More and more, I hear from parents of high schoolers that their kids are having to deal with friends who are professing themselves to be gay. It’s been tempting to self-reference it all and simply marvel at how much things have changed in 18 1/2 brief years in the ministry. This was almost unheard of in 1997, the year of my ordination. Now, it seems, it’s commonplace for high schoolers to have friends who are, by their own self-profession, gay.
When I stop marveling at how things have changed, though, I keep coming back to one question.
How can anyone at this age really know who they are?
I’m not saying high schoolers are unintelligent. I’m saying that I too was a high schooler, caught in a whirlwind both of hormones and uncertainty about any number of paths I could have chosen to go down. I would say I was a Christian, but could have been more committed at that age. (Indeed, becoming a pastor was not necessarily something I went into willingly. It would be better described as “kicking and screaming”). When I was 17, I can say with certainty that I had little to no idea who I was. Truthfully, having just turned 45, I must admit that while the Lord has been revealing this to me all along, I’m still not ready to say I fully know that even now.
In my opinion, it would be a shame to let something other than Christ and His salvation define a person at such a young age. The risk is extremely high for this to lead to a future of high regret. Never mind the medical risks of a life of sexual promiscuity, straight or gay. Because sexuality is a spiritual gift which brings joy to one man and one woman who are committed “until death parts [them],” just about any other form of sexuality is merely playing with dangerous power tools.
What I would say to most high schoolers today is, “you may think you know a lot about sexuality, but you know nothing about what I have with my wife.” Sexuality within the safe boundaries of a life-long heterosexual commitment between God’s glorious gifts of male and female and marriage, is safe, society-preserving, and guilt and regret free. It’s about more than the all-important orgasm. It’s about God’s gift used His way and the joy and blessings that come with that. Indeed, while same sex people have a myriad of words and testimonies they want to give us, I struggle to put what I have into words because it is so great it defies words.
Sadly, this points to the failure of a lot of “Christian” marriages and the identity crisis that actually fuels this earnest, yet misguided, desire for some sort of identity. Disengaged moms and dads, only available at the sports event or the sleepover, but locked into their own lives and the proliferation of screens around them, are doing much to make this identity crisis worse. I think many Christian counselors surely know that the youth with same sex temptations has other issues, deeper issues, which point back at the home. Time for parents, especially fathers, to step to the plate and be what Paul writes about in Eph. 6. But the point is simple, the popularity of gay self-identification is more about a yearning for identity than anything else.
The same sex lifestyle certainly is not the only option available to teenagers, but it is the hip and trendy one. I yearn for the day this sort of hip and trendy goes the same way of all hip and trendy, such as polyester pantsuits and bell bottoms. Unfortunately, this sort of hip and trendy promises to be much more harmful than those fads. One wonders what these teenagers will have to say about their identities when they are 30, or 45, or 60.
The irony is that, in retrospect, when I was 17 I thought I knew it all.
It’s only as I got older that I realized that I did not and that on many things I was just plain wrong. Again, not because I was stupid, but because I hadn’t lived enough to know better. And I certainly have my own regrets about certain things I did at that age, thinking I was all knowing and invincible. Thankfully, God spared me the harm that can come–emotionally, spiritually, and physically–from sexual promiscuity.
To the tempted teenager, I would say lovingly: “I’ll be honest with you. Please be honest with me.” At 45, the grace of God is still taking this sinful person [me] and making something of him and I have no idea what this is now or what it will be. I only look for the new heavens and the new earth. By God’s grace, I am a husband, a father, a pastor, and so many more things I don’t know but only that He has them in store for me. Now I lovingly ask you to be honest and reconsider whether or not you really are ready to say you know who you are by your sexuality alone. I’ll admit I don’t always know who I am, but I do always know whose I am. I belong to Christ and the joy I have in the forgiveness of sins, in my marriage vows, in my family, and in this love of God. If you’re struggling, let me just invite you to realize that you can have this regret-free, truly free, life as well.
Indeed, by God’s grace, I have come to see that identity is something defined by much more than sexuality. To define oneself simply by their self-chosen sexuality is an extremely limiting proposition.
To all teenagers: It would be a shame for you to be defined at such an early age by anything other than Christ and the grace of God. If you want to limit yourselves and do yourselves inestimable harm, just go ahead and convince us that you know who you are by your sexuality. Identity by any form of unmarried sexuality is a path that is closed-minded and full of trouble for the future.
Once again, you have the rest of your life to live. It would be a shame for you to shackle yourself now.
With love in my heart for all who struggle in this battle,
“Love always rejoices in the truth.” (1 Cor. 13:6)