Not in Machu Picchu
It may not have escaped the notice of some readers of this column that there was a gap in productivity between January and July this year! In fact no new articles were posted at all in that period. Fortunately there were well over ninety previous articles to browse for those who had not read them all - and surely not many have read all ninety! I want in this article to explore why this gap in production happened and what the wider relevance is - for we are all built of the same material and I am ordinary enough to think that there are probably quite a few people out there who are just like me.
So why was it that my productivity froze around last Christmastime and only sprang back into life six months later? I was not on holiday in Asia or the United States of America. I did not go to explore the Amazon by boat nor climb to the heights of Machu Picchu in the Andes. Neither was I ill in hospital - no nurses hovered round my bed, nor did I receive any sympathy! So what was it that caused the time gap?
To be honest, I have only recently recognised the real reason why this gap occurred. It was not due to laziness - although I am as vulnerable to that as the next man. Nor was it busyness - although I always seem to have a full day, whether I write articles or not! No - I have come to the conclusion that what was really happening was that around the time of the New Year I became mesmerized by the number one hundred.
To explain what I mean by this it is necessary to go back three years to the time this column started. As outlined briefly on the Contents page, this column was born out of consultation with Jeremy Marks of Courage at a time when there was really very little talk in Church circles about homosexuality. It was a subject that was simply avoided by most Christians for most of the time. What concerned me at that time was that I believed - and still believe - that the attitude of Christian churches and of many Christians in those churches was anti-gay. I saw this as an extremely damaging thing - not only for the Christians holding this view, but particularly for the many young gay Christians who had some Christian belief but felt more and more rejected by the Church. One of the major reasons for starting these articles - apart from a feeling of being impelled - was that gay Christians who felt rejected by Churches should hear the gospel - that God loves them just as they are, and that he welcomes them into his family and cherishes them just as much as he cherishes everyone else.
So the column started in 2002 - and I only had a very vague idea as to whether it would continue, how many articles I would produce and how often I would produce them. Initially it was an experiment.
In the event I found I had a lot on my heart to say and the number of articles steadily increased.
At around article number fifty I got cold feet about writing all these articles, not least because there was an almost complete lack of feedback from readers. In those early month I received just one email from a gay man in the USA whose message of support was very welcome. But generally, I felt I was writing into a vacuum. As I progressed article number one hundred I needed some reassurance that the articles were being read and were of use to people. I asked God to show me then whether I should go on writing - and suddenly a gay Christian in Canada - unknown to me - wrote me a lovely email which I shall treasure until my dying day. I felt that this was a confirmation and that it was all I needed.
I climbed up to article number ninety. At that point I was seized of a crisis of a different sort. I started to ask myself where the column was going. Was I going to just go on writing these articles for ever - one hundred, two hundred and so on? This also developed into questions about who the articles were aimed at these days - was it still the same as when I started out?
Also, of course, I suddenly became more conscious of how inadequate my writing was. I am not a trained theologian, so who was I to be writing along theological lines? And I am no expert in counselling or ethics either - all I could offer is the experience of the life I had had as a gay Christian.
As is often the case in such circumstances, I then started to mask what was at the root of these questions - which was whether I was good enough to be able write like this - by asking all the less challenging questions such as whether the articles were the right length, how many a month I should write and so on. In other words, I masked my real concern by more superficial questions.
Don’t misunderstand me - these more superficial questions were and are important. But the real problem was that I saw article number one hundred coming up and was afraid. Afraid that I was not good enough to go on writing like this. Afraid that my material was sub standard. Afraid that I would dry up. Afraid that people would not go on reading my articles. Afraid of failure.
So we are back to our old enemy - fear. Your fear will no doubt take on other aspects and other forms. But I suspect that, like me, at times you too feel a similar fear gnawing at you. Am I good enough for this task? we ask ourselves What right have I to… Who do I think I am? Just how big is my ego?
How do you deal with such fears when they hit you? Do you curl up and do nothing for a time? Or do you backtrack and withdraw from situations where you might be attacked?
I simply froze, going into a kind of paralysis. For six months I talked with Jeremy about reshaping the column. About possibly stopping it altogether - surely one hundred articles were enough for anyone? Or perhaps I should just do one article a month? We had several conferences about the future! All of them masking my unconscious reason - I was afraid of failure.
It is perfectly valid to reassess one’s actions and policy periodically. It is perfectly right to call halt every so often and ask the larger questions about where one is going. But it is also important to get beneath the surface and ask oneself whether the real reason for delay has not something to do with fear.
In June I faced my fear. How did that come about? Well, by God’s grace, I got honest with myself and with God. I had started this column because I believed that God wanted me to write it. I went back to God and asked the simple question of what he wanted me to do. You might well ask why I had not done that six months earlier! I don’t know. I suspect that I had got a little proud of having written nearly one hundred pieces and so was starting to just go my own way on the whole project. Anyway, with the crisis of doubt that was afflicting me I finally recognized that I needed to lay the whole thing before God - and be willing to stop it forthwith if he so wanted.
I did that in June. I did not immediately have any result! It took a few days - maybe a week or two. But eventually I came to the clear conviction that God wanted me to go on. I had given up doing ‘my’ column and put it back into Gods hands. His guidance came in a very clear way, with a very clear conviction one morning in my Quiet Time. I sensed that God was saying: ‘Start the next hundred’! I immediately felt that it was right to start again and to go on. I privately wondered whether the figure of two hundred was just plucked out of the air to show me that I was to go on until he stopped me by one means or another. But either way it meant I must carry on until told otherwise.
I immediately started to reread the various draft articles - often incomplete - that I had prepared in the six month period and then filed in a pending file as not appropriate. In July I reached article number one hundred on the web site - I was clear of any crisis about the future. I was to go on writing and leave the outcome in God’s hands.
Please do not imagine that I am saying that I think these articles are of a high standard of writing or are excellent in some other way. They are written from the depths of my human nature and my own experience, and are full of the sort of errors and mistakes that we humans are heir to. But they are written because I believe that it was intended that I write them. Make whatever use you want of them. They are no longer mine! They are yours, and if any of them help you along the road a little way then they will have more than justified their writing.
And if any of my readers are in a crisis of fear or confusion for any reason at this time, my message to them is simple. Recognize where that fear comes from - is it possible that, deep down, you have become the central figure in your life and your plans? Maybe Christ is no longer the only figure at the centre of your life? Maybe you have begun to let self and pride creep in a little? If so the only way forward is to simply confess that situation to God and to reassert that He is Lord of your whole being and that you want only to follow his way for your life.
Once you let go of yourself again like that, and once you say out aloud to yourself and to God that you commit yourself to following his will for your life, then you may well find that the confusion about the way forward will melt away. You will be in the right relationship once again. Christ will be Lord of your life. To people who have no experience of God in their lives, all of this will be sheer nonsense. But to those who are prepared to submit to God, it is the way forward.