This post and another to follow come from some questions on my last post about attending a gay men’s Christian retreat. Among other things, a reader asked:

“But for you who have found peace or at least commitment to this [Side B] life…why? And how do you do it?”

“Side B” refers to those following a traditional belief on sexuality, as opposed to “Side A,” which refers to those affirming of same-sex relationships.

This is a question we often get asked, a variation of “why live a Side B life?” I wrote previously on why we follow this particular ethic, noting it needs to be more than just an ethic.

We get asked the “why” question so much because this life is hard. Being a Christian is hard; being LGBTQ+ is hard. Being both can be exhausting. And it may continue to be exhausting if we don’t do the work to understand why it’s hard and figure out how to keep going.

Whether Side B or Side A, many sexual minorities share a common story of pain and trauma in and from the church. Andrew Marin’s book, Us versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community spells this out well. Additionally, Bridget Eileen Rivera’s recent book, Heavy Burdens: Seven Ways LGBTQ Christians Experience Harm in the Church also addresses some of our experiences and hardships.

Our hurt is real.

Some have observed that sexual minorities are more “sensitive” emotionally, and many grow up in invalidating environments. Although other complex factors exist, these are the two greatest common factors in those who develop borderline personality disorder (BPD). Consider the following description of BPD symptoms:

“Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships.”

I am by no means suggesting that all sexual minorities have BPD, merely noting some similarities in terms of origin and life difficulties. Sexual minorities have higher rates for mental health problems than the cishet (cisgender heterosexual) population. There is a reason.

The experiences we go through lead many people to seek counseling. The trauma is real. The gaslighting is real. And there is no shame in needing help. We were not made to walk through life alone (Genesis 2:18).

I’ve been to counseling. Many people in our community have pursued and/or currently attend counseling. Seeking help to navigate our experiences is a good thing.

Thriving, though, is about more than just processing our experiences in counseling. We must also embrace the understanding that there will always be some measure of hardship and pain in this life while figuring out how to have a life still worth living.

How can we be Side B and live a life worth living?

I return to the earlier question: “How do you do it?”

Or, rephrased: “How can you be Side B and live a life worth living?” How do we keep going?

I won’t give the Sunday school answer and just say “Jesus.” But my answer starts with Jesus.

Jesus’ words are a comfort to me in my pain. In the Sermon on the Mount and the Last Supper, Jesus told his followers that they would experience trouble for following him, tribulation in this world:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33 (ESV)

In Jesus we are able to have peace. Peace (shalom in Jewish thought) is not the absence of pain, but abiding presence and strength with God amidst any circumstance.

We do not have to “clean up” before we come to the table of God. When we were in our sin and darkness, God pursued us with his radical love in Jesus (Romans 5:8).

The first premise I ask you to accept is this:

You are accepted just as you are.

When we look at the pages of the New Testament, we see Jesus inviting those whom other people (especially the religious) often ignore. There will be many people in heaven that the religious elite of Jesus’ day (and ours) wrote off as unworthy, unholy, not good enough, and outside the love and grace of God (see Matthew 22:1-14 and Luke 1:23).

In Jesus, and through Jesus, we are accepted.

However, in addition to Jesus’ accepting us as we are, he also calls us to follow him, to be his disciples, to lay down our lives, and follow him (see Luke 9:21-27). The letters of the New Testament talk about what life as Jesus’ disciples ought to look like and call us to a new life in the Holy Spirit, lives marked by love, faith, and holiness.

The process of discipleship means we look more and more like our Savior over time. Do we look like Jesus?

We are accepted as we are, but Jesus does not just save us and accept us and leave us be. He calls us to a new life.

The second premise I ask you to accept is this:

You need to do better.

If you are anything like me and many other traumatized believers, you might read that statement and recoil. My whole life I was told I wasn’t good enough, that I would not measure up, that God would not accept me unless I did more, tried harder, and hated my sin — and myself — enough.

But that is not what I am asking you to accept here.

You are already accepted in Jesus. You need do nothing to earn that love and acceptance. Jesus already paid for it. You cannot earn salvation or the love of God. In Christ you are accepted.

And as a result of that acceptance, you can do better. You can have a life marked by life in the Holy Spirit, a life marked by love, faith, and holiness. This flows out of and is empowered by the work that God has already done.

In my next post, we’ll further unpack this “you need to do better” idea.

But don’t approach it cringing; approach it with hope. In Jesus we have hope not only to survive, but also to thrive in and through him.

What disconfirming experiences (being told you shouldn’t be the way you are, think the way you do, etc.) have influenced, or perhaps distorted your understanding of God’s love and acceptance? When did you first realize God truly did see you, love you, and accept you just as you are?

  • “However, in addition to Jesus’ accepting us as we are, he also calls us to follow him, to be his disciples, to lay down our lives, and follow him.” Yes!

    I’ll be honest, the phrase “Just as you are,” garners a lot of hurt for me at this point in my life, which is sad, cuz it’s true! It’s like… THE gospel. I’ve just known so many Christian brothers and sisters, especially in our community if I’m honest, who have heard that phrase… and then just stayed there in that truth, weeks turning to months turning to years of “as I am,” forsaking the Follow Me part of it. Lord knows I’ve done this for far too long. It’s so easy to use “come as you are” as a justification for future sin or an easy way to not deal with your past. Jesus is gonna keep walking, that’s why we call it walking with Christ. I’m so glad you kept both of these truths together. It’s like when Jesus spoke to the adulterous woman, he first said “Who condemns you?” (come just as you are) and follows with “Go and sin no more,” (follow after me, become like me, my disciple.)

    Excited to see you dive into the “do better” part more. It’s definitely a little AH hearing those words, but it’s said in LOVE and conviction which is in a word, stellar.

  • Hi Christopher,

    I became a seeker at 19 and struggled to work out who or what Christ did. At one point, I was reading the bible and, in a moment of pure joy, realised I was gay; then conviction dropped on me like death. I felt fear, pain and anxiety all at once. I felt lost and begged God to take it from me; I did not want to live in it, he did not take it away. The shock of that realisation devastated me. I accepted something so beautiful and joyous, but it turned to ashes so quickly, almost like the fruit of Adam & Eve. Condemned and shadowed by death, I felt the most profound loss and shame.

    A few days later, reading the bible once again, the power of Gods love on the cross engulfed me. I experienced the love of Christ from the cross, no condemnation, only love; he took me into himself on the cross. It was amazing. I cried for hours in the knowledge that Jesus loves me, died for me and lives for me.

    Over the years (30), I have struggled with who I am and what I call myself. I am married and have two kids. My wife knows my story and loves me, as I love her. The struggle comes from desire and wanting to understand what truth is.

    Before my wife, I had been with girls but no boys, even though I had a feeling for both. Does this make me bi? A few times in my faith walk, a few girls have really stood out, and my feeling for them were overwhelming at times. Then a new male friend became an infatuation; desire and the past would jump on me, and desires became a fight as I fully wanted them.

    Lately, my understanding of sexuality has changed a bit. Most of the time, I name feelings within me without recognising where they come from. I understand that my gay feeling come from my first childhood sexual experience; though traumatic, I have had to accept what happened and the paradoxical sense of shame and joy that came with it. My journey with my wife is like that of Jesus and the Church. I will give up myself for her, always. I love her. My sexuality seems to be queer in that I cannot fully understand it, it makes no sense. The feelings all around are the same, but my naming of them changes with each event or desire. This truly is a struggle, but In Christ, we can live life to the fullest. I choose to live side B.

    Thanks again for the network.
    A

  • Great points! God’s love, grace, and mercy are a firm foundation. I have realized over the years that I am really powerless to change myself. As a fallen human, the desires remain and scream to be dealt with. Yet, through Holy Spirit, we have God’s Presence and all we need to live for Christ. Thanks for the article–well written–looking forward to part 2.

  • I find myself reading YOB again. It seems I end up here when I reach my limits. A masculine completely closeted guy who experiences SSA primarily emotionally, yet wants nothing to do with kissing a dude, or anything oral/anal. I’ve dated girls, but right now have little attraction to them. It’s strange that my SSA led me to meet another SSA dude, and he was part of a real christian community. The hope from seeing Christ living in them eventually grew into me actually placing my trust in Jesus, and I meant it when I told Him I was placing my life in His hands…

    Ben, you talk about living a life worth living. I question whether my life is truly worth living as is. It would be much more worth living if God would answer my prayers to heal me, restore me, redeem me.

    I am in love with God, and I believe He is good. He is Love. He has great plans. He has used me already for Kingdom purposes, or more accurately, God knows I’m willing to love people even when it’s hard. Then when I reach my limits, I pray for the person God has put in my life. I’ve watched these prayers be answered in truly supernatural ways, even redeeming people from death. I know God is able to save. I’ve been honored to get to sit on the front row seat, and watch God move supernaturally.

    But for various reasons I cannot talk with anyone local about SSA. I believe that would destroy my future and my present. I’ve watched others share publicly or semi-publically that they struggle with SSA, and I did not see that choice lead to improvement of anything in their life. Usually the exact opposite. Very destructive. Because of this I have extremely tight privacy boundaries, and am very careful of who I talk with. I do want to trust people, but trusting careless people might be one definition of foolishness.

    I need to talk with trustworthy people securely (with encryption) and privately (not through gmail, facebook, social media). Though I’ve desired to participate in this community (YOB), it appears most users share values of the more “mainstream gay agenda” such as that it’s not a question of whether someone “should” be out or not, but “How should you come out to [group, family, spouse, church, etc.]. This “out is good” assumption seems honestly pushy, bullying, and disrespectful to those like me who have legitimate reasons to stay closeted (and I’m certainly not the only one). I wish those with such attitudes would stop steamrolling guys like me with your beliefs and opinions. [End rant…]

    My hope is fading guys. Perhaps my faith too. I rarely feel loved these days. Yes I still serve God, speak up for His kingdom, and people tell me they see fruit in my life. But I feel like I’m slowly dying of love starvation. If this nearly loveless state is the way my life will remain indefinitely, I’d rather be dead.

    Yes Jesus loves me, but he also commands us to love each other. And if I don’t feel it, does it really exist? I pour out a lot of love, but it rarely gets poured into me. I have deep brokenness, defectiveness, and unmet needs. Yes I’ve lifted all this up in prayer. Haven’t seen an answer yet. God, would you just make me into a normal guy with normal hopes and desires that can be fulfilled in Godly ways? Yes God, I know you’re in the room as I write all this. If I only on very rare occasion get to experience love, why am I even here?

    God didn’t make me just to be a tool, but to love and be loved as well. But it appears that at present I’m not allowed that. It’s slowly killing me. I need real answers guys, my life is disintegrating.

    • Adam, first want you to know that if all we ever could have is God’s love and forgiveness then it would be enough. I too have struggled with the SSA and having to keep things to myself. I too have lived in fear, but that is harmful emotionally. When we don’t live as our true selves, we become fragmented and overly stressed. Over time these “stresses” can lead to severe emotional trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had to seek counseling from a trauma expert. It gets better. The main lesson I had to learn was radical acceptance. You probably have been desperate to change and not be SSA, but have learned like I did that we really can’t change this. While we can control how we express and act on our attractions–there’s always the guilt and sense of loss of not being normal. I had to go through a process of grieving over the fact that I will always struggle and feel unloved. All humans face this. I have worked with many people in ministry who aren’t SSA who feel the same way! I want to recommend a good read that has encouraged me. It’s by Larry Crabb: Waiting For Heaven: Freedom for the Incurable Addiction to Self. You’re welcome to read my encouragement blog at http://www.wordsofencouragementinchrist.com. You can reach out to me on Facebook as well. I don’t have anything that should be problematic for you on facebook nor would I ask you to send or post anything as this a ministry encouragement site.

    • Hey brother. I really felt a kindredness with this comment. I’ve felt a lot of those same pressures and asked a lot of those same questions. So I wanted to say, I hear you, I see your heart. I guess I would fall in the “semi out” category at this point, but that has been a long and winding journey. I think I have been too quick to share this part of myself in the past, but other times I have felt extremely led to. For me personally having some of this knowledge public, or semi/public has been only a positive thing for me. It has done much in the way of weeding out my fears and it has pushed me to engage my struggles, and not get so caught on what people think of me… BUT I have felt the same way. I often contemplate if I should be “more out,” make a public facebook post, tell everyone in my family and nope, that’s never been the answer. And that is ok. Its a journey.

      There was a point in my life where no one knew, most of in in fact. And I have also heard many stories, and experienced certain times in my life where the knowledge has been used wrongly. I think that carefully discerning who you share your deepest self with is a VERY biblical thing to do “Pearls before swine” “Test everything” “A fool gives full vent to his spirit/runs his mouth but a wise man withhold his words.” The first few times I felt pulled to talk to someone it was very scary, but has gotten less to to the point where that one aspect of my life doesn’t feel so huge anymore, but there are MANY other things I withhold. I think the importance is to combat secrecy and stagnation, two things that grow very quickly when a thing is completely hidden. For me, I would be ruined without the accountability of those who know, including the yob community. But combating those things will look different for you than me. Perhaps it will look more like just talking to a friend about your desire to be loved, and by a brother in christ. Perhaps it is more about that side of things than “the big secret.” I don’t know, just spitballing here.

      I just want to encourage you and say, there is no expectation either way. You are on your journey, and so long as you take the next step on that journey you will find your way. I am praying right now, Lord, strengthen the relationships in my brother’s life. Bring those around him that he can trust and confide in, and show them how to love him well. I pray you would surround him in emotional depth and tender affection, because these are your traits Abba. I know that if he needs to tell someone, you will prompt him to do so, and if not, you will tell him that too. I pray that you would help him to discern that voice separately from all the voices that surround him who set expectations on him one way or the other. May he be free. That is my prayer Abba, freedom. Amen.

      Love you brother. It’s in moments like these that it’s hard to not accept not knowing the Person behind the screen. Glad we’ll meet at some point bro. He is with you.

    • Hi Adam,
      I fully understand your position and the fears that arise out of our predicament. I have shared my experience with my wife and my counsellor. One or two friends have guessed or asked, but I am not having that conversation.

      I found this site and it gives solace, but the feeling are there. They don’t disappear, in fact, I feel like they get stronger when I feel close to God. Whatever you do stay close to Christ, he loves and accepts, he already knows. He does not force or urge you to do anything, he is gentle and cares deeply.

      I’m sharing, as are others. I’m glad I’ve found folks like me who struggle, we struggle together.

      I am happy to talk.

    • Hey Adam, thanks for commenting. I’m not sure a lotta times where the line is between being transparent and being out with people in my life. With some people, being transparent is no guarantee of what they will see. You gotta find where that line is for you following Jesus. That’s the journey, finding in Christ the way thru our own limits and the freedom to live in the limits of the hard road that ssa often is.

      “Yes Jesus loves me, but he also commands us to love each other. And if I don’t feel it, does it really exist?” So much about this journey brings you to that question, “does it really exist?” A lotta times I find there’s this disconnect between the spiritual things I believe in and the reality I live and experience. And in the battles that we face, and not just against ssa, it’s not doctrine that gets you thru but the living truth as a reality that doctrine points to. With the love of God, there’s something Jesus prayed that continues to help me, it’s the last request in his prayer to the Father in John 17, “And I have made Your name known to them and will continue to make it known, so that the love You have for Me may be in them, and I in them.” I don’t know how that hits you, but Jesus talks about us having the same love for Jesus that the Father does. The same love, that we love Jesus as the Father does. For me, it’s reads like a substance, a spiritual substance, a reality that’s entered and experienced spiritually apart from feelings.

      I don’t know if the words are communicating all that good, but if faith is only holding doctrines and the reality of them is never entered, it’s not that helpful and we’ll get discouraged. We’re talking about the love of God but I think it’s true of every bit of doctrine, be it the sovereignty of God, being in Christ, taking up our cross, knowing the power of His resurrection, abounding in hope thru the Holy Spirit, any of it and all of it. Take heart Adam, it’s all real in Christ and it’s all your’s in Christ, keep going brother.

  • This was fantastic, Ben. Eager for Part 2 as you continue expanding this “enough/more” duality of our identity. I’m grateful to have been brought up in the faith with no sense that I needed to work harder or earn my salvation. Or that my sexuality somehow made me unworthy of God’s love. I know those things are engrained in so many SSA/LGBT+ folks around the world, and it breaks my heart. I often wonder how I was so fortunate?

  • Ben Rutkowski

    Call me Ben, or call me Beamer. I am in my early thirties, married, pastoring in the Midwest, and Jesus is my reason for living. I'm either an ENFJ or ENFP. My Enneagram is 2 or 6 depending on the day. I am a chameleon – being who I need to be to care for others. Most of my favorite activities center on being with people in any outdoors setting, whether hiking a mountain trail or simply lying in a hammock and drinking a beer.

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