The Fear of God #1: To Be Jeremiah
I’d like to thank everyone who reached out to me over the past few weeks and offered words of encouragement regarding my journey as a minor-attracted person (MAP). Your responses have been uplifting, and I wanted to make sure that you knew just how much they meant to me. This is a complex and controversial issue, and I understand completely that sharing (or even liking) a post such as mine has the potential to change other people’s opinions of you.
I grappled with that fear myself as I prepared this series of essays. I have a life I like. I have friends and family that I enjoy spending time with. There was little doubt that publicly admitting to my struggles would change my life. It might even change the lives of those around me. It is a legitimate fear, but the question I had to answer was whether it should be a defining one.
This next series of essays is going to explore the fears associated with my coming out. One essay will look at other Christians’ concerns regarding that decision and what it reveals about my journey. Another will explore how we address the legitimate concerns my presence brings. Today, though, I start with my own fears.
When I began pursuing my Bible degree at Lubbock Christian University in the fall of 2000, I was nervous and excited about future. Even then, I knew that God had gifted me in writing and public speaking. I also enjoyed biblical discussion and the parsing of difficult theological topics. Becoming a preacher seemed a natural choice. However, reading through the Bible, I knew that God’s call to ministry implies no promise of a happy life. At the time, for reasons I still can’t put a finger on, my focus had fallen on just such an unfortunate subject: the prophet Jeremiah.
As Jeremiah is sometimes called “the weeping prophet,” you can imagine that his career wasn’t one of sunshine and roses. Though little is known of his life, we know several key facts about his work. For one, his message was ignored; God even warns him that this will be the result. In fact, the king literally burns the scroll Jeremiah sends him. In another passage Jeremiah is abandoned to starve in a cistern before eventually being rescued. And while it doesn’t say it specifically in the text, I always imagined he was extremely lonely. After all, the implication is that he gave up the chance for peace, prosperity, and happiness to claim a solitary life of insignificance and abuse.
So, as I prepped to go off to college, I had a single prayer: God, please don’t make me Jeremiah.
The three years I spent at LCU changed me in ways I don’t have time to cover here. The upshot, though, is that when I graduated with my Bible degree, I chose not to go into ministry. Instead, I bounced from random job to random job, never really feeling like I was doing what I should be. It was during this time that I went back to school for my engineering degree.
I’m not sure exactly when it was, but somewhere in the midst of finding static equilibria and tackling integrals, I came to believe that God wanted me to speak out about my attractions and my long-time fight against them. I didn’t feel qualified to do so, though, and—if I’m honest—I was scared. So, I shoved that impulse down and went about my life. I wasn’t ready to be Jeremiah.
That hunger for purpose never went away, though. No matter what I did or where I ran, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I had been prepared specifically for this task. Just as pervasive, though, was the fear of that very mission. I didn’t want to be hated, ignored and alone. So, though I spoke of it occasionally to Janelle, I never made any serious move forward.
This was how I lived for years. I might still be locked in that stasis, but as I have gotten older I have also learned more about life. There came a time when I realized that the core of fear is loss. I fear because I hold onto things so tightly that the very thought of not having them motivates me to act instinctively rather than faithfully. Fear is a good thing when it prompts me not to engage in foolishly risky behaviors, but it can just as easily be detrimental if it binds me to the temporal when God wants me focused on the eternal.
Eventually, I had to admit that these fears had long been wrapped up in the things of this world. I knew I would be unlikely to hold a job if I went public. That might mean we couldn’t afford our house or both our cars. It might mean we couldn’t eat out as much as I’d like or own the latest cool electronic gadgets. Going public meant risking my sense of self-worth as I opened myself up to attacks from angry people who didn’t understand why I was doing this. Revealing myself meant giving up my sense of security since there might be people who would want to harm me.
The greatest of these fears, though, was the thought of losing Janelle. Not losing her to death but losing her love. I feared that if I chose to walk this terrifying journey, she might choose money or luxuries or safety over me. By God’s grace, I didn’t have to face that fear. I’ll never forget the day she made it perfectly clear she would stick by me through whatever hardships came. That was when I started moving forward in earnest.
Even then, I’m ashamed to admit that years still passed before I proved ready to write that first series of essays. At times, I feel God had to pry my fingers open and steal back some of my earthly treasures from my terrified grasp. I ran from this role for years. Looking back, in my fear to avoid being Jeremiah I managed to become Jonah instead.
One of the hardest parts of serving God is the realization that there will be times when I must simply cast myself onto my fears and let God be God. This is hard not because he won’t give me what I need, but instead because what I need is so very, very different from what I want. Conquering fears is as much about letting go as it is about faith. It is about aligning my priorities with God’s and letting him shape me, even if that means being forged in fire.
I’ve learned a lesson beyond that. Jeremiah may have been ignored and abused, but he wasn’t alone. He had a scribe named Baruch, whom tradition holds was his disciple and friend. It turns out that even the real Jeremiah wasn’t called to be the Jeremiah that my mind had conjured up. Instead, God had given him a helper who carried him through and lightened his burdens.
With that knowledge, the story I saw almost twenty years ago is transformed. Jeremiah isn’t proof that God may ask us to serve beyond our capacities, but is instead an example of him giving us enough to carry us through. That’s the faith the burns away the fear…and led me to finally risk becoming Jeremiah.