The Soul of a Sparrow

NOTE: This is the raw manuscript for a brief testimonial-talk I gave to my undergraduate university’s RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) in 2014. Please read this with that context & prolonged time in mind. It has remained unchanged since then. 

I once heard that we can make much of the fear of dying alone, but in reality that fear of a lonesome death is really a mask to a much more horrifying reality: the fear of living life alone.

Much of my life I’ve grown up feeling alone. I felt like a stranger to my friends, a black sheep in my family, and a reject to God. I grew up in a household of girls and a military dad all the while moving around quite a bit. We ended up settling in Jacksonville, Florida when I was about 6 and my dad continued to move so that we could enjoy growing up with friends and neighbors.

Time passed in Jacksonville. I grew older. I went to church. I went to a Christian school. I did the things I was told to do. I made good grades. I had the checks marked off on my big moral checklist (so I told myself) with but one remarkable exception.

I had developed a lot of beliefs such that God was sort of just a distant figure. Do this, don’t do that. And maybe that’ll get you to heaven. The place that God created. He’s of no big importance. Just follow the rules. Trust me. Just follow the rules. And yah, those skeletons you struggle to keep from breaking down the closet door with their old, decaying bones. Don’t talk about those and certainly don’t let them out. Put some duct tape on that door.  People don’t want to hear or see those things. All the rules will be broken if you let that stuff out. Just keep that all locked up. God already hates that part about you, so you may as well not make things worse for yourself.

I saw a lot that needed to be hidden, so I put on a mask.

Those were just a few of the things I told myself subconsciously growing up.

A guy named Simon Tugwell resonates with me in saying,

“And so, like runaway slaves, we either flee our own reality or manufacture a false self which is mostly admirable, mildly prepossessing, and superficially happy. We hide what we know or feel ourselves to be (which we assume to be unacceptable and unlovable) behind some kind of appearance which we hope will be more pleasing. We hide behind pretty faces which we put on for the benefit of our public. And in time we may even come to forget that we are hiding, and think that our assumed pretty face is what we really look like.”

And just as he said, the mask I created began to stitch itself to my face.

As I approached highschool graduation, I started to get fed up with the rules I was used to following. The rules didn’t make me feel any less shitty. So I started running. Running from the internal rules I had created. And running from God. I guess I became an agnostic of some sort. Because I think I still knew God was there. He just seemed like kinda a jerk – not the kind of god I’d ever want to believe in. It’s funny though because in my running, the mask gripped even tighter. I began shutting down. And started becoming numb to mostly everything. I hardly cried. I hardly got angry. And making myself known to others was nothing but death for me especially since I didn’t believe I could be both known and loved by God. Ironically, living out this false self or living behind this mask was slowly doing just the same thing: destroying me.

After highschool, I ended up going to UCF after some complications with my first choice of school – sort of reluctantly moving to Orlando to begin school. But I was no doubt relieved to hopefully find something new.

One of my first few weeks of school, through some really specific arrangements between my sister, her friend, and (the campus minister of RUF) Ande I ended up meeting with Ande. There was nothing substantial about this conversation as I think he could also agree but there was definitely the thought in the back of my mind that here was a guy willing enough to just want to get to know me. He invited me to come to RUF. Wanted me to come to RUF. So I did.

I remember walking up to the Lake Claire pavilion for the beginning of the semester BBQ and just being greeted and feeling genuinely welcome to be there. It wasn’t super cool or sexy – but really in all the right ways. I didn’t feel like I had to compete to be acknowledged and liked. And that was really weird for me having come from a community, school, and church that felt much like, “look good – be likeable – don’t be weak, and you’ll be welcome here”. And that wasn’t instantly glamorous for me, considering I had a lot of walls of pride to break down, and hardly any understanding of the gospel.

Community was hard for me. It still is. Especially as I was forced into relationships with people that I was scared to enter out of primarily a fear that the mask would be loosened and the inner man would be let loose, but through the pursuit of really, TRULY amazing friends and God’s sovereignty I stuck with it and began to start yearning for more.

Freshmen year felt a lot like Jacob’s wrestling with the angel but for about a year. A long period of nothing much but doubt and deep-seated anger towards God. Often I would tell myself, “I’ll just start from scratch, drop everything I’ve ever believed and see if He reappears somehow.” Obviously this didn’t work as there were few nights that didn’t end with me sobbing to God asking why He was so distant, so unresponsive, so unlike the God I kept hearing about.  It felt like being a little kid standing in front of a big door knocking as loud as I could but soon realizing I was knocking against a thick slab of concrete.

As I see it, that wasn’t God not answering. He had been answering. And yes he had even enabled me to knock. He was peeling and scraping the hard exterior I had built over the many years of hiding and escapism. He was responding, he had responded. And over that year I had learned what it meant to be loved as I am and not as I should be and began to learn what God’s deep intimate love for me through Jesus’s life and death meant. The funny thing about Jesus is that He loves you as you are but isn’t going to leave you as you are. In other words, as my calloused skin became tender so did my mask become loosened.  The Father had called me into intimacy with himself through Jesus as a messy but beloved son and as a result was moving in me to expose my messiness to the lives of the people around me, so that I could truly love and be loved.

For a time I believed it could just be me and God. Things were good, things felt good. I was loved and I actually believed that. I believed God knew me inside and out and still deeply loved me. Before God, I felt okay, but between me and my friends, I still felt a lot of shame. So much was hidden. And in those hidden places was a loneliness that I had never yet felt before nor even come to terms with. And it had only begun to just show its face.

I believe loneliness at its core is simply put “the longing for intimacy”.

And that’s where I was. Deeply alone and deeply longing for someone to know me and be known by. I craved intimacy.

One day, after having been going through a month-long funk. I decided to meet with Ande. I had something big to tell him. Something I really needed to talk about because it was still eating me alive, and frankly, the fear of being alone and unknown was starting to become much greater than my own fear of rejection.

We sat down and after having talked about some frustrations with my family, Ande asked me some questions that if answered honestly would let loose the skeleton crew in my closet…

…and after a long pause I responded…

So, I want you to know there’s a lot of details to my story and I don’t want it to sound like this is all there is to it. There are things that need to be discussed one on one over coffee or beer, but I feel this is something I want you to know. And I want anyone here who thinks that they are alone in whatever they are struggling with to know that they are certainly not alone in their loneliness.

So, You see guys, for as long as I can remember I have experienced same-sex attraction.

Bomb-drop. I know right?

So what does that mean? – It means I have exclusively been attracted to men for as long as I can remember. And it also means I had no say in that matter.

So what does this change? – Biblically? Nothing. And I’ll get to that in a bit.

But to continue, as I grew up in a traditional home and church, I lived with the faulty, underlying assumption that I would never be lovable before God and that I was ultimately a mistake. That I had been created to be damned and that ultimately the only way to live was to live in hiding.

And over the course of the last two years, the mask has been slowly ripped off my face. With this, I have felt more sorrow than I have maybe ever felt before but also, without a doubt, the most joy. Along the way I have grown closer to others than I ever have before and I have been able to enter into a journey of knowing and being known by others. And though I have experienced deep hurt from some, I have also experienced deep intimate relationships with fellow sojourners and strugglers. For the first time, I have come to know what it means to be living “Life Together”.

And in the last few years, I’ve come to realize that much of the core of this anguish for me has been a desperate yearning for intimacy.

One theme I’ve often noticed in the lives of Christians in the past and present that I really look up to has been a theme of deep longing. A longing that might never be fully satisfied until Jesus calls his people home. And that’s where I stand now. Though I have been met with open arms from beloved friends and community, I still groan for that day to come that I will be placed in the arms of the Bridegroom. But until then, I wait. Celibate. Longing. Groaning. Yearning. Whatever you may call it.

I believe Jesus is calling me to holiness and I believe that holiness in this is an adherence to the Biblical sexual ethic, sex within marriage between a man and woman, and I need to say that holiness may never look like a shift in sexual inclinations. As I see it, Jesus is calling me from homosexuality to holiness. Not from homosexuality to heterosexuality. In the same way as he is calling heterosexuals to holiness.

And I want to make it clear. We are all living with unfulfilled desires. This is the way of the cross. As Wesley Hill, another Christian experiencing same sex attraction, quoted in his book, “I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule”. Likewise Paul also says, 18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope…”

And as it goes this life is still paved with hardship. I often feel that I try to put the mask right back on and return into hiding. I still wrestle with doubts about God and the future. I still find myself acting like a prideful jerk. I am still plagued with feelings that I may never truly belong- that I may never be wanted or welcome anywhere. That I will always feel like a lonely sparrow on a rooftop. And that I may never have a place to call home. And this may be true of all of us. We are stuck in the already but not yet. We’ve been delivered from Egypt and have been promised the New Country, but here we travel as pilgrims through the desert. Already having been saved but still desperately yearning. I have been adopted by the Father and been engaged to Jesus but still I long. As in the song On Jordan’s Stormy Banks, “When shall I see that happy place, and be forever blessed?  When shall I see my Father’s face, and in His bosom rest?” We sit in expectation. We long for that new day to come. We long for that day when every tear will be wiped away individually by the Father.

But too, it must be said, as Christians we are cared for as children of God. God provides for us. He can not cast his eye away from his children. And for me, RUF has been a place of God’s Fatherly provision. This community has been a tangible reality of God’s love and embrace of me. RUF has granted me the first friends in my life in whom I could be open and exposed to and not expect to be crushed, but encouraged. Truly, I want you to know that RUF is a place to be weak, to be vulnerable, to admit you often feel like a black sheep, that you often feel like an outcast. It’s a place to have people to talk to about the baggage we carry like sexual identity issues, eating disorders, addictions, depression, abortions, pregnancies, sexual brokeness, broken families, grief, anxiety, existential loneliness, self-contempt, nagging doubt, suicidal thoughts and whatever things may shame you the most or whatever you may consider is something no one else has had to struggle with – and that may be true on some level. We may struggle with something unique, but we are not unique in that we struggle.

RUF has reminded me that Jesus has come for exactly that: the black sheep, the weak, the sick, the vulnerable, the exposed, the dead, the hurting, the mourning, the rejects, the outcasts, the orphans, the widows, the lonely, and the impoverished. And as Jesus welcomes me and you, so I know RUF has been a reflection of that divine welcome-ness.