The Dynamics of Change

By Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel Posted: Thu. Feb 1st 1996
In their book, "Coming Out of Homosexuality," Bob Davies, executive Director of Exodus International and Lori Rentzel, author and former counselor with the ex-gay ministry group "Love in Action," describe their spiritual journey in coming out of the homosexual lifestyle.

"Our deliverance from homosexuality comes from a Person, rather than a method," says Frank Worthen, who spent more than twenty years in homosexuality before leaving that lifestyle and starting Love in Action in 1973.

As Frank discovered, the interesting thing about the change process is that change itself is not our goal. Change is what results as we pursue a far more important and compelling goal: knowing, loving and "beholding"Jesus.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit" (2 Cor 3:18).

In coming out of homosexuality, we sometimes focus too intensely on our inner hang-ups, misbeliefs, past hurts and sinful tendencies. Looking inward, we may feel as if we're gazing into an ever-deepening pool of confusion and despair.

Release and healing come as we look upward - to Jesus - and enter more deeply into fellowship with him. The cry of our heart becomes, God, I want to know you. I want to love and worship you. I want to be a man or a woman who reflects your image. Cleanse me from everything that stands between you and me.

God delights to answer such a prayer. He alone understands the complex combination of choices and circumstances that have shaped us to make us who we are today. He is fully aware of our pain and our weaknesses, yet his vision of "who we are in Christ" far exceeds our powers of imagination. His desire for us surpasses - and, in fact, inspires - our desire for him.

Change is a cooperative venture between God and ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit. His grace woos and empowers us to make the choices that lead to freedom in our sexuality and in every other area of life. We seek him and he reveals to us not only who he is but who we are as well.

Some of us struggle with a distorted view of God that makes it difficult for us to trust him, especially in such sensitive areas as sexuality and identity. We may not be able to separate our image of God from that of an abusive or disappointing authority figure in our past. When this is true, we can confess this to God and ask him to heal us of this misperception. He is faithful to do this in ways that personally speak to us and reassure us.

Surrender and Change

Why do some people make it out of homosexuality while others don't? We have thought a lot about this question, reflecting on the many people we know who have made a firm and lasting break from homosexuality and on others who have not.

One common denominator among those men and women experiencing significant change involves the issue of control in their lives. These individuals have decided to follow Christ and do his will any cost. Perhaps you have heard sermons about "surrendering" or "yielding" to Christ and wonder what this implies about your struggles. Some feel revolted at the whole idea of surrender, fearing they will lose their autonomy to the control of a celestial dictator. Others welcome the thought, hoping to be released from the constant challenge of making difficult choices and decisions.

Basically, surrender is an act of faith. It is a step of deep commitment, which involves: (1) giving God permission to work in our life as he pleases, and (2) making a decision to trust him in the midst of our life circumstances, believing he is working through them for our ultimate good.

When I (Lori) first accepted Christ in 1973, my commitment was at best reluctant. Mentally I was convinced that Christianity was true, that 'Jesus was the Way." But I remember attending a prayer meeting where everyone was singing "The cross before me, the world behind me..." Looking around at this circle of believers, their eyes closed in reverent worship, I wanted to run out of the room. The cross did seem to loom before me. But the world sure wasn't behind me. In fact, it looked pretty good to me that night.

For the next year and a half I was miserable. Every day was a battle just to remain interested in God. I felt more at home at a keg party than at a Bible study, yet I felt like a hypocrite in both places. I knew too much of God to deny his reality, but my efforts to peacefully coexist with him were producing unbearable strain and tension.

Finally I was able to see that having Christ in my life was not going to work. What God actually was requiring of me was that I have my life in Christ (Romans 6:11).

Author C.S. Lewis said, "Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms."1 I made a decision to come to God on his terms - unconditional surrender. God, I want your way, I prayed. I want Jesus to be Lord of my life. And I meant it.

The relief that came over me was exhilarating. While I still encountered difficult challenges and painful choices, the Christian life became a joy and a strength to me rather than a burden to be endured. God and I were on the same team now, facing the battle together. He was my rock, my ally, rather than my enemy.

All Christians face the decision of accepting or rejecting Christ's lordship. However, the former homosexual faces it sooner than most.

Coming out of homosexuality into wholeness requires deep emotional healing and a restructuring of our whole identity. As our Creator, God is the only one who knows exactly how to restore our personality. For him to complete this healing work he calls for our cooperation.

Our natural tendencies are to squirm off the operating table, run when we should rest, and quit taking our antibiotics as soon as we feel better. The grace and power to resist these tendencies come as we get to know the Lord better, learning to trust in his care for us.

There are times when life's pressures seem intolerable and its rewards nonexistent. But these are the times when God remains faithful to the commitment we have made to him. In the midst of heartache and extreme difficulties, he shows us his infinite ability to resolve impossible situations.

The Choice to Surrender

For some former homosexuals, coming face-to-face with this decision of a deeper surrender to Christ can happen at unexpected times in unexpected ways. At church one Sunday morning in September 1978, I (Bob) learned that a well-known evangelist would be speaking in the evening service. I spent the rest of the day reading his autobiography, which told stories of his adventures sharing Christ around the globe. That evening I went to church filled with expectation, ready to hear a challenging testimony.

Things didn't go as I had expected. During the service, I could sense the speaker's deep commitment to Jesus Christ. I heard about the thousands of lives he had impacted, and I felt convicted about my own shallow commitment.

Lord, I prayed, I want my life to count like that man's life is counting for your kingdom. In my spirit I sensed an unexpected question: Are you willing to pay the price?

I pondered that question for the next three days.

I sensed God challenging me to give him every part of my life in a much deeper way than I ever had before. I felt his spotlight shining on one dark area of my life - my homosexuality - that I had kept carefully hidden from everyone. For years, I had offered many prayers: God, please take this problem away and Lord, if you will heal my homosexuality, I will be an on-fire Christian. Then my life will really count for your kingdom.

None of my past prayers seemed to make much difference. Now I knew God was calling me to a deeper commitment than anything I'd experienced, and I didn't like it. I wanted to hang on to ... what? My homosexuality? Not really. But there was something in the way, some unseen barrier preventing me from total surrender.

Perhaps it was pride. And fear? Yes, I was terrified of what God would ask. Maybe someday I would have to tell others about my homosexual struggles. My heart pounded at such a horrifying possibility.

Over the next several days I fought and kicked, firmly resisting God's challenge. Finally, exhausted, in the early hours of a late summer night, I yielded. OK, God. I will give this area of my life to you. This simple statement marked a major turning point in my life.

My decision did not instantly release me from homosexuality; rather, it opened me up for God to begin working in a deeper way. Since that day in 1978 God has gradually overhauled my life, a transformation that has affected my career, my personality and my sexuality.

Submitting Our Homosexuality

Now let's look at specific applications of this principle to the issue of recovery from homosexuality and lesbianism.

Surrendering to Christ means learning to obey him a step at a time in the process of recovery.

For some this step may mean opening up for the first time to another individual regarding their homosexuality.

Jim said, "I've prayed for years against these feelings, but nothing has worked." But Jim had never confessed his struggles to anyone except God. Like Jim, many people will not consider this option. They discount it as impossible because of their position in church, their prominence in a small community, or their fear of losing a job, a marriage, a family.

These are legitimate concerns, but all of us need the support and encouragement of others. There is power in mutual confession.

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood ofJesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin. (1 John 7:7).

Acknowledging Christ's lordship means trusting in his timing for recovery.

The God-do-this-now-or-else mindset is a deadly pitfall in the healing process. Think about a doctor's response if a cancer patient said, "I'll give you two months to fix me. If your treatments don't eradicate every symptom of cancer, I'll quit." Similarly, we cannot put time limits on our healing process. God has a unique timetable for each of us.

Yielding to Christ means persevering despite painful emotions or powerful attractions.

We may experience intense rage, sorrow or jealousy, and yet be progressing wonderfully in our healing process. Sometimes God waits until we have developed a solid level of trust with him before allowing such emotions to surface. Likewise, we may find ourselves overwhelmed with feelings of homosexual or lesbian desire. These may come from any number of sources, including satanic attack and fatigue. Or they may be surfacing along with many other repressed feelings. When these emotions occur, we can acknowledge them, pray for God's strength to deal with them, then seek understanding and healing for the underlying issues.

Avenues of Change

Christians throughout the ages have had sinful habits to overcome and misbeliefs to replace with truth. The same christian disciplines that have helped them will help you too.

Practicing God's presence

A powerful discipline and channel of healing is learning to practice God's presence: quieting ourselves before God, resting in him, enjoying his fellowship.

Be still, and know that I am God. (Ps.46:10)

We can practice God's presence as we do our work, visit with a friend, take a shower or cut up vegetables for dinner. I (Lori) like to quiet myself before God to prepare for times of prayer and intercession. Sometimes I get so relaxed in God's presence that I never do get around to putting my prayers into words, yet I come away assured that my heart's petitions have been heard.

Another wonderful aspect of practicing God's presence is what author and lecturer Leanne Payne describes as "Listening for the healing word." Her book, The Broken Image, is a great resource on the effectiveness of healing prayer in overcoming homosexuality and lesbianism.

On listening to God, she says: "Thus, in the Presence, listening to the word the spirit sends, spiritual and psychological healing takes place. Our Lord sends a word - of joy, judgement, instruction, guidance. And that word, if hidden away in an obedient heart, will work toward the integration of that personality. As I listen and obey, I become."2

As we listen to God, spending time in his presence, w€ discover our true identity in Christ.

Praying for ourselves

In our personal prayer times, we need to be honest with God about our homosexual or lesbian thoughts, desires and struggles. He is not shocked by confessions of involvement in masturbation, pornography or other sexual sins. Nothing we do or say comes as a surprise to him. Confessing our sins and shortcomings to God is the only means to forgiveness (1 John 1:9), and each of us needs a clean start every day, free from the weight of condemnation from our past.

Most of us go through times when prayer feels like a dry habit. We can help alleviate this by being as specific as possible in our prayers, letting God know our deepest heart's desires, our hopes for how he will work in our lives. Many people record their prayers, leaving a blank space to write in the date when God answered that prayer and how. (Don't forget to go back in your list and record answers!)

Others have found encouragement from visual aids which remind that God answers prayer. Jane, for example, keeps a large jar near her bed. When God answers a specific prayer, she drops a colored marble into the jar. As the weeks have come and gone, Jane has been amazed at the number of marbles that now sit in her bedroom as a colorful reminder of God's interest in her life.

Praying for others

We may be burdened for our old friends who are still actively involved in homosexuality. Sometimes they are not interested in hearing about our decision to seek change. Prayer is a powerful way of reaching out to them, whether they are aware of it or not. Here are some specific ideas on praying for old friends. Write down the names of friends you think about who are still pursuing homosexuality. Ask God to open their eyes to the truth about where their sexual choices are leading. Pray that God will prolong the lives of your friends who have AIDS, and ask that he bring Christians into their lives who can love them and share the truths of eternity with them in a noncondemning way. If you have just left the gay lifestyle, you are not strong enough to go back and witness to your friends. But you can be very effective in prayer. Turn your concerns into prayer requests.

Praising and worshiping

"The individuals most likely to leave homosexuality behind," says Frank Worthen, "are those who have an excitement about God, and anticipation of what he will do next in their lives. They see him at work even in small details, and their hearts are full of praise."

The psalms, particularly the songs of David, illustrate the powerful effect of releasing deep emotions to the Lord through music. Here is how music played a healing role in helping one woman come out of the lesbian lifestyle.

Deborah's childhood was marked by trauma, including repeated episodes of sexual abuse. She grew up "emotionally frozen," with little sense of boundaries or security. Even after becoming a Christian, Deborah stumbled from one sinful relationship to another. Then, after experiencing God's presence in a new way at a women's retreat, the Lord gave her a key to unlock her emotions: singing.

"God showed me that if I would sing out my hurts and feelings, they would come to the surface and be healed." One day while singing songs of praise, Deborah recalls, "God's praise broke into my heart as never before. I had a wonderful sense of being a newborn baby, cradled in her daddy's arms. I felt warm and secure, and looked up to see God's eyes of love for the very first time."

Later, Deborah raced across a field with outstretched arms, shouting and laughing in her newfound discovery of God the Father's love. "Daddy loves me! My daddy loves me!" she yelled over and over again, her heart bursting with joy. God had revealed himself to her in a new direct and profound way.3

Studying the Bible

Jack was an avid Bible reader, but he found that he had trouble remembering specific verses. Someone suggested he begin a "personal concordance." Jack bought a lined notebook, then began watching for special verses that applied to his struggles. These he wrote in his notebook under different headings. Jack struggled with homosexual fantasies, so he watched for verses he could write under his "Thought Life" heading. He also struggled with pornography, so he recorded such verses as "I will set before my eyes no vile thing" (Psalms 101:3) in another section. Jack also adapted verses slightly to apply them directly to his situation: "I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a [man]" (Job 31:1). Jack found that there were many verses that did not specifically mention homosexuality but which were applicable to his everyday struggles.

Other possible headings for a personal concordance include the root issues of homosexuality and the emotions you are dealing with during this time in your life (feeling inferior, afraid of other Christians, loneliness, sexual frustration, masturbation, fear, healthy relationships, femininity, dealing with parents.)

The main point here is to personalize the Scriptures to your own life and struggles. Although it is helpful to read and even memorize the Bible, the key is application. Biblical principles and insights must be worked into the fabric of your life before you will begin to see effective change.4

Journaling

Recording our thoughts in a journal is an excellent way of tracking our forward progress. We all tend to feel that we are stagnating at times. If we can go back and read through old journals, we will immediately see our growth. "A journal is a good road map to see how far you've come," says Deborah, who has kept a journal since high school. Journaling is different from keeping a diary. Instead of writing day-to-day events, in a journal you record your emotions and impressions of what God is doing in your life. Some people write in their journals daily, others weekly or several times a month. You can include poems and prayers to God, as well as spiritual goals for the next week, month or year. Several excellent Christian books are available on journal techniques.5

This activity is especially recommended for those of you who don't have someone right now to whom you can "spill your guts." Writing down your thoughts and prayers is an excellent method of self-therapy. "You will find depths of healing that you will not find in the presence of another person," says one former lesbian. 'Journaling offers a tremendous opportunity for us to enter into intimacy with the Lord."

"You'll discover that as you write down your problems, many times you'll find the answers right in front of you, " says Jeff Konrad, a former homosexual and author of You Don't Have to Be Gay. "I can't begin to tell you how many times I went to my journal and reread sections of it for encouragement. There were depressing days when I wasn't doing well and I was thinking, What's the use, I've failed again. But after reading parts of my journal, I could see just how far I'd come. A lot had changed; I had grown in many ways."6

A Christian Support Network

In examining the question of why some people make it out of homosexuality while others don't, we have noticed two interrelated characteristics common among those who are successful: (1) the extent of their separation from their gay support network, and (2) the quality of their involvement with a local church.

God has made us social creatures. Most people, even introverts, do not exist happily in complete isolation from others. We all desire to spend time with others who share our interests, whether it's through joining the local health club, attending AA meetings, supporting a certain political candidate, or joining a local drama or music group. Through group involvement, our social needs are met and our interests and skills are reinforced.

When you come away from homosexuality, there may be a huge vacuum left in your social life. Some other group of people must replace your gay social circles, or you will be drawn back in. Few, if any, people leave homosexuality on their own. Nearly all the ex-gays we know have made this difficult transition with the strong support of Christian friends. Most of these significant friendships have formed through local church involvement. Unless your relationships with other Christians become (and remain) stronger than your relationships with gay friends, you will probably return to homosexual involvement. That's a strong statement, but we have found it true in almost all of the ex-gays we've known over the years. The gay community doesn't want defectors. Neither does Christ. Whom do you desire to serve?

For you, as a Christian, the church is the natural place to find a new network of supportive friends for your healing journey. Homosexual behavior, like any sin, is overcome by God's power. God uses people in this process, and he has established the local church as a place for healing and interpersonal support. In Hebrews 10:25 this principle is clearly stated: "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another." The Bible exhorts us to link ourselves with other Christians. This is especially vital for the man or woman corning out of homosexuality.

Church Involvement

Perhaps you have not been in church for years. Or maybe you attend a church, but nobody knows about your homosexual struggles. You may already have a group of supportive friends but wonder if more people in your church need to know about your sexual struggles.

You may find yourself in the same situation as Tim, the man who wrote this letter: "I'm at the point of total despair. Homosexuality has been a silent struggle in my life. During the past three years, I have succumbed to a double life - playing church on one hand and living as a practicing homosexual on the other. My situation is both overwhelming and futile to me. There is no one in my church that I feel free to confide in about my situation."

If you are like Tim and the thousands of men and women like him, you have four options:

  • Keep silent and remain in your church. Your sexual struggles will probably not change. You will not overcome your homosexuality and eventually will probably drop out of church altogether in discouragement.
  • Remain in your church and confide in a church leader. Over the years, I (Bob) have talked to dozens of pastors and other church leaders who are eager to help members of their congregation who struggle with homosexuality. Often these pastors have not had much experience in dealing with this issue, but they are anxious to learn. Opening up to a pastor, elder or adult Sunday-school teacher may be the best move you ever make in seeking answers.
  • Remain in your church and find help outside the church. For the sake of family (spouse, children) or many other reasons, some ex-gay men and women decide that leaving a church that is not able to help them is not an option, at least for now. For these people the best solution is to find counseling or peer support outside their church. For example, they remain part of a home church for Sunday services but attend a weekly support group for ex-gays or they see a professional counselor at a local Christian agency.
  • Look for a new church. This option should be the last one you consider. Looking for a new church home can be an exhausting, frustrating and time-consuming experience. But if overcoming homosexuality is a major goal during this season of your life, it is worth the investment of time to seek a healthy church home where you can make significant strides forward in your spiritual walk.

Disclosure Issues

Some ex-gays and former lesbians have been surprised by the positive reaction when they told their pastor about their homosexual struggles. Janice joined a local church and became active in ministering to the elderly, which brought her great joy. But as time went by, she felt as if a major part of her life was being carefully hidden from others. This secrecy bothered her.

"I began to experience greater and greater temptations in the area of homosexuality," Janice remembers. "For so long, I had hoped that the Lord would just let me off the hook and I wouldn't have to tell anyone."

Then one night Janice received an unexpected phone call that changed her life. On the other end was a man whom she didn't know. He accused Janice of being a lesbian and threatened physical violence. Janice told the man, "I'm a Christian now," and hung up.

But she was terrified - not so much of what the man might do to her but of her church finding out about her past. All that week the voice on the phone haunted her. Finally in desperation she decided to go and tell her pastor.

She got an unexpected reaction.

"My pastor was very encouraged by my testimony," Janice recalls, "and thought that I should share it with the whole church. I wasn't too excited about that idea."

But, although the pastor's words made her nervous, the more Janice thought and prayed about his proposal, the more she felt convinced that his suggestion was exactly what God wanted her to do.

The day of the service came and Janice felt a deep peace inside. "I knew Jesus was with me. The Holy Spirit gave me the boldness to share my story and the majority of people received it with love. And I felt a freedom in that area of my life that I had wanted for so long."

Janice says that, through the experience of sharing with her church, she discovered the truth of the Scripture, "They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11).

John Smid also had many positive experiences when he began telling his church in Omaha, Nebraska, about his homosexual past, John recalls, however, that he also had some fears. "As part of my church's singles' group, I was invited to weekend conferences where I had to share a room and even the same bed with another man in the group.

"I will never forget the first night I slept in the same bed with another guy from church. I lay perfectly still, making sure I didn't cross an imaginary line down the middle. I don't want Dan to think anything weird is going on, I thought. If he knws of my past, he won't want to share a room with me - much less a bed." At first John was cautious about who he told of his past because he was afraid that he would not be invited to events like men's retreats. But he discovered that his fears were groundless. "I found that those who really cared for me as a brother in Christ said my past homosexuality didn't bother them in the least. They were still willing to be my friends."

John felt a great release when he let other men know about his struggles. His friends became his Prayer partners as he continued to work through the underlying issues which had led him into homosexuality in the first place.7


Sources

  1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 44.
  2. Leanne Payne, The Broken Image: Restoring Personal Wholeness Through Healing Prayer (Westchester, IL: Good News, Crossway Books, 1981), p. 150.
  3. Adapted from Jeanette Howard, Out of Egypt (Speldhurst, Kent, England: Monarch, 1991), p. 232.
  4. There are excellent study Bibles available which will help you with this principle of application. We especially recommend the Life Application Bible and the Life Recovery Bible.
  5. For example, Ronald Klug, How to Keep a Spiritual Journal (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1993).
  6. Jeff Konrad, You Don't Have to Be Gay (Hilo, HI: Pacific House, 1992), pp. 57-59; available from Regeneration Books, P.O. Box 9830, Baltimore, MD 21284.
  7. Adapted from the article "Overcoming Fears of Relating to Men" by John Smid (Love In Action, P.O. Box 2655, San Rafael, CA 94912). Used by permission.