When I am in spiritual direction with someone, this is the key question I always ask: “Where is God in that?” I usually ask this question after they have described some situation or incident in their lives that has them vexed or feeling trapped.
“Where is God in that?”
The question usually produces silence – which is a good thing – as well as a puzzled expression, which is also a very good thing. That question puts us in a place of searching, a place of questioning – a place where God can actually be heard and felt.
Usually, after some thought and perhaps more discussion, the person can place God in the situation. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned, perhaps not. Perhaps there is comfort to be found, perhaps not. Perhaps God is using other people to push them in a new direction, perhaps not. Whatever the case, my directees find the truth in what the Psalmists knew long ago:
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
-Psalm 139: 7-12
There is nowhere that God is not. We can run, hide, flee, and even forget, but God is ever present. We may feel abandoned, left behind, or forsaken, but it’s not God who has left the building. We feel forsaken when we have struck out on our own, seeking for our own glory, or showing off for others. When we fail to rely solely on God, we forget God’s constant presence in, through, and around us at all times. Whether times are good or times or bad, and whether or not we feel it, God is ever present, waiting for us to simply acknowledge that presence and live into it with faith.
That’s a tall order, though, for those of us in the LGBT community. We’ve been told so many times that God has, indeed, forsaken us and that if God is present at all it is merely to “heal” us or to urge us to “repent” of our “sins.” We cannot, they say, have God in our lives accepting us, loving us, and blessing us. If we feel accepted and loved by God then that’s a delusion, our anti-gay friends tell us, that only the God they believe in can dispel.
I’ve puzzled over this for quite awhile. I have met people who say they genuinely have “given up” being gay, or lesbian, or bisexual. They tell me that God has “healed” them from this “affliction” and they are now living as God intended them to live. Implying, of course, that I’m still not living as God has intended. While I disagree with them, and believe with all my heart that there is nothing to be “healed” within LGBT people except their own internal homophobia, I find myself slow to judge these people. They are sincere. Their search for answers has been sincere, and though I believe they are sincerely wrong, I still can’t find it in my heart to try to evangelize them away from their position. Why? Because I have to trust that God is working in their lives – that God is in their situation and is working it out for the best not just for them, but for me as well. All I can do in this situation is continue to love them, just as they are.
I had a person who claims to be “healed” from homosexuality ask me recently what I would do if someone at my church told me they were no longer gay and had felt God had delivered them. It’s a tough question, but here is my answer: I would love them and accept them. They would be welcome in my church. However, that person would not be allowed to create strife or disorder within the body of faith. If I were to respect their choice to not act on their sexual orientation, they must return that respect and accept me (not merely tolerate me!) as someone who sees no sin in my sexual orientation and the responsible exercise of my sexuality within the confines of my relationship.
Here’s where the problems begin. Those who say they have “given up” being gay tend to evangelize for their new “lifestyle.” They figure if it’s God’s will for their lives, then it must be God’s will for everyone who is gay. This is a fallacious argument. Like my mama used to say, “If everyone jumped off a cliff would you jump, too?” Just because others do it doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
For those who truly believe they have set aside their sexual orientation, or have the strength to not act on it, bless you. I hope you enjoy your life and find fullness and happiness. However, that doesn’t give you the right to start preaching against me or telling me I’m wrong for wanting to remain as I believe God has created me to be.
“Where is God in that?”
At this point I have to interrupt with my own key question.
Why is it that there are some people who say they no longer want to act on their sexual orientation and are happy when they don’t, yet there are others who are perfectly fine with their sexual orientation, have reconciled their spirituality with it, and are happy when they use their sexuality responsibly in relationship? How can we both exist at the same time, and at the same time claim God’s blessing for it? Doesn’t someone have to be right and someone have to be wrong?
As I continued my conversation with this person it dawned on me: We have been clearly instructed by God to love one another – and not just love those we like, or those who look like us, or act like us, or believe like us. No, we’re commanded to love one another despite everything – despite every difference, flaw, and offense.
What if, just maybe, God has created all these conflicting and contradictory human behaviors to see that if, even just for a moment, we can love one another without condition? And in that moment, perhaps, we can learn how to do it more often – to overlook our differences, to stop arguing over who is right and who is wrong, and learn how to love one another simply because we are all treasured children of the still living, still speaking God.
“Where is God in that?”
God is in, through, around, and all over that.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.