Thursday, November 22, 2012

When the Road Is Long

     "...Obedience matters to God. [God the Father] takes note of it. He sees our struggle to live faithfully... He helps us with grace through his Son and Spirit. He values our perseverance.
     "In J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Things trilogy, there is a scene in which Sam, Frodo's companion on the quest to destroy the evil ring made by the dark lord Sauron, reflects on the '[storybook] quality' of his and Frodo's experience.
"'We shouldn't be here at all [Sam says to Frodo], if we'd known more about it when we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say.

"'But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folks seem to have been just landed in them, usually--their paths were laid that way,as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on--and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it calla good end; you know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same--like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of tale we've fallen into.'
     "Sam goes on to wonder if he and Frodo will someday be talked about, be remembered, by those who recount their story. In Peter Jackson's wonderful film version of The Two Towers, Sam says:
"'By rights we shouldn't even be here [on this quest]. But we are. . . . I wonder if people will ever say, "Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring." And they'll say, "Yes, that's one of my favorite stories. Frodo was really courageous, wasn't he, Dad." "Yes, my boy, the most famousest of hobbits. And that's saying a lot."'
     "Many times in my experience [...] I have wished my life was different, that I had some other burden to bear--anything but this one. But I have also felt that if Someone was watching--taking note; caring about each footfall, each bend in the trail; marking my progress--then the burden may be bearable.
     "When the road is long and the loneliness and sheer longing threaten to extinguish hope, it helps to remember that, like Frodo and Sam, I, too, am in a grand tale, with an all-seeing, all-caring Read or Listener who also happens to be in some mysterious way the author.
     "Sam of the Lord of the Rings trilogy believed there would be listeners and readers who would want to know the story of this struggle. I believe that in my case too, there is Someone who cares about my story. Unlike Sam and Frodo's, my story and the depths of my struggle may never be observed or known by any human watcher. But I can still endure--I can keep on fighting to live faithfully as a believer bearing my broken [insert here whatever part of your life seems to be broken and, for now, beyond repair]--so long as I have the assurance that my life matters to God, that, wonder of wonders, my faith pleases him, that somehow it makes him smile."
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The words above are from the book Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill. Wesley's particular burden is homosexuality; he writes as a celibate gay Christian. Like Wesley, and like Sam in the Lord of the Rings, I bear burdens too, different from those of Wesley, Sam and Frodo, but similar too because the road is very long.

I'm sure many of you, the readers of this blog, are dealing with painfully difficult aspects of your life, even of the way it seems that you have been since you were born. Or perhaps you've passed through fiery trials and bear physical or emotional/spiritual scars. Perhaps you've been sometimes "coping" in ways that are not good. Perhaps sometimes you succeed in doing things in a good way.  Perhaps at other times you fail miserably.

Wesley Hill's story, and the stories of others who have borne with suffering, encourage me in faithfulness to God even when few, or none but God, know my whole story today. I hope this encourages you too. At the same time, I do hope you will look for someone (or some group) you trust to share your story. Burdens shared make the load lighter. Believe me. I know.

Those of us who do not suffer same-sex attractions cannot understand or appreciate the depths of what those brothers and sisters go through. Even so, every Christian can, to some extent, understand what it means to wrestle with faithfulness to God and the Word of God, while at the same time suffering unfulfilled desires or dreams and frustrations. Sometimes this wrestling is accompanied by loneliness--an inability to explain fully to others what it is you are going through. So, as Wesley Hill's book makes us a bit more compassionate toward those with homosexual desires, others benefit too...   (See the end of this blog post for a quote from his book's introduction.)

Christians end up doing two things in this life in regard to the pain and frustrations we face. First, we do not give up praying and seeking for healing and complete release from whatever we (or others) are suffering.  Second, and at the same time, we expect God to be at work in and through us (and others) while we (and they) are still suffering -- while we all, to some extent, are "washed and waiting."

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In the section of his book immediately after he shares the analogy of Sam and Frodo, Wesley Hill tells a part of the story of Martin Hallert, another celibate homosexual Christian. Martin goes another step, saying, in faith, that his homosexual orientation is a gift, even while saying that it is God's will for him to abstain from homo erotic behavior.

"So many people," Wesley is here paraphrasing Martin Hallert, "can only see their experiences of homosexuality 'as problems to be "defeated," and "handicaps" to be "healed."'

Wesley Hill goes on:
     "But for Martin, his homosexuality is a 'positive thing' -- not because it is good in and of itself but rather because, under God's sovereignty, it can lead to blessings. 'Scripture continually shows us that even bad things can have value,' Martin says frequently.
     "Early on in his life living as a Christian in England, Martin found that his homosexuality gave him a ministry in the church. Under the guidance of a wise vicar, Canon Roy Barker, Martin shared his story through an organized event for anyone in the church interested in the topic of homosexuality. '[Canon Barker] saw a lot of potential in me,' Martin would later write, '--not despite my homosexuality but because of it.' Martin says that, though he couldn't see it at the time, these early ministry experiences caused him to see his homosexual orientation as valuable, as positive, as something that could be used to help others in the body of Christ.
     "'My life story ..., "written" by God, who is sovereign, include[s] my sexuality, which is a gift to the church,' writes Martin. 'I am very grateful that I see this experienced nearly every day of my life. I am able to see my struggles and failures, as well as my victories, as being of value to others.' Our sexuality, 'can be a gift to others,' he continues. 'We may use it to encourage someone else. We may use it simply to love and trust another person with a sexual confession.'
     Martin compares this process of entrusting another person with the story of our homosexuality to 'unwrapping a gift.' 'The gift is one of self-disclosure. You are trusting the other with personal information that can often cost a lot, but it is a wonderful act of love.' I think of my own experiences of opening up the narrative of my journey as a homosexual Christian with friends at my church in Minneapolis. Invariably (though I didn't believe them at a the time) they told me it felt like love; my trusting them enough to share my story was an honor, they said, a sacred trust. 'We need to recognize the ministry that we and others have, not despite our unique stories and situation, but because of them.' (Emphasis mine [ST])
So, I share this here, on this blog, in the hopes that it will encourage someone to persevere in faithfulness to God, knowing that there is an author and an "audience of One" (God) who applauds that faithfulness and who is cheering you on. But beyond that, I encourage you to believe and know that, whatever your struggle is, it can be a blessing to others--no matter how deep and dark and long the road may feel. That will become true when you come out of hiding and begin to carefully share your journey with others as well as with the Lord. 

Wesley Hill concludes his book, first by again referring to the journey of his older "brother," Martin Hallert:
     "For Martin, homosexuality 'speaks' of brokenness, of past hurts and wounds. It calls us to consider our own lives and to trust in the mystery of God's providence and his gift of redemption through Christ. With patience and openness to the good that may come even from evil, we can learn to "hear" the voice of our sexuality, to listen to its call. We can learn to "appreciate the value of our story and the stories of others, because God is the 'potter' or 'storyteller'."
Wesley then speaks these words in his own voice--
     "Slowly, ever so slowly, I am learning to do this. I am learning that my struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ with my homosexual orientation is pleasing to him. And I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, when my labor of trust and hope and self-denial will be crowned with his praise. 'Well done, good and faithful servant,' the Lord Christ will say. 'Enter into the joy of your master.'"
I'd like to encourage you to buy and read the book Washed and Waiting.  Also consider, please, that whatever you are suffering in this life that, at the moment, seems as though will continue forever (in this life)--please understand that your struggles are not unknown to God, and that you do have many brothers and sisters all around you who are dealing with many things that may never know, and that, in the end of the end, there is full healing and full freedom waiting for you in the Kingdom of God.

The road may be long, but you are not alone, and the road is NOT forever.  Continue to pray for release and healing, continue to share your struggles and pray with those you come to trust, and know that even the worst of your worst times can be a blessing to the world God loves so much when you submit them to our Father God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

In the introduction to Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill writes:
"I hope there are others who will overhear what I write who struggle long and hard with persistent, unwanted desires or other afflictions that are similar in some ways to those of gay and lesbian Christians--chemical dependencies, eating disorders, mental and emotional disturbances of various kinds. If Christians in these and other related positions are able to adapt and appropriate some of what I say to fit their own situations, I will be happy.  The Christian's struggle with homosexuality is unique in may ways but not completely so.  The dynamics of human sinfulness and divine mercy and grace are the smae for all of us, regardless of the particular temptations or weaknesses we face."

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