Friendship

it's okay to be searching

(this post: a reflection from this past weekend) It’s been almost a month since I’ve been back in the US, and I’m completely certain that I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel weird at times. There are days when it’s the lack of chocolate filled pastries, and then there are the days when it’s the saddening realization that the adventure really is over. This morning, it was the revelation that studying abroad and going away for almost 4 months didn’t fix some of the problems that I thought it would, the moment when I realized that instead of dealing with some things while I was gone, I ignored them instead and pushed them down, using the adventure and the limited time in a foreign country to rationalize doing so.

The specific thing on my mind this morning was my still rocky relationship with churchgoing. In the time leading up to my semester abroad, I went on a church fast for about three months that continued into the next three and a half months while I was in Spain. While I fabricated a super spiritual sounding reason for this fast, trying to find out what being a Christian really means and hipster stuff like that, the real reason I stopped going was that it was painful and maddening to go to church.

Having had a complicated and unpleasant experience toward the end of high school when I tried to come out the first time, I’d built up this wall around that part of myself. After being told that I was broken and needed to be fixed for so long, I constantly harbored this defensiveness whenever I entered a church or the presence of people that I knew to be particularly conservative. Coupled with some other interactions with other Christians I had previously considered to be friends in which I had to defend the veracity and legitimacy of my own faith, I just didn’t feel safe in church. I hated the thought that I’d probably have to explain myself and defend my faith to anyone in the room who knew about me, the thought that at 18 I’d be expected to have my theology, my faith, and my beliefs completely figured out just in order to appease people who wouldn’t even take the time to really get to know me.

So, I decided that I was done, at least for a little while. I relegated myself to worship playlists and long bouts of prayer journaling instead. I allowed myself to be real with people who, while maybe not necessarily agreeing with me one hundred percent, didn’t constantly question what I believed, who let me talk about the guys that I liked sometimes, without needing to ask me for the twelfth time if I was sure that I believed that being in a relationship was okay, people who were just my friends and not trying to be the morality police, people who trusted that I had my relationship with Jesus and that He would help me sort out the important things. And having that, having that safety and that community was something that was freeing.

But somewhere along the way, I ended up fooling myself into thinking that distance would fix everything, that after six months or so of church absence I would just be dying to get back to it. While a cute and highly romanticized idea, that wasn’t the case. I still can’t go to my old church for the same reasons, and it just sounds like a lot of work to try out another church that might leave me in the same situation. I know that’s sort of lazy reasoning, but that’s the place that I’m in, and I think God has affirmed to me that it’s an okay place to be in, because it’s okay to be searching. It’s okay to be in an in between place.

So, instead of going to church this morning, I stayed home, put on some worship music, sang to Jesus, and talked with Him for a long time. What He told me during that time is, I think, a sign that whatever this place is that I’m in right now, it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. This is what He said, through Paul’s letter to Philemon regarding his slave Onesimus who had run away, but was being sent back to His master after having met the Lord.

Formerly he [Onesimus] was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and me…I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not be forced but would be voluntary. Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever – no longer as a slave, but…as a dear brother.”

  • Philemon 11, 14-16

I’m not sure how long I’ll be in this intermediary place, but one thing I do know for sure is that God has me here for a reason right now, so that when He is ready for me to go back, I’ll be able to go back forever, without having to return to this place.

Even more importantly, I think it’s a good reminder that God doesn’t punish us for going through periods of searching and definitely doesn’t tell us to just suck it up and it’ll all get better if we just power through. That may be true in some cases, but not all. I think that He knows and even plans for our lives and our spiritual journeys to take detours sometimes so that we can see more of Him in a way that’s untarnished by the fallen nature of other people. Then, when we’re ready and He’s worked on us a little, He sends us back to the crowd when we’ll be able to see His face and His truth and love past the human flaws that sometimes distort the picture of Him we see, making Him that much clearer.

Until then, search on.

finding rest in the desert (literally)

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Sometimes I think about the way that God works things out and wonder why keep insisting on worrying and not trusting Him. But then I also remember that we’re human and that’s what we tend to do. We tend to get all nervous about things that God already told us would be just fine. Funny how that happens so often. This is something that I’ve been thinking about the past week and a half or so, because I was definitely worrying about a lot of little things before I left to come to Spain. I was worried that I would forget to pack things. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand when people spoke to me in Spanish. I was worried that people wouldn’t understand when I tried to speak to them in Spanish. I was worried that I wouldn’t like or wouldn’t get along with my host family.  I was worried that this semester would be too hectic for me coming off of a period in life where I just burned myself out on school. I was worried that fall break would be stressful and difficult to plan. I was worried about this. I was worried about that. I was worried about a lot of things that I ended up not needing to worry about that much.

Sure, I definitely forgot to bring some things that I wish I had remembered. And yeah, sometimes communicating in another language is a struggle, but we’re at the beginning of our fourth week here in Segovia and God has literally worked out literally every little thing that I had worried about prior to coming here. Unlike us humans, He tends to be kinda amazing like that.

So along those lines, I want to talk a little about how God has been providing rest for me in a time where I really need it. As I’ve already talked about a lot before, I came into this fall semester abroad off of a crazy summer in every respect, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, all of it. I hated the summer linguistics program I was at, and while I absolutely loved getting to go back to Welcome Week at Bethel before leaving, especially because of all the people that pour into you there, it was still another thing that completely drained me up until literally less than 12 hours before I left (holla at getting 20 hours of sleep over 4 days; that was fun). So, needless to say, I was rolling into Segovia on empty and I really didn’t have the energy in any capacity for really much of anything.

With that as the backdrop, it’s been completely insane to see how God has just provided, rest and everything else, in the past three weeks. Our small (and sassy) group is wonderful, and I’m so glad that I get to do Spain Term with these crazy people. Not only that, but all of the little problems that have come up over the course of the past three weeks have all been resolved quickly as well, which I’m infinitely thankful for (ugh transcripts, travel plans, etc.).

I’ve had time to be with people, and I’ve had time to be by myself. I’ve had time to hang out with my host mom, and I’ve had time to hang out with God. I’ve had time to do homework, and I’ve had time to shop and wander around Segovia trying to get lost (I failed, which is awesome in and of itself). I’ve had time to think about things that I want to write, and I’ve had time to take a lot of really fun photos. Basically, I’ve had enough time to do almost everything, which is such a new and freeing sensation that I’m loving about being here.

In addition, I think that any trace of homesickness has finally passed (at least for right now). Every morning I wake up excited about what the day holds. I’m excited to walk through the Segovian streets and find new bakeries and cafes to try (or return to the same ones that I already love), and this feeling that I’m not going to have enough time to do everything I want to do is already creeping up on me, which I definitely didn’t expect. I almost expected to be longing for home at this point, but I just feel ready for everything that Spain and Europe are going to throw at me. And I think I’ve definitely reached a point where if I had to go home right now, I don’t think I’d be quite ready yet!

So here’s to starting to feel at home in Segovia, to feeling rested (even if I might’ve stayed up until 2am doing homework last night and gotten up at 8:30am today), to having wonderful friends, to having lots of artsy photos, to improving Spanish, but most of all to the One who is able to provide rest in unexpected places like the literal desert of Segovia (the official climate IS arid btw).

9.22.15.

sometimes christians surprise me...and i'm a christian too

So I'm not even really sure how I'm supposed to categorize today's post/reflection. It's a weird jumble of feelings that are currently swirling around in my head, mostly related to some of the interactions that I've had with people the last few weeks, and those interactions have been extremely positive. So, I'm conflicted. Also minor confession: I wrote this post a few weeks ago and forgot to post it. So…I don’t know why I just told you that. Okay, none of that probably made any sense. That's just sort of how my brain works, so apologies in advance (...retrospect?). These are some of the things that have been churning around in my head the past few days: since coming out, I've gotten basically only positive responses from the people in my life. People have been so supportive, and I'm so thankful for that. Even with the things that I've written on here and in the real talk conversations I've had with people the responses have been so encouraging. And the weird thing is that I've been surprised by all of it.

Obviously, I definitely prefer pleasant surprises to unexpected rejections, but sometimes I wonder if that's not the way it should be all the time. And I don't mean for this to sound insensitive to anyone who has had a difficult coming out story, because I know that’s real and that it hurts and that it’s soul crushing. I’ve heard the stories of people getting kicked out of their houses after coming out. I’ve heard of people whose parents disowned them after they came out. And all of those stories honestly break my heart. That’s not right, and I hope that I don’t sound ungrateful for the way that people have responded to me, but I also long for a world where it doesn't really matter whether you're gay or straight and where neither of those things have any implications about your faith, because that's not the way that it's supposed to be. Why should people finding out something new about you change the way that they see you?

In my opinion, people shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their parents will kick them out of the house if they come out. People shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not their friends will leave them if they come out. People shouldn’t have to worry about being asked to step down from ministry or leadership in the church or youth group if they come out. People shouldn’t have to worry about getting expelled from their Christian schools if they come out. People shouldn’t have to worry about other Christians taking their faith less seriously if they come out. People shouldn’t have to worry about not being loved if they come out.

All of that being said, I also don’t think that we should expect everyone in our lives to automatically agree and be on the same exact page as us. For one thing, other people definitely need time to process things sometimes. Yes, you’re not any different of a person just because you told someone, but sometimes people need to be able to reconcile the stereotypes that they’ve been socialized with and the reality of the person that they know. And I definitely think that we need to show grace there as well, because it is an adjustment for some of our friends and loved ones.

And I think this is sometimes where we see what the essence of Christians is supposed to be, when people purpose not to change the way they treat you or the way that they view you just because of a new fact that they’ve learned about you. They might not necessarily agree with every viewpoint that you have, but it shouldn’t change the fundamental way that they perceive you or the way that they treat you.

And sometimes I’m more thankful for that being said than for the people who just “go with it,” because I think it shows that Christians really can disagree without hating someone and that disagreeing doesn’t automatically entail condemning. I’ve had at least a couple people now tell me that they’re not sure exactly what they think, but that it doesn’t change the way that they see me and it won’t change the way they treat me. And I’m thankful for that, if not a little surprised.

Like I said, sometimes Christians surprise me…and I am one.

I’m surprised that I can have real conversations about sexuality with other Christians. I’m surprised that people legitimately want to understand what it’s like to be gay and be a Christian. I’m surprised that people haven’t thrown the Bible in my face. I’m surprised that people agree with what I’ve written here; I’m surprised that it makes sense to them. I’m surprised that people don’t question my faith. I’m surprised that people have been encouraging me to tell more people my story. I’m surprised that people are sympathetic to the fact that I’ve been praying and asking the Lord for a person. I’m surprised that they don’t condemn that, and I’m surprised that they also don’t try to quiz me about what kind of boundaries I’m going to have and how that’s going to work. I’m sort of surprised that people trust me. I’m sort of surprised that people don’t try to brush away what God has spoken to me by saying that I’m just believing what I want to believe. I’m surprised that…Christians have been acting like Christians.

Yeah, I caught myself thinking that the other day. It was honestly really weird, because I’ve never even been close to being anti-Christian in my life, but I definitely did have this subconscious defense that went up whenever I was around certain Christians, you know, the more “judgy,” media-stereotypically ones. In fact, there are still some of those in my life, the ones that I’m afraid to open up to, and the ones that I don’t tell things because I’m afraid they’ll judge me for the things that I’m feeling and the things that I’m going through. Isn’t that strange?

And then it hit me. This is what it feels like to be someone on the outside. This is how people see the church. This is how people see all Christians, as judgmental people who only criticize. And that hurts me on their behalf, because it’s hard for me to be around those people. It’s hard to listen to people who you don’t feel safe around. It’s hard to realize that you’re a Christian and sometimes you’re scared of talking to other Christians for fear of what they’ll say or what they’ll think. It almost makes you not want to be associated with the word “Christian.” Almost.

But at the same time, I’m thankful for the people who I’ve encountered in my own life. I’m thankful that they’re going to be the Christians that people comment on and say are different from the rest. They’re the people through whom others see Jesus. And that’s what I’m hoping for in all Christianity, that we reach a place where people don’t feel judged by us, but rather feel loved and able to open up with the things that are hard and the things that they’re struggling with.

Because we need more people who are willing and able to say, “I’m not totally sure what I think about that yet, but it’s not going to change the way I see you,” or “I don’t think I agree with that, but it’s not going to the change the way I treat you.”

How much different would our world be if that was all Christians? How much more Jesus would the world see?

These are my Wednesday reflections for the week.

friendship is a tricky thing for gay Christians

That title isn’t even totally accurate. I could remove the “for gay Christians” part and that title would still be as true as ever, but I also just want to talk about how friendship can be even more inherently complicated for gay Christians. Sometimes it just adds so many more layers of awkward that you wouldn’t think would ever come up or be a problem. Also, contrary to popular belief, I’ve been feeling lately that for the majority of people “being satisfied by friends and family” isn’t a suitable way of coping with a call to singleness (post on what I think about singleness coming in the future, I promise!). Since most of my posts tend to come with some sort of random disclaimer, the disclaimer for this post is that these are simply reflections on my own emotions as well as the emotions of some of my friends who have discussed this topic with me. If any of these things make sense to you or you’ve felt the same way, awesome! If they don’t, feel free to comment and let me know why, but I mostly want to present a perspective from this side of things, because I think that it’s something that gets talked about a lot, but also doesn’t get talked about a lot at the same time. I’ll explain as we get further.

As I talked about briefly in the first part of my story, which you can find here, I didn’t really come from a gay-aware background. Not that there was any serious gay bashing or anything like that, but you just assumed that everyone you met was straight and going to get married someday unless someone told you otherwise. I think that most people reading can relate to that kind of mindset. Thus, in my experience anyway, romantic relationships got talked about a fair amount in relation to homosexuality in church and in school, mostly to the extent that you weren’t supposed to have a relationship, pointing toward lifelong celibacy as the only acceptable path for gay Christians to take, if they even existed. In that way, celibacy and abstinence were the two main things thrown at us in regards to homosexuality and relationships early on, but what they didn’t really talk about, even though it was intrinsically connected to that issue as well, was the topic of friendships for gay Christians and how those were supposed to work, especially if the church was telling us that we were supposed to be emotionally fulfilled and supported by friends and family? What was the difference between a romantic and platonic relationship anyway and how were those friendships supposed to factor into your mandated celibate lifestyle?

Coming from a heteronormative background, those were all things that I had never really thought about before and things that I didn’t realize would bring me a great deal of heartache in the future. As I mentioned in the first part of my story, I was emotionally unable to tell the difference between romantic and platonic feelings at the ripe, mature age of 15 and almost tore apart a perfectly good friendship as a result, something that I also didn’t know would come to repeat itself in the next few years on a much grander scale (ooh, foreshadowing). But in all seriousness, especially with all my close friends being primarily girls, sounding out the differences between those two types of relationships was something that I was vastly underprepared for.

After all, for a typical straight guy who has primarily guys as friends, it’s pretty easy to compartmentalize and say that you are supposed to have platonic relationships with other guys and romantic relationships with girls. However, for my confused, gay 15 year old self who had primarily girls as friends in a heteronormative conservative Christian bubble, my compartmentalization process was completely out of whack. Everything I knew told me that I was supposed to have platonic relationships with other guys and romantic relationships with girls, but the fact of the matter was that I just got along so much better with girls most of the time, and I still wasn’t fully aware of the fact that my attractions fell primarily on guys. Thus, there I was, having been raised in an environment where all the guys were supposed to like girls and being in a place where I couldn’t really picture dating any of my friends, but at the same time, my strong platonic feelings for them must have meant that I was attracted to them, right? What a mess. Looking back, it’s no wonder that I fell out of like with the girl that I was supposedly dating. I had never really “liked” her to begin with.

Fast forward to just about a year ago. The vast majority of my friends are all still girls, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m gay, so I’ve got slightly more going for me in the emotional sorting department. Or so I thought. I’ll talk about this in more detail when I post the second part of my story, but basically history came to repeat itself, and I almost gave up one of my closest friends because of the fact that I couldn’t figure out my emotions and the difference between platonic and romantic attractions again. Way to go, self.

The point is that relationships are hard no matter what, but sometimes being gay adds another dimension that causes even basic friendships to be awkward and difficult to navigate, especially in Christian church culture where the pressure to find a spouse and get married can often be stronger than in the secular world. There are countless stories of older, celibate gay Christians who find their support networks thinning as all of their friends and loved ones get married. For many gay Christians, especially younger ones, I think any easy trap to fall into is that of fooling yourself into thinking that you’ve fallen in love with someone of the opposite gender. Obviously, it goes without saying that if you’ve prayed over a situation, had those hard conversations with that person, and feel like God is calling you to be married to someone of the opposite gender, then go for it. However, I think that loneliness and societal pressures can cause us to leap at any opportunity to try and fill that void, feeling like friendships alone just won’t cut it (a post on mixed-orientation marriages will come later).

I get that. It’s hard. As much as people will try to argue the other way, your sexuality does in fact profoundly affect your life. You can’t just say that you’ll “base your identity more strongly in Christ” and expect those problems to go away. Yes, you should definitely find your identity in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be practical obstacles that you’ll have to overcome. After all, there have been a multitude of different stances over the years. For a while, it was that gay Christians were supposed to pretend they were straight and just get married to women. For a lot of people, that doesn’t work out and they end up coming out later in life and dragging a lot of other people into that mess with them. Then, it was the ex-gay ministries that promised to make you straight if you just believed and prayed hard enough. Today, the most popular option in conservative churches is celibacy and fulfilling your emotional needs through friends, while at the same time cautioning you not to get too close to friends of the same-sex lest you be tempted to lust or people think that there’s something more going on. So, you really can’t win. How are you supposed to live if conservative Christianity says that you aren’t allowed to get married, that you’re supposed to look to friends for emotional support, but at the same time you have to be wary of “abstaining from the appearance of evil?” It’s hard. It’s crazy hard, especially when people start to feel lonely and like they’re just giving away all of their emotions for nothing, like they’re always the ones who care more because they’re not allowed to have someone who cares about them the same way. This article by Wesley Hill talks a little more about this complicated view of friendships if you care to check that out.

I resonate with those people, and in fact, you will find that many straight people will resonate with that sentiment as well. In my mind and my opinion, there’s such a stark, yet also subtle difference between any sort of friendship or familial relationship and an exclusive, committed relationship, a difference that even straight single people are aware of. It’s not a feeling limited to celibate gay Christians who feel like they’re stuck.

A few days ago while I was complaining to one of my straight female friends about my lack of a relationship and how sometimes I just feel lonely, even though I know I have a lot of friends and people who care about me, she expressed that she was feeling the same way in her group of friends because many of them had significant others. While they obviously were not neglecting her or spending time with her, she noted that it still wasn’t the same as having someone for herself, something that I totally agreed with.

And yes, we made sure to address the asterisk of the fact that Jesus loves us more than any human being possibly could, but we also both agreed that it still isn’t the same thing as having a human companion, a person. Obviously, it is so true that Jesus loves each of us more than we could ever imagine. He is Love Himself after all, but that doesn’t take away the fact that humans were created to be relationship with each other.

What we discussed specifically was this: yes, friendships are inherently filling and wonderful in and of themselves. However, there are multiple aspects of an exclusive, committed relationship that aren’t present in friendships that I think all people crave, and I think that is the exclusivity itself. Yes, you can have the best friends in the entire world, but even given that, I doubt that there is one single person who wants to be in a relationship who doesn’t feel lonely and alone at some point, simply because none of those friends are their person. For every person who is in a committed relationship, there is an implicit assumption that those two people love and care about each other more than anyone else in their lives, even it’s just by a little bit. They are each other’s person, and no matter how you try to justify friendships being just as fulfilling as those kinds of relationships, the fact of the matter is that at the end of the day, you might be pouring all of your emotions into that one friend, or perhaps several friends, as your person or your people, but they won’t (and can’t) be giving you the complete same thing, because you aren’t their person. Their significant other/spouse/partner/whatever is their person, and that’s who they’re pouring all that emotion into.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to say that those people are bad friends. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. That’s just how relationships work, whether we want to admit it or not, and I think that can be part of the reason that gay Christians get so fed up with celibacy and get depressed and lonely, because they don’t have a person. Obviously for people who are called to be and embrace celibacy as their God-given calling, they might laugh at that and brush it aside saying that having another person would only complicate their lives, but for the people who want to be in relationship, it can be the most devastating and weighty realization that they care about people more than people will or can care about them. And I’m going to say this again because I think that people will forget it or try to argue their way out of it: those people are not being bad friends. It’s just natural (and rightly so) that someone would give emotional priority to their significant other/spouse/partner/etc. That’s what they’re supposed to do.

And this is the reason that I advocate for companionships or celibate same-sex relationships as an alternative option for gay Christians who are feeling stuck in a life of singleness that God is not calling them to. I fully support celibacy and singleness as a completely legitimate calling from the Lord, and I cannot say how much respect I have for people who embrace that life and how much I admire those people, but the thing is that I do not believe every single gay Christian is called to that kind of life. I, personally, think that I am much too social of a person to live my life alone. I think that I would be at my best with another person by my side, and I think that God knows that too. So, yes! For those people who are able to embrace celibacy and own it, I support that 200%. For people who feel like God is calling them to a same-sex marriage, I can honestly say that I support that as well. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are such strong arguments and Biblical exegeses in support of same-sex relationships that I really can’t say that I’m against it. But for people who cannot accept that and also don’t think they can live a life of singleness, I definitely think that a celibate same-sex relationship is a good option that should be prayed over.

Anyway, this post got pretty long and took a couple different turns, including some that probably just sounded like me complaining about my life or that didn’t make sense. But like I said, many of these things are things that straight people can also relate to, especially if they’re in a position of wanting to be in a relationship and not finding one. That’s sort of where I am right now, anyway. Honestly, I’m looking, not super actively looking, but I’m looking and just not finding anyone that I even remotely like at the moment. And that’s okay. That’s not a bad thing, but I think it’s something that straight people can resonate with as well.

Again, these are my personal experiences, opinions, and reflections of what I’ve been feeling and going through, written down to hopefully provide a glimpse of what the other side looks like. Let me know what you guys think about these things. Have you felt this way before? Do you agree/disagree? Why or why not?