Rerun: Letter to a Gay Man in the Churches of Christ, Part 3.5

gay christianAnonymous commented,

When I say lonely, I’m talking about not having a life partner. I think getting the alcohol out of my system and my life made me realize the loneliness that exists. I can’t drink it away and numb myself anymore.

I’ve spent the day pondering the question of loneliness. When I read your comment, my first thought was to go look at the Blue Like Jazz lesson material. I don’t know if you’ve read the book. It’s by Don Miller, a single Christian man, who has the gift of story telling. It’s great stuff.

As you might expect, as a long-term single man, a straight man with a commitment problem, as he describes himself, he has to wrestle with loneliness, and he talks about it in the book — with great poignancy. He writes,

I think being in love is an opposite of loneliness, but not the opposite. There are other things that I now crave when I am lonely, like community, like friendship, like family. I think our society puts too much pressure on romantic love, and that is why so many romances fail. Romance can’t possibly carry all that we want it to. (p. 153)

I think that’s a powerful insight. We all have differing needs for company. Some of us do well being alone for extended times. Others can’t bear to go an hour without a phone call or a visit. But only the mentally ill want to be alone all the time!

In modern America, the road to happiness, and the cure for loneliness, is marriage. A wife, two kids, a dog, and a house in the suburbs. At least, that’s the myth. Now, it’s not a myth for everyone, but it is for many, which is one reason the divorce rate is so high. You see, marriage or life partners were never meant to satisfy our need for community.

A spouse, of course, helps a lot with loneliness, but a spouse is neither necessary nor sufficient. You can be married and be lonely (many are). And you can be single not be lonely at all (many fit here as well).

Miller’s solution is going to sound a bit trite, because I can’t type out the whole chapter here (there are copyright laws, you know!), but this is the solution he found and lived —

Loneliness is something that happens to us, but I think it is something we can move ourselves out of. I think a person who is lonely should dig into a community, give himself to a community, humble himself before his friends, initiate a community, teach people to care about each other, love each other. … Loneliness is something that came with the fall. (p. 173)

In a fascinating story, Miller who once lived alone, describes how his pastor gently and persistently pushed him into moving into a boarding house with a bunch of single guys, members of his church — which forced Miller to mature as a person and in his faith.

Before I lived in community, I thought faith was something a person did alone, like monks in caves. I thought the backbone of faith was time alone with God, time reading ancient texts and meditating on poetry or the precepts of natural law and, perhaps, when a person gets good and godly, levitating potted plants or pitchers of water. (p. 175)

I’m reminded that Jesus and most of the apostles were single men who lived chastely but in community. I doubt Paul ever felt lonely. He was buried deep in a community of fellow missionaries — Apollos, Barnabas, Timothy, Priscilla, Aquila, and Junias, among many others. But Paul’s community was not formed to deal with his loneliness. It was formed to serve God’s mission — and as a result, Paul was constantly comforted by community.

Living in community made me realize one of my faults: I was addicted to myself. … I had very little concept of love, altruism, or sacrifice. … The most difficult lie I have ever contended with is this: Life is a story about me. (p. 181)

Miller, very honestly, tells the story of how he surrendered himself to his new community, grew up, learned just how lonely he’d really been, changed, and became much happier.

Ironically, Miller ends his two chapters on loneliness, with this quote —

I asked [Bill] how he kept such a good attitude all of the time with so many people abusing his kindness. Bill set down his coffee and looked me in the eye. ‘Don,’ he said, ‘If we are not willing to wake up in the morning and die to ourselves, perhaps we should ask ourselves whether or not we are really following Jesus.’

Now, you’ll have to read the story of Bill for yourself. It’s a good one. And (unlike some) I’m not accusing you of being selfish or anything like that. I have no reason to do so. Rather, my point is simply that being alone is bad for us spiritually. So, no, God does not mean for you to be alone.

However, that hardly means that God means for you to have a life partner, other than Jesus. I mean, think of all the never-married straight men and women who want a life partner desperately. Think of the widowed, widowered, and divorced. There are lots of people who are without a life partner who would like to find one. Most are straight. And God doesn’t want them lonely either. But most never get the “soul mate” our society says we’re all supposed to have.

On the other hand, I know many in that circumstance who are very happy that way — who’ve not so much given up as have found something better — for them. You see, there are other ways not to be alone.

Now, the church itself should be the cure for loneliness. Sadly, most of our churches are pretty awful at helping people with their loneliness. Three meetings a week and quarterly fellowship meal doesn’t get it. Many cater to families, completely oblivious to the needs and talents of the many unmarried among us.

You see, the way a church becomes the church Jesus died for is through mission — serving others. And most larger churches have a wide array of projects and programs, most desperate for volunteers. And there’s no better way to become deeply embedded within the fellowship of the church — the community that is the church — than to work alongside other Christians in God’s mission. And the harder the work, the better.

I mean working shoulder to shoulder with others in something that you’re passionate about — something bigger than any one person.

Now, while I’m quoting Blue Like Jazz, let me toss this one in —

The problem with Christian community was that we had ethics, we had rules and laws and principles to judge each other against. There was love in Christian community, but it was conditional love. … If people were bad, we treated them as though they were either evil or charity. … Christianity was always right; we were always looking down on everybody else. And I hated this. (p. 215)

And that about sums up why the church — which is supposed be like Jesus — sometimes isn’t much like Jesus at all when it comes to homosexual men and women. We have trouble seeing people different from us as other than a project. We struggle just to love people just because they need our love — or, better yet, because they’re lovable.

But the church is changing. And there are more and more congregations that are getting this. And even among those that have a long way to go, there are men and women, filled with the Spirit, who truly show Jesus.

You see, I keep wrestling with this question: why not just tell everyone about your nature and ask for their prayer and encouragement and companionship to help you live the life Jesus wants? why expect to be held to a higher standard than heterosexuals? why should anyone consider chaste living in the face of temptation anything but admirable??

And that takes us back to the first question you asked: why don’t we talk about this? Well, it’s certainly not because the gospel has nothing to say on the subject!

Now, I have no prescriptions. I don’t know you that well. And I’m not really all that skilled at this sort of thing. But here’s what I think (I’ve never lacked for opinions, you know!), speaking somewhat in the abstract —

* Find a congregation filled with the Spirit of God.

* Meet with the preacher. Tell him everything. Share the burden of loneliness. Share your fear of being found out.

* Get involved in an accountability group of Christian men and women.

* Look for a living arrangement where you can be around other people when you’re not at work or church.

* Get involved in helping others, if not at church at some community organization, where you help people in need. Find something where God’s passion flows through you as you serve. But don’t do this to escape loneliness. Do this because it’s what Christians are called to do.

* Let the preacher help you find a path that lets you tell as many people as possible about your true nature. At the least, this should be your accountability group, a small group (the type that meets in homes on Sunday or Wednesday nights that many churches set up), and those you live with.

* And after a while, at the right time, ask the preacher: when are you going to preach on how the gospel intersects with homosexuality?

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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