A Part of Something Greater
By Alan Medinger (USA)
As far back as I can remember, I felt different.” Many, if not most, people who feel same-sex attractions have said this countless times. Those who want to justify their homosexuality use this statement to prove they were born homosexual. Those seeking change, however, use it to verify that something went wrong before sexual attractions even started to develop.
In either case, for those of us who have dealt with same-sex attractions, the above statement is probably one of the most accurate interpretations we can make of our early lives. We all have a tendency to project current feelings back into our childhoods to help us make sense of our lives today, but I am convinced that for most of us whose same-sex attractions developed early in life, this strong feeling of being different really was present, and it was a powerful force in our development.
How Feeling Different Impacts Development
Children naturally try to learn who they are by comparing themselves to those around them, namely peers. If a child feels different, he or she usually interprets the difference as a sign of inferiority. The behaviors and attitudes of the majority set the standard, and if a child perceives that he hasn’t measured up to the standard, he will likely believe he is inferior. Because such feelings of inferiority are painful, a child is apt to withdraw from the world of peers in order to minimize these feelings of pain. Accordingly, some degree of isolation sets in and the child becomes cut off from the social involvements with peers that shape growth. For those of us who seek to overcome same-sex attractions, we’ve found that cutting ourselves off from others as children eventually left us hindered in our ability to develop and maintain the healthy adult relationships— the kind we need in order to overcome homosexuality. Let me explain why.
It is not uncommon that an isolated child will become introspective and increasingly self-conscious. Ironically, self-consciousness itself can bring on further isolation. We tend to think of self-consciousness as an unfortunate but morally neutral condition. However, self-consciousness can easily grow into self-centeredness, and self-centeredness into self-absorption, and self-absorption into narcissism. It goes without saying that people (at least healthy people) generally don’t want to be around self-absorbed or narcissistic people, at least not for long. Who wants to be with someone who can only view the world and other people in the context of how those others impact on him or her? Many people enjoy friends who are "different,” but few want a self-absorbed person as a close friend.
Another quality can arise from isolation that may further cut a person off from healthy, life-giving relationships. Isolated people tend to be observers of the world around them rather than participants in it, and as such, they can easily become critical, cynical, and judgmental. From their lofty place above the crowd, they sit in judgment on the common horde, those going about their lives doing what seems natural to them. If they are not clever enough to cover up these attitudes, they will further drive people away from themselves.
Isolated, self-absorbed, and having a critical spirit— I’ve painted quite an unattractive picture of the person with same-sex attractions, haven’t I? Of course, every person with same-sex attractions doesn’t manifest all of these traits, and they certainly are not the exclusive property of people with same-sex attractions. In fact, narcissism seems to be a major curse among men in their fallen state. But I have seen these characteristics present in the backgrounds of hundreds of men and women in my ministry. I have seen them in the people in our groups, in counseling sessions—and I have seen them in my mirror. I could have been the poster boy for the type of person I have described above. However, I believe I am overcoming these traits, and I have certainly seen others overcome them.
Once we have decided that we want to overcome homosexuality, we will likely find that these patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving present a huge obstacle to us in our pursuit of the wholeness we seek. Many professionals maintain that narcissism, at least in its clinical form, is incurable. Those of us who suffer from it to any degree can see the Catch-22 bind it puts us in. "I must try to be less conscious of myself.” We use introspection to try to become free of introspection.
But there is hope. We can escape from feelings of inferiority, from self-absorption and from a critical spirit. Our difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships has stunted our growth, but we can change, and we can resume the growth process.
Antidote: Becoming a Part of Something Bigger
What needs to happen has probably already started in most of you. Much of it has to do with coming to see yourself as a part of something bigger than yourself. The principle of replacement works here. We replace the image of ourselves as an autonomous, independent agent with the picture of ourselves as a part of something greater.
This first occurred to me some years ago. For many years I have belonged to charismatic churches, which means that I am often in the midst of believers whose worship is very physical. In addition to worshiping God with our minds and tongues, we often raise our hands or sway or clap. Some might even dance. Now you would think that worship or praise time would, of all times, be our most God-centered time. Not for me. Invariably when I was trying to praise the Lord, I would start to ask myself, "Should I raise my hands now? Should I raise them all the way or halfway? How is my singing? Am I off key? Thinking about myself isn’t good right now; I’m supposed to be focused on Jesus.” Me, me, me, ad nauseam.
Then one day, through God’s grace, I discovered a way to effectively battle this self-absorption in worship. All of a sudden I started to see myself as just one of 150 or so people who were praising the Lord. I took on His perspective and I looked down, as from heaven, and saw a group of people praising and worshipping God. I was a part of the group, but I did not stand out in any way. Worshipping God was a wonderful thing, and I had no desire at all to zero in on myself.
I have continued to use this in worship and in other situations in which my old self-consciousness would start to emerge. It works in all kinds of circumstances. We let go of ourselves by seeing ourselves as a part of something bigger than ourselves. But picturing ourselves as I have just described it is but one part of how we can become free of ourselves and more focused on God and other people. Let me share a number of ways that this process is furthered.
1. Being born again – One of the ways people use to describe conversion is to draw two sets of three concentric rings. Before we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we inhabit the central ring, others are immediately around us, and God is in the outermost ring. We are at the center of our universe, even in relationship to God.
Then at conversion, God takes that center place, others are in the second ring and we take the outermost position. So, if you are a born again believer, you have already stepped out of that central place. You may find yourself having to fight regularly not to put yourself back in the center, but learning to let the Lord be the Lord is part of what the Christian life is all about. But spiritually you have relinquished that place. Don’t forget that.
2. Renounce individualism – This does not mean renouncing your uniqueness. Your uniqueness is God given. He made you to be different from every other person who ever lived. But individualism is the spirit of our age, and it is socially and psychologically destructive. It demands "my rights, my space.” At a recent church convocation my bishop talked of three phases that we go through growing to maturity. As babies or little children we are dependent; as adolescents or teenagers we are independent, and as adults we are interdependent. In light of the truth that homosexuality is a form of arrested development, it is not surprising that many same-sex attracted people are locked in the adolescent independent stage. Renounce it.
3. Give up your right to yourself – This wonderful expression is used a number of times by Oswald Chambers in his devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest. This is a spiritual transaction between you and God. It is a returning to and reaffirmation of what happened to you at conversion.
4. Remember that you are part of a body – Scripture has such a profound lesson for us in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. Yes you are different! But different doesn’t mean inferior. In this passage, Paul addresses how each member of the Body of Christ makes different contributions to the whole, and that does not give one a greater value than another. This same principle can apply in every aspect of our lives—in the family, the job, the neighborhood, in any community of people with whom we are connected. At work some are accountants, some salesmen, some file clerks, some vice presidents, some production workers, but all have value and all can make a vital contribution to the whole. Since we live in a hierarchical world, some will get greater material rewards or be given greater prestige for their contributions, but as believers, we know that each part of the body is important and each has value.
5. Start to picture yourself as a part of the whole - I illustrated this in seeing myself at worship. But in any area—the family, the church, the community—you can use the eyes of your imagination to view the big picture with yourself as only a part of it. This is an exercise in realism. It takes us from the distorted perspective we have of ourselves at the center of the universe, to the more accurate and realistic view of ourselves as only a part of something bigger than ourselves. Do this as an exercise whenever you are interacting with other people. Do it until it becomes your natural perspective.
6. Pursue a purpose or cause for which you can develop a passion – This will unite you with other people, and it will give you an opportunity to focus on a goal more than on yourself. You become one with those who share your goal. In the early years of Exodus, many of us narcissistic people were helped to grow beyond ourselves by passionately pursuing our common goal of seeing ministries established to help people overcome homosexuality.
7. Join the community – Go beyond your comfort zone and interact with other people. All that you have read heretofore will be just theory if you don’t start to interact with other people.
Homosexuality is a relational problem. We grow in relationships. We cannot grow until we escape from the world of self. Seeing ourselves as a part of a larger picture will bring us to reality, and it will free us to live in the world of men and women, the world we retreated from years ago, the world where healing will progress.
You are a part of God’s grand scheme of things. Embrace it.