Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Desire-Denial Is Not Only For the Homosexual Who Chooses Purity

Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality is for us all, not just persons who are homosexually oriented. His thoughts run deep, and he's a very good writer.

I am with Hill on this: a Jesus-follower who is homosexually oriented is called to a life of sexual purity. This is hard. But, says Hill, it is no harder than life is for the rest of us, and to think so is to miss out on life. Hill writes:

"I’d suggest that living with unfulfilled desires is not the exception of the human experience but the rule. Even most of those who are married are, as Thoreau once said, “living lives of quiet regret.” Maybe they married the wrong person or have the pain of suffering within marriage or feel trapped in their situations and are unable to fulfill a higher sense of calling. The list of unfulfilled desires goes on and on." (p. 72)

Surely that is true. We all live with unfulfilled desires.

"Desire" is: wanting something that one does not have. "Desire" makes no sense without its object. Were I to now think "I desire to type on a laptop computer" while typing on a laptop computer, that is absurd. All desire is, precisely, the lack of an object or circumstance or event or relationship that one does not now have. All persons have desires. Every desire, in its moment, is unfulfilled. "Unfulfilled desire" is a tautology, a redundancy. Therefore all persons have unfulfilled desires. And many of them remain so.

Hill writes: "One of the ways I have received help in dealing with my particular struggle has been through reading about the unfulfilled desires of others and how they have dealt with them." (p. 73) Many heterosexuals would like to marry but cannot find the right partner. "Persons in that situation, if they are Christians, must struggle to subordinate their desires for sex to the gospel’s demands for purity. They must choose, again and again, to forgo sexual fulfillment. And there are many others in similar situations." (Ib.)

For Hill, stories of imperfect faithfulness and perseverance inspire him and give him hope. He writes: "I am not alone as a homosexual Christian. I am not the only one who has chosen voluntarily to say no to impulses I believe are out of step with God’s desires." (75)

Remember it was our Lord, Jesus, who told us to expect unfulfilled desire and to not acquiesce to it. "Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."" (Luke 9:23) Self-denial includes denial of desires for the sake of following after Jesus. I don 't mean to triviliaize this as I give an example.

Way back in the 80s I was about to lead a group of college students for a day at Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan. This park is one of my favorite places to go. Linda and I have spent countless hours there. It's a wonderful, beautiful, recreational get-away playground. It was a Saturday morning, and I was packed and ready to go. But both our young sons were sick. Linda would have to take care of them all day while I got to play. I am sad to tell you that we argued over this, because the thought that I would have to deny my day of playing and stay home and help Linda with our boys upset me. I stayed home. God told me to. Of course that was the God-thing for me to do. My desires were to be put on hold. That's life in the Kingdom of God, and it is a very good life that is a self-denying life.

One more example. This past summer Linda and I had our suitcases packed. We were leaving for our annual summer conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. Linda's father Del lives with us. He's been with us now for 5 1/2 years. On that morning his defibrillator went off, twice. Linda and I knew that we were not going anywhere. For me, this was disappointing. I do not think that my feeling of disappointment was troubling to God. My God is a compassionate God who feels with me when I am disappointed. It was clear that our desires had to be denied, for the sake of a greater calling. We stayed with Del, took him to the hospital, and eventually (though a few days late) were able to find care for him and go to our conference.

M. Scott Peck begins his famous and brilliant The Road Less Traveled with these words: "Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths." (15) For Peck the "road less traveled" is this: Delay gratification.

I think we can substitute Jesus' words here: Deny yourself. Deny your desires. Do not define your self by your desires. Do not say "Yes" to every desire that struts into your mind. It is rare to find persons who live this way in our sex-inebriated culture of exponentially unfulfilled desire. Our consumerism not only wants us to say "Yes" to our thirst and obey it, it creates countless other desires and convinces us that we walk among the perpetually unfulfilled. The person who says "Yes" to every desire is a slave, not free.

As a homosexual Christian Hill writes: "The sorrow and suffering we experience as homosexual Christians is that of saying good-bye to any sure hope of satisfying our sexual cravings. In choosing fidelity to the gospel, we agree to bear up under this burden for as long as is necessary." (p. 75) But in "being burdened" the homosexual Christian is not unique. This "dislodges our assumption that having sex is necessary to be truly, fully alive. If Jesus abstained and if he is the measure of what counts as true humanity, then I may abstain too—and trust that, in so doing, I will not ultimately lose." (p. 77)

If this stuff interests you then you will do well to read Washed and Waiting.