Not an Anomaly

Do you feel like your Christian experience is of such a peculiar nature that the believers around you are utterly unable to relate to you? Whenever you step into a worship service or community group, do you often feel like the odd one out—like no one can possibly understand the circumstances in which you find yourself or the sin-struggles that haunt you every day? Or, if you do not personally feel this way, do you know someone who does? Do you know a brother or sister in Christ who remains convinced they are some kind of exception to the Christian norm despite how persistently everyone around them insists they are not?
I remember feeling like this. In the first couple of years following my conversion, I believed I belonged to some rare species of Christian. I thought my trials and temptations were so abnormal that other believers could not empathize or even sympathize with what I was facing. Part of this peculiarity complex was due to the fact that no one I knew at the time was called to a path of repentance, like mine, that involved a high chance of lifelong singleness. I think there is some legitimate unusualness to following Christ with the thorn of same-sex desires lodged in your side. All Christians are tempted and broken, sure. But generally lacking romantic desire for the opposite gender carries with it some distinct implications—like the strong possibility of remaining unmarried for life.

However, my anomalous feelings extended beyond this particular bentness. Since the outset of my faith journey, I have wrestled almost continuously with intense doubt. Sometimes, I doubt the existence of God; other times, I doubt the goodness of God; most times, I doubt the inspired nature of God’s Word. There have been brief but wonderful seasons in which I have possessed simultaneously a sure confidence in God’s reality, his righteousness, and the truthfulness of his written revelation. But more often than not, I am struggling to believe on one of these fronts. And early on in my walk with Christ, I thought I was the only one seriously struggling. Even when other believers expressed to me that they experienced similar battles in their thought lives, I was convinced their battles weren’t as brutal as mine.

This perspective of reality produced some rotten fruit in my life. I grew increasingly resentful toward God for singling me out to be afflicted not only by distorted sexual desires and a potentially lonesome future, but also by a mind that found it so hard to simply believe. I was unwilling to be encouraged or counseled by brothers and sisters in Christ, because I was convinced they had no idea what I was going through. My belief that I was a spiritual anomaly caused me to be a bitter, self-consumed person who distanced himself from God and exercised little love toward others.

I praise God for shattering this faulty way of thinking in my life. It was not an instantaneous shattering. But, over a period of time, through the graces of community, discipleship, and time spent in the Scriptures, I was able to see that enduring trials and temptations is a universal experience among Christians. It is not unique to me.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Peter wrote to his believing readers, “Resist [the devil], firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world” (1 Peter 5:9). Though indwelling sin manifests in various ways, and trials come in various forms, none of us face uncommon temptations or suffer in peculiar or unprecedented ways. Satan harasses all of us. The flesh torments all of us. No Christian “has it easy”—all of us struggle and toil and fight and endure.

If you think your Christian experience is some kind of exception to the norm, I plead with you to do yourself the favor of repenting of that mindset. Such thinking will only produce poisonous fruit in your life, as it did in mine. You will always be down in the dumps. You will always be consumed with self. You will grow increasingly resentful toward God, bitter toward others, and unwilling to participate in the means of grace God has given you to sustain you in your trials and temptations—namely, community and discipleship in a local church.

It may not look like the Christians around you are going through the same stuff you are, but you have no idea what they have walked through or are currently walking through. Not everyone wears their whole life on their sleeve! Perhaps the brother or sister you sit next to on Sunday—you know, that one who keeps trying to carry on a conversation with you despite your reclusiveness, short responses, and attempts to escape—has endured or is currently enduring a similar trial as you but has learned to live joyfully in the midst of it. Maybe God wants to strengthen you through that person, but you are so locked inside of yourself and so certain no one can understand you that you are withholding yourself from empowering grace!

For your own sake and the sakes of those around you, humbly accept the fact your experience as a Christian is not exceptional. We are all in this boat together. The waves of affliction are crashing against us all—and they do so under the supervision of a faithful God. He is not allowing you or me to suffer some unusually powerful temptation that we are unable to withstand. The ferocity of our temptations is common and resistible (1 Corinthians 10:13). And the suffering he has allowed into your life and mine is not uncommon, nor is it permanent. But, “after [we] have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called [us] to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish [us]” (1 Peter 5:10).

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