It is important to state upfront that it is common for guys growing up to struggle with low self-esteem and a poor self-image. During adolescence our body, especially our face, change so fast that it’s hard to keep up with the pace of accepting our changing appearance. But you may be wondering what does this have to do with sexual preferences? I think a lot.
But before I go any further I want you to do a short exercise. I would like you on a piece of paper to write down what you find attractive in another guy. Immediate characteristics might come to mind, or you may be too shy to even admit anything. But, write what draws you to certain guys. Then on the other side of the paper I would like you to describe yourself. So, do that before reading on.
I have believed and taught for sometime that it is envy that feeds same-sex attractions. Meaning when you look at guys that have the physique, personality or talents that you wish you had, you may feel a pull or attraction to that type of person. There is a relationship between envy and attraction. But it was one afternoon as I was walking back and forth praying in my living room the Lord provided some clarification about envy. The thought that came to mind that I had never considered was “Bitterness is the root of envy.” In other words, before I become jealous of another guy, I must first be unsatisfied with the way I am.
As I have thought about how bitterness, envy and attraction all correlate together, a picture of a tree comes to mind. A tree helps me understand and illustrate the effects of bitterness. Bitterness is like the root of a tree, and envy grows from the root and solidifies as the trunk. But the visible covering of the tree represents the branches, which are the attractions or lustful desires that we observe. In our minds, we process bitterness through our thoughts and perceptions. We may think, “I am angry with the way I am and the situation I’m in.” Desire may accompany this thinking process and out of desire would come another thought, “I want what I don’t have.” It would be enticing to act on those thoughts and claim what is not ours. We may even begin to become fixated or oriented to certain guys that have what we want. These same-sex attractions become engrained in our psyche, and lust becomes the evil expression of that envy. Although same-sex attractions and lust are the noticeable struggles to the young man, each has a much deeper source: bitterness.
Sometimes young guys share with me that they have crushes on a classmate. I have asked them to do what I asked you to do earlier. Describe whom (or what about them) they find attractive and then to describe themselves. Once while I was speaking in Vancouver, Canada, a seventeen year old approached me and told me about his struggles with same-sex attractions. After corresponding over email I asked him to describe the guy he had a crush on, and then himself. This is what he replied to me:
1. British (so cool, so different, accent)
2. Popular (well, everyone wants to be popular)
3. Great Fashion (I try, but I am still vain and conceited and obsessed with my looks. Because he is emo, he can just put anything together and come up with a style)
4. Confident (he doesn’t seem to care what others think, he’s very self-secure. I wish I was, but I don’t have very high self-esteem)
5. Attractive (How, I’m not sure. He’s not ripped or anything, in fact, he might be a bit too skinny. He’s got stubble and such, but I still find him really appealing.)
1. Canadian (whatever, everyone I know is Canadian)
2. A little popular (I have a few friends, most people I know are acquaintances.)
3. As for fashion, whatev (I try my hardest to have good looks, but I still beat myself up a lot because I feel like I don’t measure up.)
4. Shy and awkward (I feel like everyone stares at me, and I have bad social skills. I do stupid things a lot, and no one can talk to me seriously.)
5. Sheesh, attractive? I already told you I don’t have high self-esteem. I wish that someone else out there, on the face of the Earth, would find me attractive. So far, I have yet to find that person.
When guys consider the type of guys they are attracted to, what typically crystallizes is that they are attracted to characteristics that they perceive contrast with their own. Without knowing it, youth have “attached” their psyche to guys that are or have what they feel they are deficient in.
By studying the Scriptures it becomes clear that the problem of envy is a repeated theme in many stories of the Bible. In fact, James ties it to confusion and sin. “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”[i]
So how do you resolve envy and improve your self-image? Here are some suggestions….
Do not persistently dwell on your shortcomings, but focus on what the Lord has given you. I have to intentionally take this step during my morning prayer when I find myself falling back into envy. I pray: “God, give me the grace to not look to the left or the right out of envy of another man, but look straight ahead knowing that in Christ I am growing stronger.” Job made a similar covenant with his eyes as it relates to women “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.”[ii]
Continually fixating on other guys, wishing you could look or act like them will have a negative effect on your self-esteem and will leave you in a constant state of discontentment. An old proverb teaches, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one can share its joy.”[iii] As we grow older, we should become more confident and comfortable “in our own skin” or else we will either become more resentful or vain. But you may say: “I am not ready to give up those second looks at attractive men?” Well also know this, envy driven by bitterness is not ultimately going to make you feel any better, but will probably quench your joy. Bitterness will continue to breed confusion. You will end up feeling inadequate and less than others, and will have to battle self-denigrating thoughts, even after you have turned around from that second look. You intensify the problem you may have with your self-image, while on the flipside, asking God to give you momentary strength to accept how you have been made is a better alternative. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “Most unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself.” In other words, bring the issue before the Lord, and remind yourself that you are growing and not remaining the same.
Second, repent of rejecting the body, personality and gender that God determined for you and replace your perspective with gratitude. The Psalmist wrote, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”[iv] Gratitude and thanksgiving are antidotes to bitterness and envy. Everyday we should rise and be grateful for the health we enjoy and for the time we have been given. God didn’t have to make it so that you were formed or born, but yet you have been given the gift of life, and you should embrace the way you were created. Don’t be bitter with the body your soul resides in or the personality you have to express yourself. The truth is we are our own worst critics. Be appreciative of who you are and are becoming, knowing that you are maturing. And fully accept that there will always be someone that is taller, better looking, more talented, stronger, has better hair, lighter/darker skin than you. We’re all distinct; there are various races, hair types, body types and personas. Embrace the differences without considering yourself inferior. It is so freeing to know that we are each unique and that there are people born with attractive characteristics different than us. God delights in and designed diversity. Likewise allow others to welcome how they were made in the same way you make peace with yourself. Learn to be content. Be the best person you can be at your age with what you have at this time in your life. What other choice do you have?
Henri Nouwen, who left his professorship at Harvard to become a Catholic priest and ultimately moved to Toronto, Canada to care for invalids, was a prolific and popular author in the twentieth century. This is what he wrote about the cycle of comparison:
“No two lives are the same. We often compare our lives with those of others, trying to decide whether we are better or worse off, but such comparisons do not help us much. We have to live our life, not someone else’s. We have to hold our own cup. We have to dare to say: ‘This is my life, the life that is given to me, and it is this life that I have to live, as well as I can. My life is unique. Nobody else will ever live it. I have my own history, my own family, my own body, my own character, my own friends, my own way of thinking, speaking and acting-yes, I have my own life to live. No one else has the same challenge.’”[v]
Nouwen understood that inner peace comes when we decide to live our life without comparing ourselves to others.
One of the specific ways that you can change the habit of quickly comparing yourself to other guys is by your choice of words. When you assess yourself, like your abilities in academics or sports, don’t say, “I am not as good as so and so” or “I’m such a loser.” I’m not saying that if you aren’t good at something that you ignore it. Actually its okay to say that (and maybe even joke about it), but don’t reference other people as the measuring stick. When I verbally compare myself to other guys it reinforces my inadequacy or maybe even superiority (undoubtedly, there are some things that I am actually better at than others). Both of which are unhelpful though. So assess your own capabilities without comparing yourself to other guys. But here’s a good person to compare yourself to: you. Use yourself as the point of comparison. Are you better than what you once were at something? Then begin making that comparison first in your words and then it will affect your thoughts and perceptions.
Don’t put yourself down and don’t beat yourself up. Love and respect yourself. Keep in mind people usually treat you like you treat yourself.
Third, take reasonable steps to improve yourself (i.e. as far as you can, become what you find attractive). For example, I am tall and thin. I probably will always be, unless I grow a gut, which I have to be careful about. I will probably never be a buff guy. But something that makes me feel better about myself and less envious of other guys is to workout, bike and participate in physical activities, which enable me to grow physically stronger. Not only is this healthy physiologically, it is also good for my soul. Even Paul wrote, “physical training is of some value.”[vi] Likewise, because I am a skinny guy, if I wear clothes that are ill fitting, I feel awkward. Therefore, I try to buy clothes that fit me well, and make me feel less gawky.
What does working out or wearing clothes have anything to do with bitterness? They are practical steps that make me feel less insecure. They help me.
Likewise, don’t remain idle as it pertains to your self-image. Consider what easy steps you can take that will make you feel more comfortable with your body frame, personality or ability, and as you grow older maintain a positive outlook, and not become bitter.
Fourth, forget the way you used to act. Although in ministry I have to often refer back to my testimony, in private conversation I try not to look at my current problems and difficulties as homosexual issues. I have learned that my problems are similar to most men. In fact, today I relate more with heterosexual men than I do homosexuals. The Bible teaches Christians not to look at one another in light of how the person used to be. You too will have to look at yourself as someone new. If you mess up one day, don’t allow it the next day to affect you. Once you repent of your sin, put it behind you. “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”[vii] Embrace that truth because whether you understand it or not, you are the one tying yourself to the past. The Lord considers it ancient history.
Fifth, a big part of being free from resentment toward masculine guys is to abandon your ‘good boy’ image. Admittedly when Paul wrote: “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me,”[viii] he was making a spiritual point. But it was also a reference to the natural metamorphous required for a boy to become a man. Many parents of gay guys have told me that when their son announced he was gay he began acting so radically differently they didn’t even know who he was anymore. They were totally surprised by his behavior because they tell me, “He was the easiest of our children.” The reason the young man wants to dump that ‘sweet boy’ image is because he has grown into adulthood and no man can remain a ‘good little boy’ without serious repercussions. It was harmful to keep that maturing boy restrained from his masculine potential. While his mother or grandmother was nurturing an emasculated persona, a deep-seated frustration and resentment developed and one day everything hit the fan. He ended up trading the ‘nice boy’ identity for the trappings of the ‘gay’ identity and subconsciously declared his individuality. You, too, must be careful about making that losing tradeoff.
I hate it when I am called a ‘nice guy.’ I would rather be called something else. I will go for charming, strong, funny, great, but anything but nice. And you know what? Nowhere in the Bible are men instructed to act nice or sweet. We’re men! We are not to be soft. I was encouraged when I first read that being a Christian does not mean that I have to be sweet. When I was living overseas, a pastor presented me with some much needed reading material, Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge. He explains how it is good for men to be bold, courageous, take risks and even be dangerous (but in a godly way). His point is that just because a guy is a Christian, it doesn’t mean that he has to be a pushover. In fact, I don’t think that God is pleased with men acting as good little boys.
If you have an intrinsic aspiration to conqueror, rule and explore and it is obstructed and emasculated, it could manifest through anonymous sex with men, wicked fantasy or maybe you will grow so tired of masquerading as innocent and just reject the secrecy of the whole affair and take on the gay identity. In any case, you really aren’t acting ‘sweet’ are you? No, you are a man with masculine potential and a strong sex drive, just the way you were created to be. Why not accept it and act like it (in a redeemed way of course) rather than to embrace an unhealthy ‘good boy’ image or swap it for its destructive substitute, and be ‘gay’?
Resolving the issues of bitterness has great personal effects. You will become more secure and feel more significant, elements of a good self-image. When you stop wanting or being envious of other men, attractions wane. Frank Worthen teaches that when insecurity is gone, much of the temptation will also disappear.[ix] Manhood is something a man earns through one challenge at a time, one relationship at a time and one risk at a time. Look at each day as another chance to become more of who you have the absolute potential to be.
Copyright © 2007, Exodus Global Alliance.
[v] Henri J.M. Nouwen, Can You Drink the Cup? (Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria, 1996), 28.
[viii] I Corinthians 13.11.
[ix] Frank Worthen, Helping People Step Out of Homosexuality (San Rafael, California: New Hope Ministries, 1995), 145.