Written by Constance Chan, Singapore
Yen* and I walked down a narrow alley in silence. A few days earlier, Yen had sent me a text message: “I want to go to this clinic where you can check for AIDS…” He had gone for a medical check-up prior to messaging me and the doctor had raised some troubling news.
We went, but were told to go back later—or it was the wrong clinic—I cannot remember. Leaving the clinic that afternoon, Yen was silent. And I had nothing to say. I prayed and hoped hard that Yen was not HIV-positive, feeling a great heaviness and powerlessness to do anything to help him.
A few years before that visit to the clinic, Yen had called me late one night. There was desperation in his voice. It sounded like he had been crying. I think if he had not been so depressed, he might not have shared what he had shared then. Yen said that he was upset with a good guy friend because this friend seemed to take him for granted and paid a lot of attention to others. Yen then admitted that he was in love with this friend but felt suicidal because that love was not reciprocated.
That was an unexpected revelation, but not entirely surprising. As Yen spoke, I realized that I had been carrying this fear for a while, that one day he would tell me that he is struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA). I do not recall what I said to Yen that night, only that I listened and did not say much, partly because I did not know what to say or do.
In the last few years of journeying with Yen and a few other Christians with SSA, what stood out for me was how little I knew about what to do and how to relate to them rightly. I respected Yen because he was always honest with where he was with God. I saw how, at times, he had faith and trusted that homosexual acting out was not God’s will for him. At other times, he was angry at God, doubted God, or just wanted to not care or think about what God thought of homosexuality or of him.
I knew that he hoped God might allow him the blessings of living together with a long-term male partner. Yen knew I subscribed to the orthodox position that homosexual acting out was against God’s will, but at times when Yen was questioning and struggling with God, I often wondered, was I supposed to be communicating more about how his sexual acting out is sinful? Was I supposed to warn Yen more about the temptations of hanging around gay friends? Was I supposed to do more for Yen?
Looking back, perhaps it was good that I did not know what to do, because it made me listen to Yen more and empathize before giving any hasty advice or counsel. It gave me the enormous privilege of crying with Yen when things were hard, helping him come before God when he felt ashamed and wanted to confess sins. Aware of my utter helplessness to do anything to take away Yen’s SSA feelings or make his questions, doubts and anger at God go away, I realized that I could only trust God with Yen. Praying for him was the only thing I really could do for him.
What was not helpful to Yen, especially in the first few years journeying with him, was how I amplified his struggle with SSA over any other struggle or aspect of his life. I was also unconsciously comparing myself with Yen and concluding that his SSA struggle was greater than any struggles I had or could have. And this manifested in the way I responded to him on one occasion. We had agreed to meet up for coffee one day. But he had failed to confirm the details the day before our meet up, and also did not answer my calls on the day we were to meet. It was only a few weeks later that he apologized and explained that he had been really busy the whole day with work and, therefore, had not replied to the message I had sent.
My first thought then was that it was okay; after all, how could I hold Yen accountable for his rudeness and inconsideration when he had such big struggles in life to battle with? It was only later that I realized that, in some way, carrying Yen’s secret about his SSA struggles was causing me to treat him with kid gloves, to expect less of him than I would with other friends, to see and treat him as a victim because of his SSA struggles.
As a result, I had also refrained from sharing much about my personal struggles and problems with Yen and did not let him be a friend to me although I demanded of myself to be readily available to lend a listening ear to Yen and be there for him when the need arose. Unconsciously, I had treated Yen less as a peer, a friend, and more as if he were a needy case God had assigned to me.
We Are All Wounded
That changed when I got to know of a discipleship ministry that cares for people struggling with relational and sexual issues while I was in Vancouver. As I heard brothers and sisters share openly about their struggles in the ministry’s small groups, I recognized that no matter the specific nature of the sins each of us struggle with, all of us have been wounded by others and are wounding others. And before God, we are all unable to respond rightly—whatever the nature of our sins.
What was more surprising was being convicted that I was not excluded from this. When I compared and downplayed my struggles and sinful tendencies in relation to Yen, I was conveniently turning a blind eye to all that trapped me from a free and loving response to God or others.
Realizing that, I resolved to treat Yen truly as a friend and a peer, someone who, like me, needs community and friendship but also someone who is responsible before God for all that he chooses to do or not do.
As I did so, I found that I truly enjoyed Yen‘s company—beyond just wanting to spend time with him to help or fix him. God was enabling me to see Yen beyond his SSA struggle as a person with strengths and weaknesses, with traits that really annoy others as well as ones that were truly admirable and fine. I also started sharing more of my life with Yen, revealing my true self, and how I wanted to be respected and treated as a friend as well.
The problem with comparing Yen’s struggle to mine and amplifying his struggles, was that it made me doubt that God could really do anything to help Yen. Though I prayed, I didn’t really believe that God would do anything for Yen. It was as if I had more empathy for Yen’s plight than God did. It was only as I increasingly noticed how much I also needed God to deliver me from my own sins and saw that God truly could and did meet me in my places of pain and emptiness, that my confidence in God’s care and His ability to transform Yen grew.
Let’s go back to that day when Yen and I visited the AIDS clinic. We eventually found out that he did not have HIV. I don’t know what Yen thought of this outcome, but I am convinced that God did do a miracle that day and kept Yen from HIV infection. For me, that was a profound moment. I saw that Yen was and is in God’s hands. And that God did care for him greatly and cares more than anyone can to lead Yen to Himself.
Also, knowing that Yen has had experiences that make it hard for him to deny that God is real in his life has helped me pray for Yen with more faith. I ask that God have mercy on Yen and on me, that God draw Yen nearer to Himself daily and that Yen, like myself and any other person, would daily live more and more into the life that Christ died on the cross for each of us to live.
Nowadays when I see Yen, I find myself thinking this: I do not fully understand your struggle and why God allowed it. I know this causes much pain, confusion, and loneliness. I do not know what God is doing in your life. However, I trust (some days I do and on other days, I want to trust this!) that whatever He does in your life, or in mine, is truly for good—real solid good that we will be able to “taste and see” one day. For now, what I do know is that you know God and you know God’s voice, just as I do. So, can we help each other hear and respond to God’s voice today?
*Not his real name. Changed for confidentiality purposes.
This article was originally published in Good News For Bruised Reeds: Walking With Same-Sex Attracted Friends by Graceworks. Republished with permission.