Emotions and Suffering
A few months ago I had a sort of emotional epiphany. Emotions that I’d never experienced and a greater overall emotional awareness happened. There were a couple of very positive things that might have triggered this but much of its origins remains a mystery. I thought I’d share a few of the consequences, good and bad, that have come from this recent emotional awakening.
Tears are beautiful. The last time I can remember truly crying, was when my grandmother died. Her death was sudden and rather unexpected; in the blink of an eye I had lost one of my closest friends and family members. I sobbed for a while outside of the emergency room where she had been rushed after suffering a brain aneurism. Since that day, tears had been notably absent from my eyes. I could get choked up at an intense movie or a heart wrenching story but tears never seemed to come. I don’t remember what story I was reading or what movie I had been watching, a few months ago, that I realized that I was shedding tears once again. The emotional barrier that had been erected in my life, impenetrable to everything except the greatest pain of loss, had begun to fall. For the last three months I’ve enjoyed this new found ability to express powerful emotion.Tears come more easily now, prompted either from reading a powerfully beautiful book like Gilead, or from a shocking and traumatic story like the recent school shooting. I’m glad for their presence because they mean that my body and my heart are on the same page and my deeper emotions can find relief physically as well as verbally.
In addition to tears I have also learned that I can romantically fall for someone. When other friends, movies, books, songs, art, etc… would express their difficulty at falling emotionally for another person I was always clueless. Sure, I may have experienced the occasional and fleeting infatuation with a new person but it never lasted more than a day and would go away as quickly as it had come. That is the case no longer. For the first time in my short career as a celibate gay man I am beginning to comprehend the real cost of my celibacy. It is not until you experience a small taste of what might be found in a romantic relationship that you realize the weight of what you are giving up. For the first time in my life I have seen a glimpse of the joy, intimacy, mutual desire, and love that could be found in a relationship with a boyfriend or a husband. It is an incredibly appealing thing and I’d be lying if I said I couldn’t understand why so many have chosen to give up the Church and her teachings on marriage for that. In relating some of these emotions to my former counselor I commented on how difficult it is when your deeply held convictions come into conflict with your emotional perceptions. He looked at me and said, “Do you know what that’s called? Suffering.”
Suffering as it relates to celibacy and my vocation to live faithfully, is something I have had only very fleeting experience with. My recent romantic attraction is slowly fading and, God willing, will continue to shape into a God honoring friendship, but I am thankful for what it’s taught me already. You see, suffering and self denial are things that the Church and the Gospel know well, very well. In fact I would even argue that Christ’s call to, “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me” is at the very heart of the Christian life. Christ transforms suffering by His voluntary suffering, and allows it to be something that is redemptive rather than destructive. God does not will a form of masochism where we suffer for the sake of suffering, rather we understand suffering to be something that is fleeting and short lived in light of eternity with God. Even with eternal life spent with the source of all love being the reward for our perseverance, suffering and its effects are real. We don’t have to pretend that the world is all joy and happiness, we don’t have to put on fake faces when we feel the ache of the world and our sin. We ache but we know that God aches with us and that ultimately He has overcome.
I’ve found that the Church’s theology of suffering and self-denial offer far greater rewards and depth than any affirming gay theology I’ve encountered. As a man with a gay orientation I will live with desires that may never see their fulfillment. But like so many others my cross and my pain makes me long for Christ. My unmet desires remind me that my place is not here, but rather in paradise with Christ. Whatever romantic love I may long for in this life will seem trivial in light of the radiance of God’s passionate love for His children. Whenever we are unsatisfied by this world and our own fallen humanity, we are reminded that we long for something beyond. That this home and these bodies, beautiful and marvelous as they are, are but shadows in comparison to the vivid reality of the earth and bodies that are to come. When times are hard and our crosses seem too heavy to bear, we can take them up and follow after Him looking towards that glorious kingdom to come.
Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2nd Corinthians 12:9-10
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