These are some more thoughts on this topic. Part 1 is here. As with the prior post, it’s addressed to someone trying to decide which way to go: be faithful to the Church, or seek a same-sex partner? There is another aspect of this question “what are my chances?” that I wanted to address. I want to examine the impulse underlying that question. Often, when I ask a question like that, I am trying to avoid risk, play it safe, keep my head down, and just survive. But G.K. Chesterton has this warning about avoiding risk:
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice.
He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.
-Orthodoxy, page 91-92
Thinking about risk invites the question of reward, in other words, “Is it worth it?” Will I gain valuable experience in trying this? Is it worth trying, even if I fail?
I know how much of my own life problems have been caused because I avoided risk. It kept me from growth. It kept me stuck in isolation and shame. It kept me “safe” but unhappy, and even led me to be miserable. More than any of the psychological or biological factors that one could point to in my life, I really feel that it is my fear and avoidance of risk that made same sex attraction such an issue in my life.
So one day it dawned on me, I could take a healthy risk now or an unhealthy risk later. My cravings for excitement and adventure could be postponed, but they could not be denied. Playing to win is always more fun than playing not to lose. (Don’t worry, I still do plenty of the latter and avoid risk. Overcoming my instincts isn’t easy!)
I want to tell you a story about a former colleague of mine. We’ll call him Mike even though that wasn’t his name. He was really struggling in his sales career. His wife, whom he was still madly in love with, left him, partly because she said he wasn’t making enough money. He was distracted and disconsolate at work, for obvious reasons. He told me about this friend of his, who had offered him 50% of his water bottling business. He had gotten the rights to a spring in Alaska, and for very little money down my coworker could have had half a stake in it. Less than two years later, Mike’s friend was taking home $100,000 a month. Mike was kicking himself, wishing that he would have made this choice instead of sticking to the career he knew and loved. Maybe his wife wouldn’t have left him. Maybe $50,000 a month could have made him happy.
I said to Mike, no, you’re looking at this from the wrong end. You can never really know whether a particular venture you embark on is going to succeed beforehand. And the truth is, most businesses fail. The question you have to ask yourself isn’t “How much potential upside is there?,” since beforehand such calculations are only guesses. You have to ask yourself, is this something worth trying? Is this something that, even if I fail, will I find it worthwhile?
Is bottling water something that excites you Mike? Is that something you’d like to do, day in and out, like your friend? He admitted to me that no, he much preferred selling software to large companies—he enjoyed it and knew how to do it. The trick, I told him, was to do something that is important and valuable enough to you, that even if you fail, you’ll still think it was worth it.
I think my coworker took heart in this point—despite his momentary trials, he really was doing what he wanted to do, even if he wasn’t happy right at that moment, even if he wasn’t very successful right then. You will be happy to know nine or so months later he made some changes and was very successful again as a salesman.
What is the point of old war stories from my old job? I think we beat ourselves up by looking at things the wrong way. You might obsessively be asking yourself, “Can I make this work?” when I think you should be asking, and therefore focusing on, “Is this worth trying?”
Are any of us happy, long term, taking the easy road? Many of us know, or at least read about, extremely wealthy and successful people who are nevertheless miserable and even self-destructive. To return to my Mount Everest analogy from part one, your chances of successfully climbing Mount Everest before Sir Edmund Hillary were 0%. Why try? Because it’s worth it. And now, nobody, not even him, much remembers how hard it was. All they remember, all that’s important, is the triumph. The glory.
Early Church members no doubt would have been happier and had less problems if they had never joined the Church and stayed living as Bourgeois Presbyterians in New England, rather than get chased by mobs halfway across the continent. They would still have been good people; I know lots of wonderful and righteous Presbyterians. So why did they do it? Because it was worth it. So worth it, they scrawled on their wagons, “The Kingdom of God, or Nothing!” They couldn’t keep looking back on what they left. They had to look forward, to what they dreamed of, Zion, which some of them never lived to see. Did they waste their lives on a cause they never got to enjoy? I don’t think so.
So if you are wondering if you should pursue a gay relationship, or stay in the Church, I can’t tell you, no one can tell you, which is actually going to be easier, which one will have less heartache. You can’t know whether that guy you just met who gives your heart a flutter is going to stick with you through thick and thin, or if he’s going to leave you later. Not everyone living as an openly gay man is happy, just as not everyone who is a member of the Church is always happy.
The only question worth pondering for you right now is, what is worth sacrificing for? All choices take sacrifices, even trying to have it both ways (staying out of trouble enough to not have to talk to the Bishop while still pursuing romantic encounters with men), trying to straddle your testimony and acting on your sexual orientation. For me, I knew those happy feelings would seem like I had settled for something less than what I was made for. Even though there are successful gay relationships, I could never be content living that way knowing I had compromised on what I knew to be true. I could complain and get angry that God wasn’t making me happy, but I also knew what He wanted for me, and, more importantly, I knew what I wanted.
Climbing the hill at the end of the street is much easier than climbing Everest. It’s much safer, and you can wear fashionable clothes and have all your friends around you to do it with you. Your chances of success at climbing that hill are 99.999%. Why risk all the cold, fatigue, light-headedness, expense, and danger by aiming higher? Because what’s the glory in climbing a piddling little hill?
I can’t answer those questions for you. I can’t tell you what is worth it for you. I can’t tell you if fidelity to the Church is Mount Everest and your same sex relationship is the hill, or vice versa. You’ll have to ask those questions and answer them for yourself. Leaving your faith will have consequences for you. Leaving your same sex relationship will have other consequences. Trying to have both will have consequences. You can’t avoid consequences of some kind. You have to decide what consequences you are willing to live with. But I know there can be no satisfaction for you, for me, or anyone else, if we look back at the end of our lives and say, “I took the easy way out. The other way was just too hard.” Do it because you want it, because you know it’s worth it. To hell with the consequences, and probabilities be damned!
Whether you sell software, or bottle water, or go live with your same sex partner, or stay in the Church, no one can predict beforehand what will work. You want to do something that is worth it, even if you should fail. And once you decide what’s worth it, make up your mind that you’ll do it, and don’t look back. (“The Kingdom of God or nothing!”) Draw a boundary around what your decision is, and surround yourself with people who will support that decision, and disaffiliate with those who will not. If you do that, whatever you decide will get easier. This place of shadowlands, of not choosing, is the hardest place of all.