08 May 2015
I’ve worked closely with Mitchell (name has been changed), a member in one of our men’s Biblical Support Groups. Mitchell struggles with depression, sometimes to the point of entertaining suicidal thoughts. Mitchell feels hopeless: He’s middle-age, single, unemployed, and right now living in his parent’s home. His loneliness feels unbearable. Challenging him to reach out and connect with others, both in the support group and at his church, is, well, a challenge. You see, his same-sex attraction increases his loneliness in the church.
But community is vital; it matters, so I keep gently encouraging him to move out of his loneliness by believing that Jesus is present in his life, and that, being filled with Christ, he can approach people not from a needy emptiness, but from a filled heart that can give to others.
Men like Mitchell need deep, strong friendships, as we all do. But it is more vital for men like him who live with same-sex attraction. Sadly, those with same-sex attraction deeply fear rejection and therefore increase their loneliness in the body of Christ. But it is in Christ’s body, the community of his people, where we are to learn to be fully present with others in our weakness and struggles. “If one member (of Christ’s body) suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26, ESV).
How far the church still needs to go to be that kind of community!
Recently, he sent me an email that shows how far he has come:
This morning as soon as I began the thought, “What man’s arms are around me? I’m lonely!” I stopped. I acknowledged that no man’s were, and no man’s ever would be. But this time I began to picture in my mind Jesus at the end of my bed with his hand on my back; just being there. I imagined him holding me (you always say, Dave, that we are the bride of Christ). Though I wish I could see, feel, and touch Jesus, I never will in this life, but I acknowledged he was there and hadn’t abandoned me. That in that room, in the early hours of the morning, he was with me saying it was okay.
And I believe it. In this moment I believe it’s okay. The depression, the joblessness, the dependence on another for my survival, it’s all okay. I realize now that, especially in the dark days, I have to reach past my own hopelessness and dig deeper to find and hold on to the hope that is Christ. I am far from having this down yet, but I am closer.
I praise God for his good work in Mitchell’s heart. His story displays the power of God’s work in community, where in our Biblical Support Group Mitchell is slowly learning how to cling to Christ for comfort during loneliness and for courage to reach out to engage with others, where he is beginning to establish relationships with men as a fellow brother in Christ.
I pray that what we have in our support groups would be replicated in our church communities! Maybe Mitchell, in his weakness, will lead his church to become the kind of community Christ desires it to be.
17 Jul 2012
Along with the sense of guilt, long-term sinful habits and hidden desires create a deep sense of shame. Shame is what happens when we begin to identify directly with our sin—when we view our sin as what we are, rather than something we do. In the face of mounting guilt and an inability to change, our sinful behaviors or desires become a source of personal identity.
One brother recounted the shame of being called a “jerk off” as a teen because masturbation had been a central part of his life since early childhood. Since he was secretly enslaved to this behavior and lived with profound guilt for years, he believed he was a “jerk off” in a very deep sense
The power of shame lies in the “hiddenness” of our behavior or desires. Shame grows and overwhelms us when we keep things hidden in the dark. We were created by God for intimacy, to be known by others. But in our shame, we are too scared to let others see who we really are, to know the worst things about us. As a result, we live with the nagging sense that if others truly knew us, they would reject us. We become committed to hiding behind a mask and living a life that is a lie. We begin to project an illusion for others to see, but this just intensifies the problem. As our hypocrisy increases, so does our shame. As shame deepens, we become more committed to the façade. We enter a relational cycle as destructive and ensnaring as our struggle with sexual sin.
Why is shame so destructive? It always results in estrangement from others. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are a social outcast. Many people wrestling with deep shame are the “life of the party.” Everybody knows and loves them, but inwardly they are living a life of hiding, desperately afraid of others finding out. They live with a constant fear of exposure. Although they know they are well-liked, shame makes them think, “Would people really like me if they knew____?” It may appear that they have many rich friendships, but inwardly they are deeply alone because no one truly knows them. The pressure of living a lie is a crushing burden that often leads to depression, seemingly unrelated anxieties, other destructive behaviors like self harm or substance abuse, etc.
For others, their sense of shame leads to both inward and outward isolation. Instead of living a public life that is a sham, they increasingly withdraw from relationships, both because of their fear of being “found out” and the increasing pain of living with others without being truly “known” by them. There is a cost to our souls when we live an illusion before others, never known for who we truly are.
The only way to find freedom from this cycle is to risk exposure. Listen to the promise of 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (ESV). Did you hear the double promise? If we humble ourselves and risk exposure by “walking in the light,” instead of hiding in the dark in our shame, God promises we will have fellowship—genuine intimacy—with each other, and we’ll get what we’ve been longing for: cleansing from our sin. The only way out of the cycle of sinful behavior and relational estrangement is to be truly known. Only honesty and vulnerability with others in the body can deliver us from both shame and slavery to sin.
How is shame manifested in your life? Are you outgoing but hiding, withdrawn, or in between? In which relationships are you most “hidden?”
This excerpt is taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring. You can check out this workbook and other resources in the Harvest USA bookstore at www.harvest-usa-store.com.