If they weren’t ringing in my ears and always at the front of my mind these words would seem simple but yet there they are – three penetrating syllables that occupy a new and strange home in my heart.
“I don’t know.”
I’m sitting across from one of my best friends on a late Friday night in the City and these words roll off my tongue in an unnatural but yet easy fashion.
Just a few moments ago I had taken a large sip of beer, kicked my ego out the door and I told him that I was gay.
As my friend starts to ask questions these words find an awkwardly comfortable space that might best be represented by the Sour Patch Kids candy I enjoyed as a kid: first sour, then sweet and finally gone – all the while not quite what you expected.
Answering the questions (and being open to them) may be just as good for me as asking them (and being open to the responses) is sometimes for others.
Yes, some questions are easy to answer but I find that others bring unexpected delays.
Sometimes this is because the answer itself is hard to say and lays somewhere between the black and white of normal human comfort.
My friend has asked the question and the question begs an answer but with that sip of beer wearing off I’m finding it hard to answer because the words and the place I find myself, as I said, are still very foreign.
I push on.
It’s not that there’s difficulty in being open.
In fact, each day brings new ease and comfort in being open about who I am. It’s both healing and cathartic to speak about who I am; I love sharing the version of me that extends past the character I’ve lived for my first thirty years.
No, for me it’s the limited vocabulary that the new openness has brought.
Gone, or at least waning, are the days of covering up who I am. I’m exhausted with the half-truths and misdirection that I lived and rich/verbose language no longer suffice.
The masks fit the person who I was, not the person I know I am.
“I don’t know.”
There it is again. Another question asked for which there is no good answer.
The questions people ask that I don’t have good answers for aren’t trivial questions. In fact, they are the questions I ask of myself.
They’re the questions that have risen from the past that now have the potential to create restless nights or long days. They are the questions that I ask of myself – the who, what, how and why of what has made me ME over the years.
It wasn’t ‘supposed’ to be like this.
‘I’ll come out and everything will make sense.’
‘I’ll have explanations for the years of misdirection and half-truths I told myself and others.’
‘God will speak into my life in ways I can understand.’
‘I’ll come out and I’ll be able to tell the ones I’ve loved and cared for the most.’
“I don’t know.”
Again and again – the words ring out. It’s at some point in this conversation or the one after that or the one after that I start to laugh.
It’s not a crazy laugh but a subtle chuckle when I realize that there’s something bigger at play.
I realize that I’m not meant to have the answers that I want. Sometimes the best answer is not black or white.
It’s gray. It’s neutral.
My heart speaks and says that time needs its space to do its thing to help me find my way – to the answer, to the conversation, to the part where you and I break bread together.
And there’s beauty in that.
It’s the realized beauty that says that “I don’t know” is a resting place.
This resting place is where I stop trying to understand and I learn to just be.
There is beauty in that unknown.
I live between two worlds now.
Instead of places of ‘being’, these worlds feel more like the stereotypes that we grew up with as kids in grade school. This is ironic because I’ve always struggled with stereotypes because when we use them they inevitably draw larger borders around our worlds than what’s really needed.
I’m gay. There’s a big one.
I’m Christian. There’s an equally big one.
I may have a clearer sense of my sexual identity but that pride and confidence wanes when I fall into the trap of rationalizing who I am with who I was, not just with myself but with others.
I may trust God more because of the hellish road he and I have journeyed on but I wake up in the morning sometimes wondering what it really means to be a child of God.
Most days I still struggle with what it means to be me – publicly, privately, spiritually…
I know that there’s nothing that makes me different from the person next to me – I’m the same person I was before but now I see more of who God made me than I did before. I am closer to who God made me but I also know that the closer we get to anything truly of God the more messy things and maybe confusing things get. What I forget is that with the messiness comes the inherent (divine) beauty that comes on the other side.
Not every question is meant to be given a crisp, packaged answer. With thirty years of inadvertent misdirection to unpack I realize that some of that may be meant to stay packed. Perhaps by being openly gay God is teaching me for the first time the essence of surrender found in three simple but humbling words.
I’m still new in this space but I believe more than I have in the past that these words can lead a person, in any situation, to a place where grace and love slow you down leaving you speechless and on your knees.
“I don’t know.”
I say these words when there’s no easy answer and the question turns into a momentary, paralyzing thought.
These words surface when nothing makes sense.
These words are blunt. They are scary and cause the heart to beat a little faster.
They are also bold and very beautiful – they are words that provide rest.
For me, these reactions can happen all at once. The words lead me down a path into new territory – they stretch past the stereotypes, they straddle the gray found between comfort and discomfort, and they safely envelope my past but firmly reach toward my future.
There are times that we runaway from the things that are scary and unknown.
Trust me when I say that this is both a good thing and a bad thing. Sometimes this is the only response I’ve had to something that I didn’t quite understand or couldn’t easily comprehend.
But what I’ve found is this: Running parallel inside and between the scary and the unknown is beauty and contentment waiting to wrap us up in this crazy force of healing momentum.
It may sound like I’ve found a place where I’m OK with not having the answers.
I have not.
I still want the satisfying answers but I know that the way I’ve previously sought the answers was wrong. The emphasis of my search was on the past rather than from the point where my story continues today.
I strive to start the answers with who I am today – who God made me – and make my way from there.
“I don’t know” is an OK and safe place to be. It allows me to prioritize questions with the expected answers. It replaces the emphasis of speaking with the practice of thinking and being.
There’s power and strength when we look into the eyes of the unknown and say “I’m not comfortable and I’m struggling at times but I know who I am and who I am not. I know that in what I lack, God is there. And all that wrapped together makes things OK”.
My hope is that this will stick with me as I mature. My hope is that this practice will strengthen my trust in God.
I hope that these raw and beautiful words can be building blocks for a future where I understand more of others, more of myself, and most importantly more of God.
Then again… I just don’t know.