I sat on the sideline watching the other boys play ball, feeling completely alone. From my earliest memories, I had never felt like I belonged or fit in anywhere, least of all in the company of other boys. Any spark of belief that I might learn to fit in had long ago been extinguished. My heart was broken. I cried with longing inside, always careful not to let those tears appear on my cheeks or give even a hint outwardly of the bitter anguish I wrestled with inside.
From my earliest memories, I had longed to be just “one of the boys.” To fit in. To belong. To matter. I longed to be “a real boy” for even a day. To experience the carefree abandon of their crazy antics and the familiar brotherhood of their rough-and-tumble play. To just once wrestle with another boy and not feel awkward and afraid. But it was too late for that. I was in my late teens and the opportunity to know and be known by my peers in that way was passed (or so I believed). So, I remained on the sideline, mourning for the boy who was forever lost and asking God, “why?”
Just a few years prior, the longing I had to be one of the boys had taken on a new twist. The ardent desire for friendship and relationship that always seemed just beyond my reach began to feel like something more. For a long time, I fought against those feelings. I cried out to God and begged Him over and over to please take those feelings from me. I hated myself a little more every day and began to believe the lie that God also hated me.
The relief and deliverance I sought never came and, in the end, I reluctantly resigned myself to an identity I would live with for many years. I didn’t even have a label to put on it at the time. I just knew I wasn’t like any other boy I had ever known, and I believed I never would be. Later, I discovered that guys like me were called “gay,” and I adopted that as my identity because it seemed to fit what I was experiencing.
For years, I wrestled constantly with my identity. Raised in church, I had a deep longing to know God and have a personal relationship with Jesus. There were days when I did my best to pursue that relationship but there were more days when...
I believed the lie about my identity and pursued love and friendship in all the wrong places.
Eventually, I came to believe that God hated me as much as I hated myself. Year after year I wrestled with sinful desires and behaviors that pulled me deeper and deeper into a false identity and deeper and deeper into despair.
In my late twenties, I endured a period of eighteen months where the depression I felt was so great that my every waking thought was of ending my life and wishing I had the courage and means to do it. I gave myself over to sinful addictions and pursuits in a futile attempt to lessen the gnawing pain and emptiness I felt at the core of my being. Eventually, I turned to sinful relationships in pursuit of something, anything, that might bring even a tiny amount of comfort. I persistently cried out to God, telling Him that I just wanted someone to love me. If He refused to love me, why would He condemn me for finding love elsewhere? I just wanted to feel loved, to feel like I mattered to someone and that I belonged somewhere.
Many more years came and went as I wrestled between a desire to know God and a desire to fully and completely embrace a homosexual identity. I longed for freedom from the deep pain I was in, but no relief ever seemed to come. I felt trapped in a cycle of sinful behavior that led to more and more despair which, in turn, led to more and more sinful behavior. But even during those long, dark days, God was working behind the scenes in ways that I would not see or understand until much later.
In His providence, God set in motion a series of job loses which ultimately led me to relocate for a job several hours away from the place I had called home for many years. At the time, I thought the move was only about following a job I loved, but God had much more in mind. So much more!
Shortly after the move, I entered the doors of a little Nazarene church in my new neighborhood for the first time. I knew I wanted to be in church, but I had little expectation beyond simply having a place to sit in a pew on Sunday mornings week after week. However, God had not brought me there to let me be content to just exist from week to week as I had for so many years. He knew that I was finally at a place where I was ready to surrender my old identity and embrace the love that He had always desired to bestow on me.
It wasn’t long before I began to experience love and genuine care from the pastor and the people of that little church. The more they loved on me and invested in me, the easier it became to believe in God’s love for me.
The biggest turning point for me came first in regular conversations with my pastor, beginning shortly after I started attending the church. He never set an agenda for our meetings. He simply sat with me and listened to me share whatever it was I needed to share each week. He took time to hear me and understand me without trying to fix me. That was exactly what I needed. He just loved me for who I was and where I was and was completely at ease in waiting on the Holy Spirit to begin doing the changing that needed to happen in me. Because of that, I became more and more open to allowing the Holy Spirit to work and I understood on a new level what it meant for God to love me unconditionally because I experienced my pastor’s unconditional love.
Over the past year and a half, several others from the church have invested time in listening to and praying for and with me on many occasions. Each one more interested in learning who I was as a person than they were concerned with my same-sex attractions or trying to fix those things about me that they didn’t understand. As a result, I’ve been able to open up more and more along the way and share my life with others in a way that has been both healing and spiritually refreshing. Great spiritual growth has taken place in me simply because a group of people decided to love me with no agenda and no list of expectations for how quickly I should change or pressure regarding what that change should look like. They just invested in me as a friend, expressed eagerness to learn from me about my experiences, prayed with me when I asked them to, and allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work in me. There is no greater motivation to change than unconditional love. That happened for me first through my pastor, then others in the church, and finally through having my heart opened to the unconditional love of God.
I don’t think I would ever have become fully aware of the lifechanging power of God’s love for me without having first experienced it through my pastor and the church.
It took some time and a whole lot of prayer, but finally I put my faith in Jesus Christ, and He began to work miraculous changes in me. My old identity centered around my sexual temptations was replaced with a new identity as a child of God. The Holy Spirit began to reveal to me all the ways that He had watched over me throughout my life. Even during what seemed to be the darkest and most hopeless times of my life, God was protecting me, loving me, and drawing me to Himself.
A part of me was always seeking God from my earliest memories but it took people being willing to show me what God’s love looked like for me before I could begin to receive God’s love. For the first 25+ years of my life, the enemy had me convinced that God hated me, and I was almost 30 years old before I began to see that as a lie. Since that time, it’s been a 20-year journey of seeking and doubting before I finally arrived at a place where I could begin to rest in God’s love. Temptation never ends as I still struggle with doubts about God’s love. But I am reminded in my time with the Lord and my brothers and sisters in Christ that His love is a powerful thing! My relationship with God continues to deepen and grow. I know He has changed me. I’m not even close to who I used to be just a couple of years ago.
For the first time in my life, I no longer see my life in Christ as optional. He is giving me courage and strength to fight through every confusion and doubt with the understanding that my relationship with him is secure. Turning back is no longer a part of my thinking. God has done too much for me for me to ever consider turning away from Him again. I love the life I have now in Him! Even the scars allow God’s mercy and grace to shine brighter through me and that is an incredible blessing. I’ve wrestled long and hard in my relationship with God and He has blessed me beyond measure through that process. I would never have known the depth of His grace and mercy as I do now without the struggles I’ve been through, and I can’t help but feel grateful for every scar because they have driven me into His arms of love and remind me daily of the scars He bore for me.
God has radically transformed me and sanctified me to a life of real peace and true identity as a child of the King. The life I thought could never be, now is! Because of Jesus! God has delivered me from homosexual sin, empowered me to walk in victory over temptation, and implanted within me a deep desire for Himself.
Because of Jesus, I am now living the life I was meant to live, as the man God created me to be.
As I look back, I no longer see a lifetime of hopeless despair; I see a loving God relentlessly pursing me. Constantly, I am overwhelmed as He increasingly reveals His love to me. All those years when I thought He was so far away, He wasn’t. Instead, He was orchestrating events and protecting me from destruction until the day my blind eyes were opened, and I could finally see things as they really are. He was there all along. Now, I belong to Jesus. I matter to Jesus. My heart cries out in praise to my Redeemer who daily showers me with blessings. Oh, how great the Savior’s love for me!
Steven Matlock is a Board Certified Mental Health Coach and director for Journey to Freedom Ministries, a ministry of Columbia Church of the Nazarene in Columbia, Kentucky. Journey to Freedom helps men and women find freedom from sexual bondage and experience life-changing transformation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
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[Photo by Danielle Keltner]