Originally published at Deeper Story
The first morning of the Gay Christian Network Conference, Linda and Rob Robertson stood on the stage behind the podium. As is typical, I arrived late. The ballroom was dark enough for no one to notice me, so I slid into the furthest back row.
I had known their story, their mission, I watched the video about their gay son who passed away after a drug overdose, but I really didn’t know them. Their individual journeys. Not simply as parents, but as people, as Christians. And there was one moment of the talk I will never forget.
Linda, face reddened by tears, talked about how, growing up, she learned and believed wholeheartedly that God loves every single person in the world. God is Love. That is Christian 101. Plain and simple as the cross.
“He’s a God who loves and loves every single one of us, but I always wondered… me? Could he possibly love me?”
I dropped a few tears that moment and I think she knew we could relate. As for me, she had asked my question. The Ultimate Question. The question that crouched into every corner of every moment throughout my Life in the Closet. Could he possibly?
I was born into this faith. I prayed the Sinner’s Prayer at five years old and I believed those words of prayer would encircle like a charm. As if this promise held the power to protect me from anything bad in the world, from anyone that would want to hurt me. I believed in the Church, I felt safe in the Church, and I felt all the more held to be officially part of her people.
Then I found out I was gay.
In those preteen days, the whole realization felt impossible. I couldn’t be both a Christian and gay, I had to be one or the other. And yet the feelings stayed… but I said the prayer first. Questions blew through my mind as I tried to make sense of it all until I came upon a terrible, terrible thought: What if… God didn’t choose me back?
For God so loved the world- Yes, but what if not? I spent years of nights reaching out for God, desperate for Him to reach back, but He never did. Not even once. Hours I waited, lying in my bed, and it was almost as if the world would go quieter, like I could hear him moving further and further away.
When I looked to those around who appeared in touch with the Almighty, all I saw were shuddering eyes, all I heard was not while we’re eating, pleeaase and the thought of that… Oh, it just makes me SICK!And I was a sponge. I absorbed it all, believed it all and yielded beneath the disdain until I hardened into something unfeeling. Dulled senses, I thought, cannot be hurt.
The question was no longer, “did God love me?” but “what would make him love me?”
And of course, that answer is nothing.
Tell that to me years ago, and I would’ve told you off. I would’ve dismissed you as someone who didn’t understand, who clearly didn’t Get It. Who didn’t know what it was like to read a Bible with parts that clobbered you and then live immersed in a community that joked about you, were desperate to disassociate from you, that said the thought of you turned their stomach- to then, be left alone. Alone in this slowly sinking feeling: I am unworthy of love.
But then Linda Robertson speaks as a straight woman who has been a Christian her whole life, and she admits to this inner ache. And I have to believe it’s a brush we’re all scratched by.
But how did I do it? How did I climb out of that darkness, my violent spiral of self-destruction and, at the same time, my desperate reach to be good enough for God? A number of things. Things that were working on me even as I was unaware of them.
A start: I came across a quote from theologian Paul Tillich in another book. I was breathless. I was immobile. I was weepy and restored. The truth I didn’t know I was looking for dropped right into my palms. Grace.
Do we know what it means to be struck by grace?… It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage. 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 After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance.
– Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations
I must’ve missed that part, in the Sinner’s Prayer, the part that says you need to know that you’re okay. Good. Always loved. The part that takes the image of Jesus coming into our hearts and shows what happens when the world wedges it’s way in and scares us. We say yes, but everything inside us argues No! No! NO! You DO NOT want to go in THERE. I am too screwed up. You’ve got the wrong heart. Not mine. Not mine.
I never knew that conversion, in a way, begins not with a look to the heavens but a hard look within. A daily choice to love the self, to say, yes, messed up, you are, but you, wonderful boy, are worthy. You are accepted. You are adored.
We are slow learners. Advancing. Lapsing. Leaping. One step forward, two steps back. Stumbling through all the “degrees of glory.” The conversion experience, it isn’t a thirty-second prayer at five, it is said in the span of a life time, a life that learns to live in the flow of grace. It is a constant growing, a shedding of skin, a never-ending revival of the heart, soul and mind.
It is saying the most impossible thing. And the truest thing in the world:
I am accepted. I am accepted. I am accepted.