This phrase could be my life’s motto. God has given me great ability as an empath to feel what others feel, even when I completely disagree with them. And I have worked hard to ensure that I do, to the best of my ability, see how another person can believe what he believes, do what he does, and say what he says.
By all accounts, when I say “I understand” I am honestly working to put myself in your place so I can truly understand you.
And not to brag, but I usually do well with this understanding endeavor. I’d call it my greatest strength, by far.
I’m not sure who first said it but the phrase, your greatest strength can also be your greatest weakness, rings true here.
Because I can understand people’s motivations, belief systems, and perspectives, I find it difficult to argue with them. When something is a matter of personal opinion, unique beliefs, or individual interpretations, I struggle to disagree accurately with their decisions.
Now, objective Truth? That’s a non-issue. The essentials of the Christian faith — the deity of Christ, the need for salvation, and the existence of the Trinitarian God? I hold those as indisputable.
But something less objective, like the length of Creation or the Armenian/Calvinist debate? Well, I see those as slightly more fluid.
As someone explains why she believes the way she believes, I find myself able to connect the dots alongside her. I don’t struggle to reach the same conclusion she did based on her experiences.
I may still disagree — but I appreciate a person’s beliefs and the journey she took to reach those beliefs. My understanding doesn’t challenge my own beliefs.
My beliefs have strong roots that don’t budge; that’s not where my struggle lies.
My struggle lies in the fact that when someone else’s beliefs or actions or words hurt me, I understand his perspective and don’t fight back.
For instance, while employed by a church, I had to take extra care in my personal life to “stay above reproach.” Working for a church means that all of my actions reflect that particular church. And if I do something wrong, it reflects on the church negatively.
Even if I don’t do something wrong, the mere suspicion of wrongdoing is enough to cause trouble.
Being queer, specializing in LGBTQ+ outreach, and not being publicly out all add up to the potential for gossip. As such, my former church requested I place extra boundaries around me.
For instance, I no longer talked publicly about hanging out with other guys. When I still had public social media pages, I faced several conversations with my pastors about the nature of my relationship with several male friends. People saw the pictures I took with them, looked at my ministry, and immediately started getting suspicious of possible promiscuity.
After that first conversation with my pastors, I took extra care about the pictures I posted. But it wasn’t enough. Some friends tagged me in a few photos, and I faced another conversation. Then a status update posted by others caused even more issues.
Soon, I was taking twenty minutes to post, share, or comment on anything. I had to be sure it wouldn’t cause anyone to gossip about an affair.
I grew tired of this all. It wasn’t fair by any means.
None of the other guys in my life had to do anything special like me. No other staff member at my church, male or female, faced the same questions or had to have stricter boundaries than I did.
Even this blog was not off-limits. My pastors read this blog and commented on my posts to me.
But even though I found all this unfair, I didn’t object.
Because I understand.
I understand that because of conservative upbringings and cultures, some believe that LGBT people are extra promiscuous and more likely to give into sexual temptation.
I understand that because many church leaders have fallen into affairs and other private sins, I had to work extra hard to prove myself.
I understand that because I was the first LGBT-identifying person at my church, my pastors were not always sure how to lead me or care for me.
And I also understand that because I did not say anything, my pastors had no reason to believe that this strictness on my life caused hurt, anxiety, insecurity, and doubt.
Is part of this post written in hopes of indirectly saying something? Absolutely.
Should I be more direct? Probably.
But I understand my former pastors’ side too well. And I don’t honestly know that I want them to change some of their policies just because I am getting hurt. I want change to come from their own beliefs.
I want them to understand.
Because, honestly, I’m getting tired of always being the one to understand.
Do you have public boundaries in place regarding your sexuality? Do you struggle to uphold these boundaries or desire some kind of positive change in them?
Dean….that was great. Our leaders and brethren at church do need to understand and we need to help them with that, slowly, gently and graciously.
One more thing…this quote from Frederick Buechner helped me a lot. “Our calling is where our greatest need and our greatest joy intersect.”
Thanks for writing.
Jesus had a habit of eating and drinking with tax collectors a sinners. I’m sure that if there had been cell phone cameras in His time, some of the pics would have been used at His trial.
Dean, you just keep on loving these guys and use those occasions to teach others how to love outside of their comfort zone. If you tire, get some rest and get back into the fray. This kind of thing is not just for pastors, it is for all of us. Enlist some help. Thanks for writing.
A fascinating point, Friedrich! I have looked at those verses where people criticized Christ for His actions as a reminder that none of us will ever go without criticism.
Thank you for your encouragement!
Hey Dean, hey folks. Been quite a while since I last posted a comment here on YOB. I’m glad to say that I nevertheless kept on reading the stories you all share here, and I wanna thank you all for that. Like, really. I may be miles apart from you but I feel connected somehow through His love. So, great post Dean. I do feel the same as you most of the times, but it doesn’t bother me anymore. I learned how to understand (pun not intended) and how to behave about my feelings and thoughts about others. The understanding per say is now just a part of what makes me, well, me. I guess I’m not really wording this right, but I feel like we influence and become influenced by others. Whenever I talk to someone, I try to understand what they might be changing on me, and me on them. I try to see what is that I’m giving, and what is that I am being gifted with. Maybe it is too easy for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, but that means you can feel empathy. Dunno if I’m making any sense here, I just felt like giving this to you all, to be a part of this again. Wishing you all the best week!
I’m still in the closet except with a few friends, but I find myself putting up boundaries for myself, primarily to guard against emotional dependence, so not necessarily “never be alone with another ssa guy” but more like “Oh geez, my friend is really down right now, but I don’t want to try to make it better because I’m afraid of where it would go or what it would look like and maybe it would be super awkward and I’d just make him uncomfortable and that would totally ruin our relationship.” (In case you haven’t noticed, I overthink EVERYTHING.) I definitely go to a negative extreme of trying to present myself as aloof and sympathetic (but never empathetic because that’s scary and uncomfortable), even though I’m extremely empathetic, and it’s tearing me up inside to watch someone suffer. I’m working on developing healthier caring habits, and what you guys have written is really helping, but it’s so much easier to be emotionally dependent on someone than to genuinely care for them. I hate being careful in caring, but right now it’s necessary for me to keep those relationships healthy.
I get not wanting to make a situation messier by sharing your own SGA with your mentees. I always strive to balance self-disclosure, ensuring it is only for the benefit for the other person. For me, I don’t mind sharing my sexuality with others — but that’s my comfortability. I don’t know that I would deem it necessary. But, for me and in my scenarios, it has been helpful if the other person also experiences SGA or identifies as LGBT+. Perhaps that could warrant a longer post, though. 🙂