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This is about what I learned at Exodus, too but I couldn’t quite break it down in bullet point form. If I had to choose 2, they’d be:
- God calls us to lean into Him for what we need.
- Idolatry happens when you look to get what only God can give you from something else and when you make what is “good” the “ultimate” in your life.
One concern I had in preparing for Exodus was the abundant amount of possible temptation I could possibly run into. It was a conference full of people who struggle with the same thing I do and I’d be spending a lot of time talking, eating, learning and even rooming with other women who struggled with SSA (same-sex attraction). I addressed the rooming situation with them before I went and it turned out completely fine. A lot of prayer goes into the rooming situations, in case you were wondering…because I was. 🙂
I don’t think I realized how green I was to living with SSA until I met so many women at Exodus who were so much further ahead in their journey than I was. I was pretty young compared to most of the people I met, it seemed. So when I made a new friend, M, I was excited to get to know someone closer to my age who I felt like had a similar story to mine. I immediately recognized that this was a situation that I might possibly be tempted, so I tried very hard to stay self-aware and let my SGL know. Still, however, I started having feelings for M.
That made me really frustrated and mad because I didn’t want to be “that girl” who falls for a girl at gay camp or the predatorial girl who was looking for someone to pounce on. I struggled with it intensely and did my best to put some distance between us but, at the same time, I was really upset that I’ve finally met a well-balanced person who identifies with me and who I clicked with and it was getting all screwed up.
During worship the 3rd morning, I ended up sitting by M and was really trying to focus on what God wanted to teach me in this but I kept getting distracted. I turned into a 6th grader who wonders if the person sitting next to me meant to accidentally brush my hand with theirs to send some sort of sign that she, too, was thinking what I was (was I the only 6th grader who did that? maybe i was…). As we stood for the final worship song that morning, I could physically feel myself leaning toward M with some sort of desperate hope that she’d be leaning toward me too. At the same time, I could feel and hear God saying “Why are you leaning toward what you know can’t fulfill you? I can fulfill you. I am steady. I am with you always. Lean on me. Press into me.”
Don’t we all do this to some aspect? We lean on our finances or relationships or social status to give us what we think will fulfill us. All the while, knowing that God is the only one who can satisfy. My pastor recently defined an idol as “something you look to give you what only God can.” At that moment, I was making a relationship with M my idol instead of worshiping God, literally.
Ultimately, I felt myself get weaker and weaker in my attempt to leave M alone in my thoughts and I confided in one of the the women both of us had spent some time with. Before I told her, I was literally shaking and super-emotional. Looking back now, I don’t think I was so upset because of what was tempting me. I was upset because I didn’t want to let it go. I was fighting the confession because what I didn’t confess, I could keep in my mind and live there when I wanted to. The woman, who was one of those who was much much further along in her journey, pretty much recognized how I was feeling before I ever told her and she gave me some very encouraging words and prayed with me.
I ended up talking to one other woman who gave more encouraging words and I am so thankful I had those people near me when I felt so weak and confused and frustrated. I’m also extremely thankful that I can still keep in touch with them and get advice when I need it. Since Exodus, M and I have kept in touch a little bit but ultimately she’s distanced herself quite a bit and I’ve had to deal with that on my own. Being the codependent people-pleaser that I am, I’ve wanted to reach out and apologize for something. I’m not even sure what I’d apologize for. I never put her in a compromising position or told her how I felt (apparently, that’s kind of like the golden rule at Exodus…don’t tell another struggler that you struggle with them…makes sense). I think any attempt at an apology would just be an excuse to bring up a bunch of stuff that doesn’t need to be brought up with her.
After taking some time to really think about M and how I felt about her, etc., I came to the conclusion that my feelings for her were the devil’s way of getting me unfocused at Exodus. My pastor uses another phrase when talking about idols, saying that “idolatry happens when we make what is good, ultimate.” That’s what I did with M. She and I had some really great conversations about my journey and she wasn’t afraid to ask the tough questions and be painfully honest with me. I think there was a lot of room there for a really genuine, honest, accountable friendship with M, but I feel like I pretty much ruined that opportunity when I made her “ultimate” because I thought she was cute or whatever. I made other friendships at Exodus that were very similar and they were and are just fine and healthy. They are good things that I don’t place above my relationship with God.
Reflecting on all of this has made me realize that the devil attacks when God is up to something in my life. When I feel weak or tempted or doubtful about this whole journey, I have to step back and wonder what good work God is trying to do in my life that’s grabbed the devil’s attention. I don’t know if this is theologically accurate and I’m not claiming that this is the cure for all of my struggles, but it does give a little hope – which I need as much as I can get these days. Learning to focus on what God has in store for my life takes so much effort. But the good and great things that came out of Exodus have proven to me that it’s worth the effort.