It’s funny, sometimes, how that old statement that I have been hearing all of my life, “God never gives us more than we can handle”, seems to resurface over and over again at times in my life. Even even more astounding is how when it seems like things are getting darker and darker and just at the moment when we are about to throw up our hands in despair seems to be the precise moment when God surprises us with blessings, often from the most unexpected places, renewing our strength, faith, and hope more profoundly than ever before, like a caring Parent, comforting us, reassuring us that we will forever be cared for.
Some people I know look at the big miracles — a miraculous healing, an answered prayer, an “unexpected” windfall of Grace at exactly the right moment — and others, no matter how much I talk about God and the abundance of God’s blessings, just don’t seem to see how I can believe in God’s existence or the innate Divinity of Jesus and the spiritual truth of His teachings about the best way to live, with kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and humility. I have always answered that question about, “How can you look at this world and still believe in God?” with “How can you not?” I guess it depends on the perspective we are looking from and what we are looking at. Presumably they are referring to horrors like shootings and hate and violence, while I am looking at small and unsolicited acts of love and kindness, the beauty of love, the majesty and glory of nature and life with all of its incredible, Creator-affirming intricacies, the beauty of a sunrise or a rainbow, the droplets of dew on the morning grass or the laughter of a crystal-clear mountain stream. In short, I look for the opportunity to see the glorious manifestations of God’s Love for all of us in all things. I see the little things that often renew my strength, and as the old song says, they really DO mean a lot.
For a few years now, I have kept a “gratitude journal” where I keep track of not only all the big things but all of those little ones, too. My only gripe is that I never seem to have enough room. Now, I’m not saying that other people do not have as many blessings — in the eyes of many, some would say there are many more far more blessed than I — but I try to remember all the “little things.” God really is in the details. Especially the times that I have been able to make some sort of a difference in someone’s life, just by letting them know I care. I like the song “Pass It On” as a description of what God asks of us as followers of Christ. We are to pass on the Love God has given us to others, not merely by talking about it, but a radically different form of evangelism that to me Jesus began: living and demonstrating that Love to others, passing on the blessings to others.
Whenever my strength is waning, sometimes all it takes is to share with another who is not feeling so strong how God has always been there for me. Some people think it a bit silly of me, when I make such a big deal about what, to many, seems minutia that at one time I may have taken for granted. But I have been at spots in my life where I had even lost hope, and even the tiniest glimmer of hope was enough to restore my strength.
As far as Bible stories about strength, a few really stand out in my mind — one being the story of David and Goliath. How many of us have not felt as if we were up against our own Goliath at one time or another? The monsters we often face as adults, or demons, if you will, seem to make any drooling monster that we imagined under the bed or in the closet as a young and impressionable child look like a pixie fairy. Whether it be addictions to drugs, alcohol or compulsive gambling (or compulsive worry!); the fear of coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to family, church or friends and the not knowing exactly how they will respond; the horror of diseases like AIDS and cancer, the nightmares of homophobia/biphobia and prejudice, a goal we have strived to achieve against seemingly insurmountable odds, the challenges of moving forward from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. Yes, lots of us (yours truly included — who has been known to be a worry-a-holic in years gone by) might think David had it easy and that Goliath was a gnome by comparison.
Yet look at exactly what I believe God intended when this story was inspired through its writer, just the kind of pep talk all of us could use once in a while, if not on a daily basis: However huge or menacing whatever it is we fear seems to be, God will help us use what we have to triumph victoriously. It is the same faith Jesus also speaks of that can “move mountains” — another wonderful parable the Bible has for us to think about — and according to His parable of the mustard seed, a little goes a long, long way.
All it really takes is faith. I’m sure that any of us who call ourselves Christian and who are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender have slain many of our own Goliaths and had mountains along our journey to deal with from time to time — the kind that can make us weary and feel as if our strength has been drained. It is not always easy being “out” as a bisexual, but it is definitely worth the times I have helped someone know that they are not crazy or sick and helped others to see that God made them the way they are for a reason, loves them, and is good to them, too. It is definitely worth the occasional ridicule to live the truth of who God made me to be than to live a lie. I have been harassed and hassled and condemned and treated with total cruelty by Christians who assure me of how much they love me, as they have tried to play God for me. I was practically run off of my denomination’s bulletin board by a group of fundamentalists who came in to “break up our love-fest”, who were “sick of our tolerance and diversity nonsense” and looked forward to Judgment Day when “Jesus would laugh in our faces and cast us out into hell forever”. And it was not only me but every other LGBT person they attacked, as well as anyone who did not believe in a literal Bible or dared to suggest questioning the authority of Biblical literalism-even the psychological and psychiatric community was unsafe, as these Christians went so far as to call the American Psychiatric Association the “American Pedophile Association”. (Is it just me, or has everyone else noticed that for as much as LGBT people are accused of “recruiting” that the Biblical literalists seem to do a decent job of that? When one uses fear, especially fear of God, it can be very easy to psychologically manipulate someone into doing your will. I call it spiritual rape. Yet you never see us outside the fundamentalist churches with signs saying, ‘repent of being gay/bisexual/lesbian/transgender or God will punish you!!!” You never see an LGBT person hand out a pamphlet to a heterosexual threatening them of the evils of their sexual orientation. You never see us putting up websites that say, “God Hates Straight People”. How can the LGBT Community then, be accused of “recruitment” or seeking any other right other than that to be respected equally as human beings and children of God?)
I’d like to suggest that we, as a community, face a Goliath in the demons of fear, misunderstanding, and prejudice. Sometimes faith is all that we have, yet it is one of the most powerful things we have. Only love is more powerful. When we combine faith and hope with love, we can move mountains, as Jesus said. It takes faith for me to live, and sometimes it has seems like all that I have. I have been persecuted by conservative Christians for being bisexual. I have been persecuted by some in the gay and lesbian community for being bisexual. And I have even been persecuted by some in the community for the fact that I hold an honest relationship with both a woman and a man as an ideal. All of that being said, I wanted to share some of the ways I have found to renew my spiritual strength. For God has blessed us all with our own special ways of doing so, and even when our own wellspring of resources may have seem to run dry, God’s never does.
One of the most effective ways I have found of renewing my strength is in doing something to help others. In addition, it is in being able to look all around me and see God in all things; someone asked me once, “If you believe in God, how come no one can see God?” To which I always say, “Look around you — the intricacy of a leaf, the beauty of a sunset — how can you not see God?” And as mentioned earlier, little things are what constantly renew my strength. I get a lot of negativity thrown my way sometimes. I am, even for some liberal thinkers, somewhat of a radical. Yet, in all I do, every action I take and every decision that I make I try to ask myself, “What is the most loving thing to do here?” For as I have often said many times before, God will grant us our every heart’s desire if we do our part and act with love towards all the rest of God’s children.
So sometimes when I feel down or worried, I simply focus on trying to do something to help another feel better, whether it be sending an email or a card or giving a phone call to someone to brighten their day. I feel better by leading one of the bi support groups and helping others to know that they have a safe place to share their feelings and concerns, or simply smiling at someone who looks like they are having a rough day. I always come away feeling a little renewed myself.
And yes, I have found strength in the Bible, and all of its wonderful stories. It is amazing to me that when we are able to look past a literal meaning to the stories and parables and into the rich metaphor they represent. The stories further assure me that the God of Love inspired them in the hearts of those who wrote them. I take comfort in the strength, wisdom and inspiration they can provide. The story of David and Goliath which I mentioned, which shows us that no matter how menacing the obstacles before us may seem that with faith in God we shall triumph with glory; the story of how God provided a ram for Abraham when he feared God was asking him to sacrifice his only son; the ultimate power of God manifested when Christ suffered and died and rose to live forever so that He might show us that Love and Mercy always triumph over power and might, only to reassure us that even when it seems those who oppose us have triumphed that God will restore us to new life. There are stories in the Bible that seem to address, at least metaphorically, every possible fear human beings could find themselves facing in this life, and how the faith of those before us brought them through the most trying times.
Another major source of strength and affirmation to me is that which I hear in hymns. I don’t think it is any coincidence that whenever I feel down, I am somehow reminded of my favorite hymns. “Blessed Assurance” reminds me that no matter how any person may let me down that God never will. “One In The Spirit” reminds me what to me being a Christian is truly all about: “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” When other Christians who may see my faith as invalid or counterfeit persecute me because they don’t understand how I know Jesus this hymn comforts me. “Seek Ye First” helps me to center and remember that God is the source of all the good in my life, and that as long as I stay focused on the Great Commandment to be as loving as I can to all people that my life will be blessed with an abundance of love and goodness. “Let There Be peace On Earth” reminds me of what I need to do to help others experience the Kingdom of God firsthand. “In This Very Room” never fails to keep me aware that Jesus is always with us, and His Spirit never leaves us even in times of trouble. I could go on all day about hymns and how they restore my strength, as I am sure they do for us all, but to list them all would take too long. And there is one very important source of daily affirmation and strength that I want to share with everyone — the words Jesus gave when he was asked, “Lord, teach us to pray”: The Lord’s Prayer.
Every Sunday in my church, after the Prayer of Invocation, we sing the Lord’s Prayer. In fact, the first Christmas after I was confirmed into the church years ago, I was looking for something special I could do for someone at Christmas time. A young man announced after the service one Sunday, in our “closing circle”, that he was seeking volunteers to “sing” the Lord’s Prayer to a woman who was in a nursing home, suffering from Multiple Sclerosis, the same horrible disease my Mother has. This woman’s only Christmas request was to have someone come and sing the Lord’s Prayer to her, since she could no longer leave to attend church. “Coincidentally” the young man’s announcement came directly following a series of sermons which had given me wonderful new insights on the Lord’s Prayer, giving me a deeper understanding of Jesus’ response to His disciples’ request for Him to teach them to pray. God gifted me with a voice and a talent to sing, and I thought this would be a perfect way to express my gratitude and to help another in need. Myself and another member of the choir visited the nursing home a few days before Christmas and sang the prayer a cappella, and it brought her much joy, for which I was grateful. I had never given anyone a gift quite like that and it brought me joy, too. And just a few weeks later, at a church fundraiser, I purchased a framed print of the Lord’s Prayer for my home.
It now hangs right by my coffee pot, on the wall, strategically placed where I know I will see it every morning. (I know, having it framed on the wall is one of those things that might seem like the Jesus refrigerator magnets or the faux-carved stone crosses on the wall of my home — as a bisexual raised among the pop culture and kitsch of the seventies and eighties, what do you expect?) Some visitors to my home are touched but others have an almost amused reaction-it’s the same reaction some people have when I tell them I am a poly-fidelitous bisexual and a Christian or visitors to my home will sit across from my bookcase and see about seven or eight different Bibles, Concordances, pop-psychology books, and textbooks and volumes on human sexual psychology and sexuality. About 75 percent of my reference library pertains to different aspects of Christian theology, spirituality and other religions, about 15 percent is psychology and sexuality/LGBT issues, and the other 10 percent is miscellaneous. Not one of them contains what I believe to be the entire truth, yet they all point to it. But the Lord’s Prayer…when I meditate on it … brings the what my heart knows to be the truth about God into extreme focus, and revives me to face the day every day far better than the best cup of coffee in the morning ever could!
I try to begin each day with the Lord’s Prayer, and over time my understanding of the intense peace which these sacred words that Jesus gave us can truly bring has grown and blossomed beautifully. It is a love letter from us, God’s children, to Our Creator, in my heart, and one from God, speaking through Jesus, to us. It never fails to renew my strength on a daily basis if I approach it with a trusting, open, and loving heart. I will try my best to communicate this below, with a simple meditation on each “part”:
“Our Father” — Rather than seeing God as “Father” or “Mother”, as I see the concept of assigning the Creator a specific and defined “gender” (since I see gender as far too limiting a concept for the Infinite, Loving and Creative Wisdom, Maker, Author, Designer, and Caregiver of all we know, feel, see and are or ever will be), I simply see God as “Loving Creator”, or “Loving Spirit”. For myself and many others, God encompasses both the strong masculine and nurturing feminine aspects that deep down, each of us has within us, to some extent. Yet God encompasses and surpasses any and every human concept or definition of gender that we could have and is simply too vast to define in such human terms … though each of us has our own image of God that we personally and intimately identify with. Regardless of the Name by which we individually know God, God hears us just the same. That is what I believe Jesus meant or was alluding to when He said, “In my Father’s House are many mansions” … He was referring to all of us having a slightly different yet somehow unified experience of our Creator, of the all-powerful Love that is God. What is important to me as I begin this prayer is that I am going within, shutting out the mental noise so often created by the trials and tribulations of the outside world, and coming into contact intimately with my Creator.
“Who Art In Heaven” — I am reminded by this line by the beautiful truth that Jesus shared with us about the Kingdom, or Dominion, of Heaven: That the Kingdom of Heaven is not some distant, faraway place but instead is as comfortingly close as my next breath…it is within my own heart and soul. As I reflect on this line, I focus on God’s Spirit within me, flowing through me and out to all of my loved ones and those around me. To be in closer contact with God, I turn within to my own heart, where God always speaks the loudest and the clearest. The heart is where we can always find our way back to the truth when we have allowed that old devil, fear, to cloud and deceive us into believing that all hope is lost. In my heart, I hold a picture of what Heaven on earth would be like-a world where the diversity of God’s Creation is seen as a gift, and where all of us, despite our differences, treat one another with the greatest love and respect that we can regardless of differences of opinion, life, or any other factor. As I acknowledge that in God’s Presence, Heaven already is, and silence any distractions that my mind could be throwing out, I become more and more aware that I am one with God. I have never been separate from God no matter how I may have felt before in my life. If it seemed God was distant, it was merely an illusion created by my fears. Ultimately nothing ever can or ever will be able to separate me from God’s Love. I cast off all false illusions of fear, or illusion that God is distant, and realize that God is as close as my every breath and as real as the love I feel in my heart.
“Hallowed Be Thy Name” — God is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, and all points, nooks and crannies in between. Everything that I am, know, and love is a gift of God Who is the Great Creator and Sustainer of us all. Amazingly, I can have an intimate conversation with the Divine Intelligence that knitted me together out of the same atoms and molecules that make up the very fabric of the entire Universe, the One Who assigned each and every one of us, no matter how different or quirky we may seem to the next, with a specific purpose and reason for being. And that definitely includes all of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, male, female, heterosexual, black, white, Hispanic, whoever we are. Knowing the immense Power and Glory of God’s Love and Creative Wisdom, I reaffirm that nothing which worries me is too big for God to give me whatever boost of strength I need to know that all of my fears are nothing but illusions and vapors, and that none of them can hurt me, for I am a child of the Most High, as are we all.
“Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done, On Earth As It Is In Heaven” — This has several meanings to me: First, it means that we are individually and as a whole seeking for God to guide us towards a glorious realization of Jesus’ vision of a world on this Earth without division, hate, or the exclusion of anyone; a blessed Domain in which harmony, happiness, and unconditional Love exist forever between all human beings. In some premillenial dispensationalist theories, Heaven is visualized as a place where “everyone looks the same, everyone is young, healthy, and beautiful”… yet I see Heaven as a place where everyone is so full of love and caring for each other as Jesus was that regardless of how different anyone is or how different they look, live, or are that all anyone can see is the good in each other. Heaven is a place where all are loving and respectful of one another at all times, regardless of race, creed, color, gender, sexual orientation, or anything else. I believe that through Jesus teachings, God has given us every tool we could possibly need to create our own Heaven on Earth, and that the rest is up to us if we “do our best and let God do the rest.”
I also believe “On Earth as it is in Heaven” refers to a kingdom of unity with God and the joy and peace that we find when we know a personal relationship with God. I am reminded of our greatest source of joy-living in love for one another and for gratitude for one another. And last but not least, I am reminded that the more we visualize this wonderful Kingdom on the inside and focus on how to make it manifest in our daily lives, the closer we get to God and the closer we get to Heaven.
“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” — This humble request expresses the needs which God can fulfill on all levels, and to me represents not only our most basic of needs but spiritual sustenance that we truly could never live without, the manna of hope. Spiritually, we need from God that inner wisdom to help us make it through the day, that reassurance of faith, that cherished special moment or memory that uniquely reminds us of out unity with our Creator. We also have basic needs for living, not only things like food for nourishment of the body, clothing to keep us warm, and shelter where we are protected from the elements, but greater needs such as love, loving, and being loved, kindness, meaning and purpose to our lives, and of course, hope. And finally, each and every one of us needs encouragement, opportunity, all of the daily joys and little things which we often take for granted, and our passions in life that bring us joy that we could not live without. To embrace God is to truly embrace these things as well, for all things are from God. Daily bread may mean something different for each of us but to me it covers the whole multitude of blessings our Loving God showers so gracefully into our lives, not because we did or didn’t do anything special, but simply because we are all loved with an eternal and unfailing love. Not only are we thanking God for this unsolicited Grace by asking for our daily bread, but we are asking that God bless all others in abundance as well … which God does all the time, if we only open our hearts to receive.
“And Forgive Us Our Debts, As We Forgive Our Debtors” — As Jesus so simply illustrated in the Golden Rule of “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself”, if we are to receive forgiveness, we must be willing to give it ourselves. I believe that this is one of the most important lessons Jesus gave us. I believe His statement, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” truly emphasizes this aspect of His ministry; that in all things, we are to be merciful, forgiving and loving even when we are not extended the same from those who have hurt us. This part of the Lord’s Prayer urges me to search my heart for any anger or hurt I may feel towards anyone and to let go of that hurt and anger in God’s nurturing embrace, which I feel when I look around and see all of the love in my life. It also encourages and challenges me to be more loving even when that seems like the most difficult thing in the world to do. If someone has hurt me, chances are it is because they are hurting also, perhaps God will guide me to communicate love to them in such a way to end their hurt feelings that caused them to hurt me. I am reminded in this phrase to acknowledge the times that I, too, have been hurting and lashed out at another in pain and fear. I reflect on the occasions when I have carelessly acted out of fear or ego and hurt another. I seek a more loving way to handle that type of situation if and when it rises again. For the LGBT Christian, especially those of us who have had loved ones, family, and often church family say hurtful things about us because of their misunderstandings and fears about the people God Created us to be, finding forgiveness is not always an easy process. But with God all things are possible and the end result is worth the struggle.
“And Lead Us Not Into Temptation” — I am reminded here that with faith in God ALL things are possible, that one reaps what one sows. Whenever there is a need in my life or a goal I wish to accomplish, I will gain much, much more by being patient, loving, honest, kind, and respectful of all the rest of God’s children than I ever could by acting in uncaring or unloving ways to achieve goals or fulfill needs. I trust in God’s Love and in God to provide for all of my needs in ways that will be harmful to none and helpful to others, and to guide my path so that I will follow my heart instead of letting fear get in the way. I ask God to grant me patience so that my actions always stem from a place of Love rather than fear, doubt, or worry, and to keep me on my spiritual path.
“But Deliver Us From Evil” — As I understand the concept of evil, it is a negative and destructive energy that is borne out of our own fear and from our own image of God being obscured. Much of my young life I was taught to “fear God”, but I have experienced that love and fear cannot exist together. I choose to love God, for in God’s embrace there truly is nothing to fear. This statement is not so much a cry for protection from those who would seek to do me harm, but rather for my own protection from allowing my fears to obscure my knowledge of God’s Love for me and for all of us, the illusion of separateness from God’s Love, and my own negative thoughts. It is a cry to God to help me realize that because I am God’s precious child and one with God, nothing anyone does or says to me, no demon of fear that I could allow to haunt me, or no words that anyone says to hurt me will ever be able to harm me at all. To be afraid is to have more faith in evil than in God. This phrase tells me that no matter how many fundamentalists tell me I am abominable in God’s Eyes, how many in the gay and lesbian community criticize and dismiss my bisexuality as a “myth”, how many people criticize me being in love with more than one person, or how many people dismiss my faith as idealistic thinking and delusion, I will always find peace in God. I think that even in the face of those who might do evil to us, we can visualize God’s Love surrounding us and strength comes automatically. I visualize Jesus surrounding these people with love, and any evil intent vanishing in a pure light of love.
“For Thine Is The Kingdom, And The Power, And The Glory, Forever And Ever, Amen” — God is the Source of ALL, and even as I pray, God has already addressed and answered all of my concerns. There is no power higher than God, through Whom all things are possible. God Loves me, and each and every one of us, just the way we are, forever and ever. And God will always care for us with the same Love individually and personally for we are all a part of God’s family. We face each moment renewed and strengthened, knowing that nothing can ever take God’s Love from us. Ever.
As a bisexual, I am so deeply hurt whenever I hear someone in the gay or lesbian community discriminate against me or others like me because of how I live my life as who I am or simply because I am perceived as a threat to gay/lesbian identity. In the Christian community, I sometimes face persecution because of the openness of my beliefs. But as I say the Lord’s Prayer, all that melts away and I am close to God. It is a way to me to visit Heaven.
It really is amazing, how a few simple words can renew our strength, when we really reflect on what they mean for us. Just another wonderful gift Jesus gave to us all. And even more amazing, how God always shines through even the toughest times to renew our strength. For when I talk intimately with God, it truly does seem on Earth as it is in Heaven.
John Campbell is a native of Alabama.