Please pray for me today. I know this is the word of the enemy, but unworthy has been repeating itself in my mind over and over.
Unworthy of love, especially.
So it makes me feel that all the trouble I’ve had making friends isn’t because I’ve lived in the middle of nowhere far too often and isn’t because I attend churches with no single people and isn’t because of silly societal norms and stigmas . . . It’s because of . . .
Well, the problem is *me.* 😔
Longing for a Covenant Friend
I want to submit to however God chooses to work in my life, but for as long as I can remember, the one thing I’ve never had and wanted more than anything is a covenant friend (or “celibate partner,” or “spirit brother,” or anam ċara, or “Double”—take your pick of any of the historic Christian models as I blogged about here). No matter how many times I read the account of David and Jonathan’s friendship in 1 and 2 Samuel, I can be moved to tears—tears of desperate longing.
At a deep level, I know that, when I’ve invested in new friendships in the past, what I was hoping against hope for, hoping even in the face of what I knew were astronomically dim odds, was to find my covenant friend. But it feels so foolish to hope. On the one hand, it feels hopeless—because I am unworthy I will never have someone to commit to and who is committed to me, so even to hope for that is foolishness, a recipe for guaranteed disappointment, the kind of disappointment that leaves me too crushed to function. On the other hand, it feels like I mustn’t give up hope. Beyond God’s command to hope (Romans 12:12), I just don’t know if I can live my life knowing that this is it—that my dream of making my morning pot of coffee for two instead of one will never be realized, that for my whole life I will be listing my sister instead of my partner as my emergency contact.
“Desiring Friendship and Friending Desire”
I read a wonderful new book in the fall titled All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality by Nate Collins. I went back and reread chapter 5 of that book, “Desiring Friendship and Friending Desire,” because I remember it made sense of my desire for intimate male friendship in a way nothing else I’ve ever read has. Please forgive me for quoting at length; I will try to capture the essence of Nate’s position:
Evangelical Christians are generally clueless about how desire relates to our personhood and sexuality.
When I desire something, my desire reflects an admiration for that object. . . . Desire is an invitation of sorts that calls us to a future of greater familiarity with the object of desire.
We also experience emotional and relational needs, because God created us to be in communion with each other, which is why we thrive most when we are in relationship with others.
If God created people to be desiring beings, then desiring is what we do. We should, therefore, expect to encounter desires of all kinds inside our hearts, particularly desires directed toward other people.
A regenerate heart [as opposed to a person with an unregenerate heart who only experiences desire in the context of a fallen will] is able to experience desires that stem from the presence of God’s Spirit.
Gay people who are redeemed are capable of experiencing a desire for same-gender intimacy that is pure and chaste. . . . They are also capable of obtaining the object of that desire in a holy way.
By faith, Christians submit their loves and desires to God, trusting him to make beauty out of ashes.
The desires that gay people have toward members of the same sex are multifaceted and cannot be reduced to the bald desire to hop into bed with each other.
Whereas desire is forward-looking, passionate desire might be described as particularly self-interested forward-looking.
Passionate desire acknowledges and honors the object of desire while also seeking further self-enhancing, self-involving encounters with it.
Passionate desire for other people is not intrinsically sexual, even though many often associate it with romantic love and sex. If it were, then passionate desire for God—a divine person—would be an intrinsically sexual act, which is absurd.
As a form of love, passion points to the goodness of the object of desire. Another way to express this is to say that passion assumes that the desiring one admires the object of desire. . . . When I admire someone, it is often because I long to be affected by some good aspect of his or her personhood. The relationship between David and Jonathan in the Old Testament highlights the fact that there’s nothing intrinsically sensual or sexual about passion and admiration.
When I passionately admire someone, I perceive the future as potential rather than simply as that which has yet to take place. The prospect of future encounters with the personhood of the one I admire excites me.
Is it possible for a gay man to passionately admire another man—or even another gay man, for that matter—without sinning? I think the answer to this question has to be yes, it is certainly possible. One reason we experience passionate admiration of others is because people are hardwired for relationship. It’s natural to passionately admire individuals we relate to personally when we experience some aspect of their personhood as good and virtuous. As a gay man, when I admire a same-gender friend of mine, I’m not merely admiring his gender, although that is necessarily part of the experience. I’m also admiring who he is as a person. If I can’t do that with both passion and chastity, then yes, there’s something wrong with me.
But I also think there’s something wrong with a Christianity that can’t support me in my efforts to try.
In Christ . . . I am free to follow the Spirit down the pathway of desire as I open myself up to the personhood of others around me on a similar journey. The goal, or final purpose, of passionate admiration is to point us to our need for relationship, with others first but ultimately with God.
Same-gender friendships can . . . be a source of incredible angst for gay people committed to a traditional sex ethic. It’s common for gay people to doubt their ability to have normal same-gender friendships, whether with straight people or gay people. Cultivating same-gender friendships while also navigating the waters of desire and passion can be exhausting, but it can also feel hopeless.
Gay people pursue passionate relationships with same-gender friends ultimately because they want to be more human. . . . Most gay people desire friendship with same-gender people differently from the way straight people do.
I share all of this (and I do apologize again for how much it is!) to point out some elements of my current situation that Nate has basically nailed on the head:
- I met a new friend, and I desire him—by which I mean that I desire friendship with him.
- I passionately desire that friendship, meaning I seek “further self-enhancing, self-involving encounters with” him.
- I passionately admire him, “because I long to be affected by some good aspect of his . . . personhood.”
- Because I passionately admire him, I want a future with him—I want our futures to comingle in some way.
- I want the comingling of our futures to make both of us more like Christ and bring God great glory.
- Because I am “navigating the waters of desire and passion” from the traditional Christian sexual ethic, I am indeed exhausted and do indeed feel hopeless.
I have no conclusion to all these thoughts and emotions. I have no ribbon to tie on this and make into a cohesive package. No, I’m instead simply confused and weary.
I suppose then, that the conclusion I’ll offer is the same plea with which I began: Please pray for me today.
1. This may seem silly, but I truly feel such shame when writing her name and such embarrassment when indicating “sister” as our relationship, particularly since she doesn’t even live in the same state as me. ↩
2. I needn’t point out to most readers of STRENGTH OF HIS MIGHT how many barriers 21st-century Western society both outside and, perhaps even more, inside the Church has placed between men and honest, vulnerable, deep friendship with other men. ↩