Author’s Note: In October of this year I had the privilege of publicly sharing my story of coming to Christ from a background of same-sex attraction and atheism. The response to that story was deeply personal for many. A great number of readers—some straight, most not—wrote to ask me about what my married life looked like now. Specifically, how did I live with an attraction to women that had not been taken away, while following Christ and married to a man? This piece is an attempt to show how God has met me in this. But more importantly, I hope it can be an encouragement to you—that God desires and is able to meet you as well, whatever your persistent temptations may be.
The driving clamor of my heart was the most physical sign of my despair, attended by tears. But it was the emotional weight that truly bore me down. The sickening feeling of complete impotence, the mania of a trapped animal. I had committed no sin—wait, had I not? Was that right?—yet I seemed on a collision course with the sure destruction of my ministry, my marriage, my sense of self in Christ, and my relationship with him.
That this was happening after years of obedience increased the dread. Would I never be safe or free? In my early years in Christ, sexual disobedience had been a frequent, painful tripping point. But slowly, my muscle of obedience grew stronger.
I wonder now if that was less spiritual victory than victories of my will. Each time I chose sin after coming to Christ, the pleasure was adulterated with pain. The embarrassment of failure and the crush of relational strain between myself and God blighted my Christian life, like stubborn weeds. The ugliness of this had a strong deterrent effect over time.
This increased when God brought me a husband, the best gift I never asked for. While I understood my previous failures as a type of infidelity against God, introducing a physical spouse heightened the stakes. The prospect of double-adultery spooked me. My marriage became a seat belt holding me in. Had I not been married in those early, tender years, I fear I could have shipwrecked my faith for stupid pleasures.
So when temptations came, my main recourse was to white-knuckle my way through. And there was rarely a sense that the outcome was sure, that I knew my flesh would be subdued. It was like watching a live football game between well-matched teams, with real suspense over who would win. Praise God, I never acted on sexual temptation while married. But I did lose battles in my heart and mind frequently enough. This area of my life was managed but not joyful.
Unfortunately, my experience isn’t rare among Christians. Yes, we have forgiveness in Christ. Yes, we have the hope of heaven with our God. Yet many of us experience the daily life of Christianity as often dreary, often hard. We feel feeble in the fight against sin, exhausted by perhaps decades of the same old temptation, wearing us down like the sea does the shore.
My life bore those same marks. No serious outward sin, but a fragility nonetheless.
So when a stronger, souped-up temptation entered the scene, I panicked. It hadn’t begun like my normal pattern, which was something like physical attraction, then emotional attraction, then sincere resistance, with either a bare victory or the more-likely small defeat, which I confessed and repented of. No, this snuck up on me in friendship.
I have learned that this is common for women who experience same-sex attraction, that an emotionally strong connection creates context for sexual sin. That this hadn’t been my experience didn’t exempt me from experiencing it. This friendship was rich in the Lord and joyful, and nothing at the beginning warned me. As we grew closer, the enjoyment I took in her started ever so slightly to turn at the edges.
My first response was complete denial. This wasn’t my usual pattern, so I simply put my fingers in my ears. But soon there was no doubt; familiar temptations were rising in my mind, inviting me to imagine more, inviting me to look in a different way. I said, no, no, NO, but the pace of the invitations, combined with my history of eventually failing even after fighting, tormented me.
I knew what advice I would give to someone else: Leave the friendship immediately. Flee. Sexual sin is not to be played with. Yet I sensed as I prayed that this wasn’t the answer, that God didn’t want me to leave this friendship. This made me wildly suspicious, even desperate: How convenient that my heart won’t take my own advice. How unlikely that the Lord would tell me to stay in a dangerous spot. Wasn’t it rather my own heart’s deceitfulness that I was hearing, unwilling to part from this friendship I enjoyed?
How could I stay when I knew I would inevitably fail? I had almost always failed, and frankly, my victories came when the opponents were weaker, like a grown man besting a child. I wanted to stay; I wanted to flee.
I felt hopeless. All my knowledge of the Bible—my ability to recite, even teach, what was right and wrong—could not create obedience in me. The agony of frequent temptation formed a film of guilt on my heart that resembled what appeared when I had committed sin. Now, not only was I battling to not sin, but I was frantically searching my heart to discover if I had sinned and just not realized it.
I set aside one morning to pray and seek the Lord’s will. As I worked it over in my heart and mind, I felt what I described above: the racing heart, the fear, the anticipation of getting lured into sin that I did not want because the temptation was so strong. The feeling that my flesh was sighing and checking its watch, knowing I would have to give in eventually.
Suddenly into my mind broke a verse that I had forgotten memorizing, 1 Corinthians 10:13. God’s words spoke directly to me: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (ESV).
I had known this verse for years, and I had understood it intellectually. Yet that morning it grabbed me with a new power, holding my face and looking me in the eye while it spoke. Two of its truths became marvelously clear.
First, implicit in the sentences, was that temptation is not itself a sin. Temptation is a fact of the fallen world, and painful. But painful and morally culpable are not the same. Were these temptations gaining a hearing because of my fallen nature? Yes. But I was saying “no” with my heart and mind, even as I was panicked. My fear of how strong the temptation was had lured me into feeling a preemptive guilt over it, but the Spirit’s word dispelled this in a moment. To be tempted is normal, common to man. But it doesn’t have to be the doorway to sin; it can be the doorway to rescue.
Second, the personal myth I had established of sin’s inevitability was shattered. Yes, I had experienced a general pattern of temptation, resistance, sin, and repentance. But this verse declared loudly that this pattern did not own me: God himself owns me. Is my flesh potent enough to fight sin? Surely not. Is God in his almighty power able? Surely yes.
The Way of Escape
The sweetness of this promise changed the nature of my tears. I had rested my Christian life on the foundation of trustworthy Jesus; he could be believed and followed even when I was unsure of any given “why.” This foundation stood firm. God had not left me exposed, defenseless. No, he had said that he was sending his Spirit—our Helper, our Comforter, our Strength. And what God said, he accomplished. Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
There is nothing stronger than God’s words. By words he created everything. By words, he disclosed his glorious nature and purposes for us. By God’s words, Jesus defeated Satan in the wilderness. And by words, he promised that the Spirit dwelt in my heart the moment I believed. By words, he promised that he was ever present with me in temptation. Not present as a tidy propositional statement, an aphorism to toss at the lion that sought to devour me. Present as a sword I could wield, present as the blood and muscles that would allow me to lift and strike. Present as a guardian and friend, ensuring that I was never, ever alone in my fear and trembling.
These promises of 1 Corinthians 10:13 are for all of God’s children, and I believe they hold special potency for those of us who experience same-sex attraction. Let me explain.
Many of us are familiar with a certain cluster of beliefs about our sexuality. That our brand of temptation, because of its strength and persistence, owns us. That because we fail so constantly, failure will define our future. Many of us have harbored secret shame, believing that “good” Christians don’t feel this way about their same-sex friends, that “good” people don’t deal with this issue, and so perhaps we will never be full members of the kingdom in good standing. We have longed to be freed from our same-sex attraction, to have it removed in an instant.
Sisters and brothers, what does God’s Word say to us? That we do not have to be ashamed. Our sexuality does not own us or define us. Jesus does. He understands our secret hurts and our hidden battles. He doesn’t shake his head; he holds out his arms. Temptation is common; even this temptation is common. You are not alone, and you are not second-class. You possess God’s Spirit, and in any moment that you face temptation to lust, temptation to look, temptation to act, God has declared that it is not too much for you. He will provide the way of escape—look for it in faith! Your flesh will protest that it isn’t true, that it knows better than God what you can and can’t handle. This lie is as old as the Garden, after all.
The way of the escape will be as diverse as we are, as diverse as each circumstance. For me that morning, the recognition that I wasn’t pre-condemned caused the power of the temptation to wither and die. But this isn’t one-size-fits-all. Sometimes the way of escape will be to flee a relationship—I have been there. Or it may be to confess sin or to name the temptation for the first time to someone trustworthy. Sin’s power grows in the dark. One of my first moves in the wake of this episode was to put it in front of a good friend for counsel and accountability. Don’t try to do this alone.
As for our longing that God would remove our attractions, Paul understood this well. We have no reason to believe that Paul experienced same-sex attraction, but in 2 Corinthians 12, he speaks of a thorn in his flesh that he pleaded with the Lord to remove. If God were to listen to any saint, surely it would be Paul! Yet what was the Lord’s answer? Not, “Right! Sorry for that pesky thorn, how could you possibly serve me distracted by that thing?” No. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9).
Many days, many nights, our sexual desires will feel like only a source of weakness. Yet when dependence is the goal, weakness is an asset. Each temptation, instead of being an occasion of dread and shame, can be an occasion of trust and grace. If you don’t believe escape is possible, you won’t look for it. But God has promised that he will provide it every time, and this gives us confidence to search for and find it. The promise isn’t that it is easy, but that it is possible. It will require strength you don’t have, which God has provided through the Spirit. Our road of faithfulness is paved one “yes, I trust you” at a time.
Rachel Gilson is director of theological development at Cru Northeast. She blogs at rachelgilson.com.