Useless Desires

Every day I take a bitter pill that gets me on my way / For all the little aches and pains the ones I have from day to day / To help me think a little less about the things I miss / To help me not to wonder how I ended up like this / And the sky turns to fire /  against a telephone wire / And even I’m getting tired of useless desires. – Patty Griffin

Useless desires.  That’s what these are.

What good comes from my desire to be intimate with another man?  That question is almost so embarrassing I won’t even put it on an anonymous blog — and yet it is a question that colors my prayer life.  What is the POINT, God?  Why are these stupid things here?

It’s like my dad told me to cut the lawn, and gave me a trimmer, a lawnmower, and an automatic rifle.  My dad’s not one to make mistakes about these things, but what on earth am I supposed to do with the damn gun?  It’s useless.

But even that’s not quite right.  As I look around me, I realize that my desires are useful.  The kinds of desires I have can be used to separate parents and children, to drive young men into hedonism and heedlessness, to rip apart husbands and wives, to destroy, and destroy, and destroy some more.  The gun comparison is apt.  This sort of sexual passion is powerful.

And yet, Saint Paul says:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I don’t understand why this desire is here, no more than I understand cancer, no more than I understand hurricanes.  But I do rest in the promise that I am not capable of giving, the promise given to me, that in this — as in all things — I am “more than a conqueror” if I submit myself to the will of the living God.

Patty Griffin sings about taking a “bitter pill” that “helps me not to wonder how I ended up like this”.  I’ve tasted that pill, and seen the world through pill-colored glasses.  It’s a bit like being in the Matrix.  Cypher says, “You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize?  Ignorance is bliss.”

But you know what?  Ignorance is hell on me, and hell on those around me.  To live in a fantasy world where my desire isn’t useless, where it becomes the fulcrum of my life, where I somehow existentially “embue” it with meaning — that would mean abandoning my daddy, my brother, my precious God, who wants, more than anything, my good.  Make my desire useless, Lord, that I myself might be used by You.

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10 thoughts on “Useless Desires

  1. Zack says:

    “The kinds of desires I have can be used to separate parents and children, to drive young men into hedonism and heedlessness, to rip apart husbands and wives, to destroy, and destroy, and destroy some more.”

    Nothing in this quote is or can be linked to your desire to be intimate with other men. In your situation as already being married, perhaps it could facilitate but that is not intrinsic to the desire for a unitive relationship with another man in and of itself.

    • Hi Zack! Welcome to my little corner of the web.

      I’m gonna agree, first of all, that my language was strong to the point of being inaccurate. But my point was twofold: (1) there is no use to my sexual desire for another man, and (2) this sort of desire CAN do the things I describe. It’s clear that people have alienated themselves from their family because of their homosexual desires (though families have pushed people away too — and that’s not the sort of case I’m referring to). It’s clear that millions of men have become hedonists because of the intensity of desire I experience. It’s clear that marriages have been destroyed by this sort of desire, too.

      But that phrase — “be intimate with another man” — that was what may have made you frustrated with my post. Surely there are thousands of ways to be intimate with other men, and form connections with them, that don’t involve anything dangerous in the way I describe. You’re right about that. In essence, I was speaking in “code”, where “being intimate with another man” means being sexually intimate. And THAT — I believe, though I’ll listen to objections — is useless and dangerous.

      I shouldn’t have spoken that way in my original post; I should have been more clear. But your comment about the desire for a “unitive relationship” with another man is a bit unclear to me. Do you mean the type of unitive relationship I have with my brother or my best friend? Do you mean the intimacy of shared emotions, shared goals, and shared history? Or do you mean something else? Is sexual activity an aspect of this unitive relationship?

  2. Zack says:

    I found your website since I myself am gay and looking into the theological side of it. In that search, I found spiritual friendship and your page through it. Much of my family is Church of Christ which isn’t compatible with me so I am looking at all sides of it.

    For me, the focus is on the love. My family has modeledwhat I think I want for myself. I like your Catholic word “unitive”. I have seen it between my grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and their spouses. I would like that too but with another guy.

    I can see where the issue is. Your church requires that sex be unitive and procreative. Mine threw the orientation (and me, incidently) out entirely. Interestingly, I walked away from much of my family because I was unwilling to show fealty to a God that offers me nothing of real value in return.

    In a sense, love with another man is dangerous for your salvation and marriage. I don’t question that.

    That said I don’t think you can blame destroyed families and hedonism on the orientation itself. Sort of like the “guns don’t kill people” axiom, homosexual romance isn’t the cause of hedonism and promiscuity – it is how the individual expresses it that is the tell. In the strict, corporeal sense I see no difference between romantic love between men and that between man and woman.

    Spiritually I am on the fence between Side A and Side B, to borrow terminology from another gay Christian website.

    • Well, first of all, I’m so glad to chat with you about all this. The sentence that really stood out, in your reply, was this one: “I walked away from much of my family because I was unwilling to show fealty to a God that offers me nothing of real value in return.”

      Now I can’t speak to life in your church of origin, certainly, but I do want to suggest that your idea of what something of “real value” is might be off — or rather, that our culture’s idea of real value is WAY off, and I wonder if your definition is influenced by the culture. The culture surrounds us with the message that “love” is what’s important. But this notion of love — the modern, romantic notion of love — is just one historically quirky idea about the meaning of life. It’s not THAT important. If you read Tolstoy, you’ll find it criticized. If you read Shakespeare, you’ll find it lampooned. If you read Ovid, you won’t find it.

      Are there things of “real value” without such a love? Sure there are! Kierkegaard lived a life of real and profound value, despite being rejected permanently by the love of his life. The apostle Paul lived a life of real value. Are these lives characterized by self-sacrifice? Sure, but NO MORE THAN a married Christian person’s life is characterized by self-sacrifice. I have five kids under 10 years old — you’d better bet I spend plenty of days saying nothing in my life is of real value, because I’m exhausted!

      As a married man, I’ll happily say that marriage doesn’t fulfill me. It doesn’t even come close. It’s a good thing, a beautiful thing, a delightful thing — but on many days, I’d prefer a monastery. So I ask you: is God unwilling to give you anything of real value, or is God unwilling to give you what you want? And if you choose the second option, what evidence do you have that what you want is good for you?

      As for the idea of having a unitive relationship with another guy, I would encourage you to study all the manifold types of relationships two men can have, that don’t involve sex or romance. There’s friendship and brotherhood. There’s being a father figure, or having a father figure. There’s being a teacher or a student. ALL these ways involve a very deep level of unity and intimacy.

      Now there is a HUGE problem here, because — in our culture — men aren’t allowed to be openly affectionate with each other, and what you and I need is real affection from our friends. (Every man needs this). But I don’t think a gay romantic relationship is the ideal place for this. It IS possible to create a safe and nonsexual space for intimacy between friends. Indeed, to help create such spaces is one of the reasons God put me (and maybe you too) on this earth.

      • Zack says:

        I was outed by nature of family reading through my personal sketch journal. A young cousin who has since become so racked with guilt that she remains in contact with me even today over it was the cause. It was something meant for laughs with her – sneak in and embarrass an older cousin for fun by showing off the journal to the rest of the family on a holiday. The poor thing was too young at the time to know that it would culminate in my familial excommunication. I have long since forgiven her. She has yet to forgive herself.

        While I am gay, celibate or not, I am not welcome in the presence of most of my family. Until I choose to stop my rebellion, I have no place with my family or in paradise. As far the theology, my message to Christ and God is the same message they give to all who call themselves Christian:

        Accept me or go to hell.

        There is a somewhat bittersweet and mildly amusing irony to taking the W.W.J.D. axiom and applying the same ultimatum I have been offered since I was born back to the being who offered it to me to begin with. You must admit, it should prove to be an interesting discussion on Judgement Day whether I am right or wrong in where I stand now.

        Who knows the truth of God, really? Maybe He is on my side. Maybe not. I am researching the different sides of this issue and the churches beyond my own to gain some insight and find the truth of it.

        Until then, for lack of any real family beyond the few who stay in contact and for lack of a better path I follow my conscience. I stay true to the law written on my heart and what good I learned from my old family. I doubt everything else until it proves itself. The God of my family says my orientation is a rebellious choice. I know this is not true from my own experience of reality. As such I cast Him out of my home. If He has a problem with it, He knows where to find me.

        While I would love to meet someone special and settle down with them, I care little for the sexual side of it. Sex, to me, springs from such relationships in the same way that kissing, cuddling, and the like spring from them. A side effect of it. A means of uniting yourself to someone, and giving them pleasure. My first ever relationship of a romantic nature (and only one to date) was with an asexual homoromantic man. We kissed and snuggled up together and I was happy enough with that. I don’t really seek out sex. It is neutral to me.

        Don’t worry yourself on my account, I can maintain boundaries. A local LGBT group in my area reached out to me and I help them out. I have met a number of friends and even been adopted as a sort of honorary father figure to many because of my “old fashioned” sensibility concerning sex (e.g. it is for loving, committed relationships and not something I give out). Far be it from me to make a graven idol out of a romantic relationship.

        But I am open to it and because of that I am parsing this out now.

  3. Zack,

    I can tell you are very angry. I sympathize with that anger. I’ve spent most of my life totally pissed off at God — but I didn’t express my anger, I kept it bottled up. My anger seeped out through my own dysfunctions. I hope you are able to express your anger better than I was able to express mine.

    Last summer, though, I did express it. Perhaps you will find it helpful. All I will say is that my anger has this day been replaced by an almost bottomless fount of thankfulness that I have to God for putting me on this earth and helping me despite my heedlessness.

    Here’s what I wrote last summer, when I finally lashed out at God, in rage:

    “You are the one, you, the material cause of all things, YOU did this. You took my heart and pulled it out of my chest and trampled it and spit on it, and then you asked me to give it to you fully. But why the hell should I trust you with my heart? It is ugly and distorted, but it is mine, and I can’t give it to you again. You had it, and I was totally vulnerable, and you smashed it to pieces.

    “Let me show you a picture, O my Divine Destroyer. It is a picture of a boy, a six-year-old boy with strawberry blond hair falling straight over his forehead. His hazel eyes look straight ahead; they stare into the loneliness. He is naked, because you have stripped him of his clothing, his protection. You have taken his guardian too. You have mangled him and broken him and left him mindless and confused. But this boy — what will become of him?

    “He will put on clothing, layer after layer, day by day. He will put on scales, put on armor. He will hide behind books, hide behind browser windows. Nothing he puts on will protect him from you. He has no place to hide from you. He desperately, desperately hopes that you don’t exist, that there is no you. He has been taught, you see, that it is sin to hate you — but he hates you. Oh, his little body convulses with hatred of you.

    “If you don’t exist, he knows he is no safer. But neither is he a sinner, then. He can live in his dream world, a world where he can desire what he wants to desire, and not be ashamed. But no — for wanting this, you and your people let him be called a pervert. You beset him behind and before with nasty names and condemnation.

    “That boy wants you dead. You and your people have taken away his innocence and made him a byword among the nations. He wants you dead and he will take up books of learning and blend it with the poetry of his heart, and he will become educated in the arts of rhetoric and the sorcery of the pen.

    “But he gives you one last chance, a chance to heal him and make things better. If you don’t come through, I haven’t the slightest doubt: he will kill you.”

    Zack: I prayed this bizarre, desperate prayer, and my God came through for me. He is healing me. The healing has nothing to do with making me desire men less — it has to do with making me desire God more. Your family hurt you badly, Zack, and I’m sorry — I’m so sorry. Please bring your anger to the cross. Yell, curse, scream. But when you’re done, LISTEN.

    You asked whether God is on your side. God is never on your side unless you are on God’s side. That takes a lot of humility, but it is possible.

    You have my prayers.

  4. Zack says:

    I appreciate your baring your soul on here, so to speak. I especially like your last bit in your prayer where you threaten God with using your writing talent and poetry to try and kill Him. I have considered the same, pretending to be an atheist and using a pseudonym and my knowledge of Scripture to attack the faith I grew up in. I have even written up potential blog posts but never really posted them.

    Unfortunately, this is where the similarities come to an end. I know enough about your God and your church to know that your God accepts you as gay, bisexual, and whatever so long as you remain celibate and respect his rules of Chastity (sex must be unitive and procreative; and can only happen in a sacramental marriage performed and recognized by the Catholic Church).

    My God requires the impossible – that I cease being gay. He calls it a choice to defy Him. He tells my loved ones to cut me off from the family as they would any unrepentant sinner and bar me from attending my grandparents funeral.

    “God is never on your side unless you are on God’s side.”

    I believe in some higher power but am lost. What cross do I submit to? What God do I follow? The one of my youth was a false idol. My time away from my birth faith has taught me that. I can’t unsee what I have seen or unknown what I have learned. That ship is long since sailed so there is no going back. I cannot be on my God’s side again.

    • First of all, Zack, I’m impressed by your humility, by your willingness to ask questions. My own take on your questions is pretty simple. What God do you follow? “My” God. I say that because I believe “my” God is the true God, and so you can make Him your God too.

      Your being attracted to men is not a choice to defy God. Period, done, end of story. Look across the Tiber, my friend, and see if you can follow the God you see there. Can you follow Pope Francis’s God?

      Your cross, as I see it, is not to deny your feelings. Rather, it is to accept them, but to insist that they not rule your life. Feelings are not always a good compass. There is a route for you that does not involve repression, but also does not involve sin. It’s hard to find the path, which is overgrown and mossy. But don’t give up. Get down on your knees and ask the true God to reveal Himself to you. I’m hopeful for you, and I’ve been blessed by your posts here.

      Peace,
      Daniel

  5. Zack says:

    I will humble myself and ask that God simply guide me to the truth. It is hard to walk away from the God of my childhood, while your God and church interest me I still feel like Judas under the tree on that Wedensday night in the garden, betraying the one he followed from the beginning (not to liken your God to pharisees in theme, only to illustrate my turmoil and taking the walk across the Tiber).

    It has been a hard and demoralizing road. Am I turning to your Church because it is right or betraying God for an easier road that doesn’t demand my change? Perhaps I just need to give God time to lead me.

    Thanks for the conversation.

  6. benedict67 says:

    Daniel, I was lead here from CAF. I have been profoundly moved by this post (“Useless Desires”) – because this is my story too. I have struggled for 30 years to try to reconcile my faith with my homosexuality, my homosexuality with my faith. The two seemed to be wholly incompatible. I made a bad decision 25 years ago when I walked away from my faith because I couldn’t deal with the guilt of my sexuality. I turned my back on God because I misguidedly thought that true happiness lay in a relationship with another man. Two years ago, I felt the calling to return to the church. I still struggled because I identified myself as a homosexual first, and as a Christian second. But God is patient. He waited and waited. In my conflict, I began crying out to Him, asking Him to reveal His purpose for me. When we are really ready to hear Him, He answers our call. Now, my whole being has been filled with an overwhelming love for His son. I finally understand that the love that I have been searching for all these long years is not a sexual love at all – but a deep love of Christ. My own cross is to sublimate the desires I had for the physical love of a man, but Christ is helping with that too. The desires that used to rule me no longer have any control over me. Through constant prayer and devotion, the chastity I struggled with is no longer a struggle. It is a beautiful gift. The conflict ceased when I woke up to the realisation that true fulfilment lies in living to please Christ more than myself. Thank you Daniel for putting so many of my own feelings into words here. I wish you love and may you always be blessed with God’s peace.

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