’t always do what we want him to do or on our time table. Often people will get very resentful towards God for not relieving their tensions the way they want when they want. God is wiser and more patient than we are, and he knows best how to work in your circumstances. You can tell God what he’s promised you; you can tell him thank you in advance for keeping his promises, but you can’t tell him how to do what he knows best—deal mercifully with sinners like ourselves.
What you must do
“…So, what do you think?”
God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Galatians 5:14). How would you want anyone to react to you when you were celebrating something that was wrong? Can you imagine the disappointment you might feel to learn someone close to you objected to something that in your mind was foundational to who you are as a person? On the other hand, can you imagine how distrustful you might feel toward someone you learned had been less than honest with you about something so important? Whatever you do, you must be honest. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Proverbs 24:26). Be yourself, be real, and trust God to work in your circumstances for his glory through your weaknesses and failings, for his glory and for the good of all who will heed him.
“How did this happen?” asked the woman sitting across from me in my office.
“Our relationship started out as one of the best friendships I’ve ever had. I feel like I have waited for years to have a close friend, someone who lights up when she sees me. I guess she got tired of me because now she won’t even talk to me. I feel like someone has punched me in the stomach. I wake every morning and wonder if she will ever call me again.”
Another woman spoke with me on the phone and said, “Neither of us has ever been involved with another woman before. In fact, I’ve never had sexual feelings for women, but somehow we’ve gotten physically involved with each other. I know this is wrong, but I don’t know how to salvage our relationship. I’m afraid you will tell me I need to give her up. Is there any way to fix our relationship and still be friends?”
A third woman asked me, “Is it normal to want to be with one friend all the time? My husband works long hours and he isn’t around much. My friend is available, and she understands how I feel… even before I tell her. I think we are too close though; my husband seems jealous of her. He thinks we’re too dependent on one another.”
“My last female friend and I became so enmeshed that I couldn’t make decisions without talking it over with her first. When she moved away, I thought it would kill me,” said another woman. “Our relationship was unbalanced, but I couldn’t see it until we were apart. How do you know when your friendship is too close in an unhealthy way?”
These are questions often asked by women who are questioning the health of their friendships. In addition, women who have turned away from a homosexual life often express concern about becoming involved with women in an unhealthy way. They want to know how to develop new friendships that will reflect their growth and refusal to connect with others improperly. In this article, we will explore why and how friendships go wrong and how to repair the damage between women who have an unhealthy relationship.
Designed with his image
Women are relational beings. It is a fact that few would argue. Even our play from childhood reflects how we feel about relationships. It has been said that little boys play “side by side” while little girls play “face to face.” I see the truth of this desire for relationship as I watch my daughters and their friends play. Tears and frustrations surface often for them. If one feels left out or ignored by someone they want to be connected to, they react strongly. While these eruptions in their friendships eventually calm down and they return to playing and enjoying one another, their passion for wanting to be loved and included remains very important to them.
God has built within us all a desire to connect. God himself experiences ongoing intimacy within the Trinity. In turn, he has fashioned us to experience some of the connection he enjoys by giving us other humans to know and love. These friendships enrich our lives, giving meaning and purpose in ways that living in isolation will not.
Sometimes, however, we take the beauty of friendship with another human and expect it to fill us in ways only God is meant to do. When does friendship enhance life properly and when does it become unbalanced? Let’s look briefly at how unhealthy relationships develop for some women.
The desire for connection gone wrong
1. An unhealthy relationship starts with relational disappointment carried over from childhood.
None of us had the perfect parents. None of us will parent perfectly. All of us have scars and wounds left over from the effects of interacting with parents, siblings, extended family, teachers, and other figures we thought should love us, but frequently failed to do so well. All too often these relationships included sexual, physical, and emotional abuse of the worst kind. Some women grow up and find a way to integrate their past and move on to live life with a balanced understanding for relationship in their lives. Still other women reach adulthood vigilantly searching for the significant figure that will love them in some fashion so as to erase the memory of the pain they have endured.
No woman vows this consciously, saying in her heart, “Since my trust has been betrayed in my childhood relationships, I will look for and find someone to fix this hole in my heart.” However, we all, by trial and error, find what works for a season to fill us relationally. Our self-focused goal is primarily to minimize discomfort and maximize the experience of acceptance and love. If our lives are motivated by avoiding abandonment or looking for acceptance and approval, we relate in ways that flow from an empty heart mainly concerned with itself, not with God or others. Once we engage in a relationship that we think will satisfy us continually, we begin to find ways to manage the relationship so that we don’t experience the sting of loneliness again.
2. An unhealthy relationship continues for the purpose of satisfying a nagging sense of emptiness.
As some women search for someone to love them unfailingly they often attach themselves to another woman who appears to offer the nurturing they long for. Like “hand in glove,” these relational dynamics seem to fit—temporarily.
For example, there are some women whose stories compel them to be the “rescuer”; for others, their stories compel them to be the “rescuee.” When these relationship designs match, an intense connection can begin to fill up a hole in each that gives a temporary sense of satisfaction. However, requiring another person to “fix” our empty broken hearts is a tall order and can quickly become a burden. Such was the case of Anna (fictitious name) who called my office for help.
Alone and rejected from a failed seven-year marriage, she poured her heart out in a women’s prayer meeting at her church. Her vulnerability touched something deep in Carol (name has been changed), and she invited Anna out for coffee. As Anna talked about her life, Carol felt herself drawn towards Anna’s pain and sorrow. Carol knew all too well the pain of divorce, having experienced it just four years prior herself. Carol also felt a familiar pull to take care of Anna, but she had always thought it was a sign of compassion for others.
Carol kept checking on Anna over the next few days and surprised her with a homemade dinner for her and her kids. It felt so good to have someone help with the household chores. Another adult pair of hands lightened her load, so Anna gratefully received the help offered. Anna also enjoyed the companionship of another woman who seemed to understand what she felt. Within weeks, it seemed, Anna and Carol were inseparable, and Anna’s children began to think of Carol as a permanent appendage to their mom.
Carol also enjoyed a burst of zeal for this new friendship. Anna’s children played a unique role in her life since she was childless herself. It felt so good to lighten the burden of her friend, and she thought often of ways to brighten her day. It was not unusual for Carol to invent reasons to either see Anna or at least talk to her daily.
Eventually, though, the children grew to hate the talks between the women that often robbed them of their mom’s attention. They grew tired of Carol’s presence and resented going everywhere with their mom’s friend. Because Anna felt the children’s remarks were ungrateful and demanding, she dismissed their complaints to the notion that they expected to always have their mom all to themselves. She found herself frequently defending her relationship with Carol to her own children.
It wasn’t unusual for the women to hug when they saw each other, but late one night after a particularly long, intense talk, their hug seemed to last too long. That hug stirred something in Anna that kept her up all night wondering what was happening to their relationship. She felt something was wrong, but wasn’t sure what. Hugging Carol seemed inappropriate, but what could be wrong with a hug? She finally decided it was best to put some distance in their relationship until she could sort out what was bothering her.
The next morning, the two women talked about how close they were becoming. It surprised Carol when Anna suggested that they might need to include others in their relationship or spread out how often they saw each other. Fearing Anna might be forsaking the relationship, Carol became upset and moped through the rest of their breakfast. The sulking made Anna realize that to pull away would result in disapproval and resistance from Carol. Not wanting to disappoint the woman who had done so much for her, Anna scrambled to reassure Carol that everything would be fine. But Anna began to feel fearful that her friendship may not be so healthy after all.
3. Unhealthy relationships remain exclusive, unusually intense, and resist attempts to manage the frequency or intensity of the relationship.
As we saw in Anna and Carol’s relationship, friendships that are earmarked over “matching” pasts often sprout up over short periods of time and become intensely intimate. These friendships can be like a seed that finds soil in the cracks of pavement and germinates, sometimes even blooming flowers. But the roots of these tiny plants can’t grow deep, and the plant itself is not in the right place.
So it is with unhealthy friendships. Perhaps the friendship started out well, but the intensity and exclusivity of the relationship has resulted in strong feelings of protective loyalty and impenetrable cohesiveness. As a result, it is often very difficult to objectively evaluate the dynamics of the relationship.
Sometimes when the intensity builds, a desire grows to express the closeness and intimacy being enjoyed—in a physical way. When this happens and appropriate boundaries are crossed, the friendship can become sexualized. No one is more shocked and confused when these sexual feelings begin than women who have never thought of themselves as homosexual in orientation. The process of sorting out a relationship that is unhealthy is difficult and often painful, but it can be done.
Hope for healthy relationships: steps to freedom
When involved in a friendship that has turned into something unhealthy, you may wonder if you can ever break free. If you have a history of these kinds of friendships, you may even question if you are fatally flawed and are destined to forever develop unhealthy relationships with women. You may have even determined to keep everyone at arm’s length from your heart, erroneously thinking this will keep yourself and others “safe.”
However confused you may be about your ability to relate in healthy ways, God’s promise to forgive and make you new reaches the deepest of relational problems. We often don’t turn to God for help until our relationships make us miserable or fall apart. Such was the pattern for the nation of Israel.
In the book of Isaiah, we find God using his prophet Isaiah to caution Israel from trusting the strength of their foreign neighbors’ armies to rescue them. In chapters 30 and 31, Isaiah warns them not to depend on alliances with Egypt or to trust in their swift horses and chariots. He wants them to turn their wandering hearts back to him as their God. His plan is to protect them and deliver them on his terms. Israel experienced disappointment, misery, and literal torment when they disobeyed God. Similarly, unhealthy alliances with other women often result in some type of agony, as we see from the examples of real conversations I have recorded at the beginning of this article.
Finally, God speaks to Israel through his servant Isaiah again in 50:10-11 about the consequences of finding solace in anyone other than him.
“Who among you fears the Lord
and obeys the voice of his servant?
Let him who walks in darkness
and has no light
trust in the name of the Lord
and rely on his God.
Behold, all you who kindle a fire
who equip yourselves with burning torches!
Walk by the light of your fire
and by the torches you have kindled!
This you have from my hand:
you shall lie down in torment.” (ESV)
Like Israel, his love for us is demonstrated in how he will not permit us to depend more on his creatures than we depend on him. In fact, God will lovingly allow our worlds to collapse so we will experience the torment of our persistent pursuit of any torch we depend on to light our path and find our way in this dark world. He knows our hearts will build an idol out of anything, and he will keep exposing the inability of our idols to save or satisfy our hearts built for him. However, he never intends us to live a lonely, unattached life.
Admitting the truth
Facing the truth that your friendship is not healthy for you or the woman with whom you are in relationship is a brave step towards freedom. It is crucial to find the time to be alone and to reflect on what has made this relationship unhealthy. Creating space to reflect, apart from this woman, allows you to think and feel for yourself without the complications of handling her thoughts and feelings. Developing your own sense of self is not only a good place to start, but is also foundational to building healthy relationships.
Also, facing our God-given design for companionship and connection is an important step to health. Nevertheless, only the bold can admit they want to be loved but may have gone to wrong sources to get it. Fundamentally, these kinds of relationships are taking a God-given longing and squeezing people to fit a hole in our hearts that only God can satisfy.
Inviting others to help you
The next step will be important. It is vital to name out loud to others the conclusions to which you have come about your relationship. It would be easy to get confused if you are isolated from others who could give you a much needed perspective. It is also easy to waver from your convictions if your decision is being challenged by the woman with whom you are involved. Mature and committed friends are necessary to help you disengage from the relationship in question.
Inviting a few women, perhaps from church or from a Bible study group, into your life will ensure accountability and give you objective evaluations about your relationships. If your relationship has crossed sexual lines, be sure to confess this to God and your support system. Crossing lines sexually doesn’t mean you are a worse sinner than most. It only means you must avail yourself of helpful support and accountability to continue walking the path of relational integrity. Exposing your relationship to mature women who will help you grow will put to death the desire to keep the relationship exclusive or “secret.”
The significance of grieving
Learning how to live as a separate woman apart from the woman with whom you had a relationship will be difficult at first, especially if you had daily phone contact or visits. There will likely be a time of loneliness and grieving as you begin to live your life without the influence and affection of someone who was so vital and important to you. This would be a good time for you to draw near to God, spending a significant amount of time talking and reflecting with him about what you are experiencing as you separate from the other woman.
As you grieve the loss of relationship, you might find yourself sorrowing over the damage you feel from the unhealthiness of your friendship. This kind of inventory is important for your growth as a new woman, open to new friendships. You may begin to see how being exclusive warped your openness to others and how you may have allowed this woman to be important to you in a way that inhibited your development as an individual. You may also see how your friendship may have damaged others who tried to offer you friendship, or how you may have used this person to escape pain or loneliness by the intensity of the relationship. This grieving is an important part of the process of repentance that, over time, will give you a new perspective and help you make the necessary changes to love others from a new heart.
Setting new boundaries
The next step is to develop and begin to practice certain relational limits in all your relationships for your own health and growth. As you reflect on how to set limits you can begin to identify some of the dynamics of unhealthy relating patterns. Asking God to help you uncover a relational agenda of trying to fill yourself inappropriately will be helpful as you begin this journey. Pay attention to what he shows you as you investigate what you want from others. Begin to talk openly with your support system about how to get these needs met safely and appropriately. Allow yourself to watch how other women relate to one another and begin to label what makes their friendships healthy. Ask the women in your support system to help you by offering you feedback when they sense you doing something that feels uncomfortable to them.
Some examples of relational sins may be how you always appear needy and dependent so that others feel pulled to take care of you. Perhaps your style is to always rise to the occasion of taking care of others, making them feel indebted and obligated while making yourself feel competent and superior. Maybe you relate to others by keeping the relationship intense all the time or being emotionally erratic in disruptive ways to manipulate or control the behavior of another. Asking a few trusted and mature friends to honestly tell you how they see you in relationships will be invaluable to your development as you learn how to keep personal boundaries.
Risking and choosing to love again
Finally, there is no fail-safe code to personal relationships. Even if you watch carefully and try your hardest, you can be sure you will slip up and find yourself looking for someone to fill your empty heart in a way that keeps you from needing God. Our hearts are endlessly creative in looking for some way to avoid needing a God who won’t be managed or behave predictably. The Israelites are an example of how easily we replace God with something or someone we think might do a better job of satisfying our hearts.
No sooner had the Israelites experienced a miraculous exodus from the slavery of Egypt and a miraculous rescue from their enemies, than they became restless. When their tangible leader, Moses, disappeared from their sight while camped on the foothills of Mt. Sinai, they begged Aaron to fashion a god for them that they could see, touch, and ultimately control. One thing led to another, and they soon found themselves rationalizing their “needs” so they could indulge in immorality.
You would think they would have already learned their lesson to depend on God alone, but they had to learn this important lesson again. While traveling in the wilderness, they tried to save enough manna to free themselves from the trouble of going out the next day and dependently receiving from God the daily supply of food he provided. Imagine their surprise the next morning when, after sleeping in, they found maggots in their manna. God intended for the Israelites (and us!) to find him to be the “Living Bread.” His desire for Israel and for us is to remain dependent on his daily provision for our hearts and our souls, as well as our stomachs.
Part of learning this dependency is the practice of inviting God to reveal to us which idols he wants us to destroy with his help. It is not work for the faint of heart. A deep look at our sin must involve the necessary trip to the foot of the cross to be cleansed and made new. However, a woman who develops the habit of returning to her Creator again and again will find the cherishing she longs for as she hears her Father remind her of his Calvary love. In his presence, she will receive the courage to love others in new and healthy ways that will continually bless their life here on earth.
As women we can enjoy relationship as God intends. The experience of knowing another’s soul is a privilege that gives us a glimpse of the intimacy we were designed for, as well as point us to the eternal enjoyment of God and his people that awaits our souls. God will reward us with meaningful relationships with other believers as we daily invite him to fill us. Let us enjoy him by uniting our hearts with his. Then we can in turn offer the source of our satisfied hearts to others.
14 Jan 2014
A weary traveler is looking for shelter on a dark stormy night. Off in the distance, he can see lights coming from a city. Since it is the only place of refuge the traveler can see he sets off towards that city to see if he can find shelter there. As he comes to a clearing where he can see the city more clearly he stops to study it and consider his options.
He can see signs of life and the comforts he longs for in the city. This seems like the refuge he is looking for, yet he has heard such strange and conflicting things about this city from other travelers. Should he enter the city hoping for a warm welcome or stay where he is taking his chances alone in the darkness of the storm? Sound familiar? If we’re honest, we have all had times in life when we have felt some of the same things this traveler is feeling. Life is full of difficult choices. Choosing to do what is right isn’t always easy or popular. Sometimes making those difficult decisions takes us on a journey away from the safety of the familiar and into the stormy darkness. It takes a lot of courage to enter an unknown city or situation asking for refuge when we are not sure of the welcome we will receive.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus uses the image of a city to describe the church. He says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” Since we are the city on the hill, we need to decide what kind of a welcome we will offer travelers seeking refuge from us. In many ways, we already do an excellent job of offering the hope and grace of Christ himself to our communities. The issue of gay marriage seems to be so emotionally charged that our ability to minister to others who seek truth and refuge from us might be hindered. What do the weary travelers see when they look at the church? Do they see a warm, inviting place to talk about truth and the deceptiveness of sexual sin, or do they see our confusion and fear?
In anticipation of writing this article on gay marriage, I conducted a number of impromptu interviews with people impacted by this issue. Just mentioning the issue brought about a variety of impassioned responses. I was able to talk with several pastors who are dealing with their congregation’s concerns and questions. I spoke with parents and family members of men and women who are struggling with the issues of homosexuality, some of whom are already married to someone of the same sex. I also interviewed a number of believers who shared their concern about how God expects them to respond to the gay community in light of the current political debate.
While everyone I talked to had an opinion about gay marriage, few people agreed on what defines gay marriage. It seems that gay marriage means different things to different people. Gay marriage also means different things in different states across the country. All of the people I spoke with agreed that homosexuality is contrary to God’s plan for mankind. Their other thoughts on gay marriage seemed to fall into three general categories: (1) Some responses reflected a concern that the gay community is trying to force acceptance of their beliefs and lifestyle on the rest of our society. (2) Other people feel that the sanctity of marriage is threatened by the labeling of homosexual unions as marriage. (3) Lastly, a group of people believe that the gay community is justified in seeking some forms of social change, but most of these people were not sure exactly what should change or in what ways.
Is it any wonder with so much confusion over the issues involved in gay marriage that it has become a divisive issue? While these issues are cause for great concern, we do not have to let them be. We can use them as a starting point to gaining a deeper understanding of these issues, the gay community, and one another. This might allow us as a community of believers to become a more welcoming refuge for men and women struggling with these issues.
Acceptance of gay unions
Everyone wants to be accepted; God has built this desire into us. Men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction have this same desire in them. It is only after much pain and heartache that a man or a woman will come to the conclusion that they are gay. These men and women have found acceptance in the gay community that feels like light in their darkness. They have found a relationship with one specific person that they want to make into a life commitment. Now they would like everyone else to accept their lifestyle and share their joy.
As believers, we do need to accept men and women who struggle with homosexuality. We need to accept them as men and women as precious because they have been made in the image and likeness of God. We can admit that, like us, they are sinners in desperate need of a Savior. Homosexuality is not a worse sin than any other. Yet, we are never supposed to be silent in the face of sin. Our response to the gay community should be open and welcoming, full of grace and truth.
This type of acceptance might be harder for some believers than for others because acceptance of these unions was by far the biggest concern that others shared me. The gay community is not going to stop pursuing their agenda just because resolutions to legalize gay marriage were defeated in 11 states in the presidential election of 2004. The gay community is fighting for freedom that they believe is in their best interest. To be a more effective light in the world, we need to establish ourselves as a refuge that is ready and waiting to accept men and women who struggle with same-sex attraction without condoning homosexuality.
Civil rights and taxes
Listening to gay rights activists, it would seem that gay marriage is all about attaining the same legal and tax standings as heterosexual couples. The issue of gay marriage raises some interesting questions about our system of taxation and civil rights. Should people be taxed at a higher rate or denied certain benefits because they do not marry a member of the opposite sex?
Being married, I never gave thought to the benefits I have because of that choice. The rights to medical insurance; sick, parental, and bereavement leave; and death benefits are among the rights that the gay community is seeking. If I did not have these rights, I would feel a significant loss of safety and freedom. The US General Accounting office reports that there are 1,049 benefits the US government provides to married couples. The most important benefits listed were the entitlement to receive social security benefits, pensions, tax breaks, and visitation rights in hospitals or prisons.
Taxation is a political issue of importance to everyone. It is also an important spiritual issue. We are all called by God to pay our share of taxes. In Matthew 22:15-22, the Pharisees were looking to trap Jesus with his words. They tried to put Jesus in a double bind by asking him if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. Whether Jesus answered yes or no, the Pharisees knew that he would alienate some of the people. But Jesus avoided the trap, silencing his opponents, by going straight to the heart of the matter. In verse 21 Jesus simply says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” As believers, we should follow the example of Jesus by seeking to walk wisely on this issue of taxation. In one short sentence, Jesus separated the tax issue from the spiritual issue. His directives to us as believers are clear: We should be willingly pay what is due to the earthly nation
This means that we should want to establish a system of taxation that is in the best interest of all of our citizens, regardless of their lifestyle choices. Our country was founded on the premise of no taxation without representation.The current cultural norm for taxation is a working husband and a stay-at home wife. This norm reflects the lifestyle circumstances of less than 10% of American households. It would seem that a more equitable tax system that better reflects our culture might be in order. After carefully considering this issue one can conclude that this tax issue is not a heterosexual versus gay issue at all. This is a married versus single taxpayer issue. There is no Biblical prescriptive to support giving married people tax incentives and benefits that are withheld from single people.This practice may not be appropriate any longer.
How might addressing the taxation issue help the church minister to the gay community? First, it will allow us to avoid the trap that has been set for us over taxes. Jesus was careful to avoid the tax-trap question. Are we? Secondly, it will allow the real heart issues to come to the surface in the gay marriage debate. If the tax question is removed from the debate, then the deeper issues can be seen and addressed.
The Defense of Marriage Act amended the constitution of the United States and went into effect on September 21, 1996. This amendment legally defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Although this amendment might face a legal challenge in the future, for now marriage is defined as a one man and one-woman union. Many people feel that the gay community’s desire to call their unions “marriage” threatens the sanctity of marriage. While there is no way to accurately gauge the validity of these concerns, there are two factors that will continue to add to the confusion of the gay marriage debate. These factors are domestic partnership and the infallibility of God’s Word.
The term gay marriage is often used in reference to domestic partnership. Laws protecting and defining the rights of individuals under domestic partnership are already in effect in 12 states. In most of these states, any homosexual or heterosexual couple over the age of 65 who do not want to be married can receive legal status through domestic partnership. Older people often make this choice over marriage because of the financial consequences a new marriage will have on their standard of living. This does threaten the sanctity of marriage. Older generations are choosing not to marry because of the financial consequences that entering a new marriage will cause them. As models on relationships for successive generations, elders who choose domestic partnership definitely threaten the sanctity of traditional marriage.
No matter what the courts decide, how a congressional vote is cast, or what the gay community would like to demand of us, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot condone gay marriage. The church cannot condone gay marriage because we do not have the power to so. This is the spiritual issue at the heart of the gay marriage debate. The gay community wants to feel at peace with God without making peace with God. The Word of God has clearly declared that marriage is a covenant relationship between three parties: the man, the woman, and God (Genesis 2:24). Each party enters into the covenant relationship by his or her own choice. God will not enter into a marriage covenant with a homosexual couple. We cannot change the Word of God. He has been clear that homosexuality is wrong. God is against gay marriage, and there is nothing the church can do to change that.
The issue of gay marriage will be an ongoing challenge for the church. Developing a full understanding of the underlying issues will be critical to being able to address the subject. This will be important in offering the world a godly and biblically accurate understanding of God’s Word as it pertains to gay marriage. Hopefully, this deeper understanding will lead our congregations to become places of open dialogue where people can wrestle with what it means to love those who struggle with sexual sin in practical terms, like how to accept the sinner and not the sin.
In order to be places of refuge, our churches need to become places of safety. We will need to offer a safe place to disclose our struggles. We will also need safe places to wonder aloud about the questions of civil rights and the inequality that the gay marriage debate has raised. We are called to actively wrestle with what kind of men and women God wants us to be on behalf of others who want to live apart from him. This is an invitation to share in the sufferings of Christ by giving of ourselves for people who might never respond to the Gospel. It might also be an invitation to become part of the social change process.
As the darkness continues to overtake our culture, we will need to have a clear voice of truth to speak. We will need to establish our light to be able to impart the truth to successive generations. We have been entrusted with the truth of God’s own Word. As his ambassadors, we have been commissioned to speak for him, sharing his grace and mercy to a lost and weary generation.