Getting Close: Steps Toward Intimacy
This material was originally presented by Dr. Ralph Blair at connECtion 1980, the summer conference of Evangelicals Concerned, Inc.
© Copyright 1980 by Ralph Blair
I am going to begin with a neglected passage from Ecclesiastes 4:1 and 4:8-12.
"Then I looked again at all the injustice that goes on in this world. The oppressed were crying, and no one would help them. No one would help them because their oppressors had power on their side.
... Here is one who lives alone. This person has no children, no sister or brother, yet this person is always working, never satisfied with the income. For whom is this person working so hard and denying self any pleasure? This is useless, too — and a miserable way to live. Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help the person up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s too bad, because there is no one to help. If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself? Two can resist an attack that would defeat one alone."
In the May 1980 issue of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship’s His magazine, singleness is called "The Gift Nobody Wants." This is the rather revealing title of an article by IVCF staff member Paul Friesen, extolling singleness as a gift of God. That singleness-for-those-happily-called-to-it-with-the-gift-of-celibacy can be a real gift from God must not lead us into thinking that enforced singleness, however subtle the enforcement, must be seen as what God wants for all of those who are unwillingly and unably single. But again, after centuries, it is becoming theologically fashionable for some evangelicals to write in this vein, albeit in vain, for it is true that it does seem that nobody wants this so-called gift of singleness. This "gift" is an especially attractive "solution", however contrived, to more and more evangelical leaders, as they try to foist it onto Christian men and women whose homosexual orientation is becoming more and more obviously unalterable. Friesen goes on and on about how God gives good gifts and about "how freeing" is the idea that "marriage may never come!". But here’s the catch: Friesen is married! Is he telling us his marriage is no good? I don’t think so. I think he is just too short-sighted. He is like those divorced and remarried Christians who are writing about the "wonderful calling" of singleness.
In the other of the cover articles on singleness in this same issue of His, Harold Smith, director of single adults ministry for the Church of the Nazarene, writes of "senioritis" or the "senior shuffle." He says "It means you’re desperate". He gives six suggestions to treat "the dread disease", but he gives himself away at the very beginning when he says that "senioritis" is cured by marriage. He can afford to be somewhat light-hearted about it because he seems to believe that everyone "knows" that sooner or later you’ll actually find a mate. This runs throughout his enthusiasm for other people’s singleness, as he repeatedly refers to "a solo season", to living life fully "at every stage", suggesting a move to a new city and meeting new people—to look forward to "what is coming!" The article is full of such indications of the temporality of singleness. And it is temporary, for 95% of Americans. Smith finally assures us: "Senioritis is seldom fatal". That is, he believes that it is a fatality unless it is "cured" by marriage. Even his final sentence looks forward to relief from the single stage as he quotes Jeremiah about the Lord giving us "a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11). Though it is understandable to tie singleness and one’s senior academic year together in a collegiate magazine, I get the disquieting impression that Smith and his cohorts sadly fail to address issues much beyond a circumspect stage of puppy-love.
Apparently even those who write of the "blessings" of the single life have their own reservations. Most Christian leaders today—though not down throughout church history—sing the praises of dating and marriage. Flip through any evangelical magazine, no matter how conservative, addressed to teens, and you’ll find articles and columns rightly devoted to questions of sexual and romantic intimacy. The ads use sex appeal to lure Christian teens to Bible colleges and conferences—and that’s fine. It’s a welcome and Christian relief from the many years during which the churches were plunged into a philosophical idealization of pagan asceticism and an unbiblical denial of bodily life. But in all of this quite healthy return to a serious appreciation of our creature-hood in flesh and blood (the lapse into sexist images notwithstanding), there are those Christian teen-agers, and their elders, who are entirely ignored except for negative comment, and they are the Christian boys and girls, now men and women, who have developed as homosexual instead of heterosexual. Homosexuals’ singleness often hangs around long after the teen years though and long after the senior year of college. And this is no less true for those homosexuals who force themselves into heterosexual marriages. Evangelicals have been offering no "cure" to the homosexual’s "senioritis,"—that is no reasonable cure. And what might have been a person’s "senioritis" goes on to become his or her "senior-citizenitis." The other day I got a most touching letter from an 85 year-old professor emeritus from a well-known evangelical college telling me how very much he would like to have a mate after all these years of sublimating and denying his homosexuality, but he wrote that he knew that now that would be impossible.
It is this question of if and how the Christian homosexual is going to integrate faith and homosexual practice that is at the cutting edge of serious discussion about homosexuality among Christians today. This is illustrated by some things that happened at the planning stages of connECtion 1980 for this summer. As some of you know, the original roster of speakers for the eastern connECtion included sociologist Tony Campolo of Eastern College. Tony is a more "liberal" evangelical who is in the vanguard of Christian social action of justice issues. I had talked with him on several occasions and he seemed to be supportive of what we are doing through the EC ministry. His acceptance of our invitation to speak was delayed by the fact that his secretary had intercepted our letters and subsequent phone calls, believing that she was serving God by preventing Tony from getting involved with the likes of EC. When he finally discovered what was going on in his office he fired the secretary, phoned me and gladly accepted our invitation to speak. He followed up on the phone call with a letter of acceptance. Then, after our national publicity went out listing him as a speaker, he wrote to me saying that we might not want him to speak after all since he was going to be able to support only abstinence for Christian homosexuals—not homosexual practice under any circumstances! He said that he could affirm being homosexual but not doing any homosexual act. Disappointed, I wrote back saying that the last thing that Christians seriously dealing with their homosexuality need to hear from yet one more practising heterosexual was a demand for enforced life-long abstinence. So Tony isn’t with us—yet. But I wondered who would replace him at connECtion? Evangelicals who are supportive of our EC position are not exactly jumping out from behind every Bible institute pleading to get aboard an EC bandwagon! Then, I believe providentially, Jim Tinney, a Howard University faculty advisor to both the Pentecostal Student Fellowship and the gay student organization and editor of the black Pentecostal journal, Spirit, wrote to me asking if he might deliver an address on "Separating ‘Being’ and ‘Doing,’ " calling this artificial and impractical dichotomy, "The Last Evangelical Refuge". So here, faced with the loss of one good speaker precisely because he could not see his way clear to put "being" and "doing" together, I had the unsolicited offer of another good speaker who asked for the opportunity to address us on putting these very things together!
Now clearly, people who happen to be involuntarily homosexual have no less a need for Intimacy than heterosexuals. But a non-comprehending society and its churches interfere without more fully realizing the potential for intimacy in the lives of homosexual women and men. Secrecy, isolation, loneliness, inappropriate sublimation and even a counter-productive promiscuity then sadly characterize the coping of many homosexuals, and this is no less true for evangelical Christians. Often the reaction of Christian psychotherapists or pastors is: "Get rid of this disgusting homosexual habit and you’ll be OK". Not able to "get rid of their homosexual desires", no matter how long or hard they try, they turn to secular therapists or liberal religionists who say: "Get rid of this oppressive god-stuff and you’ll be OK". Christian homosexuals, of course, must have a more realistic alternative than either of these two routes. That better alternative is not provided in the demands of practising heterosexuals that homosexuals should be life-long abstainers. Moving beyond debates which have been rarely useful in the past but which some more mature people have now outgrown, Christians should begin to learn more specifically, not if but how we can be guided through the gay liberationism and homophobia maze that so often idolizes or brutalizes homosexuality, toward the only faithful sexual/affectional intimacy that Christian homosexuals as Christian homosexuals can have and truly enjoy—and in which sexual arena alone they can truly become responsible disciples of their Lord.
What I’m about to present on achieving intimacy is seen within the context of a Christian world-and-life view. Nonetheless, you’ll note that it is, in most of its aspects, also applicable outside such a viewpoint, even though I think that it would be less confidently experienced outside the awareness that through everything, the most powerful and most loving Person anywhere and everywhere is our God, our Saviour and our Friend. What I’m about to present is based on my clinical experience of the past 10 years and on my thinking of the past 20 years—my thinking which has been biblical/theological as well as psychological. I’ll focus, though, mainly on the psychological. What we are about to consider applies not only to both Christians and non-Christians but to either homosexuals or heterosexuals. Our illustrations, though, will have to do with the more specific content of Christian men and women with a homosexual orientation.
I. REACHING OUT
Relationship is the most fundamental dynamic in our synergistic universe. Mere relationship or interconnectedness is everywhere and spontaneous and as such, it can be functionally effective if the kind and level of relationship is appropriate for the result that is required or sought. Of course mere relationship between one thing and another is not enough to meet the deeper human needs that both homosexuals and heterosexuals have. Homosexuals and heterosexuals also share impediments to deeper human relationship, but a homosexual has to contend with the effects of homophobia, in one’s self as well as in other people, which often makes deeper relationship so very difficult, if not impossible, to pursue or to sustain.
There is a fundamental human need for vital intimacy—a living, growing, organic close relationship. "Intimate relations" is a term sometimes used synonymously with "sexual relations", but I’m not using "intimate" and "sexual" as synonyms. There are, after all, non-sexual friendships that can far outshine some sexual relations, so far as intimacy or an enlivening closeness is concerned, and much that passes for "sexual relations" is no more than the stimulation of genital nerve endings! Nevertheless, sexual intimacy, including the loving stimulation of genital nerve endings (as Christians, we believe they were put there by God)—sexual intimacy is a most important form of interpersonal closeness and it cannot be relegated to a contrived celibacy or psychopathological denial without basically misunderstanding and abusing the human condition as interpreted in either Christian or humanist world-views.
Any human relationship requires some degree of communication or connection, but vital intimacy, which also requires communication or connection, and craftsmanship, requires something more: commitment. Without commitment there cannot be a quality interaction over time that makes intimacy possible and allows it to be nurtured, to nurture and to thrive. Commitment can be called love, but love as an act of will, not a feeling. This kind of love acts not just when it is easy but also when the loving can be very hard. Commitment, or love as an act of will—it is seen as covenant and agape in the Bible—seeks the welfare of the other (friend or lover) as much as it seeks one’s own welfare. It has to do with priorities-in-relationship. We don’t "fall into" this kind of love. We fall into and out of a kind of liking, not loving. Liking is involuntary but loving is an act of will. Commitment or covenantal love puts our best interest (mutually understood) ahead of either my best interest alone or your best interest alone, avoiding either a putrefying selfishness or a manipulative paternalism or maternalism. Presumably, each of us has a priority interest in us. Indirectly, though, since that is our best interest individually, I thereby meet my best interest and you thereby meet your best interest.
Let me give an illustration of what I mean by intimacy. One day I was speaking on intimacy at Rutgers University. We were in a large amphitheatre without windows. About five minutes into my lecture, the lights began to flicker and dim and then most of the lights went out. There was much amusement throughout the audience when one of the students called out that we now had "intimate lighting" for the lecture on intimacy. However, I countered his description by saying that we now had less intimate lighting than we had had before the lights went out because now we could hardly see each other. I explained that intimacy does not grow or flourish under so-called intimate lighting. That’s too dim. Intimacy needs bright fluorescent lighting; it dies under low lighting. That is to say, intimacy needs clarity.
Intimacy is close enough not to be lost and out of touch with the other, and it’s apart enough not to be lost and swallowed up inside the other. In intimacy, there is closeness with the other and there is polarity; there is give and there is take. In intimacy, there is me and not me, one of the most basic distinctions learned in infancy and a distinction which must be re-learned time after time throughout life. There must be two different notes for harmony; not two indistinguishable notes which render each other unnecessary.
Such intimacy is predictability, familiarity, a true sense of family. (Familiarity and family are derived from the same word root.) Human beings have a natural desire for intimacy; a natural desire to reach out and touch another human being, to know and to be known, to love and to be loved, to be accepted "as is." There is a natural movement toward complementarity in companionship and nothing short of comple-mentarity in companionship will meet the need.
There are serious consequences when a person does not meet these natural needs. For example, and this is just one area of negative consequence,—as it is put by James J. Lynch, scientific director of the Psychophysiological Clinic and Laboratories at the University of Maryland School of Medicine: ". . . isolation and lack of companionship are the greatest unrecognized contributors to premature death in the U.S. today." Lynch is quoted in an interview in U.S. News and World Report (June 30, 1980, p. 47) as saying that "Those who live alone—single, widowed, divorced—have premature death rates that are anywhere from 2 to 10 times higher than individuals who live with others." He reports that, "There is virtually no disease I know of that does not differentially attack those who live alone and those who have companionship."
Before the Fall, for Adam, such complementarity in companionship was found in Eve, the other person who was created in God’s image, but not in any of the other creations of God. Today, for a homosexual, such complementarity in companionship—in the sexual/affectional or romantic sphere of life—is found in another person of the same sex. Today, for this Adam, it is found in Steve and not in Eve; for this Eve it is not found in Adam but in Madam! Vital intimacy in the sexual/affectional/romantic sphere is not found in another person of the other sex if you are naturally homosexual. Neither is it found in nobody. Nor is it to be found in one after another after another after another of the same sex. In such disposable sex, one is never scratching more than the surface nerve endings and thus never reaching depths of intimacy. But one is nonetheless picking up and distributing even life-threatening venereal diseases and reinforcing for both self and partner the association of genital sex and anonymity, the idea that sex is dirty, and thus building up an incest taboo that makes it more and more difficult ever to integrate genital sex and intimacy in an ongoing loving relationship. That is to say, the more we repeat the association in our minds and experiences of sex with fleeting anonymity, in less than intimate situations, the more the powerful reinforcer of the orgasm blocks our integration of genital sex and love in a family setting. Sooner or later it becomes harder and harder, if not finally impossible, to bring ourselves to do "dirty" and "impersonal" things, such as sexual acts, with one whom we are growing to love as family.
Now as I have said, there is a natural desire for intimacy but I think there is not a natural knack for it, now that humankind has fallen away from God, our Source, and into estrangement not only from God but also from others and most particularly from ourselves.
II. PULLING BACK
1. The Self-viewing Self, Viewing Others
Each of us is a self-viewing person, viewing others also. The biggest obstacle to intimacy, I believe, is a sense of low self-worth as a person looks at self with one eye and looks at others with the other eye. Although people want to be accepted, they believe that they are not acceptable. They inevitably see a distinction between what they experience as the mixed-bag reality of "me-as-I-am" and the "greener grass" ideal of "me-as-I-should-be" on the other side of their fantasy fence. They also perceive an undesirable difference between the mixed-bag reality of "me-as-I-am" and the "greener grass" ideal of the other person out there. Therefore, in reaching out, they pull back. But they pull back to a self that they interpret as inadequate, so they approach another person, again looking for affirmation and intimacy, and they avoid again.
This reaching out and pulling back is repeated time after time. For many urban males who are homosexual, not to mention heterosexuals, this is expressed in what is irrationally believed to be "the inevitable" routine of cruising for anonymous sex in one-night stands. It is often even foolishly rationalized as "liberated" sex, not only by gay liberationists of a more secular stripe but also by some Christian gay people. We humans have quite a talent for rationalization. As even the O’Neills (authors of Open Marriage) learned, there is nothing liberating about "open relationships."
We all have fallen victim to internalizing the expectations of other people and institutions (e.g. parents, teachers, siblings, peers, society, churches, liberationists, modernity, false gods, etc.) And we fail to see the distinction between our seeing ourselves and our seeing others seeing us. From our earliest experiences we have heard: "Don’t do that!", "Stop that!", "Not yet!", "Be quiet!" We have concluded, mistakenly, that we leave a great deal to be desired.
2. Other Self-viewing Selves, Viewing Us
Everyone else, of course, is doing the same thing that we are doing. And everyone else is suffering, too, as a result of their own sense of low self-worth and looking at themselves with one eye and at us with the other eye. We’re all going cross-eyed together.
Thus, for example, we have been targets of "put-downs" all our lives. Not understanding the anatomy of a "put down" we hurt ourselves. We never learned that if there is one thing to know about an effective "put-down", it is that the victim of the "put-down" believes the content of the "put-down" and the perpetrator certainly has some doubts, if not about the precise content at least about something that the content is designed to counter in an unacceptable self-concept of the perpetrator. That’s why she chose to say what she did and that’s why it hurts. The "put-down" is a defence mechanism that exposed the threat perceived by the perpetrator, and unless the intended victim really agreed with the perpetrator’s verbalization in camouflage—not with what the perpetrator truly believes—it wouldn’t hurt at all. The one who says the "put down" sees that he must "put-down" the other person, not because he sees the other person as "down there" already but because he does not see the other person as "down there". "Down there" is where he sees himself! But obviously the fact that "put downs" have been so effective, in their hurt and reinforcement of our low self-esteem, shows that we do have a sense of low self-worth to begin with. You see, both the downer and the downed are down already, though neither sees that this is true of the other.
3. The So-Called Objective Standards
There have seemed to be those situations in which we "really" were not what we should have been. We believe that we had to sit down at the spelling bee before we should have. We believe that we never made all the excellent grades in school that we should have made. We remember that we were not first-chosen for the teams in gym class and we believe that we should have been. We believe that we started to menstruate later than we should have. We believe that we are not as good looking as we should be. We believe that we are too fat or too tall or too old or too skinny. We’re homosexual! And sooner or later, we believe, they’re going to find out that a little bit of us goes a long way.
III. THE BASIC DOUBLE-BIND
1. The So-Called Risk
People perceive a risk between their wanting to be accepted and yet fearing that they really are not acceptable. A person thinks: "How can I risk being known if I’m really not good enough in the first place or in the long run? If I’m known, I’ll be known as not-good-enough, but I want to be accepted and unless I’m known I won’t be able to be accepted, but then as soon as I’m really known, I’m setting myself up to be found unacceptable." This is a classic double-bind. It is the major dilemma we face in trying to satisfy our need for intimacy. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. It paralyses us. It’s especially hard if we’ve had some bad experience which seems to underscore the "risk" of intimacy and reinforces the paralysis. And we get no help from clichés about the unavoidable "risk of intimacy". Such hackneyed themes set us up for expecting the inevitable "risk", the shaft. Faced with what seem to be impossible circumstances and dangers, many people retreat into themselves, or into "safe" and meaningless surface relationships. Gay men, as we have indicated, are particularly vulnerable to retreating into disposable genitalising, while others retreat into forced celibacy (not the God-given gift of celibacy)—with distractions of career, drugs, alcohol, church work, and even into gallons of strawberry ice cream! But all such attempts at resolving the double-bind neither answer the need for intimacy nor safeguard the person from the "rejection" he or she seeks to avoid.
2. The Resolution
As Cornelius Van Til, the great Reformed apologist, has often said: "There are no brute facts, only interpreted facts". The resolution of this double-bind is in a matter of interpretations, perceptions, and perspectives. I call them versions.
There is my me and there is your me and there are as many mes as there are yous interpreting me. You see your me not my me. Only I see my me.
(That is, only I and God see my me—and God loves me anyway. God loves me so much that Jesus was given to die for me. Remember what the Lord said to Samuel about the Lord’s not looking at the outward appearance of people, as people do, but about how the Lord looks at the heart (I Samuel 16:6f)? God sees the inside. Homophobes look at homosexuals and see disgusting juxtapositions of nerve endings but the Lord sees the yearnings of the heart, the inside orientation, intent toward intimacy. Jesus said: "Don’t be superficial in judging the appearance of something, but judge with justice, judge rightly, in the perspective of grace." (John 7:24) Some church leaders say: "It looks disgusting!". Jesus gently urges: "Look again. What are they really trying to do?" Why, they’re trying to love and be loved! Maybe they’re not going about it as best they could, maybe we’re not helping them go about it any more reasonably, but reaching out toward love, toward understanding, toward intimacy, that’s what they’re trying to do—in the only way they know how. Don’t we see that? Don’t you see that?"
As I was saying, you see your me, not my me. Only I (and the Lord) see my me. It took me all the years of my life so far to develop my version of me. Nobody else has had that experience. Nobody else has been me from the inside. Nobody else is me from the inside. Nobody has been there in my shoes when I stood alone and in fear. Nobody was me when I was confused, embarrassed, angry, hurt, happy. Nobody was me when I was misunderstood or when I was misunderstanding. The me that I’m not so proud of, the me I don’t much care about and try to hide, is a me you will never know because you cannot know it. So! So what’s the good of my even attempting to hide that me? You cannot see that me if you tried. The fact that it is seen by me with my perspective—inside my own brain —assures me that you do not and cannot see it. What a relief!
And the you that I see? It certainly isn’t the you that you see and think is so unacceptable in this way or that. It isn’t the you that you think is too fat or too tall or too this or too that. It is the you that only I can see. The you that I see is my version of you. Your version of you is entirely irrelevant to my version of you. I arrived at my version of you by way of my version of me, by being me and not by way of being you. My version of you, me, and everything else is filtered involuntarily through my own sense of self (both real and ideal self), my DNA, my formative years as well as yesterday’s experience, my imprinting, my associations, my hopes, my disappointments, my life-long experiences and lack of experiences, my spiritual condition, my theology, my physical health my distractions, etc. My you and my me are my stories; your you and your me are your stories. We write and read our own stories, not each other’s stories.
Therefore, and here is a very crucial conclusion: there is really no rejection possible. Another person can say "no" but he or she can reject only his or her version of me, not the me that I know and believe is so unacceptable.
Now, of course, it follows that there is really no acceptance possible, either. Another person can say "yes" but he or she can affirm only his or her version of me, not the me that I know and believe is so unacceptable. However, for all practical purposes, inevitably, there will be those who, because of all that it took to become who they are, will see their way clear to become involved and even intimate with you, i.e. with their very own favourable version of you. Inevitably too, there will be those who, also because of all that it took to become who they are, will not see their way clear to become involved or intimate with you, i.e with their uniquely less-than-favourable version of you.
Sometimes, those who do not see their way clear to get involved with us do not do so because they have such an exaggeratedly favourable version of us that they are afraid to risk what they believe would be rejection by extending themselves toward such a person who seems to be "out of their league". So, you see, it isn’t only the person who doesn’t like what he or she sees who runs away. How many times have you yourself behaved with just such an avoiding ritual around someone in whom you had a big interest? Understandably, that person misinterpreted your avoidance as an indication that you had no interest in him at all.
No matter what prompts the other person’s avoidance of us, how much enjoyment would there be in trying to interact with someone who did not see his or her way clear to interact with us? You might as well get on with interacting over time with those who naturally see their way clear to interact with what they see in you —at least to the extent that you see your way clear to interact with what you see and like in them. Allow for the quality interaction over quality time to take place in order to expand your versions of each other. After all, when you first meet them, they are to you, simply strangers—no matter what detailed stories you are telling yourself. They are ink blots upon whom you project your own versions. These strangers will become stranger before they become more familiar if you permit further data to inform your original version instead of clinging irrationally to an original fantasy.
Incidentally, don’t be mistaken about the chances of someone liking you. Your own version of that person, superior as it may be to your own version of yourself in this or that regard, has nothing to do with what the other person tells self about you. In the area of sexiness, for example, since nobody sees self as sexy—there is not the necessary perceived differentness from self-concept when one looks for sexiness in self— everybody tends to see self as measuring below those he sees as sexy and above those he sees as not sexy. His conclusion: "Big Deal. I win the beauty contest with the ‘uglies’ and lose the contest with the ‘beauties!’" Not so. Remember that the "beauty contest" takes place in his own head and he’s the "contestant" and "the judge". You must remember that there are "beauty contests" going on in the heads of every other person and, in their contests, they are the losers and there is a possibility that you are their winners. They don’t have to stumble over your version of yourself in being able to find you sexy.
When you realise and act on the fact that there can be no rejection of your you because they don’t see your you, can’t see your you, you’ll be better able to see your way clear to take the so-called risks which you were too afraid to take before. You’ll put your limited time and limited energy into hearing the other person as best you can instead of being distracted and wasting time and energy worrying over how you’re coming across— about which you can do nothing and need do nothing.
Since what another person sees will be her story, I cannot please or displease anyone, hard as I may try. She does that on her own by what she tells herself. What she tells herself takes place in her mind which comes from her background, her formative years, etc. If I see that I can’t please another individual, that I cannot successfully take on the responsibility for what another will finally tell himself or herself (indeed, to try to do so would be quite irresponsible) I can begin successfully to take realistic responsibility for myself and thereby realise my potential ability to make a response that makes sense. I can stop my irresponsible wasting of time and energy trying to do what I can’t do anyway. I’ll be free to pay attention to what I can learn about the other person so as to be as responsive and sensitive as I can to that person. But if I try to do what cannot be done, I’ll suffer frustration and a defeating sense of failure— the only emotional reaction possible to the attempt to do the impossible. But if I believe that I really do need to please another specific individual, and believe that I cannot do so, I will set myself up for anger and even depression—the only emotional reaction possible to the belief that I really do need something to be otherwise. Fortunately, I do not need it to be otherwise. Only a fortune-teller, which I am not, would be able to say that I know that I need it to be otherwise. I’d have to know ahead of time how I would experience it otherwise, in order to say that that is the way it needs to go. Since, by definition, it is not now otherwise, I obviously don’t need it to be otherwise. I can understand that my fantasy "otherwise" is a positive but nonetheless unrealistically one-sided figment of my very creative imagination, and I can withdraw successfully from the trouble-making prediction that I need it to be otherwise. I then wise up to the fact that there need be no regret since the hypothetical road not taken never existed, except as a mental construct, and where that "road" led, I therefore understand, is also a mere mental construct. I do know, though, that non-existent roads go to non-existent destinations otherwise known as nowhere!
Besides, as a Christian, I with Paul, can be thankful for everything, (Ephesians 5:20), learning to be content, whatever the circumstances may be (Philippians 4:11), knowing that in all things God is working for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28) and that no matter what happens, nothing and nobody will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:38)
IV. A PROCESS
There is a process of several steps for realistically dealing with what we’re telling ourselves that brings on the unwanted feelings and interferes with our movement toward the achievement of intimacy. It is a process of identifying beliefs, challenging them, changing our minds, willing our now changed minds to act in conformity to our changed beliefs, and finally experiencing our experiences differently as a result.
First, the beliefs that are behind the feelings and behaviour and resulting experience must be identified. What is it we’re saying to ourselves, for example, about homosexuality or love? Since we feel as a result of what we think, every thought having its corresponding feeling, if we think something bad about homosexuality—for example that it is a disgusting abomination and that the Bible says so (and failing to understand what the Bible means by that which has been rendered in English by "abomination")—we certainly won’t feel very good. So it’s in revising what we have told ourselves, it’s in changing our minds, that we can change our feelings indirectly. The reason such silly advice as "Cheer up!" or "Stop worrying!" doesn’t help is that it fails to challenge and revise the ideas that have produced the uncheerful feelings and worries. We cannot successfully command feelings to go away since feelings are involuntary and automatic responses to our thoughts, but we can successfully change our thinking, our minds, and our changed minds will automatically change our feelings, since the new thoughts and ideas have their own feelings attached and the feelings that were attached to the old ideas have gone with the old thoughts.
After identifying our ideas we must challenge them to see if they are self-evidently irrational, unscientific, unbiblical or un-Christian. Paul wrote that we must prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and in 1 John 4:1 we read that we are not to believe every spirit that comes along, but we are to test the spirits to see whether they are from God, since many false prophets are around. The passage tells how to recognise the spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but those who do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh are not.
What does it mean to acknowledge that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh? At the very least it means that, while the law was given through Moses, now grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). It means that in Christ, the Law and the Prophets have been fulfilled. Paul said this after Jesus had said it was so (Matthew 22:34ff and Galatians 5:18)—that the whole point of the Law and the Prophets was Love. Keeping this in mind, we facilitate the changing of our minds bogged down in misinterpretations of "abomination" in Leviticus 18:22. Instructing ourselves about the religious sense of the cultic prostitution condemned in the Levitical text helps us to change our minds about the relevance of applying this text to our homosexual love today. We understand, for example, that those who were under the Mosaic law had to use Levitical priests in their worship of God and those priests were not to engage in cultic prostitution. It was an "abomination". Today we have a High Priest, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 8) who was, incidentally, "unqualified" under Mosaic law, since our Lord was of the tribe of Judah and not the tribe of Levi. The writer to the Hebrews explains that "when the priesthood is changed, of necessity there takes place a change in the law also" (Hebrews 7:12). Well, Paul said that we’d be able to do this, to test what God’s will is by being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). We must learn to revise our expectations, understanding with Paul following our Lord, that love is the fulfilment of the law and that the commandments about adultery, murder, stealing, covetousness, and "whatever other commandments there may be" are summed up in "Love your neighbour as yourself" (Romans 13:9). Paul spells out what this love is like in 1 Corinthians 13. It is patient, kind, not envious, not proud, not boastful, not rude, not insisting on its own way, doesn’t keep a score, doesn’t gloat over another’s grief, always perseveres, and so on. Notice that he never states what concrete acts love might or might not do, for that would be turning the whole thing upside down.
The will is the bridge between knowledge and behaviour. Paul and Timothy write that our attitude should be that of Jesus, who made himself be a servant (Philippians 2:5ff). We too, must engage in an act of will in order to put into practice what we know cognitively to be true. They go on to say that, as we continue to put into practice the expression of our salvation, it is God who works in us both to will and to act according to God’s good purpose (2:12f). We should be careful to recognise, however, that Paul himself was not always so successful in exercising his will and we won’t be either. In his letter to the Romans (7:15ff), he acknowledged a real conflict within himself when he spoke of not doing what he wanted to do and of doing what he didn’t want to do. We cannot reasonably expect perfection. We delude ourselves if we ever think we’ve achieved it. The exercise of the will, nevertheless, is just that: willed!
Behaving is the next step. We must practice in specific ways what we now know instead of continuing to behave in terms of what we used to believe but can no longer defend as realistic or Christian. The writer of 1 John urges: "Dear children, let us not love with words or tongues but with actions and in truth" (3:18). We must do the truth. He continues: "Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God is in him." (4:16). Evidently, this doing of the truth is a continuing activity—as long as we go on living, we are to go on living in love.
Experiencing love is neither to be confused with the fondling of genitals nor with the unreasonable avoidance of genitals. Experiencing love as an act of will is the seeking of each other’s real welfare in any area of life. It is not an excuse to have our own way by pretending to be seeking someone else’s welfare while disregarding that other person’s real welfare. Experiencing love-as-an-act-of-will is the living of that loving that is rigorously informed. It isn’t a "sloppy agape". We will not always find it easy. The experience of self, therefore, living this love, believing and behaving in more mature and realistic Christian ways, will be a refreshingly reinforcing experience because it does actually deal more reasonably with and more Christianly with the reality of our creature-hood under God. It becomes a step on which to build for today and it prepares us for the step we must take the next day.
As Christians, our inner fears and our inter-fears that interfere with our achievement of intimacy can be broken down by that complete and perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18) and allows us to be channels through which we can share the love with which God has already loved us all so richly. We can get on living all the rest of our life, too, by faith (Romans 1:17) as more fully functioning persons created in the image of God and saved by God’s grace, enjoying companionship with God, with our neighbours, and even with our same-sex mates instead of trying to act what we are not—supposedly sex-less shambles who must somehow save ourselves by ourselves.
© Copyright 1980 by Ralph Blair. All rights reserved
Dr Ralph Blair is a psychotherapist in private practice in New York City USA. He founded the Homosexual Community Counselling Centre in New York City in 1972 and subsequently he also founded Evangelicals Concerned, Inc. in 1975.