I grew up in the church and prayed the sinner’s prayer at least a dozen times between age six and sixth grade. As someone who grew up in the church, I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering how much my life has been shaped by my parents’ religion. With a different upbringing, I might have gravitated toward other friends and activities. I might have lived in other places, done other work, held other ideas and pursued other goals. I might have been a very different person.
What drives these musings is my suspicion that I would never have married my husband if I hadn’t been a Christian.
My strongest attractions have always been to other women. After spending my teen years trying to wish away my sexual orientation, I began my twenties trying to pray it away. Although the prayer didn’t change my desires, I slowly learned to trust in God’s forgiveness for what I then considered my sins of fantasy and masturbation. As I saw things at the time, my responsibility was to stay celibate.
One complicating factor was a fellow graduate student on the lookout for a wife, who got me in his sights. In the process of explaining that he was targeting the wrong woman, I grew closer to him than to anyone else. When it stopped seeming crazy that we might spend our lives together, I married this man, fully conscious that I would have preferred a woman.
Yet I was happy with my husband—happier than I’d ever been.
Happy enough, I thought, to risk having children. And then, predictably, the children stirred things up. I’d thought I had thoroughly examined my faith, but as my boys started asking questions about God, I saw in their faces the readiness to accept whatever I said. I didn’t feel right passing on what my parents had taught me. My faith began to look to me like circular reasoning, in which the Gospel had always seemed true because, under my parents’ instruction, I’d taken its truth as my starting assumption.
I explained as best I could to my children what Christians believe, adding the caveat that people disagree about what God has said and done. But answering my children’s questions turned out to be easier than answering my own. Had I based pivotal choices on beliefs that didn’t match reality? Was my marriage a mistake? Were my children? I’d given up my career to stay home with them.
Had I ruined my life? Had Christianity ruined it?
At first, I vacillated between blaming those who’d taught me and blaming my own doctrinaire thinking. From either perspective, all I could see was the harm that had been done: love thwarted and life-affirming impulses vilified. I missed the interweaving of good and evil that makes up our human existence.
In the end, what allowed me to face my situation was recognizing how and why I’d chosen it. God, Jesus, Christianity, the Church—they’d influenced me, but they hadn’t forced me into anything. I’d embraced my parents’ beliefs because they’d seemed my best guide to what was good and right. I’d married my husband because that relationship anchored me. I’d been influenced by doctrine, but I’d also been drawn to what I’d felt would nourish me. I’d married my husband because his love gave me strength. I was raising children because they mattered more than my career. The hurtful forces in my life had been tangled with healing ones.
If I hadn’t married my husband, I might always have thought of myself a lesbian.
At each point in my life, I could walk by no other light than what I’d been given. Being a Christian led me to a place where it made sense to marry a man, and once I was in that marriage, “bisexual” seemed the most useful label available for honoring my sexual nature along with my chosen life partnership. It isn’t a label I expected to wear, but it has opened doors in my mind and heart that have enriched me. I am learning to embrace the complexity of all that can be.
Image via flickr user DavidR_