This is a guest post by James Arnold who was a student in my department at Louisiana College before changing to be a Christian Studies major. The post was first published on Joshua Breland’s blog, Faith, Etc. I really admire James’ transparency in his struggle which has been covered on this blog before in the article, Same Sex Attraction and the Aching Heart of Christ. I think this is a powerful piece that illustrates what we all go through and how same-sex struggles are no different than my lust or greed or whatever. I think that is something the church really needs to learn both so we take our own sin more seriously and also so we don’t take the sin of others too seriously.
This is the third time I have edited this post in the past month. I want to come back because I feel like I can’t seem to find the right words. It has been such a sensitive thought process in my life and in others as I ponder what the content of this article means. It’s the idea of finding peace. Probably one of the most haunting statements made to me has been “I hope you find peace,” or some variation of that.
I have heard it more recently in the past couple of months than at any other point in my life: “I hope you find peace,” “you found peace,” “glad you have peace because of…” etc. It is a kind sentiment. I find that when people are confused or disagree it’s the best thing to say. But I look at my life, my private life: my thoughts, desires, longings, fears, failures, successes, and joys. I look at all the things that people never see or hear or say that are deep in my mind and my heart and I ask myself, “Am I at peace?”
When you make public confession about a very highly debated topic you garner attention on both sides of the issue. Telling everyone, “Hey, I’m attracted to the same sex, I’ve been in several relationships and almost tested positive for HIV” will give you a lot of feedback, some beneficial, some not so beneficial. What popped up the most was “finding peace.” I feel like the impression is that if I admit being attracted to men and then choose a side to fall on, (embracing it or rejecting it) that I will have a resolute end so that I never have to deal with the issue again. This seems to be the idea of peace I keep running into. I often get the impression that that statement means I’ve dealt with or wrestled with the issue and I’ve won or found the way to win. That somehow it’s possible for me to achieve this peace at some point in this life. Well, I have to say I am still wrestling with it and I still struggle to find this peace.
There are plenty of days where I wake up and can’t get someone I know off my mind. So many days I want to go back to an old relationship, marry that guy, and move on and away. I am aware that I am building up a life and testimony that essentially says “I will never date another guy,” when, frankly, that’s typically what I really, really want to do. I just think about everything I could do and be happy. I think about a successful and lifelong relationship where I’m with the guy I want.
Some days I just want to be single forever. I can eat what I want, buy what I want, go to the gym at 2 a.m. It’s during these moments I realize my greatest potential in being selfish. My attitude is usually “I don’t want responsibility,” in these moments.
And then there are days where I want to spend my life with a beautiful woman and raise 5 boys (raising girls would terrify me). Either way, there are very few days where I have “peace”.
To some, it would seem that I’m self-depreciated and suppressing who I really am, that I haven’t freed myself to truly be me and accept what I feel and want. But this begs the question, what defines how I find peace? What is finding peace?
When I am confronted with my desire for a guy, I can look at it head-on and just say, NO. Why? It’s not because I don’t want it and its certainly not because it never tears me up inside. Its not because I look at others couples and just say: “I don’t want that,” It’s not because I can just turn myself off. It’s because my peace, in the midst of the crying, the pain, the longing, the failures, the joy, the freedom, the hope, and the victories, in that situation, peace does not rest in the chance that I will succeed or never be troubled by the attraction to men again; my peace rests in Christ.
In Philippians 3, Paul begins to end his letter by pointing the Philippian Church to their ultimate goal in Christ: “to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead” (3:10). One of Paul’s practical applications in striving for this goal is this:
“Don’t worry about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7).
Paul does not place his hope for peace in his ability to reconcile every situation in life. On the contrary, Paul states later that regardless of his situation he can endure any hardship by the strength of Christ (4:13, authors translation). Paul even confesses that God gave him some difficulty that made him weak and God refused to take it away (2 Corinthians 12:7). Paul did not need to reconcile his weakness, provide an answer, or justify it. He simply needed to rest knowing that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God intentionally, willfully, and purposefully wounded Paul with a difficulty of some kind and he would not undo it. Some may call this unfair. If God is loving, then why allow someone to struggle or face a sin, for which there maybe no answer, no reconciliation in this life? Because in wrestling with sin, God is pointing us to a greater peace than concluding our struggles…Grace.
So to the Christian reading this, the one who constantly wrestles, constantly battles, and cannot seem to find peace, I say these three things:
1. Know you are first and foremost a Christian. Aka: a struggling sinner.
When God refused to take Paul’s thorn in the flesh away it wasn’t because he was ignorant of the pain it caused Paul. On the contrary, the very God who gives us weaknesses and struggles is the same God who knows what it’s like to bare them.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).
It was this sympathetic priest, who knew our pain, our struggles, our weaknesses that paved the way for Paul to come before God and say, “Please take this away!” It was also that priest that paved the way for God to respond, “Because I love you, no.”
2. Know that your hope is in Christ and not in your conquering of sin.
By definition, Christians are those who a predisposed to have a greater struggle because they are called to fight against an enemy that they live with 24/7. You can’t escape your sin. You live with it, sleep with it, and eat with it. It has distorted your moral compass, your desires, feelings, hopes, dreams, and your very core. You will look around and see all kinds of people living with their sin and never struggling. Their life will look happier and more peaceful than yours. But remember this,
1John 4:4 “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
1John 5:9 “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.”
There is no sin that is in us and about us that God is not capable of conquering and submitting. There is no sin God cannot control and does not have authority over. And if God is in us, what sin poses a threat that God cannot handle? Our hearts, our minds, our sins will testify against us, but God testifies that his Son has overcome the world, from the greatest ruler, to the lowliest, weakest sinner.
3. Know that other people will find peace before you do.
From the tips of our hair follicles to the deepest part of our gut we are conditioned to love sin. Up is down and down is up. Good is bad and bad is good. Naturally, when Christ redeemed you, you were put at a disadvantage with sin, a disadvantage the world does not experience. You now hate and learn to hate the very thing that is natural and commonplace. You become handicapped. When Asaph looked around at the world he asked God, “What’s the point!? I was cleansed and washed for what? To watch those who don’t worship you live a better and more satisfying life!?” (Psalm 73). Asaph even comments on how well they have it. He mentions how they wear the nicest and most expensive things and enjoy the way they live until the day they die. These people have no problems and live carefree their entire lives. Asaph’s perspective changes when steps into the presence of God.
Unlike the wicked and rich of the psalm, Asaph realizes that on earth and in heaven (all of existence) he has no treasure or portion apart from God. Even more so, God’s very presence is better. The wicked do not live in the presence of God and because of that they are placed in such a bad situation that it will destroy them eternally, but you, however, believer, are part of the family that has the promise of conquering sin and loving holiness.
God is constantly working in you his power to love what is good, acceptable, pleasing, holy, and lovely. You have peace because you will spend your life pursuing this goal and by God’s grace it will one day be perfected, not because you are already perfected. God will satisfy the desires that sin could never fill. You have peace not because you have reached this goal, not because you are not drawn, lusting after sin, and satisfaction, but because you hope in a day when you forever won’t. That is peace.