Untangling Attractions, Addictions & Other Restless Loves
As homosexuality was becoming more the rage in the 1980s, New Zealand journalist Briar Whitehead didn't know what to think about it all. As a Christian, she was even more confused because, if God said homosexuality was wrong, why didn't he just answer the prayers of homosexuals and change them when they asked? Nothing about it made sense to her, and no one in the church seemed to have any answers either.
Then she began to meet some gays and lesbians and attend group meetings where people with unwanted same-sex attraction shared their stories. She found herself identifying with them—their loneliness, the struggles of their teen years, and their sense of abandonment by God. "I knew, only too well," she wrote, "the desperate craving for that indefinable but imperative 'something' that drives the homosexual person into a same-sex relationship to try to meet it."
Like them, she too had desperately sought love in relationship after relationship.
I responded only to a certain "type" and never others. And once I had found him, I hung on for dear life. . . . Each relationship seemed more intense than the last and in each case the size of my world would shrink down to the size of the person I could not do without.
Although she hadn't been drawn into lesbianism to fill this craving, it became obvious that the dynamics that shaped the homosexual were similar to those that had shaped her. She was "no different in essence."
Addictions & Other Misdirected Thirsts
Slowly she realized that she had made God over in the image of her father. And slowly, she began to gain insight into her own pain. This total and exclusive focus on finding that one who would love her and to whom she would be special was inordinate, driven not by any healthy love, but by a deep craving for the male love and attention she hadn't received growing up. It took a long time, but at length God healed her of this emotional desperation. "I shed buckets of tears," she wrote. "God baptized me with love."
As she stabilized and began looking at others from a healthier place, she saw that the influences that had shaped both her and the homosexual were not all that different from those driving people caught in other compulsive behaviors—women and food, men and porn, people in manipulative and possessive relationships—both in the church and out. "All caught somewhere on the continuum of unmet need, trying to meet their needs their own way."
To all of them—relationship addicts, both homosexual and heterosexual, and those struggling with other deep-seated compulsions (there is little difference, she says)—she dedicated Craving for Love: Relationship Addiction, Homosexuality, and the God Who Heals, first published in 1993 and revised and updated in 2015.
"Homosexuality is not sexual in origin," she writes in the introduction. It usually starts out as a simple reaching for something that is missing in the life of a child. We are born into this world as "little love sponges," made for perfect, pure, unselfish love. But of course, not even the best of parents are capable of pure, perfect love. Only God is. So although we were made for it, we don't get it, and this is where our troubles begin. We go looking for substitutes to fill our growing, thirsty sponge. And flesh-and-blood people, being visible and more tangible than God, make easy God substitutes.
The Cannibal Compulsion & Other Misdirected Hungers
Daniel Mattson did have same-sex attraction, going back almost as long as he can remember. Awkward and somewhat gender non-conforming, he became addicted to porn first and then to relationships. The relationships didn't necessarily have to be sexual, but from as early as first grade, he was drawn to the masculine strength he saw in other boys.
Both Mattson and Whitehead use a disturbing metaphor to describe a common aspect of the homosexual relationship. Mattson traces the metaphor to Leanne Payne, who wrote of the "cannibal compulsion." "I see this 'cannibal compulsion' very clearly in my own life," he writes in Why I Don't Call Myself Gay: How I Reclaimed My Sexual Reality and Found Peace." Every man who has ever been attractive to me has features or traits about him that I wish were mine."
In the same way that Mattson sought to "acquire" masculinity from other men, lesbians commonly attach themselves to women possessing traits they most want for themselves but feel they lack. "They puppy-dog one another," says Barbara, a former lesbian who went on to counsel lesbians in a live-in recovery house. "You won't see one without the other." And usually the attributes they seek are related to how they feel about their mothers.
Among women especially, sexual expression is not necessarily a component of these relationships. Whitehead writes of women serving in Christian ministry, often upright in behavior but entangled in relationships riddled with suffocating emotional dependencies. Jody worked overseas as a missionary, but kept "falling in love" with her girlfriends in ways that were intense, clinging, and obsessive. Although she never acted out sexually, it wasn't until she sought counseling and began attending ex-gay group sessions that she began to pry the lid off her chronic dependencies and move toward emotional health.
Mattson writes of a non-sexual relationship with Jake that started out fine, but quickly turned obsessive. He knew something was amiss when he found himself fixating on this one friendship and how it would satisfy all his longings. The emotions of it weren't all that different, he realized, from what drove him into porn.
Mattson, Whitehead, and Payne all write of the cannibal compulsion as an aspect of the homosexual relationship. But it can apply to any unhealthy relational dependency. In any relationship, when one party is attempting to acquire for himself desired features of the other person, or is attempting to cram the other into his own emotional vacuum, it is not a relationship of love, but rather is a devouring, "me first" affair—a kind of relational consumption. And when the needs run deep, as they usually do, the center cannot hold under the weight of unmet needs, because the other party is likely treating the relationship the same way.
The One Who Is Enough
Mattson wrote Why I Don't Call Myself Gay to help young men who want to serve and know God but don't know what to do with their same-sex attraction. Whitehead wrote Craving for Love to help people resolve the issues underlying homosexuality and other addictions. And although the two authors represent different sexes, generations, and continents, they converge on the same answer, each echoing the ancient sigh of St. Augustine, "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
Finding that rest and finding contentment in it has not been easy for either of them. For Mattson, same-sex attraction has meant suffering, especially in the form of a loneliness so acute he at times feels it as physical pain. But Christianity has taught him to embrace the ache of unmet desires. They are signposts, he says, reminding us that our ultimate happiness lies not in this world but in the next, and so he chooses to draw from the well of Christ and embrace the pain as an opportunity through which to love and care for others.
"There is only one Healer who can love us with the love of a Father, a Mother, a Brother, a best friend and an ardent lover," writes Whitehead. "He would die for us—and did. His is the love we are really longing for when we reach towards our substitutes." He is the one we cannot do without.Terrell Clemmons
is Deputy Editor of Salvo and writes on apologetics and matters of faith.Get Salvo in your inbox! This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #43, Winter 2017 Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo43/hearts-at-rest