In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help;
He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning;
my God turns my darkness into light.
From Psalm 18
I came out for the first time, eleven years ago, to strangers on a www.GayChristian.net online message board.
Those were the janky days of the internet, when you needed a college email for Facebook and Reddit had more geeks than Nazis. Back then, all I knew about “gay Christians” were the denominations that evangelicals thought were literally Satan, the Soul Force bus, and www.gaychristian.net. I googled “help for christians struggling with same-sex attraction,” ugly crying in my cramped dorm room surrounded by Marilyn Monroe posters and Bible verse sticky notes, and up it popped.
GayChristian.net saved my life that spring. I discovered the Side-B forum (people who affirmed LGBTQ identity as unchangeable and not inherently sinful, but didn’t believe that LGBTQ romantic relationships were OK), and I told those message boards everything in tearful, typo-riddled posts. I think I’m in love with, or have a crush on, or want to kiss, my roommate, I typed into the Internet void, and it turns out that the Internet isn’t a void at all, but contains a great crowd of witnesses ready to carry me when I was about to fall.
I’m scared, I typed. I’m so scared. Even though I was making so many rules to “stay away from sin,” to avoid being gay, to avoid kissing a GIRL, I was failing. The edge of the cliff was approaching fast, and the brakes in my battered soul were shot.
You’re probably right, one of the posters responded. It sounds like you’ve hit a point of no return. I hope that you know, though, that no matter what happens next, Jesus is always there waiting for you. This part feels scary but it’s not the end. It’s just one piece of your journey. We love you and are here for you!
Jesus is here now, the poster concluded, and Jesus will be there afterwards, too.
In the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Fred Rogers is quoted as saying that the space between the television screen and the viewer is holy space. I believe that for computers, too. I still remember that stranger who held the promise of Christ for me, a scared college kid on the other side of the world.
I didn’t come out to anyone in real life for awhile.
But the hope that those strangers held for me let me begin to come out to God.
Tonight, while I drink off-brand LaCroix and my candle melts onto my desk, I’m thinking about you – closeted LGBTQ strangers, awake in bed at 2AM on National Coming Out Day, wondering if someone is holding the promise of Christ for you right now, too.
Tonight, I’m holding hope for you.
My Hope For You
Go ahead and reject the myth that everyone must, absolutely, come out as soon as possible. For some of you, it’s not the right time to come out. It might not be safe – physically, emotionally, or financially. It might be your school, your job, your marriage, or your parents. If that’s where you are today, I’m praying for your safety, and for an outpouring of discernment and great hope.
And then some of you? Y’all haven’t even come out to yourselves. You’re Googling “am i gay quiz” and taking sketchy Buzzfeed tests from HrnyPrncss724. (“Are you gay, lesbian, trans, or bisexual? Take this quiz and find out now!”). And some of you don’t want to know, because being revealed is scary. Some of you don’t want to know, because you’re scared that you’ll look inside yourself and see something that you don’t understand, or worse, find something that will turn your life inside out if you ever speak it out loud.
I want to hold the promise of Christ for you tonight.
This National Coming Out Day, I want you to hear the words of this Psalm sung over you.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
My Soul Has Squeezed Itself Into Narrow Spaces
One of my favorite spoken word poems is “Come Closer” by Anis Mojgani.
“I have shaved off so many of my corners that I have felt at home only in a ball,” Anis says. “Believe me when I tell you that my soul has squeezed itself into narrow spaces.”
We have squeezed our souls into narrow spaces.
Those narrow spaces are much less about how we publically state our identity, and more about our inner journey. Uncurling ourselves from those dimly lit, cramped corners, and stepping into a place where we can stretch and spin in the sunlight, doesn’t necessarily mean “coming out” to the world.
But it does mean coming out to ourselves. It does mean coming out to God.
God’s heart for every one of us is to draw us out out of those small rooms with stale air, and to walk with us into spacious fields under clear skies. That can happen whether we’re publically out or not. Even “the closet” is roomy when we know who we are. That inner spaciousness, in the face of outward persecution or necessary secrecy, is the Psalmist’s table prepared in the presence of our enemies.
God is longing to throw down a rope to pull us out of the deep waters that have come up to our necks, but we hesitate to grab the rope because at least drowning is familiar. At least the cramped closet under the stairs of our heart is homey, right? We know it so well. It’s miserable, but it’s nonthreatening. It hurts to stay here, but the risks of self-revelation feel too great.
There is so much in our hearts we’re scared of – not just sin, but the revelation of “who we really are.” This isn’t just about gay stuff. This is about everything. In Greek, the word for “uncovering” is apocalypse. We usually use it for the end of the world, and it works in this context, too, because we live with fear that any uncovering of ourselves will be the end of the world. We’re sure that if we really saw ourselves, if God saw us, if anyone else saw us, the world would end. There wouldn’t be a damn thing left.
You are always, forever, eternally the Beloved children of God, whether you are honest with God or not, whether you take that rope or not, whether you let God lead you out of your cramper quarters into the light or not.
But your soul will be squeezed into narrow spaces and you will be surviving, not thriving, until you are brave enough to begin to come out to Jesus, and until you begin to learn and speak your name.
What Is Your Name?
My favorite Gospel story has always been Jesus and the Gerasene Demoniac in Mark 5. Jesus encounters a man who is possessed by demons, and Jesus’ first words to the man are what is your name. “Many,” the man says. “My name is many.”
We have a lot of names.
We have so many names.
The world gives us names that aren’t quite right or are absolutely wrong, and we give ourselves false names because we like them better than the true, but maybe scary, names in our gut. We pick names to call ourselves that seem more glamorous, or more safe, or less apocalyptic than the names we have deep inside of ourselves.
What is your name, Jesus says. He knows the answer, but He wants to hear you say it out loud to Him. The first question Christ asks us is always “what is your name” because when we say our name out loud to Christ, it is the beginning of unsqueezing our souls and stepping into sacred, open air.
God knows it can take awhile to get there. And God knows there is endless grace for our journey. Our patient, persistent Jesus will stand next to us asking us that question – what is your name? – for as long as it takes. He won’t walk away because it’s taking so long. He isn’t disappointed it’s taking so long. He’ll keep asking until we find the words, until we take a deep breath and dive down deep to finally look at what we’ve been so afraid of for so long. Jesus will patiently wait with us, for as long as it takes.
I know this because Jesus has stood next to me and asked me what is your name? for years. I’ve given Him a lot of bullshit answers – sometimes in good faith, and sometimes in bad faith. He has never been angry at me. He has never walked away. He’s held my hand while I wrestled with lies and fear and shame and made-up names, and when I finally started to be brave, I watched His delight over me, and that delight gave me brand new courage.
You rescued me because you delighted in me!”
Gently, but persistently, Jesus says, “Child of My heart, my Beloved. I knit you together in your mother’s womb. I know your name. There is nothing you can discover about yourself that I haven’t seen first. I’ve seen it all, and it doesn’t scare me. I know it all, and I’m delighted in you. Be brave, find your name, so we can walk together to that spacious place.”
Coming Out Prayers When You Don’t Have Words
Maybe this is a Coming Out Day where you stay “in the closet,” at least to your family and friends and Facebook. Maybe you’ll come out, publicly, on Christmas morning, or on a rainy April afternoon, or in a text message on a Sunday after church. Maybe it’ll be this year, and maybe it’ll be in 20 years.
But Beloved, whatever your public journey, begin to come out to God in your soul. Show up, just as you are, with the only words you have.
Jesus – here I am. This is what I’m working with. It feels overwhelming to me. I’m not sure if I’m OK. I am pretty sure I’m bad. Or maybe I’m not? I’m not sure yet. But this is me. And I want to just be me, just with You. I hope that is OK.
Bring that messy, sloppy, confused self to God. Don’t wait until you know how to pray. Just say out loud that you don’t know how to pray – that’s a prayer, too. Don’t wait until you know if it’s OK to be gay or not. Don’t wait until you know if you’re trans or not. Don’t wait to fully understand asexuality or non-binary identities. Bang on the door of heaven exactly as you are, with whatever you have, because our God isn’t the unjust Judge who needs to be heckled, but the Father who sat waiting eagerly on His porch for even a hint that we’re on our way – even we aren’t quite there yet.
Come out of your dark closet today, Beloved – come stand in the light with our good, good Mother who wants to give good gifts to Her children.
Happy National Coming Out Day, you fabulous, closeted, #faithfullyLGBT.
You are seen. You are known. You are Beloved.
Come out into this spacious place.