The following post comes from the anonymous blogger behind The Registered Runaway, a gay man navigating his way through faith, sexuality and inner peace.
By the time I was literate, I had the entire Left Behind kid series stacked on my shelf. The books, for those that don’t know, are futuristic stories of when God raptures Christians up to heaven, leaving behind the skeptical and non-believers to survive the apocalypse and, the Anti-Christ, and then- if they aren’t lucky- hell.
I couldn’t put them down, tearing through them on bated breath, closing the book at the end of each chapter to plead a prayer for salvation. Take me too, I’d whisper. Whenever my house turned quiet, I would peer around corners, check every room, until I found someone that fit my criteria for Safe Christian. Until I was sure I wasn’t Left Behind.
With the fear of God breathing down my neck, I tried so very hard to be good. I never missed youth group, taped up Bible verses on my wall, told every friend I knew about Jesus. And that part, the evangelism, was something more than the fear. His loving sacrifice has made an impression on me; planted in my heart a blooming love and hope for the world.
My fear of God turned to absolute horror when I realized I was gay. Every night I’d go about prayer differently. I would kneel face-down on the bedroom floor in absolute submission, hoping He might appreciate it more and notice. I squeezed the cross in my hand, muttered out words of desperation, waited for hours, muttering and muttering. On one occasion, after years of praying, I laid on my bed, thumping a hard fist to my chest, whisper-crying Change Me! Change Me!
But my room stayed still and dark and quiet. The loneliest quiet I had ever heard.
Yet in my head I heard the echoed shrieks from below and felt the fire licking at my feet. I saw my friends and family flying away into the sky. All hope swept away, my fate signed and sealed. I would be Left Behind.
As you can imagine, this was a lot to take. In a move of psychological survival, I reasoned I could win over God’s love. If I did good things, prayed hard enough, raised my arms in worship, he might step in; make me straight and holy and saved.
And eventually, I found myself back in my bed, praying those old prayers, as honest and true as I ever had, and the reality settled in on me that I would never change. And it was too much to take. Too much to face. Too much hell on my mind. And all I could do was numb it in the worst kind of ways.
At sixteen I discovered Bacardi Raz and marijuana, guzzling and inhaling them in a frenzy. I became a habitual smoker and shoplifter and was brought into a group of friends that liked to break into cars late at night.
This continued for years, in binges and cleanness, until I found myself hanging at the quickly fraying edge of my depression and decided to tell my parents I was suicidal- and gay.
To this day, it is the best decision I ever made.
Each ache that I held so tightly to was laid out before them to hold and clean and care with words of love. With kissed cheeks, binding arms, smiles so honest and sincere that you could see their soul and it was aching with adoration. I was never more aware that they loved me then right then and there.
I needed that more than I knew, I felt warm in their love. But I still didn’t believe God loved me. The only God I recognized was the one that ignored my cries, the one that would one day destroy the Earth along with the impure people like me. The God that would one day, Leave me Behind.
Henri Nouwen, a man no stranger to the challenges of being gay and Christian, once wrote:
As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.
In my recovery from depression, my focus fell from the sky to the mirror. What stood before me was a broken, distorted, funhouse thing of my own creation. I had internalized all of the harsh voices that called me unlovable, unacceptable, and made my home in that dark cabin of unacceptability, unaware that I was even there.
In the Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning quotes a passage from Paul Tillich, words that Brennan said articulated the very beginning of faith.
Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything, do not perform anything, do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted.
If that happens to us, we experience grace.
Once I set aside my Left Behind am-I-saved mentality, I flipped through the scriptures, I wept over the gospel.
It is often said that the Rabbi sought out those pushed to the margins, and while this is true, it only scratches the surface of something deeper. He came to those ridiculed and humiliated, denied their very rights, spat on- but even more so, they were people that had internalized their shame and self-rejection and believed they deserved it. Jesus sought out their broken hearts like they were treasures on a map.
In sheer senselessness, Jesus took the most dangerous route possible to find a woman walking to a well in the middle of the sun’s scorching wrath. He told her of a life that no one could take from her, a life she could inherit and deserved.
He spotted the most reviled man in town, Balanced in the branches of sycamore, trudged through the crowd to the foot of the tree and called him by name. Zacchaeus! He yelled, come down, I must stay at your house, the customary way Jews expressed friendship was by sharing a meal with them, and that’s what they did. Later he would tell the angry crowds that even Zacchaeus was a son of Abraham, he was accepted and created and loved. He was a friend, he was saved.
It happens over and over again, God himself searching the world for the shamed, for those too choked on their own pain to call themselves daughter and son.
And it should hit us all, each and every one of us, that faith is a choice made within, toward ourselves empowered through the grace of God. It is saying: here I am, saint and sinner, warts and all and God is head over heels in love with me. I am created, sanctified, adored, in a foolishly wonderful, endlessness of bliss kind of way. I can choose to believe this, because Jesus has been saying it for over a thousand years.
When I finally found that place, it became an exploration. A destiny. A swaddled up soul built in the confidence that what Christ said and what Christ did is reflective of the beating heart of God.
It is real and true. It is the Holy holding your shoulders between his hands, leaning in, softly saying, you are okay, beloved, pure of heart because I say you are. I love you and I love you, hold me close, come away with me.