As a young girl I grew up believing God had created humans perfectly in His image (Genesis 1:27). God made me with brown eyes, olive skin, small hands and feet, a soft heart and a quirky personality. I grew up believing that God saw me, his creation, as good. And therefore, so did I.
I had no reason to question if I was made in God’s image.
I was loved and affirmed by my family and church community. During my growing up years I went on mission trips, led Bible studies and had a true desire to love and serve God with my life. I think all of this is part of the reason why, when my body began betraying me with “ungodly” desires, it rocked me to the core.
College was the first time I felt a huge betrayal by my own body. And it felt like it had the potential to destroy me, my connection to God and to Christianity. I had left my family, friends and all that was familiar to me on the West Coast in order to finish my college degree at a Bible College in the Midwest. I had chosen to study at a Bible college hoping to increase my knowledge of God’s word and gain more opportunities for service—in a word, I felt called.
What occurred instead was knowledge of a different sort; a wholly different knowledge of my own desires. Many people ask me: when did you know? When did you know you were attracted to other women? This so-called betrayal, against both myself and God, of being attracted to other women came on suddenly and seemingly with no warning.
I went from never having thought about women in a sexual way to being overwhelmed by desire.
Suddenly I was looking at women in a new and different way. I thought something so shocking would be branded into my memory, that exact moment I “knew,” but it wasn’t like that. I just remember the heartbreak, despair, and confusion emerging as I became more aware of my desire.
These feelings completely rocked me. My body began betraying me in ways I had never experienced before. I wondered how God could have created me in His good and perfect image only to have it betray both him and myself. It seemed as if there could be only two explanations for what was going on. Either I had not been created in God’s image, or there was something terribly wrong with me.
I vacillated between feeling completely abandoned by God, to feeling that the very core of myself was disgusting and despicable. My own body, my mind, my desire, my heart, my sexuality, it all turned on me and betrayed the thing I cared the most about; my relationship with God and service to His people.
One of my first reactions was simply, “How this could be happening to me? I thought I was made in God’s image!”
For much of my life I considered myself a pretty faithful Christian, but I was also told in church that God hated homosexuality. Something was not adding up. This betrayal by my body and sexuality was the start of me attempting to kill, numb and rid myself of that part of me. I wanted to be close and right with God—not be this horrible thing, this homosexual.
I went to therapy for years. I asked pastors and prayer circles to pray over me and for me. I fasted and asked friends to fast for me. I dated men, and I even got engaged to one. But there was always an ache. It was deeper than simply an ache of unfulfilled desire. It was the ache of knowing that who I truly was would always be in conflict with who I was pretending to be. No matter what I tried, my feelings for other women did not go away. When I could not find an answer, the ache quickly turned into hopelessness.
Betrayal by another person is difficult enough, but a betrayal by one’s self ushers in a profound self-loathing and sadness. Every day my body either felt empty and half alive because of the denial of my true desire, or filled with overwhelming guilt. This guilt was more than just not living up to Christian standards and more than remorse for having done something wrong.
Who I was—my core identity—was considered dark, sinful and against God.
I thought there was no one to blame but myself, and yet I did nothing to bring on those attractions. While I wanted to be close to God, it seemed that there was no way I could achieve that again. Given my spiritual background, I simply could not reconcile being made in God’s image while also being gay. I prayed that God would change me, but He seemed to stay silent.
A mentor of mine once described how I would feel if I were ever romantic with a woman, and I’ll never forget what she said. “Candice, if you ever get with a woman, you will wake up the next day and be overcome with guilt. You will hate yourself and want to die.” I took her words deep into my heart and knew I never wanted to experience such a separation from God.
And then everything changed. Everything changed the day I had my first kiss with another woman; I had never felt closer to God. I had anticipated those feelings of guilt and shame, but they did not come. Instead, I was filled with a peace that I had not felt since the moment I first realized I was attracted to other women.
I felt like the earth shifted and everything was different.
It was as if I believed the world was flat, then got in a boat, sailed off, and hit the place in the water where I should have gone over the edge but didn’t. At the moment I realized, they were wrong! I just kissed a woman, and I have never felt more alive and close to God! In a moment—probably less than a second—I knew I had been wrong all along.
God did not hate this part of me, my body had not betrayed me, and God had not left me alone to live in misery. The truth was so simple: my body was trying to show me the way God had created me. My desire was not a misdirected arrow, but rather, a precise shot showing me the way. At that moment I experienced a connection to my body for the first time in years. The hatred I once had for myself seemingly disappeared, and I was filled instead with joy and peace.
I am so grateful that somehow, against all odds, I had the courage to get in the boat and sail to the edge. When I did not fall off, I found a way to live deeper in my body, and have a new and wonderful connection to God. And this is exactly what I now do everyday as a therapist. I meet with people who are trying to quiet all the other noise and find the courage to listen to the wisdom of their body.
What I know now that I did not know back in college when I was struggling to kill my own body’s wisdom was this: when we do not listen to our bodies and find out why they are telling us what they are, the truth still comes out. Unfortunately, it usually comes out sideways and ends up hurting us and those around in us in profound ways. Sometimes the work I do as a therapist also involves meeting with people as they walk through the grief and pain they have experienced after ignoring their body’s wisdom. Sometimes these sideways ways come in the form of addictions, depression, affairs, anxiety and a general sadness about life.
Most of us are raised not to listen to our bodies, especially we who were raised in the Christian faith.
Somewhere along the way our human, bodily desires were labeled as bad and ungodly. It became taboo for someone to talk about the pleasure of sex, or the deep importance of listening to our bodies. Traditional Christianity would suggest when we are tempted to do something “sinful,” we should shut the desire down and focus on something Godly. But through my experience—and my therapeutic work with others with similar struggles—our relationship with God and satisfaction in our relationships depends on our ability to actually listen to our bodies and find the wisdom in what they tell us.
This is not a license to follow desires that harm ourselves or our relationships, but I do think there are important messages even in these impulses. For example, instead of condemning a person who develops sexual feelings for someone other than their spouse, I would be curious about those feelings. What is the message behind these impulses and what work needs to be done to address the deeper need?
It takes great courage to listen and take the time to discover what our desires means rather than acting quickly on impulse. Nothing speaks more loudly to us than our bodies, and a failure to listen to those messages may lead us to places of pain and brokenness. I hope you will find a place within you that holds great courage and strength to explore the deep places within you.
Though the assumption is that our bodies will lead us astray, they are actually deeply wise and can show us the secret places of our hearts.
Our bodies and our desires are arrows showing us important places to process, feel and find deeper truths of what is really at work.
Originally published on October 8, 2013; Photo via flickr user The Internal Struggle
Presbyterian Church in America