In the first part of this 2-part series, “You Are Accepted Just As You Are,” I began to answer a reader’s question from my post about our last YOBBERS retreat:
“But for you who have found peace or at least commitment to this [Side B] life . . . why? And how do you do it?”
Again, “Side B” here refers to those of us following a traditional belief on sexuality, as opposed to “Side A,” which refers to those affirming of same-sex relationships.
Last post I said that the first part of “how” we thrive in this life is realizing our acceptance in Jesus. I asked you, the reader, to accept this premise:
You are accepted just as you are.
We looked at how Jesus loves those whom other people ignore. We also acknowledged that this life is hard and our hurt is real.
However, I also raised a second premise, which we will now examine in this post:
You need to do better.
Jesus calls us to himself and accepts us, but he does not leave our lives unchanged. And change is hard. For too many of us, change has been tied with acceptance. We were told that if we don’t change and don’t measure up, we will lose our acceptance.
But in Jesus, change comes as a result of acceptance, and our ongoing acceptance does not rest on our change. There is nothing in all creation that can separate us from the love of God, in and through Christ Jesus, and that includes our failures (Romans 8:38-39).
We’ve already acknowledged that change is hard. But we cannot stop there. We cannot allow this fact to keep us from changing; that’s the difference between surviving and thriving.
Living this life means recognizing that there are some hard elements to this journey — some of which may always be hard. If I can’t make these things any less hard, then I need to have tools to stand up and continue forward, learning, growing, and changing, rather than get beaten down, stagnate, and cease to grow.
I need methods to find peace and joy, even in pain.
In my last post I said that my answer to thriving begins in Jesus, and I would add that it continues with Jesus as I work through the areas of my life that need attention, healing, growth, and change.
In short, I needed to do better.
In counseling, I have found some personally helpful tools and methods. One of the main tools in my “toolbox” is cultivating an attitude of acceptance coupled with a desire to change.
How do I thrive in this life?
With Jesus, I seek to practice mindfulness and acceptance in each moment, feeling each moment (good or bad) and facing each one rather than minimizing or avoiding. Jesus sees me and what I am experiencing. I don’t have to avoid facing what I experience. I can accept these feelings and moments knowing that ignoring or minimizing them will not help.
I accept me as I am in this moment, just as Jesus does.
With acceptance comes a certain measure of control. I control when I feel, and with processing, also what I feel. And then my emotions don’t control me (as much!).
My actions don’t have to be controlled by my emotions. Neither do I need to ignore my experiences, no matter how hard, as if they are irrelevant to my mental health.
What I too often see in the Side B world, and elsewhere, is people’s attempting to ignore or avoid their trauma, mourning, and emotional work, as they instead try to cover those things with happier experiences. When we ignore doing our emotional work, those things come back later and often cause more pain and trauma.
It’s time to deal with the baggage.
Carrying unresolved baggage usually leads to more baggage. I speak from experience. We do not get better or grow by stuffing down our emotions and trauma.
There is a mindset in dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) that says:
“You are accepted just as you are, and you need to do better.”
Dialectic means two thoughts that appear opposing, yet can be both true at once. These two ideas appear to contradict, but let’s reconcile them.
You are accepted just as you are.
Given everything you’ve been through, it makes sense you are where you are in your life’s journey. There’s no blame over where you are — only radical acceptance.
This is also how Jesus loves us. He did not wait for us to clean ourselves up and make ourselves presentable before he came and died on the cross for us (Romans 5:8).
We are seen, known, and loved as we are. We just have to accept where we are before we can move forward.
You need to do better.
Anything living continues to change and grow. If you want life to be better or get better, you need to do the work necessary.
You need to seek the tools and relationships that will help you get from here to there.
You are responsible only for your own choices. You cannot control what others say or do; instead, seek what you are able to do.
Embrace the dialectic.
Jesus calls us to come to him and lay down our burdens. He also calls us to carry our cross and follow him (Matthew 11:28-29; Luke 9:23). We need to lay down our burdens, even as we do the work to follow Jesus better.
The Christian life is a life of dialectics.
I have peace in Christ. I am accepted and loved. And I am also working toward greater health and well-being. I have a life worth living.
Jesus plus counseling plus a healthy dose of DBT skills training has been incredibly helpful to me.
If you want your life to change and be a life worth living, you need to make changes. It likely won’t be easy. It will take hard work and courage, and it will be a lifelong process.
Remember that when you fall, Jesus sees you. He accepts you as you are and invites you to rise again and keep walking with him.
Remember, there is nothing in all creation that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus — even your own mistakes (Romans 8:38-39).
I am not a counselor. Neither YOB nor myself is equipped to provide medical/mental health advice or treat anything. The views expressed here are my own and of my experience only.
That being said, many sexual minorities find counseling helpful for addressing trauma and navigating the stressors of life amid disconfirming environments. There are different types of counseling, and looking for a counselor might feel daunting.
However, there are resources available for finding a counselor well-versed in LGBT+ issues. This site answers a lot of questions about finding a good counselor as a sexual minority.
First, don’t let the verbiage of “affirming cognitive behavioral therapy” throw you off. “Affirming” here means that a therapist is trained in counseling methods that help process and validate the experiences of sexual minorities.
Second, counselors have an ethical obligation not to impose their own beliefs or values on clients. If you want to pursue life in a Side B manner, a good therapist should not impose a Side A approach on you; similarly, if you want to approach life in a Side A manner, a good therapist should not impose a Side B approach on you. If a therapist does push such opposing beliefs and values on you, that person should be reported.
Lastly, if you just don’t “click” with your counselor, it’s okay to ask to be referred to someone else.
My experience is descriptive, not prescriptive. Counseling has been helpful for me and many others in our community. You might be in a good place with your mental health and not feel a need for counseling, or you may not be ready yet. That is okay.
Regardless where you are, I pray that you grow in your understanding of Jesus’ love for you and your ability to thrive in this life.
If you need help, just know there are tools out there to help you make sense of how to thrive in this life. May you live a life worth living!
What has been your experience with counseling? What experiences have been helpful or harmful for working through pain and trauma?
Yeeeesssyesyesyesyesyes! So good!
Especially in this community, I have found it so easy for me to fall into continual commiseration as soon as the first “me too” is uttered. That commiseration has led me to some really dark places in multiple sexual minority relationships. It’s SO easy to sit in the precious knowledge that you’re not alone, and just stay there. Truly I just want to echo what you’re saying, engaaaage with your past. It’s the hardest thing in the world. Completely worth it. I do not become as shackled as I did before, even when life has been WORSE than it was before, circumstantially. I have reached places of darker darkness than ever, but now that I have unpacked so much of my personal trauma history I feel much more equipped to walk into whatever new calamity awaits. That doesn’t mean I don’t get weary, but I’m less held down.
Engaging is so important, but also I wanna add, it doesn’t have to be all at once. My councilor challenged me to write out my life as a story. It has been one of the most helpful things I’ve ever done. I just write every possible memory, but I haven’t written in it for a couple months now, and that is ok, I know it’s there when I am ready to engage again. There’s a beautiful balance between dwelling on/processing the past, and moving to a better place and I think you really portrayed those truths real well here.
Also for anyone who can’t afford therapy but want to engage their story, I wanna shamelessly plug The Place We Find Ourselves podcast. It’s helped me SO much when I’ve been unable to go to an actual person.
Yay! Thanks Ben!
Thanks man for spreading the word on the podcast. I’ve listened to a few and they hit home.
Such challenging wisdom and empathy alike in this post. Thank you for writing this, Ben, along with Part 1. I enjoyed this series a lot. Not sure if I’d ever heard that term before, “dialectic.” Helpful language for this Christian journey which can carry with it a lot of “opposites” to this life, but also of opposites working together. I never want to reach a lax plateau in my faith. There’s always more to discover, be challenged by, and certainly grow. And there’s also rest along the way. Shout out to therapy which has given me buckets of both.
What a positive and encouraging post! I’m not sure what would be next, but sure seems like there should be a part 3. I don’t have any good experiences with counseling to share, but found it crazy painful but helpful remembering, even tho for awhile it’s reliving things, and just knowing what’s true. Simple things like “it’s not your fault” when you can finally receive it are like fresh air, and having patience and giving yourself grace till you can. And maybe the hardest thing but the most freeing, letting go.
I’m not sure if you call it an anchor or a lifeline, but thru everything having faith and finding what’s real in the things you believe is the good that stays with you. And the surprise to me is how thankful you can be to God because of the hard things He leads you thru.
Thank you for your post. Unfortunately, a large percentage of Christian men despite sexual orientation are struggling with porn, but suffer mostly alone with this secret. Even worse are those Christian men who additionally struggle w/ both SSA issues & porn. There’s so much shame associated with this. For the most part you cope silently in the Church for fear you’ll be judged as a pervert or deviant. Fortunately, it says in Romans 8:1 there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. With discretion, we need to be transparent, bold & courageous, to share our struggles with other Christian men who are truly believers. If they’re really seeking God, they could be a great resource to listen, provide encouragement/support & to lift you up in prayer. Conversely, I’ve found men will reciprocate & share their own sexual struggles, albeit it’s with women & are thankful for the chance to open up. It’s very liberating to expose these secrets. The enemy wants to isolate us. He wants us to believe we’re freaks & that you are alone in this struggle. Clearly that’s a lie & not the case according to scripture – 1 Peter 5:9. I would like to engage with others with whom my shared comments resonate with them.
As an encouragement, God created us & loves us just as we are, although we’re not perfect. He sees us as a perfect unblemished bride. We’re all a work in process. We don’t have the license to sin, but I understand there are times when we will fall. It’s going to happen. I pray the Holy Spirit indwells in us & helps to us to repent, that we can forgive ourselves & move forward, knowing that this lifetime is just a blur & what awaits us in eternity is far more valuable than anything the world has to offer. God bless.
I appreciate your perspective on this. I have had some difficult experiences trying to be transparent with others.
I tried a counselor for a few months, but it became a blame game of always pointing fingers at other people in my life to the point that my relationship with various family members suffered.
It also became all about the money, so finally I gave the guy a huge donation and tried to cut ties. For months he continued contacting me after I said I was done, and he even tried to trick me into it by trying to arrange a meeting with some other person (he wouldn’t name) who would supposedly give me a great job. I ended up blocking his number.
I shared the same things with a good friend, and he was much more sympathetic. He actually had some similar past experiences, so we could commiserate a little. However, it did almost destroy our friendship initially. Perhaps in his mind it wasn’t good for us to be too close with similar attractions. Yet, as a godly man, he did stay in our friendship and we were in touch for years.
Sadly, this guy, too, let me down when I figured out that the accountability software we used had never been turned on at his end or else on a device he never used. I don’t know if it was intentional or not, but I felt betrayed. When we voted for different presidents in 2016, it became evident we weren’t on the same page any longer and we haven’t talked for a few years now. I still miss him, though. I wish I had an opportunity to address the accountability software thing and get that cleared up, but I never mentioned it to him.
All that to say, I agree that baggage has to be dealt with and transparency is the way that happens. Despite my broken counselor/friend relationships, I found healing through getting some of that dark stuff out in the open and not suffering in it alone any longer. The little restaurant where I first had that conversation with my friend is like holy ground to me now. I actually went back to visit the spot years later.
I think there is a way to tactfully share these things with other Christians in a way that is helpful to the Body. The Church is way too caught up in the game of hiding secrets and it never ends well. A certain apologist comes to mind as a prime example…
Thanks for this post!
Thanks for sharing your experiences. This forum allows for anonymity, which certainly makes it easier to be transparent. It’s vastly different when you try to open up to someone f2f.
When you meet another Christian male who’s dealing with SSA issues, it’s a bit tricky. On the one hand, you have someone you can commiserate with about a mutual problem who understands the same struggles. However, those same conversations about lust can be challenging, since you need to exercise a certain level of restraint, so as not to potentially arouse eroticism in the topics you bring up, during the course of discussion. I find this can be problematic for me as I just want be forthcoming regarding my battles, but I don’t feel the freedom to speak freely. I’m not sure if I’m making sense? I want to be open, but there’s that fine line where it can be also stimulating, which is obviously not the intent.
When I’ve spoken to other Christian men about struggling w/ lust & porn, they’re straight & there is some commonality, but it’s still different. They don’t struggle with temptation when they go to a locker room or use the men’s room for example. Guys are visual, so in these environments at least for me, it can be a minefield.
Now we’re living in a time where there’s been so many restrictions due to Covid. We can find ourselves more isolated than before, this has been for me a breeding ground for lust relapses, which are very discouraging & bring condemnation. I have to remind myself that I’m in a fight which has been won by Christ. I just need to realize that I don’t have to succumb to the enemy’s who bombards my polluted mind with thoughts, which when activated turn snowballs into avalanches. Rather than yielding to the flesh, I need to run to Jesus when I’m hurting & ask for His help/renew my mind instead of self medicating myself with fapping & porn. It’s about walking in the spirit & not the flesh. Speaking openly about this is liberating.
My counsellor is awesome. I have known her for 16 years and she has never pushed me to share beyond my will. Eventually, I shared all my thoughts, feelings and experiences. In facing the pain, darkness and fear I found Christ, very much alive and accepting.
Face the fear, find the Christ.