By Peter Ould
Author’s Note: I’ve been a Christian for seven and a half years and the majority of that time I’ve struggled with, fallen into, and slowly overcome homosexuality. As God has freed me from the pain of the past I’ve drawn on those experiences to provide support and encouragement for others struggling with the same issues. I have also grown in my desire to share the lessons I have learnt with the wider Christian community and beyond just the scope of the struggle with homosexuality.
At the core of our humanity is the desire to be in relationship. This stems from our very essence of being relational beings, both as humans to God and as male to female. As much as there is a longing in our heart to reunite with God (a longing that can only find it’s ultimate fulfillment in Jesus), there is a longing to unite and be at one with another human being. The sexual urge in our life is often a biological manifestation of that emotional and spiritual basis to our existence.
Because this strikes at the core of our identity, the lack of a partner seems to leave us incomplete. In light of this, some have theologised that any partner is desirable and fulfilling. We know however that God’s model for partnership is male and female, as we are the complement to each other, not just physically but also emotionally and spiritually.
The Choice of Singleness
Given the above (and in light of Scripture on homosexual acts), the choice for me was to stay single until such a time as I became heterosexually orientated. This meant a possibility of life-long singleness.
Now, if I needed a relationship with another human to be fulfilled, this would represent a conscious acceptance of a “second-rate” life. But Scripture shows us that being single is absolutely fine. The key here is identity. If I need a relationship to form my identity, and my life choices mean that I don’t have a relationship, then I can be said to have chosen a “second-rate” life. But if my identity is formed elsewhere and on different terms then this is not a problem.
Having said all that, this was an extremely painful choice to make. I was actively choosing a life (as I saw it) of loneliness and non-sexual fulfillment. Just because I had chosen to be single didn’t automatically mean that my emotions went along with me. Sometimes on a daily basis I felt deep pangs of loneliness and despair. At moments when I saw little change in my condition I would literally be in tears with the absolute unfairness of the position I was in.
Being Single — Dealing with the Pain
As I began upon the road to recovery, the first step was to understand the reasons why I was the person I was. In my case, it was understanding the underlying root causes of my homosexual desires and the factors that had led to their manifestation. In the same way, the first step in dealing with the pain of singleness is to understand the reasons for the pain. Why are you lonely? This may seem a simple question to which the answer is “because I haven’t got a partner” but the follow up is “Why do you need a partner?” What are the emotional and physical needs that you need to be fulfilled in having a partner? Why do you have those needs?
As I got to the core of the emotional factors behind my homosexuality, I discovered that the real issue wasn’t sexual desire or lack of relationship, but rather the damage to my identity that had caused the desires to emerge. The key to healing was not removing the homosexual desires per se, but rather healing and restoring my identity. This is the key also to handling heterosexual singleness. One needs to address the underlying emotional issues and hurts that have formed the need for relationship. Yes, a part of us naturally needs a relationship and that is a good desire, but that desire has been twisted by our experiences.
The real issue a single person needs to deal with is identity. One’s identity as a Christian is not formed by what clothes you wear, where you live, what job you do or who you sleep with. My identity comes from Christ. If this is so, then the most important relationship in my life is not my lover or my friends, but my Saviour. It is this relationship most of all that I needed to work on.
Because the prayerful examination of my emotions and actions had revealed relational issues at its core, it was in a relationship that I needed to find healing. That relationship was of course with Jesus.
Actually Doing It
What did I actually do to deal with my singleness? The following is a list of areas without any order of priority.
- Catch a vision for the future — If I was going to start on a journey, I needed to know where I was going. So I read books on Christian relationships so that my mind would have a healthy view of where I should eventually be. The books I read centered on two areas, scriptural examples of correct relationship between male and female, and practical experience of day to day living in relationship. From this I established a picture of what kind of relationship God wanted me to be in, which isn’t necessarily the same as who He wanted that relationship to be with. Also, God gave me a specific verse, Proverbs 23:18: “Surely there is a future hope for you and your hope will not be cut off”. God was going to bring me through but it would be in His time and His planning.
- Work on my relationship with God — If God was going to bring healing into my life I was going to have to get to know Him better. You don’t go up to a complete stranger and tell them your life story and all the deep personal issues involved. These are things that you share with good friends. In the same way, as we develop our relationship with God we learn how to share more of our lives with Him. I built up my relationship with God in the following ways:
- Prayer — Seems obvious, but I was so bad at it. My chief desire was to get to know God more. In particular I prayed three things: for Him to build up my relationship with Him, for Him to show me the areas of my life that had affected my emotions and desires and to bring healing into them, for Him to protect me during this process.
- Doctrine — The Bible is in part a biography of God. There are many passages that tell us specific attributes of God. The Psalms and the Prophets are full of descriptions of God. I would take a passage that describes an attribute of God and then ask Him to turn that from just a dry piece of doctrine into a real and tangible knowledge of Him. This wasn’t just an exercise in learning the Scripture by rote, but actually letting God supernaturally impart it on my heart. One key aspect of building my relationship with God was to slowly give Him more and more control of my life and to trust Him more and more. It’s one thing to say “Trust God, it’ll all be OK in the end” but to actually do it when stuff isn’t happening and you don’t seem to be getting anywhere is tough. So I asked God to teach me how to trust Him, and He started with small things and built it up slowly.
- Specifically not look for a relationship — I made a choice that I wasn’t going to look for a relationship at all until God told me unequivocally that I was ready. I asked for God’s strength to help me with this. Once I had made this decision I was slowly liberated from the need for an intimate relationship. I was freed to concentrate on my relationship with God.
- Get help! — There are times when you simply can’t deal with the issues on your own. God graciously provided friends and support who could pray for me and help me deal with specific issues as they came up. Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun” and the practicality of this is that there are people out there who know and understand your struggles, whatever they are, and can offer support, wisdom and advice. Praying with people and sometimes just simply talking to them helped enormously. Sometimes just knowing that people were there if I needed them was a help.
- Build up non-sexual relationships — Very simply, I had to start making the kind of friendships that I hadn’t had in the past. I had to specifically avoid close friendships as a defence mechanism to prevent other people from hurting me. Once again God provided a starting point and a social circle to move into, and slowly I did just that, and God protected me in it. I made mistakes on the way as I learnt some very basic social skills. But God used these friendships to help restore my identity as a relational being and to affirm that in others.
- Expect it to be tough and seek God through that — Life is not fair. We live in a fallen world and the consequence is that there is suffering. Instead of rebelling against the suffering, I sought to find God in it. Philippians 3:10 says, “I want to know Christ, the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings”. Well, most of us are pretty happy about the first two but want to call “Time Out” on the third. I discovered that through being real about my suffering I was drawn closer to Jesus on the cross. By suffering myself I came to understand more of what Jesus went through. Furthermore, I started to change my views on suffering around me. I became open to the suffering of the world. By accepting and then slowly handing to God the huge scar of homosexuality on my life, I became much more aware of the scars that everybody carried. God gave me a compassion for other people’s sufferings through a recognition of my own. Not that I am now a male Mother Teresa, but rather that God gave me an understanding of other people’s pain which only came by really understanding mine, a process which really hurt.
- Let God use you elsewhere — At the same time that I was dealing with my homosexuality, God provided me with an outlet for my work- evangelising Mormons! At the same time that I was struggling, I was also helping to lead people out of a cult and to Christ. God gave me a focus, to see that despite being fallen and dealing with pain I could still be used by Him. God will use anybody who wants to be used by Him, regardless of your particular circumstances. Through working with Mormons God led me to one of my best friends, a man in the States who was witnessing to Mormons and yet going through the same struggles that I was. The support and encouragement that we were able to give each other was tremendous.
- Understand that it is God who will deal with you and that you will not do it by yourself — I don’t think there’s anything more to add to this! This realization however is crucial to dealing with coming to terms with pain.
- Letting go of the past — The biggest moment in healing came over the issue of identity. Although God had healed many aspects of my hurt past and was awakening heterosexual attraction, I still wasn’t getting over a final hurdle. The turning point was suddenly realising that I was holding on to some form of identity in homosexuality. I was still identifying myself in this way because I didn’t want to let go and embrace what God had for me. Quite simply, I was stubbornly holding onto the past. The crucial point was a friend asking another friend in my presence, “how do I pray if someone comes to me and says that they’re gay”. My second friend’s reply was, “we remember that someone’s identity is in Christ and not their sexuality”. At that moment God supernaturally lifted this whole blockage from me and the release was tremendous. I was free to embrace all that God had changed in me. Others need to recognize that they may be holding onto things from the past to form their identity. We need to be able to let go and that will likely involve asking God to help us.
I think I can summarise my advice with dealing with the suffering of singleness as: a) Recognize you are suffering; b) Bring it to God; c) Bring it to others; d) Get a vision from God and others and have that as a long term goal, without setting up time limits; e) Get into God and let Him get into you; f) Stick at it for however long it takes (which is of course the easiest thing to say and the hardest thing to do).