The Internet Monk has a post up called “Remembering the Stutterer.” When I started to read it, I was like, “Ho hum, why exactly am I reading this? Who cares about stuttering anyway?”
But then I got into his discussion of what he learned from his experience as a stutterer, and found it startlingly relevant to the subject matter of this blog. Here are the point headings within his discussion.
1. I’ve learned what it’s like to have your imperfections unavoidably noticeable.
2. I’ve learned what it’s like to live with a problem for a lifetime
3. I’ve learned that a problem or flaw can become the occasion for sin.
4. I’ve learned about human cruelty and the power of love.
5. I’ve learned about the fellowship that exists among the those with persistent flaws and problems.
The whole thing is very much worth reading, but I was especially struck by his reflections on his point #3 (emphasis below is mine)…
Yes, believe it or not, my stuttering didn’t entirely work for my good. At times, it became the reason I excused and tolerated sin in myself.
One of my co-workers was, for many years, a missionary to a particular disabled population. He had worked at a school for this disability and always pointed out how this disability made those who had it particularly difficult, bossy, selfish and aggressive. When I first heard this, I thought, “How mean!” But he was undeniably right, and not just about that particular disability.
All of us who have to live with an imperfection need to face up to the fact that our “suffering” isn’t automatically redemptive. Satan comes to us and presents particular kinds of sinful choices that are tied to that flaw.
Are you overweight? From a dysfunctional family? Poor? Single? Are you old? Neglected by your children? Not compensated appropriately for your work? All of these are occasions to trust Christ and move forward in his grace…or opportunities to sin, be demanding, self-pitying and manipulative.
He is so right about this. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but this was me in spades, and it still is me a lot more often than I’d care to acknowledge. There’s a part of me that felt a tiny bit robbed after falling for Mr. DM, going “straight,” and getting married, because it really took the wind out of the sails of my self-pitying pose. There is an ugly part of me that so loved playing the “nobly” tragic sufferer, destined to never have what her heart longs for. There’s a part of me that loved to imagine that people who saw me thought, “Wow, isn’t it amazing that she’s following God so faithfully in the face of this difficult struggle? Even though she’s going to probably end up spending her whole life alone, never again knowing romantic love or physical intimacy, all because of her love for God?” Now, in retrospect, I can mostly laugh at the ridiculously self-obsessed arrogance in that. But I’d be lying if I said that I don’t feel a twinge of sorrow at my newfound ordinariness every now and then. Who could possibly be impressed by my love for God now, after He’s blessed me beyond my wildest imaginings, after I’ve hit the ex-gay jackpot? To that insidious part of me, being happily married is almost something of a letdown. My struggle with homosexuality has spawned all kinds of prideful and self-centered thoughts like these.
And boy did I ever use my struggle as a reason to “excuse and tolerate sin in myself!” I too often fell into a terrible attitude: If I have to give up my sexuality and any hope of a future relationship, well, that’s all I’m giving up. If God’s asking this hard thing of me that He isn’t asking of all these other people, then He has no business holding me to the same standards as He’s holding them in other areas. I would use my struggle as a way to try to shame my heterosexual brothers and sisters into silence when they tried to hold me accountable regarding other areas of sin in my life. What do *you* know about difficult obedience, little straight Christian? What do *you* know about counting the cost? What do *you* know about suffering for righteousness’ sake?
I love this line especially: “All of us who have to live with an imperfection need to face up to the fact that our ‘suffering’ isn’t automatically redemptive.” I know it sounds dumb, but I used to sometimes think that just because I was miserably celibately same-sex-attracted, I was getting closer to God. I was, obviously, wrong. It was an opportunity to get closer to God, but an opportunity that had to be seized and put to good use, by a holy (i.e., not self-pitying) response to my predicament. My difficult situation was an invitation to loosen my grip on the things of this world, and turn my longing and attention toward the things that are eternal, but it was an invitation that I chronically declined. My struggle opened the door to a deeper reliance upon the grace of God, a deeper trusting in Him, a deeper thirsting for Him, but more often than not I refused to walk through that doorway. Looking back, I realize I wasted a lot of time and treaded a lot of water because of this confusion.
I also liked the iMonk’s thoughts under his point #4:
Of course, at the heart of Christianity’s story is the cruelty of those who humiliated and executed Jesus. He had prepared his disciples for this by repeatedly teaching the power of forgiveness and love towards enemies and persecutors. Those of us with public flaws and imperfections will have opportunities to see these kinds of people with the eyes of Jesus. Jesus taught that it was a great privilege to suffer for him. It’s our privilege to take cruelty aimed at us over lesser things and to transform it into opportunities to be like Christ in forgiveness and grace to others.
I’m not going to talk about my middle school experiences as a queer kid, because I can’t talk or write about it without shaking, and I’m just not really in the mood to shake right now. I’ve worked up the nerve twice in my life to tell the whole story, once to a psychiatrist, and once to a staff member in the residential program. I think I could probably die happily without ever telling that story again.
But recently, one of my lesser tormentors from that era has come back into my world (though rather peripherally), so I’ve had occasion to casually and superficially meet him again, after all these years. He has turned out to be a normal and nice guy, as I expect most of them have. Somehow I doubt he even remembers what he did, or even remembers me at all, although I haven’t asked so I don’t know for sure. (I don’t plan to, either.) In any case, I find myself needing to remember this: It’s our privilege to take cruelty aimed at us over lesser things and to transform it into opportunities to be like Christ in forgiveness and grace to others.