I Will Make Him a Helper

As I’ve told my story of failure and wounding within a commitment to lifelong celibacy – and how I have eventually walked away from it – the most common response from conservative Christians has been withering. The vast majority of them who have responded on social media and the blogosphere have been singing variations of, “so what you are saying is that you cannot live without sex.” When they hear me say that Side B (the traditional view of gay marriage) crushed me, they assume that’s because I can only conceive of intimacy as a sexual act, that I have an idolatrous view of romance, and that I see sex and romance as the most fulfilling experience on earth. They also assume that I have a misplaced understanding of community and friendship.

This reductionist view of gay love is described well by my friend Aaron who commented on my blog,

In college I once expressed doubts about the feasibility of the Side B position, to which one of my fellow students responded, “Really, Aaron? What you’re saying is you can’t live without sex?!” At the moment I felt so dehumanized. I know for a fact that she had long desired to have a husband for reasons that I’m sure went beyond mere carnal pleasure. But when it came to my desires it was just sex. I think many conservatives think of us this way; as sinners addicted to sex. From that perspective we are little more than animals in heat who are unhappy we can’t indulge ourselves. It reminds me of a question posed to a lesbian from a woman grieving over the recent death of her husband: “Do your people feel sad when your partner dies?”

To which she responded, “You see me as a little less human, and for me to realize it, breaks my heart.”

While I understand where these assumptions are coming from, they are all wrong. I voiced such opinions myself, once upon a time, but I now believe they are deeply destructive in our conversations about sexuality. I believe they are fundamentally reductionist, dehumanizing, and belittling to something I now recognize as central to human experience and representative of God’s image.

When I say that the commitment to lifelong celibacy crushed me, I am not saying that the prospect of never having sex crushed me. Frankly, that was, for me, always the easier part of practicing celibacy. I’ve never lost sleep over never having sex, because I believe sex to be just one of a myriad of beautiful  experiences we can have in this life (but there is no shame if you have lost sleep over that prospect.) Don’t get me wrong – sex is awesome, but no sexual experience I’ve ever had has  compared to that time I heard Ombra Mai Fu performed by a children’s symphony choir.

Romance is similar. While “being in love” is a magnificent, dazzling, astonishing experience, it is not the be all and end all of life. It is a priceless gift, but no more than the gift of music, or the gift of solitude, or the gift of literature, or the gift of fatherhood. I love being in love – I love the oxytocin and dopamine, I love that God gave it to us as one of the most powerful drugs on earth, but I also recognize that the greatest temptation of romance is idolatry. Its sheer power in the moment tempts us to let it eclipse all other loves and pleasures. While I would be a bit sad if I never experienced that rush of romance again, that lack would not make my life any less meaningful, beautiful, or livable.

I believe that, when we reduce someone’s struggles with lifelong celibacy to sex or romance, we are missing the mark. We are also guilty of reinforcing our culture’s over-preoccupation with sex and romantic experience. I believe the struggle of mandatory lifelong celibacy reveals a much deeper place within the human heart – a place established by God in the beginning, that is inseparable from what it means to be human.

In the creation account, we are told that God recognized that it was not good for man to be alone, so He declared, “I shall make him a helper.” From Adam’s rib, He crafted Eve – his companion and help. I believe that the need for a helper goes deeper than sex, and the volatile and temporary cocktail of chemicals we call romance. When I tell the story of how the prescription of gay celibacy crushed me, I am not telling the story of how I was finally crushed by the prospect of never again experiencing romance or having sex. I am telling the story of how I recognized that my burning passion for a helper was not something I could ever “get over”, but was something put there by God Himself as he crafted the human spirit. I was crushed that I would never, ever be allowed to experience it, or pursue it. I believe when many people say they are not “cut out for celibacy,” this is what they mean. I also believe this might be what Paul meant when he said it is better for a man to marry than to burn with passion. It certainly has to do with libido, but I also believe it has to do with a deeper need for a help-mate.

This is not to say that this help-mate love – what I will call Eros – is any greater or less than any other love, because all the Loves are representative of how God loves us. I believe friendship holds just as important a place, and can be just as great an experience of intimacy. It is a different kind of intimacy, though. I no longer believe that one can replace the other – that is like saying our need for food can satisfy our thirst for water. In their most transcendent states, Eros and friendship and motherhood or fatherhood are transfigured into selfless, agape love, and in this way they are all similar. I no longer believe, though, that transcendence rids us of categories – those categories are there for a reason.

A cursory look at history will tell us that Eros love is as old as humanity and part of our nature: what is a central theme of almost every Shakespeare play? Eros love. What has inspired wars and blood feuds and betrayals? Eros. What has given inspiration to some of the greatest poems, songs, plays and novels in our history? Eros. What has an entire book of the Bible dedicated to it? Eros. What has been the catalyst for some of the deepest anguish men and women have ever experienced? Eros. We sing for Eros, we break for Eros, we create for Eros, we fight for Eros. We have since our beginnings, and we expect we shall till our end.

So when we deny Eros love to a population the size of a country, let’s not deceive ourselves. Let’s not say it’s simpler or easier than it is, by reducing the human experience of companionship to sex or romance.

“But there is no guarantee of success, or fulfillment within Eros,” I’ve heard many people say, “there is no guarantee of finding any happiness in partnership. It isn’t an escape to a life of fullness and pleasure. Marriage is very hard.”

This is true. I no longer believe, though, that when people long for the opportunity to be Side A, that they are merely searching for an escape hatch into a painless Elysium. When I hold someone’s hand and listen to them weep over how deeply they wish they could allow themselves the opportunity to experience gay love, I don’t think they are weeping for the opportunity to have a beautiful romance and an awesome sex life.

I believe they are weeping for the opportunity to have a broken heart as well. I believe they are weeping for the risk of failure, for the risk of devastation. They weep to have the opportunity to experience both fulfillment and suffering within the context of Eros love. Because Eros isn’t just about living happily ever after, it’s about waking up after a breakup and wondering if you will ever live again. It’s about searching and searching, but never finding someone to spend your life with. It’s about watching your marriage rip apart at the seams.

If that sounds crazy – who would ever wish such pain upon themselves? – I think that speaks to the nature of the human heart. People want to live, and living means the risk of tragedy. I believe it is human nature to want to live within the context of Eros, and living means shattering anguish as well as joy. In the aftermath of my breakup – a breakup that tore my entire life asunder and forced me to take two months off – I grieved for the fact that Side B theology denied all gay people this sort of crucible. It was a horrible experience that I would not wish on a single human soul, but I also recognized that to deny any human being such experience was wrong.

It is one thing to be offered the opportunity to live within the context of Eros, but then choose to deny it. We call this celibacy (which is different from chastity or singleness) and it is a good, beautiful, and vital thing. Like the martyr, the celibate person chooses to die to Eros love so that something else may live. It is an entirely different experience never to have the choice.

I can only describe this experience of prescribed celibacy as being drawn and quartered. Without even a moment to discern whether I was called to celibacy or not, it felt as though this part of my being – the burning passion to live within Eros love – was ripped from my soul and put in an inaccessible place, because it was too sinful, too dangerous to touch. I did everything I knew to do to cope with that pain – I prayed, I studied, I exercised, and I developed intensely meaningful friendships with people who became like family to me. I armored myself in an impenetrable intellectualism that could justify what I was doing against every pang of hurt, loneliness and confusion. I developed a prayer life, knowing that only my Father in Heaven could fulfill me and empower me to live a life of celibacy. I told myself that I was denying myself romance and sex, and that of course I could live without those things.

In such an experience, the line between God as horrific abuser and God as loving disciplinarian faded. It became impossible to tell one from the other. It also became hard to trust God as good, to rest in Him, or respond to Him as a loving Abba. How do I throw my burdens on Him when He was the one who gave the decree for my drawing and quartering in the first place, apparently out of love? How can I rest in His love when His love commands that I experience such deep  tearing?

I don’t believe God is a cruel abuser anymore. I believe he is a good father. I believe he is a good master. I believe the fruits of following Him are wholeness, because He is Himself whole.

If you hold to the traditional perspective on gay marriage, do not reduce people’s longings for sacramental marriage to idolatry of romance or an obsession with sex. Do not belittle, reduce, or dehumanize. Instead, look Eros love in the eyes and recognize it for what it is: a facet of human nature and central to human experience, placed there by God himself. If you ask the entire gay community to throw that part of themselves away, do so with tears, do so with sorrow, and do so with fear and trembling. Anything less does not communicate love to God’s children.

16 responses to “I Will Make Him a Helper

  1. Once again an honest and intimate look into your heart. I so appreciate this and it helps me understand and love my son even more. God has blessed you with a sensitive and articulate mind, thank you for sharing that with us.

  2. Oh wow!! Just wow. Just the perfect post. I had to bookmark it so that I can refer to it any time someone says that to me because it was just that dead on. I hear a lot of people who believe that being gay is a sin tell me that “the heart lies to us” and that there is far to much emotion wrapped up in my interpretation of scripture. I disagree. I think that far too much emotion has been removed from our interpretation of the scripture and that it takes serious emotional maturity to connect with the Holy Spirit. I always tell people about how deeply the spirit moves me when I come to God with my burdens and the response I seem to get from those who disagree implies that it isn’t the Holy Spirit at all but rather the devil that is working in my heart. To me thats laughable. Every human being on this planet (whether they realize it or not) knows what it feels like to have the devil creep his way into our hearts…and it doesn’t feel anything like how I feel when my husbands head is on my shoulder. Its not lustful to want to share your life with someone and its not selfish to want to start a family with them (its programmed into our very dna). I prayed for years that if this was not what God wanted that I needed him to step in and help me (a break up or a sign or anything in my conscience to tell me what I was doing was wrong). But instead God blesses me every day and the Spirit continues to lead me to blogs like this where I can feel like I am not alone and that I wasn’t a weak person for falling in love. Bless you.

  3. For me it comes down to the difference between appetite and desire. An appetite is an emptiness to be filled–like hunger. My stomach lacks food, agitation increases, and I seek to fill that emptiness. And if I ignore my appetite, I waste away slowly until I don’t even want food anymore. Desire–like the longing for a helpmate–is different. Desire is a God-given fullness to be given. Desire’s very existence in me is evidence that God has already filled me with his self-giving love, and I can’t rest until I offer that love to someone else. And if I don’t, His love in me grows exponentially until it HAS to find its way out. Without the gift of celibacy or the grace for living in singleness for a season, resisting desire over the long term is a resistance of God’s love. And, made in his image, resisting the offering of his love to someone else (one of the things I was made to do) leads to despair.

  4. Stunning in its bold truth. Thank you so much, Stephen. This begs a wider audience…Maybe Pink Menno would pick it up.

    I think you would have had much in common with my friend Jim, whom I call an extroverted gay mystic. I posted a tribute to him on my blog.

  5. I agree with Rita, this post BEGS a wider audience. So much truth and potential healing in these words! I for one would never wish to deny anyone the opportunity to love and live with their love to their fullest capacity! My heart breaks with every story I read of those who have loved and loved well and yet have been denied the rights and dignity of a legal marital relationship. I’m determined to be a hetero-voice of change for LGBT love & rights! Thank you again for another post rich with wisdom.

  6. Stephen~your writing is such a gift from God!! For those of us who are heterosexual, if we can not relate to what you are saying then there is something wrong with us!! We were not created, gay or straight, to be alone. Married for 14 years and a mother of five, I have to be honest and say it IS more about companionship and knowing that I have a help-mate, not so much about the sex. Yes, that is and should be a part of a relationship but if that is everything, be prepared to be disappointed at some point. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel the anguish of being alone, that is not what God wants for any of us.

    I hope and pray you meet the “man of your dreams” and that he is as passionate about his love for Christ as you are!!

  7. Stephen — beautiful. Just beautiful. Perhaps the beauty of all this is the intimacy with God you experience having to transcend the one-dimensional, ridiculous answers some Christians offer in their “understanding” way. :) Bless you. And I’m with Debra in praying for somebody wonderful for you!

  8. Stephen, thank you for your beautiful words and baring your soul. My friend, Shannon Schaefer, turned me on to your blog today. I’m definitely moved and can’t wait to read more!
    Peace,
    RJ Powell

  9. I liked this piece because it gets to the heart of the most common objections. To be sure, there are some people who say they “need” sexual activity and laugh at the idea of ever giving it up, and I have to sort of thing, “Hm. There’s something wrong with the priorities there.” But as you say, this isn’t about sex.

    I don’t know how much stock I put in all the high-falutin talk about Eros love as categorically different, or in how much of a role limerence really has to play or not play…but I do know people are lonely. Lonely for something a friend can’t give them. Friendships are disinterested and emotionally independent. Which is great, it’s really important. But friends are not people you share a life with, not someone you come “home” to, even if they are your roommate. People want a partner. And while mixed-orientation marriages may work for some gay people, most are simply not going to be able to make “that sort” of emotional connection with anyone but an attractive member of the same sex.

    This opens up other possibilities, of course. Given what you’ve hinted at in your posts, I think you may address these later. Why not a “Side B” partnership? Why not have the Church recognize “Partnerships” even if recognizing them as a new thing separate from the sort of marriage that involves mutual reproductive exchange (or recognize that as a “special subset” of a broader category of Partnerships)?

    I think your answer will probably have a lot to do with your own personal story, including of failure you hinted at within an attempted celibate relationship. For me, I’d have to think, the question would probably boil down to the issue of “Where do you draw the line?” in terms of physical intimacy and affection, and whether any attempt to compartmentalize sexual desire or behavior is really anything more than artificial or a technicality that puts a burden on a relationship, that prevents the sense that this relationship is able to be “totally” intimate in the way a married couple are allowed to be, no boundaries, nothing hidden, no part fenced off. Is this really true in marriage? I don’t know. Do gay people “really” ever share it even in sex if there is no question of reproductive-system complementarity? I think the answer would be phenomenologically, as an emotional reality, yes, but “objectively” I don’t know. Why wouldn’t the objective meet the emotional? What can we say? Certainly that, whatever conclusion you reach, this is difficult questions, and asking something difficult, and that people should probably be allowed to reach their own peace organically rather than trying to impose anything.

  10. Similar more in tone are your writings to the g0y (spelled w. a zer0) apologists than to the “GAY mainstream paradigm”. G0YS are much more aggressive & no-BS’n in their tone as well. G00GLE g0ys (spelled w. a zer0) to get a look at a rapidly growing global group of men who love men and who do NOT relate with the term “gay”.

  11. “This is not to say that this help-mate love – what I will call Eros – is any greater or less than any other love, because all the Loves are representative of how God loves us. I believe friendship holds just as important a place, and can be just as great an experience of intimacy. It is a different kind of intimacy, though. I no longer believe that one can replace the other – that is like saying our need for food can satisfy our thirst for water. In their most transcendent states, Eros and friendship and motherhood or fatherhood are transfigured into selfless, agape love, and in this way they are all similar. I no longer believe, though, that transcendence rids us of categories – those categories are there for a reason.”

    Perhaps one of the key differences in Friendship is that it makes its way to Agape love easier or faster than Eros. This is not to say that Eros doesn’t get there, it just may be harder. However, Eros has an element that Friendship doesn’t and so when it does get to Agape, it has a different timbre altogether, though similar in substance.

    “If you hold to the traditional perspective on gay marriage, do not reduce people’s longings for sacramental marriage to idolatry of romance or an obsession with sex. Do not belittle, reduce, or dehumanize. Instead, look Eros love in the eyes and recognize it for what it is: a facet of human nature and central to human experience, placed there by God himself. If you ask the entire gay community to throw that part of themselves away, do so with tears, do so with sorrow, and do so with fear and trembling. Anything less does not communicate love to God’s children.”

    Perhaps there are those who have seen and felt the pain and agony of being denied Eros, and because they hold the traditional views, they have set their face as flint against it–not to demean, devalue, or belittle, but as the only way they know how to cope. For to look upon the face of Eros may be to see and meet that sacred tension that may never be resolved, and perhaps that may be just as painful and heartbreaking as being denied Eros in the first place.

    Perhaps.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s