I’m Philip. I grew up in the Midwest but now make my home in the Pacific Northwest where I work as a pastor, musician, and spiritual director. When I’m not busy with those things I love walking in the woods and writing, both of which double as spiritual practices for me. I also enjoy coffee and conversation with friends in a part of the country where even Starbucks is “local”!
“You know what they say about guys who look at other guys’ pants.”
It was just an offhand comment. My friend didn’t mean anything by it. He certainly didn’t think he was talking about me when he said it.
But I knew he was talking about me. And his words hit me like a ton of bricks. I’d been in denial about my sexuality all through high school. And now, when I was just about to graduate and launch out into the world, I couldn’t hide from the truth any longer.
I’m homosexual. That was the only language I had for it at the time. There was no way I could have used the word gay, because I sure wasn’t happy; quite the opposite, in fact. I was devastated.
I hid my reaction well, laughing at my friend’s comment. But inside I was dying. I plunged into the deepest depression I’d ever experienced, a depression made all the deeper because I had to keep my terrible secret hidden. I hid in the darkness of my bedroom and felt like I was still hiding in the darkness everywhere else I went.
I couldn’t even cry. I could only sort of cry out to God:
God, how can this be happening? The Bible says homosexuality is a sin. I’m a Christian. How is it even possible that I feel these desires I never wanted? How do I get rid of them? When are you going to take them away? God?
No answer. Not one I could hear, anyway.
And such was the state of things as I went off to college. A lot of people see public universities like the one I attended as places to leave behind all the restrictions of home — to experience new freedoms and make new choices and experiment with new realities. If I’d been a typical college student I might have just cast aside my Christian moral upbringing, joined an LGBTQ affinity group, found myself a boyfriend, and lost my virginity — all in my first semester.
But I wasn’t a typical college student. I was the kind who asked my persistent questions of God. Why do I have these feelings? Why haven’t you taken them away, God?
I continued to ask and ask and ask those questions, and cry out and cry out and cry out to God, and die inside again and again each time those questions seemed to remain unanswered. Every. Single. Time.
And yet I kept asking.
I’d first begun to experience same-sex attraction in junior high, developing an unexpected crush on my best friend. Obviously I could never tell him how I felt. I couldn’t tell anyone. Ever.
By the time I reached my sophomore year of college, I’d suffered alone with my secret for almost seven years. For a full third of my life to that point, I’d never told another soul about my attraction to guys. Then I finally found a college friend who seemed safe and trustworthy enough to hear my story and not judge me.
Was it worth the risk to tell my friend the most awful, disgusting secret of my life and risk losing his friendship?
Somehow, I decided it was worth the risk. Because even if my friend rejected me, at least one other person would finally know my sexuality secret besides me.
I picked the night after we returned to campus from winter break to tell my friend my deep, dark secret. When I finally amassed the courage to let all the words gush out after all those years of bottling them up, the tears gushed out right along with them.
And my friend listened. Patiently. Quietly. Respectfully. To my utter amazement and relief, he didn’t reject me or ever hold me at arm’s length in any way. We even became roommates the following year — a sure sign he wasn’t freaked out by my sexual struggles.
When I discovered that someone was actually willing to help carry the burden of this secret with me — this secret I’d borne alone for so many years — it was the first step in my healing.
It wasn’t a healing from homosexuality, but a healing from all the self-loathing and self-doubt I’d built up around my sexuality. It was the first step in my journey of self-acceptance, of learning to be embraced by a loving God.
Decades later as I look back on that time in my life, I’ve come to a realization. All those times I cried out to God, I’d assumed he wasn’t answering back.
But the truth is, he was answering me all along. I just couldn’t hear his answer. I didn’t have the vocabulary back then to understand what he was saying to me, because it was unlike anything I expected to hear.
I now realize that God was speaking to me about my sexuality long before I even knew to ask the questions. He was speaking to me throughout my adolescent struggles with it. I finally began to hear just a whisper of what he was saying to me when my college friend responded so compassionately.
Over the years, I’ve heard God’s words stronger and stronger as I’ve been willing to surrender more and more of my preconceptions to him. Today, I hear his voice as clear as ever. And now I know that this is what God has been saying to me my whole life:
Philip, I love you just the way you are. My grace is sufficient for you. And you’re going to be okay.
How have you related with God in your struggles with sexuality, particularly with this harrowing word of “healing”? When did you first share with someone your deep, dark secret of sexuality, and how did they respond?