Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.
— Matthew 7:7-8
It was in a summer in the ’60s in the steamy hot apartment-laden suburb of Houston that I first became aware that change was actually sometimes in you and of you, and not just something others did to you. Up to that point, change had been dependent upon a parent’s whim or job, or the ebb and flow of family income. We might live in a house with a nice big yard and a barking dog . . . or an apartment that opened on a cigarette-butt-laden parking lot with a stray cat peering from the stairs.
Change was constant, but it was something to which I adapted, redrawing personal boundaries, accepting gains or losses as they came. It was not something I might choose to do, or something I could exercise control over or knowledgeably accept as inevitable. It was more like passing from grade to grade, new teachers and friends, a different lunchbox and a bigger pair of shoes. It just happened.
Then one summer, standing on the edge of the little pool at our apartment building, pale and white and ripe for a burn, I heard words that should have been easily forgotten, should have rolled like water off a duck’s back, but instead set me to whatever level of deep pondering 10-year-olds may do. I was being taunted, not maliciously, but as older boys do when they just want to drive you away. In this case, it was by a couple of teenagers who wanted the pool to themselves, along with my older sister, of course.
“Look at the little mouse with no hair on his —-.” they kept taunting, blaring out a word that I had only heard other boys use in hushed giggles after looking around to make sure no one was in hearing distance. People peeked out their apartment windows, tsk-tsking.
Granted, I was smooth from head to toe, thanks to my summer burr and my boyness, but I had never even, at that point, considered that I would not always be. I hadn’t considered that I would change, whether I wanted to or not. And, for some reason, because I had not yet, I was identified as less than they were: a “little mouse.”
I made the biggest cannonball splash I could and prolonged the taunting in order to be the biggest pain I could in an all-out effort to thwart whatever plans they had, and although they continued to yell, threatened to dunk me, chased me around the pool and up the stairs and down again, the little mouse endured.
It’s not the ’60s anymore. In fact, they’re all in their ’60s by now and probably with less hair than they ever thought possible in their summer bravado.
But the thought here is “change.” Obviously, some changes are inevitable despite us and some changes are achievable because of us. Some are desirable and some are not. Some we run screaming from in darkest dread and others we dash into with our arms open wide, laughing joyfully.
The “controversy” surrounding Exodus International and ex-gay ministries in recent months distresses me because it calls into question the definition of “change” as it relates to a person — man or woman — who desires, based on Christian faith, to leave homosexuality behind; to change. Yes, there are other major arguments being played out upon the increasingly-paying-attention-and-pouncing-on-every-word world stage, including whether a non-repentant homosexual who claims to be a Christian actually is now or ever was or once was and now isn’t or something like that. I am so thankful that Christ knows who knows Him and I don’t have to keep track of it, even as I long to do more to help more know Him. No doubt some will be surprised at some point to know that He does not know them, but it will be because they never knew Him either.
Give your life to Him.
Know what sin is.
Repent of it.
Live with Him.
Homosexuality is sin.
I know. I have a simple mind. Not so simple that I don’t know, from hammered-in-down-deep experience, that change is hard work, that resistance from within and without is relentless, that falling and failing are a part of any worthwhile victory, and that overcoming homosexuality is perhaps the biggest challenge any man or woman will ever face. Does that mean then, that we should proclaim somehow that this particular change is beyond the power of God? If we proclaim that, then it is easy to say it is beyond the power of the little mouse. Then we’re off scot free. After-all, how can we possibly sort out the won’t change from the can’t change? How long before we just compromise and say don’t change?
I can’t buy that. I can’t argue well the theology of either side, so I’d not be of great use in the debate, and I am aware that competing interpretations of the same scriptures mean someone’s theology is wrong. As for me, I am more familiar with the ever-raging arguments that emerge from the hearts of man and the depths of our souls. I may have fewer books on the wall, but I have full access to the God who knows me and loves me and knows you and loves you and sees the desires of our hearts and the stubbornness of our wills.
My heart said change and my will said “will not.”
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. — 2 Corinthians 5:17
But God said I could — indeed, He said I am a new creature — and based on that I set out to be so, assured that when others might declare it impossible or count me out as down for the count and done, He would not and did not. He would continue to make me new.That may sound too simple, but it’s very settling to me and it is the hook on which I hung my hope. Yes, I became new the moment I accepted Christ, but I clearly hung a few of the garments in the closet for later . . . and later came.
So now we want to dissect change, with some saying a fall in the process is evidence of the failure to change, or that continuing temptation is a clear indication that change has not really occurred. Still others say if you give it a valiant go and just can’t seem to muster your way to a new you then the old one is okay after all. Some say you can go to heaven whether you change or not; others say if you don’t change you can’t or if you can’t change, you won’t. Pity those who get called up –or not — in the midst of change, like a road-kill chameleon who was too focused on his color to keep his bearings in mind. So, there we are, back to that point of having to let God sort it out.
I know: simple mind.
When I was in the darkest seasons of my struggle and the consequences of the years of it were stacked high around me like bricks and mortar and I was pounding on the walls and trying to push through them or find a chink or a toe-hold to climb out of them, I was told by someone I trusted that the only way I would ever change is if I decided to do it for Christ’s sake and because of His great love for me and His desire to see me whole, a desire so huge He gave His life to make it possible. I was already a Christian, even though I was sinning. I just had never reached the trust level available to me. Faith does not spring from the ground in fullest bloom; it grows and flowers as we mature.
Even as I leaned on the support and encouragement of those who believe change is possible and modeled it with their own lives, I quit asking others if they thought I could change. I drew confidence from their courage, courage from their guidance, peace from their persistence. They allowed me confession; they extended me grace.
The potential for successful change in the life of a struggler who comes to us seeking support is diminished when our focus is fractured by trying to prove points or bicker over semantics. Yes, some of them are major — assurance of salvation — but can we not take it out back for a bit? Instead, we’ve been granting interviews to biased media outlets who surround well-meaning direct quotes with undermining cleverness that diminishes our attempts to speak the truth about who we are and what we believe . . . even if we don’t all believe the same things. The ex-gay ministry conversations “out there” have shifted from mission to mischief. We’re being played with and we’re playing along with it. I decided long ago that my energy goes into talking with and walking with those whose Christian faith leads them to seek change. I do not spend time point and counter-pointing with the gay community — whether they consider themselves Christians or not — because if there is no desire for change, there will be no change.
I did change and I will never tell anyone that they cannot, nor will I ever look at others who proclaim to have changed and then say hardly anyone does. Each day there are new “mentors” for gay youth — news anchors like Anderson Cooper, politicians like Barney Frank, athletes, performers . . . soldiers — and yet we are hesitant to proclaim any change mentors as examples for those who are looking up in hope.
Day by day, thought by thought, little corners here and there, bigger hills to climb with greater energy, new views, distant vistas coming into focus, you can change. It is when you wonder what happened that you realize something did.
People on both sides of this argument will continue to support their positions, pouring energy into an odd sort of ministry-correctness that is actually not what the struggler needs to see or hear. Rarely is a ravaged soul responding to a well-presented theological treatise. He’s looking for way to save his life. He needs to hear that God does indeed love him and does indeed want him . . . as his heart is telling him that people do not in growing numbers. Behind his brick wall he needs an intervention, not a discussion; love not theology; absolute truth, not prideful debate. He needs — first and foremost — not to be cannon fodder in the choosing of sides.
Though I am deeply concerned about the argument regarding whether a person who believes he is a Christian but is also a non-repentant homosexual can go to heaven or not and whether we can tell him yes or no with conviction, it is my conviction that we need to set aside the great debates and focus on the wandering, saddened and wary soul in search of change.
But that’s how I am.
Like a little mouse that once was. But changed. And is changing still.
(Note: If you click this link — BridgeBack Ministries — you can purchase both books dealing with sexual brokenness and homosexuality for the price of one. Save 50% and receive Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do and “Who Told You You Were Naked?” The Counterfeit Compassion of Culture for only $14.)