An Open Letter to my Twenty-Year-Old Self

[Note, June 2016: This post was written at a time in my life when I was still wrestling with the experience of intense spiritual desolation that had caused me to radically reassess my life. While much has changed since I wrote it, most of it remains true, and  I leave the post here as is out of respect for my journey and the rightful place of doubt, questioning, and wrestling with God in all of our spiritual journeys.]
Hi Matt,
I’ve been thinking a lot about you lately — about the man you are and the man you are becoming and will become — and wanted to pass along some friendly, encouraging words that might make the next few years a bit easier. As they say, advice is a form of nostalgia, and, well, you of all people know how sentimental I am.

First, Matt, The world is a beautiful and complicated place, and the sooner you embrace that the better. I know right now you are in love with the Bible and only really trust people with a similar respect for it. That’s fine, but as a wise man once said, “All truth is God’s truth.” Learn all you can about the Scriptures and your faith, but cast your net wide. And don’t let your love of God ever get in the way of your curiosity about the world. After all, if you’re right about God, He created it all and loves it. Explore it and fall in love with it. Extend this generosity to other ways of thinking and believing too: you’ll be wise to read widely and generously. Read, hear, listen. Test before rejecting. There have been a lot of smart people all over the world over the centuries. Don’t be afraid to learn from them. Again: If God is who you believe He is, then All truth is is God’s truth. To reject foreign ideas without understanding and testing them is really just a sign of your own insecruity about your beliefs. Relax and learn. You’ll be richer for it.

The expression that comes to mind so often as I write is “Don’t be afraid…” I don’t think you realize how much your fear controls you. You’re afraid of what it means to be gay (and a Christian). You’re afraid to expose yourself to things that don’t fit into your belief system. You’re afraid to go out on a limb and try new things. Heck, you’re afraid to walk down the street after dark. I encourage you to deal with that as soon as possible. If she hasn’t already, Kristen is going to suggest you read a book called Feeling Good. You’re not going to believe her when she tells you it’s valuable, but believe me, it is. It will help you see your anxieties for the lies that they are. Me saying that probably scares you too. But if you are going to be the man you will need to be, you’re going to need to address your anxiety and tendency towards depression. You’ll be SO glad you did. TRUST ME.

You are a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for.

Keep the people you love close to you. (On that note, don’t worry about mom. She’ll come through what’s happening now better than ever, even if it will take a bit of time.)

Learn to forgive from the depth of your heart. Hold your sorrows and disappointments (and your hopes and joys too) with others and yourself with an open hand.

Now, the pink elephant in the room … Things aren’t going to work out the way you want them to. A time will come when your circumstances will force you to engage your sexuality in a different way. This probably comes as a shock and disappointment to you. But I want you to know that you fought hard and stubbornly for what you believed was best, without ungraciousness towards those who made different choices and without living a double life. You can be proud of yourself for that. Don’t worry; it will be okay. Remember: you’re stronger than you give yourself credit for.

I’m not going to try to push you to take steps you don’t want to take. I know you aren’t ready to hear it and I know you need to follow your faith through until the end. I understand that. In many ways, your faith will serve you well: you will learn many things about the world, yourself, and your relationships through it. It will also reveal to you much beauty and allow you to meet many wonderful people who will shape you in ways you can’t imagine yet. But, following Jesus will also complicate your life in untold ways and even cause some harm. Be prepared for both the joy and the frustrations and confusions: It will be a far rockier road than you imagine now. Ultimately, it will come to a dead end at the edge of the abyss, but there will be much beauty and wonder along the way. (Despite how things turned out, on most days, I still think it was a road worth travelling.)

But while I’m not going to tell you what to do, I do have a few things I’d like to say: Extend grace to yourself and others dealing with these complicated issues of faith and sexuality. What you — and they — are dealing with is Big and hard. Especially for Christians. You probably already have figured out that God doesn’t respond to this as you’d hope or expect. You’re not going to get an answer to ‘why’, and it’s going to continue causing you a lot of frustration and confusion over the years. Go easy on yourself, and better yet, go easy on those who make different choices or who give up the fight before you do. (I’m not just saying this from my perspective now; you’ll figure it out for yourself in a couple years anyway). And if (I say ‘if’ for your benefit, since I know you can’t accept ‘when’) you find you need to make that step yourself, remember also to extend a similar grace to those who aren’t there yet. It’s a very personal thing; everyone deserves to do it in their own way and in their own time.

In the next year or two, prominent Christian organizations will come out with support groups and strategies they say will help you understand your sexuality and even suggest they can change it. DO NOT ENGAGE THEIR MATERIALS. You will find them attractive and will find enough half-truths to get you to buy into them for a time, but they will do you no good and their half-truths (which are no better than lies) will obscure a lot about who you are and about your relationships. Please stay away.
Also, “Haters gonna hate” (In case you’re wondering, this will be an expression — yes the twenty-first century is a time full of wonder (I’ll warn you now that at the time I’m writing this there are several world famous cats). You’re never going to please everyone, so don’t try. When (sorry — “If”) the time comes, you’re going to feel alienated in some ways from gay community as much as you will from Christians. (And conservative Christians are going to get WEIRD and mean in the public sphere; trust me on that one! You’ll feel alienated from them years before you take any steps away from the faith.) It’s going to be a fact of life and you’re going to need to be strong in yourself to feel like a lone wolf in a lot of ways. (You’ll actually never be as alone as it will seem. There is and will be a lot of love in your life even when it doesn’t feel like it.)
Fight the temptation toward bitterness as much as you can. As much as possible, follow Christ’s example and return hatred with love.

Lastly, and most importantly, I need to repeat that it will all be okay. You will come through the difficult times and emerge a better, stronger, more gracious, more forgiving, and more loving you.

Much love,

Your older, hopefully wiser self.

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