© 2018 by Letters to a Young Gay Christian. Proudly created with Wix.com.

    FOR WHEN YOU ARE READY TO FACE YOUR DEMONS, REJECT IDOLS, AND TURN AWAY FROM FALSE GODS

    “But when he prays about his goods or marriage or children, he is not ashamed to address the thing without a soul. And for vigor he invokes the powerless; and for life he entreats the dead; and for aid he beseeches the wholly incompetent, and about travel, something that cannot even walk.”

    - Wisdom 13: 17-18

     

    “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”

    - Micah 6: 8

    Dear Sister, Dear Brother, Dear Friend,

     

               We were made for love and freedom. We were created to love God, love others, and love ourselves. To live in peace with our own nature, we must hold God at the center of our lives. God is truth, mercy, goodness, and love itself. Our dreams, thoughts, words, and actions must be rooted in God and the mission She gives us to bring joy to the world.

                When we make something that is not God the center of our lives, that thing becomes an idol or a false god. In Exodus 20: 2-3, God says, “I, the LORD, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery. You shall not have other gods besides me.” For the people of Israel in the ancient world, the great temptation was to worship pagan deities represented by objects made of stone or wood. Worshiping these false gods did nothing except turn people away from the one true God. The pain and foolishness of such a choice is captured in the words of Wisdom 13: 17-18: “But when he prays about his goods or marriage or children, he is not ashamed to address the thing without a soul. And for vigor he invokes the powerless; and for life he entreats the dead; and for aid he beseeches the wholly incompetent, and about travel, something that cannot even walk.” St. Paul gives a clear and gentle warning in 1 Corinthians 10: 14 when he writes, “Therefore, my beloved, avoid idolatry.” 

                In the modern day, people may be less tempted to worship pagan deities made of wood or stone, yet there are still countless idols that people use to replace God. Idols can take the form of actions, habits, desires, people, or material things. Some of these false gods actively damage our own lives or hurt others, such as drugs or excessive alcohol use, irresponsible sexual behavior, materialism, or selfishness. Such idols become personal demons or temptations that actively pull us from God and loving communion with our neighbors. But idols can also be good things, actions, dreams, or even attachments to people that become corrupted when we treat them as more important than God. Financial security, ambition to do good things with one’s life, or a beloved person are all good things worthy of pursuit, time, energy, and commitment. But in the midst of our work, our goals, and our relationships, we must realize that everything we do is for the love of God and because God calls us to love others. If we forget that, we will run out of energy to do good by cutting ourselves off from God, who is the source of everything. Idols make promises of happiness, fulfillment, or peace that they cannot keep. When we make idols the center of our lives, we miss opportunities to live fully in love and truth because we have chosen paths that do not lead to God.

                We all carry brokenness from pain that we have endured and witnessed. There are times when we feel alone, unloved, unwanted, hated, used, belittled, or ignored. God wants to hold and heal us in our brokenness. She wants to give us peace that the world cannot give. Yet sometimes it seems easier to have our needs met, soothe our anxieties, escape our fears, or satisfy our desires by choosing something that is not God. Rather than turning to God for purpose, joy, and healing, it seems easier, faster, or simply more in line with the crowd to choose another way. We seek a quick fix that will help us escape pain or make us feel good, satisfied, or valued in the moment. Other times, we feel as if we do not deserve God’s love, and so we do things we know will hurt us to punish ourselves or confirm deeply held beliefs that we are no good. We cheat ourselves of our true inheritance as children of God. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know deep down when we are on the wrong path because there is always a yearning deep inside for something more. We yearn for God.

                How do we break chains of poor choices and escape our demons? We must turn to God. We must pray and allow grace to transform our hearts. We must open our souls to God’s limitless forgiveness so that we might forgive others and forgive ourselves.

                We often find God’s healing grace through relationship with one another. We lean on friends and family who help us grow into our best selves. We help each other carry on through suffering and hold each other up rather than running away from the pain. We face our demons and realize that God will conquer them for us as long as we let Her.

                Read on and you will see that a large part of this letter deals with common demons that people face and ways to overcome them, but first I want to share some stories of my personal idols. I do this to show that our spiritual struggles are unique and sometimes we need to do some digging to discover how we are being led astray.

                One false idol I struggle with is a romanticized dream of falling in love and getting married. When I thought I was straight, I had grandiose notions of falling in love with a woman and getting married. After realizing I was gay and coming out, I had similar dreams of falling in love with a man and getting married. In both cases, this dream started out as an innocent and noble goal for my life. It is good to find and build romantic love. It is good for two people who love each other to commit themselves to one another in marriage and start a family together. However, what started out for me as a happy fantasy eventually became an unhealthy obsession. I did not enjoy dating because I was not falling in love with anyone. Without realizing it, I came to believe that my life would not truly begin until I got married. From there I came to think that I had no love in my life whatsoever because I was single. I lost sight of every blessing God had given me, including the tender and devoted love of family and friends, meaningful work, and the joy of reading books, hiking, eating good food, and simply being alive. I even seemed to forget the most important part of life, which was enjoying a loving relationship with God. I sulked and listened to sad music and made myself miserable because I lacked one particular object that I wanted, which was a relationship with a spouse.

                Once I realized that wanting a loving partner had become a false god, I was able to give this dream to God in prayer. I asked Her to transform me and show me how I could love the people in my life better today. Over time, romantic love and marriage returned to being a hopeful dream that was part of my balanced life rather than an obsessive need. God helped me learn and grow through this experience. She set me free to enjoy my life and make meaning in every day.

                Another idol I struggle with is over-prioritizing my professional career. For years, I tortured myself wondering over and over again what job I should pursue. I thought I needed to find the perfect job that would use all of my talents and fulfill every purpose for which I was created. Over time, I bounced from position to position. There were things I liked and disliked with every new role. Nothing was ever good enough. I went from being a preschool teacher to a barista to a youth group facilitator to a janitor to a counselor to a hospital social worker. I prayed and prayed to find the perfect job that would satisfy the desires in my heart. Somewhere along the way, God opened my eyes to see that I was trying to make my job the center of meaning in my life rather than God. It is good to pursue meaningful work and use one’s gifts for the greater good, but we must do this without burying ourselves in dissatisfaction and pressure. God helped me see that we are all commanded to love God, love our neighbors, and love ourselves, and there are countless opportunities to accomplish these goals in any job. If we ask, God will show us how to make meaning in all areas of our lives, including at work, in relationships, in church communities, in volunteer roles, in artistic endeavors, and in contact with strangers we encounter in day to day life. In my pride, I had been searching for a clear and vibrant mission that I could hold up as proof that my life was important. God helped me see that I am important and meaningful because I am made in Her image and She loves me. I do not need a perfect job. If I open myself to God, She will help me to discover and shape meaning in every moment of every day.

                There are some classic idols that tempt most of us to various degrees throughout our lives. These include wealth, unholy power, lust, rigid moral legality, and worldly praise. It is important to look at these closely to realize how we can turn away from our demons and give ourselves completely to God. I do not think the journey is about hating ourselves for breaking rules, but rather deepening in understanding of how we can live in freedom, truth, goodness, and joy. 

                One idol we might chase is wealth and the accumulation of material possessions. There is no denying the value of a nice home, an expensive car, a hefty bank account, and all the trappings of a comfortable life. These items hold the allure of security and stand firm in our modern world as symbols of success. Many who survive hard times or poverty yearn to protect themselves and their loved ones from hardship, and this is a noble goal. Pursuing financial responsibility and providing for one’s family are great virtues. Likewise, we must enjoy the bounty of the earth and the fruit of human creativity if we are to achieve balance and remain grateful for all God has given us. God wants us to be grateful for life, cherish beauty, and support robust economies where people thrive in community with one another.

                However, a serious problem emerges when accumulating wealth and stuff becomes more important than loving people and God. The truth is that the earth has limited resources. For our planet to survive and for all people everywhere to get what they need, each person must be committed to using resources and goods responsibly. It is good to enjoy what you have, take what we need, and share the rest. It is not good to take and take and take for oneself without caring about one’s neighbors or the rest of Creation.

                Why is it so tempting to take more than our fair share? Sometimes it feels good to have a lot of things. Sometimes we crave the security of having much more than we really need. Many people wish to be admired and think they can get this kind of attention by wearing expensive clothes, living in a big house on the water, or driving a deluxe convertible. This hunger to be noticed and liked can be especially strong in gay people and other oppressed groups who have been taught all their lives that they are less valuable than others. When we put material goods above God and service to our neighbors, we fail to recognize the demands of justice and human dignity. We were made to be more than things that collect other things. Our value comes not from what we own or what others think of us, but rather from our identity as children of God. We were made to love God and care for one another.

                Scripture is full of messages compelling us to place love and God above material things. Mammon is an Aramaic word for wealth, and in Luke 16: 13, Jesus says, “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Jesus compels us to choose who we will follow and how we will spend our time in this life. Will we focus on our own security and comfort, or will we live for God? Jesus says in Matthew 6: 19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroy, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” We must place our hearts in God who is love, for She is our greatest treasure and we are Hers.

                Jesus says in Matthew 5: 3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Much has been written about this verse over the centuries. People wonder, is Jesus telling us to be poor? To be clear, I do not think God wants anyone to live in the fear, hunger, deprivation, sickness, squalor, and injustice that is true poverty. The state of poverty exists because our world is broken by sin, especially the sin of some people hoarding rather than sharing the goods of the earth and the works of human hands. When Jesus calls the “poor in spirit” blessed, I believe he is calling us to a radical dependence on God. I believe Jesus wants us to see material goods as gifts from God. These gifts are not ends in themselves. They allow us to thrive and provide us with opportunities to love and serve. Our homes should not be fortresses where we hide from the world; they should be hubs of healing and love for our neighbors. Our cars should not be chariots that take us where we want to go; they should be means to transport ourselves and others to places of healing, learning, service, worship, recreation, mission, and play. The clothes we wear and books we read and knick-knacks that become little parts of our lives should not be objects that exist merely for our own pleasure; they should be tools and symbols that inspire us to be more loving, creative, and fruitful people. Our bank accounts should not exist merely for the well-being of ourselves and our families; they should be shared in a balanced and responsible way for the well-being of all.

                If we depend on God and use all we have for bringing about justice, we will have a healthy relationship with material goods. If we work hard and share the fruits of our labor in a spirit of generosity, we will live in the peace offered by Jesus in Matthew 6: 25-26: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?”

                Unholy power is another idol that is closely tied with wealth because wealth and power feed each other. Power can be defined as having influence on oneself, other people, the community, or the world. Power is the ability to make or stifle change. Thirsting after power for its own sake is a serious temptation for those who experience the fear and degradation of weakness. We live in a world that strips many of their power by denying rights, leveling threats, enacting violence, and whispering in a thousand voices, You are not good enough as you are. God wants to fill us with the power of Her love through the Holy Spirit, who is capable of moving mountains and raising the dead. As Christians, we are the Body of Christ alive in the world today. God wants to give us power so that we may use it to do good.    

                So when does power become unholy, a false idol rather than God’s gift? Power becomes unholy when we seek it for our own satisfaction, for the thrill of telling others what to do, think, or believe, for the rush of controlling other people’s lives. When we seek power over others to escape from the pain of our own weakness, we turn our backs on the mission of love which is the purpose of God-given power. In addition, Christian power is often completely different from worldly power. The world’s understanding of power focuses on control over others and aggrandizement of the self, often at the expense of someone else. Dictators are powerful; corporate leaders are powerful; politicians in seats of decision-making authority are powerful; celebrities with millions of fans hanging on their every word are powerful. For Christians, the most powerful moment in all time took place when Jesus overcame sin and death through humiliation, torture, and death on a cross. Jesus’s power to give us eternal life came through his self-sacrifice, his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. Despite incredible fear, he bore it all with unconditional love for everyone, including his own tormentors and the greatest sinners of every age. Nothing is more powerful than Jesus’s mercy as he hangs from the cross and speaks the words, “…Father, forgive them, they know not what they do…” (Luke 23: 34).  

                When we live under the weight of our own crosses, the world tells us these are our greatest moments of humiliation, suffering, and weakness. But the truth is that when people hate us, call us names, mock our voices, criticize our hair, call us prudes, call us whores, strike us, beat us up, belittle us, or persecute us in any way, we have the choice to let these moments connect us deeply with the mysterious and saving power of Jesus’ crucifixion. Each insult is a nail in our hands and feet, each blow a stab from our own crowns of thorns. We must never hide in shame but always survive and struggle with Christ to endure suffering and change the world.  We must forgive those who persecute us, for they too are broken and hurting. In moments of humiliation and pain, we are indeed weak. But as St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12: 10, “Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

                The world will tell us that suffering and weakness is defeat. As Christians, we must believe that when we surrender in weakness, God will transform our suffering into triumph and strength. God meets us where we are, holds us there, sanctifies our suffering, and works in it to bring greater redemption to the world. This place of pain is where miracles happen.

                I am not saying that we should be masochists, seek suffering, ignore oppression, or accept abuse. That would be like believing that Jesus’s story ends after his suffering and death. But the story goes on. Jesus rises, and we must rise with him. We must face our tormentors, forgive them, demand change, and fight for justice. But Christ’s resurrection and ours means that the suffering is not meaningless. If we invite God to help us carry our crosses, we no longer need to dwell in hopelessness and misery. The joy of the Holy Spirit is not dependent on worldly circumstances or feelings. She is an eternal wellspring of hope who moves us to take step after step in building up the Kingdom of God whether the world sees us as weak or strong. Jesus gives this promise in Matthew 11: 28-30: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

                If you feel today as if you have no power, give yourself to God. Give God your suffering, dreams, fears, courage, and love. Open your eyes to opportunities for building community with other people, whether this be through a church, school, club, team, workplace, library, community center, evening class, bible study, or volunteer job. Each of us is a part of the Body of Christ alive in the world today. We cannot do anything on our own. We need God and we need each other. If you surrender to God, She will guide you to good work that needs doing, surround you with people to care about, and fill you with the strength you need to carry on. Whether you feel powerful or weak, trust in God and let God be your strength at all times.   

                Lust is a false idol that is often praised as one of the greatest goods in the gay community. It is absolutely vital to remember that sex is created by God to be joyous, thrilling, and very, very good. Sex is meant to be exciting, fun, and cherished by those who share it. It has the power to be an intense expression of love. The Song of Solomon in the Bible is filled with passionate verses about longing, intimacy, and the joy of connecting body and soul with another person. Sexuality is the fire that holds a couple together, and therefore it is one foundation of creating a family.

                Sometimes we are tempted to lust, which is the pursuit of sex without love. There are times when we just want to feel good and not think about how sexual acts impact others or ourselves. Sometimes we are lonely and yearn to experience a sense of connection with another person, even if it is only physical or even if the other person is committed to someone else. Maybe we want to use the pleasure of sex to chase away something that plagues us, such as sadness, guilt, or emptiness. Maybe we yearn to feel wanted, valuable, or loved, and casual or illicit sex makes us feel that way, if only for a little while. Maybe we feel pressure to get experience or prove we are sexy, and so we seek sex just to be like everyone else. In the gay community, there is a lot of pressure to be sexually attractive, feel good in the moment, and do what we feel like without thinking too much about it. As gay Christians, a lot of loneliness, shame, and feelings of being unlovable often spring from homophobic messages we receive from certain faith communities. This double-sided pressure to seek sex without love often leads individuals to make irresponsible decisions in terms of sex and relationships, which leads to hordes of people being betrayed or used by various partners. People who get hurt then go around and hurt other people in dating and in bed, and this leads to a tragic state of affairs.

                When we use sex exclusively to make ourselves feel good, experience power, or meet our own needs, we turn our partner or partners into objects who exist merely for our own satisfaction. We deny the human dignity of the other person. At the same time, even if we try to remove love from sex, it remains deeply intimate by its very nature. Therefore, when we have sex with strangers or people we cannot fully commit to, our bodies make promises that we never intend to keep. Furthermore, lust lies at the root of many evils far more insidious other than sex without love. Lust combined with thirst for unholy power results in human trafficking, sexual exploitation of youth, pornography, child pornography, sexual assault, and sexual abuse. These painful realities are rooted in the desire to satisfy cravings for power and sexual release by hurting, using, and dehumanizing others.

                As humans, we are graced with the gift of sexuality. With this grace comes a sacred duty to love others and ourselves, to respect our bodies and those of others as temples of the Holy Spirit of God. Sex does not inherently pollute or denigrate our bodies. Rather, we are called to live our sexual lives in ways that bring joy into the world, not sorrow; fulfillment, not emptiness; union, not discord; ecstasy, not pain; freedom, not slavery. I encourage you to embrace your sexuality as a gift. Ask God to show you the best way to live out your sex drive given your current stage of life, and be honest with yourself about where She leads you. Read through Scripture and talk with good, wise, trusted people who truly want the best for you. It is fun to have crushes and attractions. It is thrilling to get to know the beautiful body of a person you are dating. It is ecstatic to make love with the love of one’s life. Sometimes it all gets very confusing. We do not always know where we should draw our boundaries or even how to figure it out. Should we create lists of rules for when to proceed to the next sexual activity? Should these rules be based on length of time, feelings, or commitments? Should we seek to live in the Spirit of truth and let things flow and develop naturally? If we do this, how do we know if our actions are flowing in the path intended by the Holy Spirit or diverted by waves of lust?

                Take time to ponder these questions in prayer, and know that there is absolutely no rush to come to any conclusions. You must take the time to decide in good conscience what you believe is right, and you must talk with any potential partner about their beliefs and desires. It is important to consider what sex means to you and what it means to the other person. Many painful misunderstandings happen simply because people do not talk about what they are doing before they do it. Does this person think that sex means the two of you love each other, or not? Does this person think that sex means you are dating each other exclusively, or not? Does this other person think that sex is important and special, or not? It is also absolutely vital that whoever you connect with gives full and unambiguous consent. Whether you are holding hands, kissing, making out, or getting naked together, you should both understand where the other person is coming from and you should communicate openly and honestly that this is what you both want. No one should ever pressure another person to do something sexually that they do not want to do. Sex should be lived out in joy and freedom, not fear and abuse.

                So ask God, how should I live out my sexuality today? How can I love another person best with my body, heart, and soul? If I feel an intense desire to connect with someone tonight but there are no potential soulmates on the horizon, what should I do? Where should I draw the line with this current relationship or future relationships? How can I honor my body and their body as Temples of the Holy Spirit? How am I called to love today?

                As you ponder these important questions, remember that sex is made to be amazing, joyful, and good. It is made to hold families together and bring life into the world. When things get complicated, confusing, or hurtful, try to step back and thank God for the amazing gifts of your body and your libido. Being a sexual being can be frustrating and lonely, but it can also be exhilarating and tender. If times are hard now, trust that the seasons will eventually change. Give the fires of your heart and body to God. She will guide you to the good things She has in store for you. 

                In works about idols and demons, one would expect to find words about wealth, power, and lust. But some idols are more subtle and come disguised as false virtue. One such idol is that of approaching morality through rigid legality. Rather than living a life of love, sometimes we build our lives around a mirthless set of rules and beliefs that become a system of false gods. This can be especially tempting for gay Christians. If we experience deeply internalized guilt or shame, we may want desperately to escape it by pretending to be models of so-called “perfect Christians.” Rather than surrendering to Christ and letting him heal us, we seek to conform our behavior to moral laws. We hope that “being good” will make up for past sins or somehow compensate for the mistaken belief that there is something inherently wrong with us for being gay. We act the way we think is right, but our hearts are not in it. We try to earn our own salvation rather than accepting redemption as a gift from Christ, and we make idols of the laws we seek to follow.

                In chapter two of Mark’s gospel, some of Jesus’ disciples are criticized by religious leaders of the time for picking heads of grain on the Sabbath day and therefore violating rules that prohibit working on what should be a day of rest. In Mark 2: 27, we read, “Then he [Jesus] said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Jesus calls us to open our eyes and realize that moral laws are not made to be ends in and of themselves. Rather, God’s commandments are given to us to help us live more deeply in the ways of love. We make false gods of our limited human notions if we think that we are always right, that we have all the answers to every question, that we are perfect if we follow a narrow set of rules. In so doing, we disconnect ourselves from the one, true, living God.

                This approach to life has many devastating consequences. First of all, it is highly arrogant and, therefore, destructive. God speaks through Her prophet in Isaiah 55: 9: “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” If we trust in our own human answers to everything, we subject ourselves to human flaws like prejudice, exploitation, and lack of any vision that could possibly encompass all of reality. As human beings, we cannot fully grasp the eternal mysteries of God and the universe. We cannot even fully grasp our own lives or those of people around us. We see little pieces, usually one or two at a time. This does not mean we should give up the search. Rather, we must be committed to continually growing deeper and deeper in knowing God and Her ways, in learning how to love others and ourselves day by day.

                Another problem with living a rigid, legalistic lifestyle is that it binds us to slavery rather than setting us free to live as children of God. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul consistently urges the Christian community to receive grace through the new covenant in Christ by releasing themselves from bondage to certain elements of the Mosaic law. The words of Galatians 5: 1 still resonate with us today: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” God is alive in us and calls us to live in the freedom of Christ. We are not made to be cold, judgmental copies of each other. We are made to be ourselves, to be people saved in Christ, to be unique children of God, to live in the freedom of the Holy Spirit. St. Paul continues in Galatians 5: 22-23, “In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

                I am not saying we should abandon traditional morality and do whatever we want. The point is this: when choosing how to live our lives, we must go beyond conforming to predetermined customs and open ourselves to the Holy Spirit of the living God. We need to let ourselves be moved by compassion. We need to think creatively about how to solve the unique problems of our lives, our communities, and our world. We need to dream with a vision that embraces goodness and celebrates diversity. We need to believe that faith in God is more than following a set of rules or adhering to a list of beliefs. Faith in God means living a life of love. It means listening to the words God speaks to us in every moment. It means giving ourselves over, body, heart, mind, and soul, to love itself. It means choosing to be absolutely alive and free to do the will of God and to live in joy. As it says in Micah 6: 8, “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”    

                Another false idol is that of worldly praise or, in other words, wanting to be liked by others. Those of us who have felt rejected by the world often feel a deep need to belong. We want to feel wanted, and we are sometimes willing to do whatever it takes to be perceived as good, beautiful, handsome, sexy, funny, or popular. These desires can be especially strong for gay Christians who feel they do not fully belong within any community. Sometimes we feel too gay for mainstream Christian groups and too Christian for mainstream gay groups.

                There is nothing wrong with enjoying the warmth and admiration of others. Healthy relationships are built on mutual respect and kindness. We must learn from one another and express gratitude for one another. Problems come when we focus our energy on doing things that get us positive feedback from others. If we live honestly and rightly, there will be some who approve of us and others who do not. It is liberating to commit ourselves to God, live in truth, and not worry too much about what other people think. We must seek God’s approval first and trust that She made us exactly as She intended. If someone does not like what we do or who we are, we must listen to see if there is something we need to learn from them, pray about it, and move on. With God on our side, we have nothing to fear. 

                Sometimes we sacrifice our values, hide what we believe in, or ignore things that are wrong in order to fit in with the crowd. More subtly, sometimes we do good works not to share love but rather to bring glory to ourselves. When we fall into these traps, we distract ourselves from the people we are called to be. We hesitate to reach out to people who are rejected because we do not want to be rejected with them. We forget that Jesus ate with tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, fishermen, and sex workers. Jesus shared bread with everyone and calls us to do the same. Other times we might exhaust ourselves with exercise, starve ourselves with diets, or hurl insults at the mirror because we never feel good enough. Or we hide our emotions and our opinions out of fear that they will be mocked. We forget what it is like to be moved by love to do good because our good deeds are always forced. Our world shrinks until we become the center and everything we do is intended to reflect on ourselves in a positive way. The world becomes just another mirror. There is no room in such a small world for God or the wild joy She intends for us.

                I implore you to allow God to set you free. Let go of anxiety about whether or not you are liked by others. Rather, seek God and Her approval. Follow the example of Christ and reach out to everyone in love. Use the strengths, talents, and beliefs God has given you to do your part to build up the Kingdom of God. Love your body not because of what it looks like but because of what you can do as an embodied spirit loved and saved by God. If you can run, run for the sheer joy of the wind in your face. If you can sing, sing praises to our loving Creator. If you can move, move yourself to a group of people that need your help. If you live this way, you will find plenty of people who like you and plenty who will try to tear you down. Listen to the good and pray for those who try to hurt you. Never let anyone steal your joy. Embrace the freedom Christ rose from the dead to give you. Step forward as a child of the one true God. Become fully alive this very minute, and never look back.

                And so, my friend, perhaps you are reading this letter because something has ensnared you and you want to be free. Let me testify that God’s power to save is unstoppable. She will liberate you from every chain. Let Her hold you. Let Her love you now, today, even if you fall over and over again. God finds us in our guilt, cleanses us of shame, and raises us to victory. God made us free to love. We are not perfect, but we are Hers. We are all in this together.

                If you want to change some aspect of your life, invite God into your plans. Commit to the changes you want to make. Envision your life as you wish it to be. Write, paint, sing, talk, or pray about the person you want to be, what matters to you most, and how you want to live your life.

                Let go of bitterness and resentment. Open the hurting parts of yourself to God and trusted people who share in your pain. You do not need to carry anything alone. Find ways to heal rather than hiding from whatever hurts. Talk about it. Let the hurt open your heart to compassion for others. Let the suffering move you to do something good that you would not have otherwise done. Turn away from idols and seek the path to lasting and authentic joy. As is written in 1 John 5: 3-4, “For the love of God is this, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whoever is begotten by God conquers the world. And the victory that conquers the world is our faith.”   

                Freedom can be challenging, but we were made to be free. Be well, my friend. Live in the light of God’s saving love.

     

    Love,

    Aaron