Coming Back from Coming Out

9

By Angie Best

Origami Dove CubedComing out ruined my life. At least, that’s the way it seemed. To claim my identity as a lesbian meant sacrificing everything on the altar of my own selfishness, of my need to be “true to myself.” To come out as a 43-year-old woman meant walking away from a tolerable twenty- year marriage, leaving behind a career in church ministry, and learning to negotiate custody arrangements and a new solo life. To come out, for me, meant walking away from God.

But the price of dishonesty had been higher. I paid for it in years of battling depression, anxiety, and bulimia. I bought my silence with a cocktail of psych meds, suffering a stroke, and spending hundreds of hours with a Christian therapist where I never revealed the struggle of my heart.

To look at me then, you would never have known what I was going through. I stood in the pulpit week and after week and preached the good news of the One who came to save us. I was good at it; I crafted sermons rich with powerful illustrations, handling Scripture deftly and with surgical precision. My homiletics professors would have been impressed with the way I reimagined Biblical texts in ways that made ancient stories come alive. I wrote devotionals and books on how to pastor. I spoke to seminary students at workshops and pastoral conferences.

No one would ever have known that by the end of my ministry, God and I weren’t even on speaking terms. I didn’t even realize it at first. I slipped away a little at a time.

I had grown up in a little Methodist church in the South, a warm, loving congregation nestled on the bank of the Dismal Swamp. When my family of origin failed me, the church took me under its wing. I became president of the youth group, preached my first sermon at 15 and felt the first stirrings of a call to ministry before I finished high school. College beckoned, I became the youth minister, and I married a fellow church member in the perfect wedding. Our  reception was catered by the ladies’ circle. Seminary followed, and I knew I had found my place in the world. It worked for a long time.

I loved the church. The feel of the pews under my hands—warm, satiny wood, rubbed smooth over the years. Folding crisp bulletins waiting to be handed out by eager Sunday morning ushers. I used to get to church hours before anyone else to practice my sermon, my voice echoing down the carpeted aisle, sunlight hitting the stained glass cross and blinding me every week at the same time. I loved the familiar hymns, the out of tune piano, and I’d keep my eye on the discreetly placed clock, designed to keep long-winded pastors aware of pot roasts that demanded to be out of the oven by quarter after twelve. At the latest.

I loved the stories my people told me. At baby showers and hospital waiting rooms and funeral parlors. In living rooms and in church kitchens. We are nothing without our stories, and I held space for the tales of first loves and lost children, of commitment and disappointments. I bore witness to God’s presence in their lives. They were sacred stories.

But along the way I lost my voice when it came to telling my own story. I was too unsure, too indoctrinated and inflexible to believe that a Holy God had anything to do with my sexuality and with my growing struggle to reconcile those feelings with my narrowly defined roles of wife, mother, and pastor. I don’t know when I knew I was a lesbian; there were hundreds of aha moments over two decades of adulthood. And each one of those moments took me further away from the God of my childhood. I simply could not imagine a way of life that integrated my faith and my sexuality.

And so, slowly, I slipped away. I stopped praying, unless I counted the Call to Worship on Sunday mornings. Increasingly, I just copied and pasted those from a pastor’s sourcebook. My own words had dried up. I stopped reading my Bible, unless I needed fodder for next week’s sermon. God and I, once close, became strangers. I was awkward around God, avoiding eye contact and pretending we hadn’t meant something to each other once.

I limped away from the church, not knowing anyone who could hold space for my struggle. I was alone, and I had to choose between honesty and faithfulness. Between my identity and my calling. To choose to be faithful to a dead marriage that no longer served us, or to let it go to grasp at a chance for happiness. To come out or be in a community of faith.

Finally the price of keeping silent was too much and I walked away slowly. From my marriage. From the home we shared. From my church, my ministry, and my faith.

And for a long time, I didn’t miss any of it. I liked life on my own. My children adapted to a new way of being a family. I loved my new career, and I particularly relished sleeping in on Sunday mornings. Months stretched into several years, and then it happened.

I missed God.

I missed the comfort and peace I received through prayer and meditation, and I missed the love I felt when my heart and mind were aligned with God.

I remembered Pascal’s admonition, that there is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart. Even in mine. I need to connect with the Divine, even if I don’t know what that looks like yet.

And I realized I missed being part of a community of faith. I need to connect with a tribe made up of people who  love each other unconditionally, that celebrates the Mystery that binds us, and makes the world better. I don’t know where that is yet.

Slowly, I’m coming back. Maybe. These are just baby steps, small enough to risk little. Whispered prayers so tentative that I could almost imagine they were never uttered. I started acknowledging, almost begrudgingly, that what looked like coincidences might actually be Divine Order.

And this time, being a lesbian doesn’t matter. Walking away from the church and the God that I knew freed me to reimagine what a loving God and community might look like. I know there are safe places for me. I just haven’t found mine yet. But I know that the still, small Voice that calls me back embraces all of me, including my sexuality.

 

© 2015 by Angie Best

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. Knew I was gay at 7rs. It was the 60’s and NOT cool to be gay! At 19 I was born again, and on fire for Jesus. Always thought God would heal my gayness. Was still crushing on girls, so married a Christian man. 16yrs into marriage I about lost my sanity because I fell in love with a girl, and knew I had never felt that way toward any man. Divorced God for not honoring my complete abstinence from women in thought, word or deed for 30 years. Divorced my church, and my husband.

    Spent a decade of wild speed dating in the world. Became sick of the world, my wild ways, and wild women. Fell back in love with God, and found a wholesome woman who I have been with ever since. We are legally married 8 yrs now, and attend a welcoming Episcopal Church.

    I have studied Gods Word with intelligent understanding of when the Clobber passages were written, and to who. Know that Paul had residual Jewish tendencies, including women sitting on the opposite side of church with heads covered, and NO pants for women. Context is everything! OT was added to when the Jews asked never to see or hear God directly after Sinai. Priests and Lawmakers added to the 10 Commandments! Jesus was at cross hairs with them when he arrived! They had Added to The Word. Jesus brought it down to 2 Commandments. Finally, read Matthew 19:11-13 about what is “hard for man to understand”, the 3rd Eunuch.

    God bless you all who struggle.

  2. Isn’t God amazing!! I came out to my family after I accepted Jesus and walked away from the lifestyle. But then, I struggled within myself of why can’t I be me and have God? Now, I seek a happy medium. Even though I’m single, I’m free to be who I am and love God too. Glad you came out. You will find that place you belong and maybe it’s Pastoring a church for LGBT Christians.

  3. I totally relate to the gradual pushing away from God and the church. Once very involved with the Catholic church, I suddenly struggled week after week to get myself to church. Nearly a year into that internal struggle the truth finally revealed itself to me. I was a lesbian. Somewhere inside, I was realizing this and knew that the Church did not support this so I pushed myself away instead of letting the church directly reject me.

    That only worked for a while. Years later, because of the words coming out from the Vatican (early 2000’s), I renounced being Catholic.

    Today, while I am a member of an American Baptist church, I really do not claim any particular denomination. It’s just between me and God…and I’m fine with that.

  4. Beautifully written. My story and experience are very similar to yours. I was an associate pastor for the Church of the Nazarene when I came out about two years ago. While I am very sure of Gods love and acceptance, finding my spiritual footing has been a struggle. Thank you for sharing your heart. Praying you find peace.

  5. I came out in my 30’s. It was so freeing and i had to leave my community of faith to do so. I fell in love with a beutiful woman. We were able to spend 7 years together before her death. After her death, i needed my community of faith, so i went back. I have been back 8 years and it has taken a long time. I am out to many, who are close and they accept me and live me just they way God intended. I hope and pray that you to can find a community of faith. God bless you for sharing your story.

  6. Wish I could ‘come back’. Miss the great solidarity and joy I experienced in Christianity . Real Christianity. I ‘fell out’ , not over my sexuality but over Power! The sexual abuse of children and adults by priests and ministers…well one could almost deal with that, but cover- up…denial, further abuse of victims who blew the whistle…no…I saw hypocrisy. I left slowly as church died in front of my eyes. That alleged love of Christ turned into hell for victims! I miss it all like a deep bereavement. There is no where to go. I still believe, but church is NOT Christ- like! No, it’s failed. I am alone with Christ….alone…

  7. Its your eldest.
    I love you and am overjoyed you’re rewalking the path to a loving community.
    But call me.
    Because when did you have a stroke… That’s important genetic health information.

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