All of us, to one degree or another, suffer from emotional discontents and problems that are largely and frequently caused by our perceptions and/or our distorted expectations of what this world has to offer. This phenomenon is especially acute for LGBT people who have been the victims of strident homophobia from virtually all quarters of society: the religious, the family, from politicians, and from assorted verbal and physical bashings that have resulted in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for so many.
The consequences of grinding oppression, hateful epithets, denigration, prejudice and discrimination, fear of being "outed" and the possible negative consequences of coming out, are often seen in internalized homophobia, shame and self-loathing that often result in destructive and risk-taking behavior; sexual excesses that come to define one by his/her sexual orientation, rather than in seeing oneself as a full human being made in the very image of God.
Unfortunately, many Gay people equate their being Gay with sexual hedonism, much like homophobes do, so their emotional pain and its consequences put them in the same camp as the oppressor!
As I recently wrote to a friend of mine in this connection: "I think we have to keep underscoring the fact that being Gay, like being Straight, has little or nothing to do with sex. One is Gay even if he/she can't have sex. One is Straight even if he/she can't have sex. Those LGBT 'activists' who are actually sexual hedonists do what the homophobic religious right does: portray Gay people as being nothing more than sexual creatures, thereby they both suffer from the same malady of ignorance; retard the struggle for equal rights."
So, the issue of emotional health has major implications and consequences for LGBT people as well as the future of the LGBT Civil Rights movement!
In this article, I seek to address psychological and spiritual ways all of us, LGBT and Straight, can minimize, if not obliterate, many of our emotional discontents.
So much of our emotional problems, our existential discontents, come from what Sociologists call “Anomie.” Anomie occurs when one’s expectations exceed what the person, situation, or society can deliver.
For example, if I believe that working hard will make me rich, and I find out that when I’ve worked hard others who were “team players,” and who worked far less than I did, have gotten most of the rewards from our employer, I become understandably hurt and angry. My expectations exceeded the reality of what justice I thought would accrue to me because of my hard work.
Hence, my hurt, anger, and basic discontent with both my work and, frequently, with life itself. It is only when we learn how to neutralize our expectations of others, and of life itself, that we are on the way to achieving some level of inner peace to the degree that this sin-cursed world can afford us.
Similarly, if I enter marriage with the idea that there will always be harmony between my spouse and myself, and I later find out that we often argue or differ on certain matters and, therefore, become disillusioned with both my spouse and even with the institution of marriage itself, it is due to “anomie.” My expectations exceeded the reality of what constitutes marriage, and I must come to the point where I realize that we can’t take two different people with two different sets of genetics, different backgrounds, different interests, and different priorities and put them together and always expect “two hearts to beat as one.”
The gaining of “maturity” or, in the above context of Scripture, the status of being “weaned” from our illusions and facing life and our particular situations as they are, and not necessarily as we want them to be, helps confer a certain level of peace that our anomie certainly didn’t afford us. We come to the knowledge, sooner or later, of the truth of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ statement, when he was asked about the secret of his success, “A long time ago I realized that I was not God.”
In other words, what Oliver Wendell Holmes, former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was saying was that he came to recognize that there are many things in life, and in his life in particular, that he couldn’t “fix” or “control,” and that he had to separate what he could “fix” and “control” from those things which he couldn’t change. Clearly, this understanding resonates with the well known “Serenity Prayer,” often used by people who are fighting an addiction of one sort or another, and it is attributed to the famous theologian Reinhold Niebuhr: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Just as the incorporation of this prayer is crucial in the life of any addict, it is crucial in the life of every person, addict or not, Christian or not!
The above Psalm of David that precedes this article begins with the basic stance toward one’s life and toward life itself as one of humility, in that David recognizes that he can’t control many things in his life, and he stands humbled before the sovereignty of an omniscient, omnipotent God, the Alpha and the Omega of life, and of David’s life, and he recognizes the importance of maintaining this lowliness of mind.
David’s eyes are not “lofty,” and he doesn’t suffer from the mistake of “anomie” where his expectations exceed what God allows, and what God has ordained for him. This is a man who is content in all of his life circumstances, and resonates well with the stance of the Apostle Paul who wrote, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.” (Philippians 4:11)
Paul was not saying that he was not necessarily content “with” the circumstances, but he was content “in” whatever circumstances he found himself, because he trusted in the sovereignty of God in his life and in this world, and that rock-like faith was going to carry him through whatever hills and valleys he was called upon to traverse. And, as we know, Paul had many hills and valleys to travel before God called him home via a chopping block!
It is no accident that in Proverbs 6, concerning the things that the Lord hates, “A proud look” is the first thing mentioned. (v. 17) When we’re proud of “our accomplishments” we fail to realize that God made those accomplishments possible; when we’re proud of our talents, we fail to realize that God gave us those talents; when we’re proud of our wealth, we fail to realize that God not only allowed us to acquire that wealth, but like our accomplishments, talents, and all other gifts from God on this earth, all of these accoutrements of what we call “success” are mere straw for the fire. In this connection, it is interesting to note that the noted and prolific theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, stated that compared to the great glory of God, all of his writings were “like straw.”
The above Psalm continues with David’s understanding that he doesn’t try to deal with matters beyond his control or to those things to which his talents and abilities are not equal. Given this understanding, he asserts in verse 2, “Surely I have behaved and quieted myself.” In other words, he’s not going to worry about things over which he has no control; he’s going to leave those things, and all other things that he can’t even understand, in the hands of almighty God.
After getting his fill of the many blessings of God in his life, David asserts that his soul is in a state of being content and at peace in his knowledge of the sovereignty of God, and “as a child that is weaned of his mother,” his “soul is even as a weaned child.” Just as a weaned child has filled himself on his mother’s milk and is now contented and at rest, so is David’s soul in his knowledge of all that has been given to him by God in his life, and he has the sure and certain knowledge that God will never let him down.
David concludes, “Let Israel hope in the Lord from henceforth and forever.” In other words, David is telling all of Israel, and now all disciples of Christ, the “Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16), that we are to have the same kind of confidence in God as does David.
This Psalm is biblical faith put into action in one’s life! We cannot live a fulfilling life if we are perpetually worried about life-circumstances or potential life-circumstances; by actual threats or the fear of threats. By our worrying, we accomplish nothing of any value, and we blind ourselves to God’s making a way where there is no way in our lives, and we show that we do not profit from understanding all of the seeming insurmountable hurdles that God enabled us to overcome in our past.
Psalm 37 puts a finer point on this matter when David writes, “Fret not thyself because of evildoers, neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity…Trust in the Lord, and do good…Delight thyself also in the Lord…Commit thy way unto the Lord: trust also in him: and he shall bring it to pass…Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath: fret not thyself in any wise to do evil…Wait on the Lord and keep his way…And the Lord shall help [the righteous] and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.”
Once we truly understand, not only intellectually but emotionally, that we are not God, and that there are so many things beyond our control, and so many things that our feeble brains are not able to understand, we are put in the position of casting all our cares upon God (1Peter 5:7) with the firm assurance that He knows the beginning from the end; He knows us better than we know ourselves; He and He alone knows the big picture and we can’t possibly know or comprehend that picture; He knows what we are going to say before we say it; He knows what we think; He has our best interests at heart, regardless of what life-circumstances seem to exist.
Once we come to the place where we exercise this biblical faith every moment of our lives, we have achieved the emotional health that most all of us desire. Make no mistake: I am very far from that place, but it is a place worth pursuing, for it is the ultimate expression of our trust in our sovereign God who saved us, who keeps us, who enables us to overcome our enemies, be they people or events, and who, in the not too distant future, delivers us unto Himself forever.
It is this knowledge, this mind-set, and its practice in our daily lives that denotes spiritual maturity and confers emotional health!