As I’ve told my personal story of failure and anguish within Side B (the traditional perspective on gay marriage and sexuality), and communicated with others who share similar experiences, a troubling trend has emerged.
Too often, when gay people tell stories of anguish, failure, and despair within Side B, both the Side B gay community and the wider traditional church have a habit of responding as aloof physicians. The response is often a simple prescription (you need to develop greater spiritual disciplines, cultivate deeper and more intimate friendships, find a spiritual director, or more rightly order your understanding of love, friendship and intimacy) or a swift diagnosis of what went wrong and how it could have been better, (you lacked profound friendship, you had a misplaced understanding of love and relationship that put too much emphasis on the romantic, you didn’t properly develop spiritual disciplines.) Or, we are offered a homily on how we are all called to a life of denial and suffering, and gay people are no different, so we had best buckle up.
It feels like being dissected and discussed by detached men of science as you are spread out, naked and vulnerable, on the operating table. We don’t need doctors in that moment. We don’t need more diagnoses of what we did right or wrong, or how we are theologically misguided. We need humanity.
Because, the truth is, those of us who have been crushed under the weight of Side B already know the prescriptions. We’ve heard them, learned them and, to the best of our ability, walked them. Sometimes for years. We don’t always know why we were so devastated, driven to despair and crushed by the traditional ethic. Our best efforts weren’t enough to save us from devastating defeat or crushing depression, and we often struggle with guilt, shame and confusion because of that fact. We grow weary of searching for the spiritual remedy, that Awesome Group of Friends, or that spiritual discipline that will make life less one of teetering on the edge of constant despair, promiscuity and loneliness and more one of sustainable vocation.
To be told, then, that all that went wrong was a misplaced understanding of love, or a failure to cultivate great friendships, or a failure to sufficiently walk through a spiritual discipline – when we have fought to practice such disciplines a million times before – feels horribly defeating. It feels belittling, it feels shaming, and it hurts.
When you are confronted with someone who has hit the wall and can go no further as a celibate person, please don’t be a dispenser of wisdom, a theological library, a physician to diagnose what is disordered in his perception, relationships, heart, or mind. We reached such brokenness in the first place because, for some inexplicable reason, the prescriptions that so many people are so convinced should solve the problem fell far too short. We don’t need doctors in that moment.
Instead, be a friend. Admit you don’t have all the answers. Hold their hand and be with them in their brokenness. Reassure them that you love them no matter what. Be comfortable with silence, and rest in dissonance.
Listen, I get it. When we are confronted with challenging stories and pain – especially stories and pain that directly challenge our own securities, vulnerabilities, and worldviews – we want to have clear answers. We want to say what went wrong and why. We want to chart a clear course out of those chaotic, unhappy waters back to dry ground where our basic securities aren’t being pulled and stretched. I say “we” because I struggle with that too – it’s human nature. We don’t diagnose and dissect because we are bad, malevolent people, but because we are human beings full of insecurities and fears. It is understandable, forgivable, and we will never relate to others perfectly. But we have to try.
Perhaps we should all try our best to follow Sarah Bessey’s wise words:
How about this? How about when someone is before us, a real, live person, suffering, we be a person?
Don’t be a defender of an institution. Don’t be an office. Don’t be a title. Don’t be a minimizer, a gloss-over-er, a down-player. Don’t be an oracle or an activist. Don’t be a self-help manual or an encyclopaedia or a concordance or a few tactical probing questions to steer the conversation. Don’t be the fault-finder. Don’t be a hero or a cop or a gatekeeper. Don’t be “God works all things for good.” And don’t be “pray harder,” or “more faith-ier.”
Don’t be the voice of their worst fears and accusations. Don’t be the shame-er.
Instead, when we are privileged to be present as someone’s heart is breaking open with pain and longing and doubt and questions and terror and loss and grief and love and hope and fear, before our very eyes, as they are in the midst of wrestling with God and it’s tangible and not fixed by seven-steps-to-a-better-life-and-whiter-teeth, how about this?
How about we be a freaking person, right alongside of them?
How about we hold them? How about we say that it sucks, and it’s not fair? How about we remember our own humanity for once? How about we say we’re sorry, admit we don’t really understand? How about we become comfortable with silence? How about we become the one that can listen without judgement, the one that can take it without being shocked and affronted and offended by honesty? How about we say we love them?
How about we say that we’re here and then we prove it? How about we learn how to hold hands, to hug, to sit beside, to write hand written letters, to bring meals, to baby sit, to do laundry, to make phone calls, to meet for coffee, to pray and pray and pray in secret? There is plenty of time for talking it through, figuring it out together, seeking solutions, there is probably even time for fixing each other.
But in that moment, when they are feeling their humanity so acutely or they have shown themselves to be a regular person like the rest of us, how about we surround them with the grace of being seen, being heard, and simply being loved?
How about we simply fall in step, alongside, and we walk each other home in that moment?
It’s not a sin to be human. But part of me wonders if it might not be a bit of one to deny our humanity.
One of my deepest prayers for myself and the Church is that we will be less a community of aloof physicians, and more a community of abiding healers. That we will lay aside our prescriptions, answers and formulas and become mourners, grievers and servants. That we will be hospitable to people’s brokenness. That we will cast away our text books and take up cooking, hugging, and writing love letters instead. That we will reach a place where we finally see, as a community, that saying “I don’t know, but I love you anyway” is not a sign of defeat, but instead an act of strength and profound love.