Wednesday, May 23, 2012

He First Loved Us (1 John 4:19)

Do you remember that time I totally had that major crush on that guy I nicknamed "Methuselah" here on the blog and had a series of posts related to him? Well, I'm gonna need to conjure up another pseudonym for another person in my story. Let's call him "Habakkuk." Like Methuselah, Habakkuk is another man I liked, and this time I really fell pretty deeply in love with him a couple months ago. As with my telling of the Methuselah saga, it is easier for me to write about the feelings and experiences a few months after the fact so as to give proper time to digest and process each experience fully (it's also harder to share when things are so fresh in the mind). My story with Habakkuk is a bit more complicated than my Methuselah story because unlike Methuselah, Habakkuk is another SSA guy like me.

I knew I was physically attracted to him, obviously, the first time I saw him. I still am and probably always will be. But that's nothing new. I've dealt with that before. However, once I got to know him I soon discovered how well I connected with him in pretty much every possible way--socially, spiritually, emotionally, etc. It didn't take long for that initial physical attraction to blossom into something much deeper. Part of me soon wanted very much to be in a relationship with him. And those feelings started me on an intense journey of self-discovery which would ultimately transform my relationship with God.

I knew all along that I needed to tread carefully since he was also SSA and seemed to be connecting with me almost as much as I was with him. Luckily for me, he wasn't as attracted to me which I'm sure helped things a lot. I actually don't feel much of a need nor a desire to lay out the details of how our friendship grew. I think I'll just skip ahead to a critical conversation I had with God.

We had just had a very emotional night, discussing the feelings we'd had and I confessed to him that I'd fallen in love with him and was so sorry. We talked about needing to have some space for a little while. It was a very painful discussion that I didn't take very well, breaking into tears several times. I knew what the right thing to do was and was doing it. We hadn't done anything wrong, and in fact were each showing great courage in that moment doing what was right. Things have gone much better since that night and I'm happy to report that my relationship with Habakkuk has been one of the healthiest, most meaningful friendships I've ever had. But later that night I had a discussion with God that changed my life.

Have you ever been angry at God? It is a strange experience. When we are angry with God, we are still expressing faith that He exists, and yet we aren't expressing much support of what He does. It feels wretched and shameful, yet self-sustainably indignant at the same time. I haven't felt that way very many times in my life (this might be the only time logged in my memory in fact!). But that night amidst the many confusing and conflicting emotions I felt, I did in fact feel a very genuine anger towards God. I've had too many experiences confirming my faith to me to doubt His reality, but my desires for Habakkuk made me angry at Him that night. For a moment it simply didn't seem fair that the gospel forbade me to have a relationship with someone I'd fallen in love with. Whenever I feel shame, my typical first reaction is to run from God. Not so with this anger: I got on my knees and confronted God in prayer.

On my knees, sobbing, I asked God why I couldn't be with this man. Why can't I date, marry, and build a life with him? Even in my indignation, God answered. He answered swiftly, softly, and directly. The thought came to my heart and mind almost immediately: "Well, you CAN build a relationship with him IF you love him more than you love Me." It was a very gentle response. Disarmingly gentle. He even filled me with an understanding that I could be very happy temporally in a relationship like that, but that I would always KNOW that I'd done so at great cost. There are many paths to happiness in THIS life, but if I chose that one it would be at the forfeiture of a celestial glory and I would make that choice knowing full well of that consequence.

I love the writings of John the Beloved. He is one of the most profound writers in all of the scriptures, and his extensive writings on love in his first general epistle have long been among my favorite scriptures. However, there was always one verse that I never understood, and which in fact troubled me quite deeply until this experience. In 1st John 4:19 we read:

"We love him, because he first loved us."

It is a short thought wedged between two other verses which are each among my favorites and which have never confused me in the least. But this one was certainly a conundrum. It always seemed like a very silly reason to love God. I guess I was always reading it as meaning we loved him out of some sense of debt because He loved us first so we owed it to Him or something. And that didn't sit well with me. But now there I was, angry at God and met with a feeling of calmness and love in return to my indignation. He gave me a pure love that opened my understanding and I couldn't help but feel a desire to return it. I suddenly realized that His ability to love us first despite our weakness and imperfection is WHY He is worth loving so much and that the love He sends first is often the conduit to a transforming power enabling us to truly love Him deeper. The love He first sends us inspires us to love Him in return. It is an unconditional love, and therefore bears no gravity of debt demanding repayment. He made it very clear that He didn't require me to love Him and that if I chose to love Habakkuk more that was entirely up to me. And yet that love itself changed me deep down. How could I NOT love Him more? I learned that day that I loved Him because of the love He had first for me.

I should add also that my story here doesn't account for the fact that Habakkuk would have also had to have loved me more than he loved God in order for us to have ever had a relationship. And I knew him well enough to know how much love he has for God and that even if I DID love him more than I loved God, he would never feel that same way. (That is one reason I've felt so safe with him.) I do still love him very deeply, but I love God more, and that love for God has transformed the love I have for my fellow SSA brother into something purer and better. I love him even deeper now than I did then, but in a holier way. Perhaps that's why the Great Commandments--to love God and to love our fellow men--are ordered in the way they are. When we love God first, it enables us to love others more purely than we ever could if we placed them ahead of God.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks for capturing this experience in writing. The message reverberated in my soul. At first, I fell into the same trap - why not? Only to find out that the answer is ever SO simple. He gave us our free agency (something He will never take away from any of us) to allow us to make our own choices even if those choices make our love for Him less important than our love for whatever it might be. Thank-you for helping me to understand why I am always in awe of God's love.

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  2. We can decide who we will love more, because true love is not a feeling; it is a transitive commitment. In the end, if we put God first, all of the people we love will also benefit.

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  3. Powerful, thanks for sharing.

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  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. I have also been amazed and humbled that God is so ready to fill me with love, even when I tell myself that I am unworthy. I agree that the only way we can come to truly love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ is by first feeling the love They have for us. That's the only way we can come to love others. Anything less isn't really about love, it's about "what's in it for me?"

    Also, your comment that Habukkuk would never love you more than God sparked some thoughts. I don't doubt Habukkuk. But in relation to the bringing another person into the equation, I came to a similar conclusion a couple of years ago. I realized that by asking another man to enter a relationship, I'm not only choosing him over God, I'm also asking him to choose me over God. As much as I don't want to make that decision for myself, I'm even more reluctant to put another Son of God in that position.

    I appreciate your willingness to write about your experiences. I also honor you for your faith and humility. You've strengthened mine.

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  5. You said this so wonderfully! I am so glad that you are able to share moments like this one. Such a wonderful lesson to learn, and I think we all need to learn it. Wonderful, wonderful post.

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  6. I saw that comment on HuffPost and curiosity made me click - you weren't kidding! As a straight agnostic, I find it rather sad that you put yourself through this for religious beliefs. Desires aren't unhealthy - studies show that disregard and deprivation of our innate desire for relationships with other people can be nearly as dangerous to health as D&D of our innate desires for food and sleep.

    I do believe that for some, homosexuality is a choice. For you it clearly is not. The neurons in your brain are wired in such a way that true happiness will never be yours through a relationship with a woman. You are attempting to transform yourself into something that you aren't for the sake of a what other fallible human beings have interpreted for you as the true path.

    Heaven or Hell may be a choice, but they may be before your eyes right now. By fighting your inner desires, by attempting to reform your synapses into a formation which they will never achieve, you are creating a Hell on Earth for yourself as we speak. You are trying to create an amygdala structure which is not the one with which your Creator endowed you, a task at which failure is a certainty.

    Do you believe this is what God wants for you - to take the form he gave you and warp it into something else? Or is this what religious leaders who have larger interests than their congregation's individual happiness at heart - namely increasing the size of their flock (the same reason why birth control is frowned upon in many circles, if we're honest with ourselves. Scientifically speaking "the pill" is no more the taking of life than the average woman's menstrual cycle).

    Would a truly loving and omnipotent creator construct a being so that he be required to spend all his life fighting his most basic and innately wired amygdalan desires? Perhaps his mission for you is to show that it is possible to be in a relationship with another man and still be a good person and productive member of the church. You do seem like a good, if very conflicted person, and I wish you happiness in our pursuits, but I think that you are headed down the wrong path to find it.

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    1. jbtvt,

      I hope you didn't take the delay in my publishing of your comment as offense or close-mindedness. I simply haven't been on my blog since a few days after I published this post, so I didn't see the comment until now. As I say below, I'm always willing to publish a dissenting/disagreeing/alternative-view comment if it is not written offensively, and yours seems to be very kindly intended. I thank you for that. (I do get some comments I simply can't publish because they are mostly just insults, so when I see one that disagrees but keeps things civil and kind, I actually find it really refreshing!) Anyway, I also of course reserve the right to post a response to any comment (perhaps in some cases a "rebuttal" if you will), if only for the most part to clarify a few of my own views.

      There are things you've said I absolutely agree with. For example, I recognize that desires are not unhealthy. There is a reason we desire the things we do and feel voids of need for certain things. However, not all desires should be exactly acted upon. Some people literally feel so angry they want to hurt someone. That is not a good desire to act on. Can that desire be vented and transformed? Yes. Some people manage anger at the gym or other physical activity. My relationship with "Habakkuk" is still very fulfilling and fills some of those needs for companionship the way that many "best friend" type relationships do for people. I also do feel like a long-term relationship with a woman I love and am attracted to can fill that deeper relationship need as well as it can and has for countless others, including many other SSA individuals who really do live entire lives happily with their wives.

      Honestly, I am very happy and fulfilled by my relationship with Habakkuk as it is. I have many other fulfilling relationships with others of various kinds and degrees. I can receive a fulfilling of my relationship needs without orgasm. I do certainly understand the gravity attached to denying one's self the fulfillment of relationship needs. But I feel like I am already filling many of them in a variety of ways that bring me lots of happiness. Also, comparing those needs and their fulfillment to food is perhaps a little too far. Food literally is needed to be broken down to the amino acids, energy, minerals, and other materials needed for the body to continue DNA replication, protein synthesis, cellular meiosis and mitosis, and all other needed functions to literally perpetuate the regeneration and existence of the body. Sexual activity really doesn’t bear as much weight. In fact, I’ve found it interesting how psychologist and holocaust survivor Victor Frankl writes in his book on logotherapy that when in concentration camps, people reverted to basic needs and sex was not only not on the list, but was completely forgotten.

      Anyway, I think in the end we could start quite a big debate here, which really isn’t what I’m looking for. I respect your own beliefs and thoughts and thank you for your input. In the end we might just need to agree to disagree. But know that I am very happy with who I am and how I am approaching my attraction to men and with the relationships I have right now. I also don’t want to ever be in a deceptive or unhappy relationship with a woman. As I’ve written before, while I am predominantly attracted strongly to men, I have on some occasions felt similar feelings for certain women. It is rare, but it has happened. I place myself about a Kinsey 5.

      My best,

      Obadiah

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