Ilearned early in my life that following my heart was the best way to go.
My dad was really into guns, and as a child down deep inside I hated guns, but for a period of time I tried to act like I was interested in them in order to please him. Finally one day I said to myself, “I don’t like guns at all and I’m not going to pretend anymore that I do just to please my dad.” I didn’t make an issue of it, but just quietly stopped trying to act like I was interested in them. Did my dad stop loving me? Was he offended? No, not at all. He still loved me just the same.
When I was in grade school, softball was usually the center of recreational activity on the school playground. I tried and tried to participate because I thought I had to in order to win the approval of my peers. I never was successful in learning how to catch a ball or to use a bat like the other kids. In my heart I resisted competition of any kind. Finally one day I decided to quit playing ball and to do other activities that were going on instead. Did I lose my childhood friends? No, not at all. I never lacked friends to run with. Whenever any of them had a bruise, cut, or problem, they felt free to come to me for comfort and help. We did all kinds of fun things together all through the year, and since I grew up in a small village, a very rural environment, there was no end of places to explore and outdoor activities to do. We played in the snow, went horseback riding, roamed through the woods, picked wild berries, and even did some “skinny dipping” in the old swimming hole.
I went to Christian boarding academies my last three years of high school back in the early 1950s, and because the other boys in the dormitory perceived me to be somehow different I was often ridiculed and even at times physically attacked by them. My response was not to fight back. Instead, I extended forgiveness in my heart. I had been spending a lot of time studying the teachings of Jesus, and my heart told me to put them into practice. As a result of this, over time my peers came to respect me and would come to me whenever they needed encouragement, a listening ear, or spiritual help.
When I turned 20 in 1957, after much prayer and study I felt that I had to be a Conscientious Objector and could not participation in the military in any form. I could never take the military oath or support militarism. I applied for CO status at my local board, was investigated by the FBI, and given my I-O classification. At that time, the country was caught up in a triumphalistic spirit after our apparent successes in World War II and the Korean War, and I quickly learned to keep quiet about my CO convictions. Few understood, especially the members of my church. But I had to follow my heart in the face of public censure, and I have never regretted that decision.
The real problem that I was facing, as I think back on these examples in my early life, was my fear of rejection. What would other people think?
That fear was a lie from the evil one. The enemy tries to force many lies upon us, attempting to throw us off track, off the path God wants to lead us on. Often, our conscience, our instinctive preferences, our gut feelings are the way God shows us the path that’s right for us. And we must follow that path if we are to remain true to ourselves – and to God. The more time we spend in communion with God, the more sensitive we become to those inner leadings, and the clearer that path becomes. As we “tune in” to the heart of God, we become one with Him, our heart lines us with His greater purposes, and our lives take on new, fuller meaning and value.
I could have given in at any of those moments and continued to live in pretense. I could have continued to go with the flow, to do what everyone else was doing just to fit in. But I would have lost myself in the process. Ultimately, who we become is the sum of a lifetime of decisions. And if we are to become the person God designed us to be, we can’t just follow the crowd. We have to follow our hearts.
[box type=”bio”]THOMAS DURST: I am a gay man who loves God, and have been a student of the Bible for 61 years now. I didn’t come out of the closet to myself and others until I was 55 in 1992. My desire is to encourage all people, and help gay Christians realize they are God’s children and to learn to live in genuine love and caring for all people.