Keys to Recovery from Same-Sex Attractions
Sue Bohlin (Probe Ministries, Bible.org Women's Leadership Team) also serves on the Board of Directors for Living Hope Ministries, an Exodus referral ministry that helps people deal with unwanted homosexuality. The LHM Board consists of ministry professionals who together have over 50 years of experience in helping strugglers find freedom through Christ. This is a tool they wrote to help the thousands of people who come to Living Hope every year, either in person or through the confidential online support groups at www.livehope.org.
For more direction on how to help strugglers in your congregation, please see the Bible.org articles When Someone In Your Congregation Says I'm Gay and Answers to Questions Most Asked by Gay-Identifying Youth.
[Note: while we are confident that the following list is accurate, we are aware that it can be overwhelming. It would be like handing a newborn baby a list of all the things he will have to learn in the next five years: everything from learning to turn over, learning to walk, becoming potty-trained, learning to talk, discovering he’s not a part of his mommy, learning how to obey, getting ready to read, going to school. . . like we said, overwhelming! This is the “big picture” of how to walk out the goal of recovery. Allow us to encourage you to continually ask the Lord, “What one thing do You want me to do next?” and then do it.]
1. Accept that it’s not going to be easy. Change that challenges our known comfort zone is difficult and painful. You are changing not just one isolated habit, but a collection of thoughts and behaviors that have made up your relational pattern for a lifetime. An important component of recovery is changing the wrong belief about your identity, that “this is me.” This will take an incredible amount of effort, but you don’t have to do it in your own strength: the same power that raised Christ from the dead is available to you. If you are to succeed, you must aggressively engage your will, making deliberate choices to honor God, be self-disciplined, and work with God to form new, healthy habits of relating. Your will is like a steering wheel of a car or the rudder on a ship; you decide the direction in which you’ll go. Use the free will God gave you to choose His directions, and He’ll honor those choices.
2. Pursue the right motivation. Making your family happy won’t do it; saving your marriage won’t do it; not hurting anymore won’t do it. The only motivation adequate to see you through recovery from same-sex attraction (SSA) is complete abandonment to that aching need to live continually in an incredibly intimate one-on-one relationship—-with God Himself. That strong and tender relationship with Him—knowing Him and being wholly known by Him without anything coming between the two of you—is the pure and primary relationship you were created for. It’s why you crave deep relationships so badly, and it’s worth every obedient step of pursuit, no matter how painful or difficult that pursuit may become.
3. Accept that you must make sacrifices to be free and healthy. Recovery and healing always involve “crucifying the flesh (Gal. 5:24),” giving up things that are dear to you but which serve to prop open doors to spiritual bondage and repeated failures. God may ask you to give up friends, social contacts, your career, hobbies, dreams, and desires. There is suffering and sacrifice to get to the joy of holiness and purity, but God lavishes grace on His children when we obey. Whatever you surrender, He will provide an even better replacement—according to God’s definition of “better.”
4. Let go of the lie that you’re different from other people, and no one really understands. The key to recovering from same-sex attraction is radical discipleship, the call that all Christians have in common. Jesus’ call to “follow Me” is the same for you as it is for every other believer. It is a lie that “no one really understands” because Jesus Christ fully understands everything about you. When scripture tells us about His compassion, it means He enters into our experiences and feels what we feel.
5. Trust and obey. There are no shortcuts to these two commands. Homosexual and lesbian lifestyles are built around trusting oneself or depending completely on someone else, not the kind of abandonment to God’s heart and intentions for us that characterize trust. In the context of trusting God, obedience to His commands and His individual leading are absolutely essential. People who have been abused or traumatized by authority figures, which includes many who struggle with same-sex attractions, often have misperceptions about God. Before you can trust Him, you need to find out who He really is, that He is good, and loving, and safe. Asking God’s help to see Him accurately is your first step to learning to trust Him.
6. Commit to sexual purity. This means trusting God for the strength to abstain from physically acting out, engaging in sexual fantasy, pornography and masturbation. Many people who want freedom from homosexuality are also addicted to sex and/or masturbation. As with any other addiction, there are withdrawal pains. Let the misery of not medicating yourself with sexual sin drive you to God instead of your past destructive behaviors. As long as you are making compromises, you can’t hear from God clearly.
7. Accept that you will need to separate yourself from the “stuff” of your connection to the gay lifestyle. Every picture, every memento, everything that connects you to your past is a propped-open door to the bondage of emotional and sexual sin. Recovery means jettisoning everything that triggers you or encourages feelings of longing for what you are no longer a part of.
8. Accept the reality that emotionally healthy life can feel boring—in the beginning. After the drama and excitement of the gay lifestyle, making responsible, God-honoring choices feels black and white in comparison to a color life. This is a lie; it takes a while to discover that healthy living is actually richer and more satisfying than a life that indulges the flesh.
9. Get plugged into a church. Worship with other believers and get involved in a small group such as a Bible study or Sunday School class. It is essential to give back to the Lord in service. You don’t have to experience any level of healing or recovery to help set up chairs! Developing healthy same-sex relationships is key to recovery, and the church is the best place to do that.
10. Develop self-discipline. Do something every day you don’t want to do. The homosexual/lesbian emotional mindset is very self-centered and self-indulgent; recovery means learning to be Christ-centered and self-denying.
11. Remember when you stumble that a fall is not the same as a wholesale return to your old life. There is a difference between a single event and an ongoing habit. When babies learn to walk, they fall down. It’s part of learning to walk. Give yourself grace; God does.
12. Have an accountability partner. You need someone who will ask you specific questions about specific problem areas, on a regular (weekly) basis and to whom you will answer openly and honestly. In addition to your accountability partner, you should have at least three people who know of your struggle. They should be willing to receive a call from you at any time should you feel tempted, discouraged, or overwhelmed. We often refer to these people as your “lifeline” or “fire drill folks” because they are there to talk you out of tough situations. You will need three because not everyone is available all the time. If the first one doesn’t answer, call the next until you reach someone.
13. Develop realistic expectations about recovery. You didn’t get here overnight, and there won’t be any overnight recoveries. God’s timetable is usually a lot longer than what we would prefer! His healing involves going to the root causes of issues of same-gender attraction, not dealing with the symptoms. Because He is more thorough, His healing will also be more complete and lasting. It’s worth the patience and perseverance on your part. Unrealistic prayers such as “God, please make me straight right this instant” and “Take away my desires by tomorrow morning” don’t accomplish anything.
14. Seek out a Christian therapist who has a redemptive perspective of homosexuality. An important component to recovering from same-sex attraction is individual counseling. The counselor must have a biblical understanding that homosexuality is changeable through the power of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). Living Hope has a list of people in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area we can refer you to. Outside of the DFW area, contact Exodus International (www.exodus-international.org).
15. Avoid being in conversations or locations where you are connecting with just one other person. As you seek to develop healthy same gender relationships it is best to develop these relationships in groups. One on one, exclusive relationships will only lead to emotional dependency. (Emotional dependency is a form of relational idolatry where one person feels a desperate “I-can’t-live-without-you” kind of connection with another.) When you meet for accountability with an accountability partner, it should be done in a public place (i.e. restaurant, Starbucks, etc.)
16. Stop relying on your feelings. Our emotions are largely set up and triggered by our experiences. They aren’t reliable indicators of what is true or even real, and they often skew our perspectives, especially if we’ve suffered emotional trauma by having been wronged physically/emotionally or even emotionally neglected. Relying on your feelings to interpret reality—especially relational reality—and guide you is downright dangerous. God’s Word holds the true perspective. Bounce your perspectives and feelings off of a counselor or accountability partner(s), too.
17. Remember the three “power keys” to recovery. Exodus International has found that there are three elements to the most effective recovery from same-sex attraction: first, be plugged into a good, Bible-believing church. This means both receiving the teaching and being a part of the community. Second, get professional counseling. Third, have a support system consisting of both people who do not struggle with homosexual feelings, and those who do. If you don’t have a real-life support group comprised of other strugglers, Living Hope’s online forums are a good place to find it. (www.livehope.org)
Reiterating our first point, please remember that nothing worthwhile is achieved without sacrifice and hard work. On average, we find that if you work at this diligently, you can expect the process to take about five years. This does not mean that you will not experience freedom sooner than that, but generally, real orientation shift usually takes significant time. The important thing to remember is that all change happens one day at a time. (The goal is not orientation shift from homosexual to heterosexual—although that does happen in many people as a result of healing and growth—but a shift from same-sex feelings and desires controlling your life, to becoming minor annoyances that you habitually submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ.)
The Lord bless you and keep you as you pursue Him, healing, and wholeness!
© 2004 Living Hope Ministries
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