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The Transformed Life

by James M. Gentile, MSCC

My life was pretty normal "run-of-the-mill" suburbia until age six, when my parents were divorced. From then on my world was turned upside down, moving to several apartments, changing schools often.

On my weekend visits with my father, he was absent more than present. I grew up with an ache of loneliness, over-sensitive to the world around me, always feeling like an orphan because of the lack of emotional attention from my parents. A defensive detachment occurred with my parents. This means I put up an emotional wall around my heart to keep the pain of rejection out, not realizing that it also kept love from coming in. I learned to do, not simply be.

At age eight I found a large supply of pornography in my old bedroom in my father’s house. I developed a hunger for fantasy and a compulsive habit of masturbation that enslaved me well into adulthood.

I also began experiencing an ambivalence toward other boys. I wanted to be like them and be included, yet hated the way they behaved (tough and teasing). Inadequacy at sports added to my withdrawal.

In the midst of my silent confusion, I was sexually abused at the age of eight years old. Although I knew intuitively that it was wrong, it was as if I were dying of thirst in an emotional desert and someone had offered me a glass of water. True, the water was polluted but to someone in my position, "dirty" water was better than no water at all.

In this my search for intimacy, I became stuck developmentally and unconsciously bought the homosexual lie: "I must be born this way." Of course, I was operating out of a reparative drive to meet a legitimate love need for the same sex parent. When puberty hit, this drive became intensely sexualized, and I experienced my first orgasm with a man. I was hooked! While not a conscious decision, I chose sex because it was the closest thing to intimacy I had known.

Unconditional love was a foreign concept, and this laid the roots for my driven perfectionism that attempted to compensate for my mounting guilt and shame. I was catapulted into the adult sexual world, while wrapped in an exterior of squeaky clean, proper childhood behavior. I learned early on to act the part that was expected. I learned to live with the secret believing I was a "black sheep" and the cause of the "dirty" desires in my heart.

As a teenager, my friend invited me to a Bible study. She witnessed to me about Jesus in a way I had never heard before. Could it be true that I knew Jesus only as a distant, historical Savior and had missed the truth about His ability to be intimate, real, and inside of me?

I asked Christ, "If You are real, and this can actually happen, please forgive me for all the junk I have done, take away these sins, and come into my life." Warmth and tingling that started at the center of my chest, ended with tears streaming down my face. I knew He had answered my heart’s cry. I could not explain it, but I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, that He came into my life. He was real and this was true.

Since I accepted Jesus, my life has never been the same! I have learned to forgive my parents, myself, and others. Although this process took longer than I care to admit, it has been a journey of healing that continues to this day. The Bible has become a living source that I am able to understand. Prayer has become vital communication. The years of depression are over. Joy that is inexpressible has replaced it. This joy comes from simply being, not doing.

Each phase of my life seems to bring another miracle. I am becoming what I was created to be. Finally, I have love; love to give, and love to receive. God has restored the very thing that was destroyed in my life: family and a sense of belonging!

Transformation from sexual, emotional, and spiritual brokenness to abundant life is no small miracle! As I look into the eyes of my beautiful wife and three sons, I realize the loving promise of God to make all things new. What seems to be an insurmountable, life-gripping problem to us, in His loving eyes, is just another miracle waiting to happen!

Jim Gentile is a United Methodist from Eastern Pennsylvania and the Executive Director of Transforming Congregations.

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