Sheryl Crow inspired and entertained the world with another hit song years ago. She sang: “If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.”
In our plights to fulfill ourselves, find ourselves, or make ourselves happy, we do all kinds of things today. Because we can. We turn to cat videos, the all-you-can-eat buffet, TikTok, online games, life coaches, self-help programs, “Christian” yoga, YouTube and podcasts, music-on-demand, and TV and movies any place, any time. We can even filter out the commercials.
We have our favorite meal order queued up on our phones. Our own Instagram page shows our friends and family how happy and beautiful we are. In all appearances, we’ve really got it made! But as even Sheryl Crow did, with all our efforts to make ourselves happy, maybe we should ask ourselves: “If it makes [us] happy, why the [heck] are [we] so sad?”
In 1989, I was 17 years old. I was the “good boy” — the straight-A student; the teacher’s pet; the Eagle Scout who served his community, and I was at church four times a week. But I’d begun skipping school, roaming about, trying to quiet the unstoppable chaos in my mind. I’d begun planning a way to kill myself that wouldn’t appear to be a suicide, so as to not destroy my family. There was no acceptable place in society for someone to be grappling with homosexuality in 1989. Not inside the church and definitely not outside.
They were rejects. The people even God hated. And culture let them know that. Many in the church did, as well. So as a teenager, I’d made sure that nobody knew me. That nobody ever would. Not even my parents.
I was raised in church and was saved at eight years old. But later that same year, I was exposed to hardcore gay pornography. On the pages of that magazine, I didn’t observe an unfamiliar-to-me approach to intimacy. I saw men degrading other men in grotesque, dehumanizing ways.
And the boys who showed me this porn exposed themselves to me. So, my first sexual experiences, as a uniformed, naive little boy, were at the hands of other males. The shame was soul-crushing. I wished I could undo all of it.
In those days, I was the scrawniest, shortest boy in every class. Which meant I was mocked and bullied. Not by girls, but by the boys. And my dad had a hard time connecting with me, though he really tried. My relationships with men had wounded me.
Being a young Christian, I reasoned that Jesus wouldn’t treat people the way I’d been treated by men or in the ways I’d observed men behave. Neither would women. I determined that women were superior. They were godly. Men weren’t. I developed strong judgments against rough-and-tumble masculinity. And as a self-protection, I canceled masculinity; long before the Barbie movie did. I will not be “manly.” I’d be better than men. Strong women became my role models.
By the time I was about 13, I’d begun to crave externally the masculinity I had disavowed within myself. The aspects of stereotypical masculinity I’d judged and pushed away, I’d begun to desire sexually. I couldn’t accept masculinity for myself, so it became attractive externally.
At age 14, I had the realization I wasn’t like the other boys. I wasn’t girl crazy. I’d begun to “notice” a few of the other boys. And my own body indicated that I had feelings toward the boys. Realizing this, I was horrified. Devastated. And humiliated, all by myself. Surely God hated me.
So in 1989, when I snuck into the Christian bookstore, looking for any hope to leave my “gayness” behind, and finding none, I walked out of the Christian bookstore, suicidal. Not knowing what to do with myself or who would be safe to turn to, I went into my basement and began writing out nine pages. I wrote anger, self-hatred, profanity. I vented my feelings of intense loneliness and of not being truly known by any person. I shared all my fears, with descriptions of how horribly broken I felt I was. It just all just poured out onto those nine pages. Could I ever be seen as valuable, I wondered. I recounted all the embarrassing, mean-spirited names I’d been called by the bullies for having some effeminate mannerisms. I wrote about my desperate cries to not be gay. And asked questions of whether God could love me; my having engaged in some moments of sexual sin.
The next day, I cut school again and handed the pages to my youth pastor. (My very first moments of real surrender.) I was basically saying to him: “This is who I really am. Dirty. Detestable. And guilty of the worst kind of sin. How do you like me now?” All of this coming from the most dedicated male leader within his youth group.
Contrary to our politically correct, woke, make-myself-happy, modern culture, I want Christians worldwide to know this. In my vulnerability and surrender to my youth pastor, there are several things I did and did not need from him at that moment. I did not need to be made a new authority on an evolved kind of sexual freedom. I didn’t need to be told to just live my best life. And I didn’t need to be made comfortable in the ways I had partnered with temptation. What I needed was to feel heard. Valued by another human. I needed to know that my youth pastor was an imperfect child of God, too. I needed to be reminded that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” I didn’t need to be made a poster boy of “courage.” I didn’t need any flags waving or people cheering about the joys of homosexual living. I needed a hug. I needed sustained eye contact from someone who cared about me. I needed another sinner to confess to. I needed someone to confess my sins to, “that I might be healed.” I needed a savior who would let me “come boldly before His throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” And I needed that savior to make me clean. By His doing, not by mine!
Matthew 16:24-25 (TPT) says: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If you truly want to follow me, you should at once completely reject and disown your own life. And you must be willing to share my cross and experience it as your own, as you continually surrender to my ways. For if you choose self-sacrifice and lose your lives for my glory, you will continually discover true life. But if you choose to keep your lives for yourselves, you will forfeit what you try to keep.’”
Would you like to know how Jesus initiates the journey of healing for the “homosexual” or anyone else? It’s strength in weakness. He brings strength. I bring my weakness. We don’t flash our muscles or our big, spiritual ideas there. For my tribe of people (those walking away from LGBT toward Christ), most of the ministry tools don’t work. The American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations have utterly abandoned us. The church at large didn’t know what to do to help. So, it’s been difficult to find help. But you know what works? Surrender. Total surrender.
In 2001, I was in ministry school. And, I had a new mentor who had come out of a homosexual life, with a wife and kids. He ministered to me and two others on Tuesday nights at a prayer chapel across town. On this one night, my mentor was leading me in prayer. He would say a phrase and invite me to repeat it after him. I was praying along like the “good boy” I’d tried so hard to be. Until he invited me to pray: “And Father, I give up all my rights to be gratified by a man sexually ever again.” At this moment, there was a “disturbance in the force.” I couldn’t pray it. I just froze. He said: “What’s the matter?” I said: “I don’t know.” He said: “Well what is it?” I said: “I think I need the weekend.” He said: “Ken you’re so messed up,” with a loving grin. I said: “I know! I know.” My mentor said, “Well, you can spend the weekend in bondage if you want to.”
How rude, right? We’re supposed to be nice to each other today. Only ever encourage each other, right? Not at all. 1 Corinthians 13 says, “love rejoices with the truth.” Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Those were words of love from a true friend. I even knew that at the moment. I’d asked my mentor for help with finding a way out, and he loved me enough to direct me down that less-traveled pathway, even if it was costly. Even if it caused me a little pain. I’m so grateful he did.
Why did I think I needed the weekend? Because this prayer scenario brought me face-to-face with a shocking realization. I wanted God to take away my same-sex desires, but I wasn’t willing to let them go.
This blew my mind. Stopped me in my tracks. Because at that point, I’d been through two different nine-month programs for healing sexual brokenness. I’d had five years of weekly Christian psychotherapy (starting when I was a minor). I’d gone to dozens of prayer sessions for deliverance and inner healing. I’d read dozens of books and dove deep into the things of God. I was halfway through a three-year ministry school. And I’d prayed countless times for God to take away the desires. For a total of 14 years, I’d been hard at trying to get rid of same-sex attraction (SSA). How is it that I’m not willing to let go of this, I thought.
As I spent the weekend in reflection, I felt the full weight of the reality that I’d never experienced any significant or lasting sexual arousal inspired by a female. I understood I’d become weary and disheartened by the unanswered prayers. I admitted I had no practical reason to believe that I gave up my “rights to be gratified by a man sexually ever again.” My mentor was asking a lot. This was a hard-hitting surrender that my mentor was asking me to make. For years, and without realizing it, I realized that I’d kept the notion of men-being-erotic in my back pocket. In the recesses of my mind, I’d held onto an escape plan, in case my sexual desires never changed. For 14 years, I’d been asking Jesus to “take this away.” But I wasn’t willing to surrender that part of myself. The SSA was pleasurable. Unknown to even myself, I wanted to keep it.
How much of today’s mess inside the church can be attributed to this kind of living? We want Jesus in addition to our other wants and preferences. In our weakness, we want Jesus to bless our self-gratification efforts.
My mentor answered my request to take “the weekend” to think with: “Take all the time you need. I’ll be here when you get back.”
So, I spent the weekend considering whether I was truly following Jesus, or whether I was following Him when it was convenient. Was Jesus lord of my life? Or was I? I reflected on all that the Lord had done for me. All that He had promised me. All the times He’d showed up for me and for my loved ones. The payment He’d made on the cross for my eternal joy and peace. His kindness and goodness. And I decided that there was no real decision to make. My only logical option was to surrender.
The next week, I returned to the group and surrendered my sexual future to the Lord, come what may. I’d be following Jesus, regardless of what happened with my sexual desires. And I surrendered to Him my escape plan. If Jesus eventually gave me the desire for a woman and we got married, then I’d have sexual fulfillment in my future. But if He didn’t, I’d be living a celibate life and serving Him.
Today, the world and half the church are yelling: “Self-empowerment, more rights, love is love, focus on yourself, make yourself happy!” “Treat yourself, you deserve it! Live your best life!” “If it makes you happy, it can't be that bad.”
In stark contrast, James 4:1-4 (NKJV) says: “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.”
Self-gratification never worked for me. It doesn’t work for those with broken identities. We don’t know who we are, and we don’t know what we need. Jeremiah 9 says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?”
Our way forward into freedom doesn't come from compromise, from rewriting scripture to make it more culturally relevant, by deconstructing our faith, or by “becoming God” ourselves. Freedom and transformation come from total surrender to Jesus Christ as our lord. They come by my being the son, the servant boy. And by Him being the King, the brilliant one. Sheep are dumb. While we are made in His image, beautiful creations, and intricate reflections of our Heavenly Father, we are not impressive in and of ourselves or in comparison to Him.
Our freedom comes from repentance. From total surrender.
I don’t need my friends to tell me that I’m not that bad. Or to excuse my sin or weakness. Sometimes, I need my friends and family to hold my hair back while I vomit. Most of us don’t need longer leashes today, we need shorter ones. (Shorter can mean closer to Him.)
James 4 (NKJV) continues in verses 5-10: “Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously?’ But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.”
This is my story. It’s how the Lord led me. The journey has been messy, and clunky. Unpolished, imperfect. Really desperate many times. There were very few role models for me along my journey and very few books had been written. But the Lord led me, tended to me, and eventually lifted me up. It just didn’t come through prowess or brilliance. It has come through deep surrender.
I have spoken with hundreds of people on a journey out of the painful pit of LGBT identity and activity. Their stories are the same as mine; surrender is what brought a new life. James 4 tells us: “You ask and do not receive because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.” As discouraging as it may sound, God does not seem to answer the prayer, “take away my same-sex attraction.” Probably because SSA is not the problem. It’s deeper. Underneath it is trauma, rejection, abandonment, relational brokenness, and emotional pain. Instead, the prayer that I see God answer is like the song: “Have thine own way, Lord. Have thine own way. [You are] the potter. I am the clay. Mold me and make me after [Your] will. While I am waiting, yielded and still.”
Transformation and freedom don’t come from relaxing the standards or by compromise, they come from total surrender to the lordship of Jesus Christ's lordship. We surrender all of our preferences, ungodly passions, and unscriptural identities until we are stripped down to merely a man or woman standing before his/her God. Jesus steps in and meets us with His grace, mercy, love, and power.
My sexual brokenness journey was decades-long. And I’m still a work in process. But I got married to my incredible wife in 2006 because I fell in love with her and wanted to be with her forever. I wanted to intimately know her. It was no longer about me and how I quantified sexual identity or feelings. It was about loving and serving her. Today, we have four very cute children together, beautiful gifts to the world. And I go to bed each night with peace. Something I never had before. I no longer have to do mental gymnastics to navigate the day’s guilt and shame. God is with me, and I know He is pleased with me — just as I am.
The 18th-century theologian and evangelist John Wesley asked his mother to define “sin.” She replied: “Take this rule. Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things ... that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.”
Sheryl Crow told us that anything that makes us happy can’t be that bad but why do those who follow that counsel don’t seem happy? Jesus offers us something more potent than self-gratification. He offers to be known by us. Our reward is Him, knowing Him. Fulfillment beyond boundary or description. We who are following God live surrendered lives. We humble ourselves, and He lifts us up. Fortunately for us, He loves us and He’s really good.
Ken Williams is an author, lecturer, and pastor who journeyed out of homosexuality. He is co-founder of CHANGED Movement, which protects biblical family values, responds to LGBTQ with understanding and action, and equips churches and government leaders to do the same. Ken lives in California with his wife and four incredible children. CHANGEDmovement.com