Tag Archives: Friendship

The Love(s) Of My Life

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Living the celibate life means facing claims that, because I’m not married or having sex, I haven’t truly experienced love. Sometimes those claims come from the culture, or worse, my own heart.

While it’s true I haven’t experienced an exclusive love — the sacred “one flesh” union so many people enjoy — that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it means to love and be loved. I have to remind myself of that pretty often. And in a marriage-oriented, sex-obsessed world, it takes more than a pithy remark about love coming in many forms. Sometimes I have to LITERALLY start listing the ways I experience love through the people God has placed in my life.

The friend who sends postcards from wherever she happens to be — quirky, handwritten reminders that our friendship matters.

The “mahernas” who for years have shared my burdens, rejoiced in my victories, and made me eat (nay, drink) my vegetables.

The friend who lives far away but says “good morning” every day and finds things we can do together: read books, watch Netflix, memorize Scripture.

The couple that invites me over for movie nights and homemade (slightly burnt) dinners, and stays up late with me after their kids have gone to sleep.

The “stupid” friend I tell everyone about, with her Twiggy lashes and fancy hair, who laughs with me till my guts hurt.

The woman who leaves me little love notes, prays with me, and sends invitations even if she knows I’ll be out of town, just so it’s clear I’m WANTED.

The bride who made me her “man of honor,” and whose house is gonna be REALLY close to mine on the new earth, right by her brother (and the dinosaur ranch).

The one who puts up with me 40 hours a week but still wants to spend time with me out of the office, and who’d rather call me “friend” than “coworker.”

The ladies I’ve known since junior high but even now, in their thirties, make time for “hangover” once a month — sometimes more when we really miss each other in between.

The family that lets me walk into their house without knocking, raid their fridge, play their piano, cuddle up on their couch, and even takes me on family vacations.

The neighbors who became brothers through years of churchgoing, Nintendo playing, Survivor watching, Bible studying — who know WAY too many embarrassing stories about me but aren’t ashamed to say I’m part of “the fam.”

The friends who found me via blog and “stalked” me until we became real-life friends — the kind that sing together, take strolls on the beach, all that California stuff.

Then there’s family — my own blood, that is — my parents, brother, adorable niece, aunts and uncles in strange, faraway lands (aka Kansas).

Of course, there are many more, but I’m already over my word count (and probably your attention span and/or capacity for mushy stuff). But in my heart, the list goes on.

So yeah, as a single man, I can’t dote on the “love of my life” (unless you count Jesus, and most people don’t). But I can tell you what I know: my heart belongs to these folks. I’m theirs and they’re mine. Maybe it’s not the “Honey, I’m home” kind of love, the wedded bliss, or the goodnight kiss, but these are the loves of my life. This is love, and it’s the real thing.

Review: True Friendship

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Drawing inspiration from the Book of Proverbs, Vaughan Roberts paints a picture of biblical friendship in his tiny book, True Friendship. Roberts said he designed the book to be read in roughly an hour (but encourages readers to meditate on it for much longer). I’ll stick with the brevity theme and write a review you can read in three minutes, with a quick breakdown of each chapter.

True friendship is crucial

We’re designed for friendship with God and each other. As God’s image-bearers, our capacity for relationships is rooted in the community of the Trinity. So friendship is essential to Christian living, not only because it makes us more like Jesus, but because true friends help us to live wisely. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Married or single, male or female, pastor or layman, we all need friends to walk beside us as we pursue God.

True friendship is close

Lots of us have hundreds of online friends, but still lack “a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). Roberts encourages us to pursue a range of friendships, but to keep especially close those friends who share our highest goal of glorifying God. Jesus made time for many people, but shared special moments with his disciples. We can build friendships in the same way, keeping in mind the risks and rewards that come with having close friends on this side of eternity.

True friendship is constant

King Solomon said, “A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). Roberts takes this wisdom to heart, urging us to be intentional about maintaining and strengthening our friendships. This could be as easy as weekly get-togethers with loved ones, but it also requires walking alongside them in their sorrow, or reconciling after a misunderstanding.

True friendship is candid

Our truest friends are those who speak the truth in love, showing us where we’ve failed, yet steering us toward Christ. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6). Likewise, we ought to be vulnerable with our friends, sharing our greatest weaknesses, temptations, and doubts. Only then can we encourage one another with the gospel, and grow together in God’s amazing grace.

True friendship is careful

Candidness, however, is no excuse for a careless tongue. “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (Proverbs 15:28). Roberts warns against gossip. He also reminds us that every person is unique — some need a stern rebuke, while others need a gentle word (and a true friend will know the difference). He also warns against jealousy in friendship, which is often rooted in unhealthy codependency and, ultimately, self-love.

True friendship is Christ-centered

Or “Christ-centred,” as Roberts says. (Those Brits…) The final chapter reminds us that no relationship with fallen humans can meet our deepest needs. Our friends are not messiahs; they can’t save us from our sins, they can’t reconcile us to God. But good friends point us to the one who can: Jesus. He demonstrated the greatest love, and proved to be the greatest friend, when he laid down his life for us (John 15:13).

For more on Vaughan Roberts, check out his story on Living Out.

Review: Same-Sex Attraction And The Church

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One clue that I was gonna love Ed Shaw’s Same-Sex Attraction and the Church Both Wesley Hill and Rosaria Butterfield, two leading (but very different) voices on the topic, endorsed the book. Their praise is printed alongside blurbs from Russell Moore, Justin Taylor, and Michael Horton — familiar names among evangelicals. I’m also told this was given to 10,000 people who attended this year’s Together for the Gospel conference. So I wanted to see what the buzz was about.

Dude, Ed did not disappoint. [Insert a million heart emojis here.]

Shaw has written something beautifully honest, yet surprisingly optimistic. As someone who experiences same-sex attraction, Shaw balances the STRUGGLES of his sexuality with the OPPORTUNITIES it’s given him to serve the Church and become more like Jesus. But the book is more than a personal narrative; it’s a call for the Church to change how we view celibacy, to make it easier for same-sex attracted Christians who want to remain faithful to God’s design for marriage and sexuality.

To do this, Shaw takes us through nine “missteps” the Church has taken that make it HARDER for people to remain open to celibacy. I think it’s helpful to list all of them here:

•   Your identity is your sexuality
•   A family is Mom, Dad, and 2.4 children
•   If you’re born gay, it can’t be wrong to be gay
•   If it makes you happy, it must be right
•   Sex is where true intimacy is found
•   Men and women are equal and interchangeable
•   Godliness is heterosexuality
•   Celibacy is bad for you
•   Suffering is to be avoided

Shaw tackles each topic with biblical aplomb, showing us where we’ve adopted a worldly perspective and how to realign our beliefs with God’s Word. I found myself cheering for him as he urges the Church to redefine family the way Jesus does — not by blood but by adoption into God’s family. I smiled at the passages that see friendship (not just sex) as a means to true intimacy and fulfillment. I applauded his courage in challenging us to change how we measure holiness — to recognize that same-sex attracted Christians need not become heterosexual to experience real sanctification, and to understand that when God causes ALL THINGS to work together for good, that includes same-sex attraction. With every misconception Shaw obliterated, I became evermore joyful in my singleness. It’s crazy that a book can do that.

I felt especially convicted by the first and last chapters. With regard to the first misstep (see above), I realize how sexuality has become a bigger part of my identity than I’d like to think. That’s due in part to the culture’s influence on my worldview, but it also has something to do with writing so much about sexuality; I talk and think about it more than ever before. But ultimately I want to be known as a Christian, not a gay or celibate or [choose your adjective] Christian. With regard to the last misstep, Shaw reminded me that suffering plays an important role in becoming more like Christ (1 Peter 4:12-19) — something I can easily gloss over in my attempt to look at the bright side of life. Honestly, the struggle of same-sex attraction has lessened the more I’ve come to see singleness as the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage, but that doesn’t mean there’s no suffering in the Christian walk. I hope to never give that impression, because the Bible certainly doesn’t.

OK, personal stuff aside. Same-Sex Attraction and the Church is for all of us — to remind us WHY we believe marriage is reserved for a man and woman, and HOW we can serve those in our churches who, because of their sexuality, have chosen to remain celibate. Or, as Shaw says, “to rebuild the plausibility structure so that we can live in light of the Bible’s clear teaching.” He reminds us that the gospel is, indeed, GOOD NEWS! This book deserves more than a sales pitch, but seriously, BUY IT NOW! I walked away totally encouraged and convinced that, yes, the Church can make celibacy a good thing. I even read the appendices!

For more on Ed Shaw, check out his story at Living Out.

Why Repress Your Sexuality?

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I’m not sure I could be any more open about my sexuality (notice I’m saying this on the internet). But when you’re a celibate Christian who deals with same-sex attraction, this question comes with the territory. Mostly from skeptics or progressives who think submitting to God’s will is akin to sexual repression. I guess they think I’m pacing back and forth, biting my lip, wringing my hands, at constant risk of spontaneous combustion due to unmet sexual desires.

Nope.

I don’t think God expects people created male and female to cease and desist all expressions of their sexuality, even if they remain single. In fact, what helps me most in dealing with same-sex attraction is not repressing but rather EXPRESSING my sexuality — particularly my BELIEFS about sexuality — through openness, friendship, and celibacy.

OPENNESS

There’s a certain freedom in coming out as a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction. I’ve been talking to family and friends about my sexuality for nearly 14 years (the entirety of my adult life) and blogging about it for the past four. Being open has created an environment at home, work, and church where sexuality isn’t taboo. The topic comes up in normal conversations — sometimes when I’m sharing my perspective on faith, and other times when I can’t help slipping in a hilarious gay joke. I’m also not afraid to talk about the beauty of a man. For example, Liam Hemsworth. (Liam > Chris) I’m 100 percent open about my sexuality. It’s pretty much become part of everyday life.

FRIENDSHIP

I don’t let same-sex attraction keep me from pursuing meaningful relationships with men. But rather than pursue sexual relationships, I pursue same-sex friendships. The sexually repressed person might shy away from people he or she is attracted to, nervous to get too close. But one of the perks of SSA (yeah, perks) is the godly men I’ve come to know precisely BECAUSE I’m open about my sexuality. That includes guys who don’t freak out when I hug them, kiss their face, or hold their hand beyond the span of a handshake. I’ve also become close with other gay Christians whose love for Christ and shared experience of SSA have helped form friendships on par with David and Jonathan. I simply wouldn’t have these relationships if I’d repressed or ignored my sexuality.

CELIBACY

Skeptics see celibacy itself as a form of repression, especially for same-sex attracted Christians who choose to remain single due to their convictions. But celibacy is an especially poignant expression of our sexuality. By remaining celibate, we’re living the truth that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman, a symbol of Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:32). There are people out there who think I’m doing this whole celibacy thing not because it’s something I actually WANT to do, but because I’m trying to please my parents, my pastor, or some mean old man in the sky. They dream up every possible reason I’d refrain from having sex except the ONE reason I’ve always been honest about: I want to live in joyful submission to God’s good design for sex and marriage. Because I believe in it. Because I believe in HIM.

Repression, for me, would be to ignore my convictions and turn away from the truth God has revealed to me through his word. But I’ve found freedom in expressing myself within the bounds of his will.

Review: Forbidden Friendships

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One of my dear friends is a divorced mom of two. When I was planning a trip to California last year, she invited me to stay with her family to save on hotel costs. I was super excited to spend time with them — catching up on life, staying up late, not being jolted awake by the evil knock of a housekeeper the next morning. Unfortunately, her pastor had other plans, because he worried what other people might think about a man staying with a woman. Despite having no doubts about our integrity, despite my being attracted to men, and despite the fact that I’d actually be staying with a FAMILY (not a woman), he asked me to stay at his house instead. Not because it really made sense, but because it met the rules and expectations Christians have invented to “protect” male-female friendships from sexual immorality, or in this case, the mere appearance of it.

In his book, Forbidden Friendships, Joshua D. Jones explores these issues, confronting the Church’s fear of opposite-sex friendships and showing us what the Bible actually says about them.

In the past century or so, Christians have been conditioned to avoid meaningful relationships with the opposite sex out of fear they could lead to lust, fornication, or adultery. Jones notes Freud’s influence in causing us to believe all male-female relationships are somehow sexual in nature. As a result, we’ve “tried to pursue sexual purity via gender segregation” and set outrageous extra-biblical boundaries between men and women. He notes one Christian college that prohibits physical contact between the sexes, and where men and women are required to use separate staircases! Jones says these boundaries have harmed rather than helped the Church in achieving sexual purity and obeying our call to love one another as the family of God.

What’s more, these rules are new to Church history. Jones says modern-day Christians are far more leery of opposite-sex friendships than our spiritual ancestors were. From missionaries to revolutionaries, history proves that mixed friendships flourished when rooted in mutual love for God. When it comes to the Bible, the Apostle Paul seems to have had many close female friends, mentioning Nympha by name in his letter to the Colossians. John’s second epistle, or letter, is written to a woman whom he loved dearly. Jesus himself kept company with women, often breaking social taboos regarding male-female relationships (ex. his encounter with the woman at the well). The Bible gives us freedom to pursue mixed friendships and be a witness to the world of how men and women can relate to each other as new creations in Christ.

Of course, we can’t be naive to the very real temptations and sins that can arise in relationships with both men and women. We are, after all, still sinners. Jones admits we need to guard our hearts, especially in a hyper-sexualized culture. But like everything else in this world, mixed friendships need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). Rather than react in fear, we ought to obey in love — learning what it means to see friends as brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers in Christ.

It’s easy to tell when I’ve enjoyed a book because the margins are filled with hearts and smiley faces, and Forbidden Friendships has my graffiti all over it. This is a message churches need to hear — although, I must admit, the flow of his arguments felt a bit sloppy to me. But you know what I love about Jones? He has a bright view of singleness and celibacy. This, of course, endears him to me. He understands it’s possible to be happy without sex, but that we can’t thrive without intimate relationships with both men and women. He believes the disappearance of mixed friendships is a result of a bigger problem: the devaluation of friendship in general. And he knows this has ramifications for single and same-sex attracted Christians, where friendship within the family of God is essential to living and loving fully.

So, should I have been able to stay with my lady friend and her family? Honestly, I’m thankful for the pastor who welcomed me into his home; he and his wife were kind and hospitable and I enjoyed getting to know them. But I don’t think it accomplished what he was aiming for. One day I ended up alone with the pastor’s wife for the entire morning. (And, of course, that was OK!) I think Jones would encourage us to let love and wisdom dictate these decisions, and that one’s personal boundaries don’t necessarily apply to everyone else in every situation. The bottom line is this: if we’re serious about being the family of God, then we’re free to pursue male-female friendships that center on Christ. As Jones says, the cross bridges the divide between the sexes.

For more, check out the author’s interview with my friends at The Rugged Marriage.

Through The Lens Of Celibacy

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I’m going on 33 years of singleness. It’s nothing to boast about and nothing to brood over — it’s just a fact. But when you’ve been doing the “eunuch” thing your whole life, you do start to notice how your perspective differs from other Christians, not to mention the world. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways celibacy has shaped me, and how I’ve come to view life through that particular lens.

I see family through the lens of celibacy.

Part of being a Christian is expanding the definition of “family” to include our brothers and sisters in Christ — our spiritual family. I imagine celibate people think about this more often than those who are married with children. We’ve learned — we’re constantly reminded — there’s more to family than genetics. As someone who’s not planning to procreate, “starting a family” means something very different to me; it means making every effort to embrace people as family who don’t share my genes, my last name, or my home. Loving them like flesh and blood, learning what it means to be adopted by God. Celibacy confirms what I already believed about the Church: whether or not I ever get married or have kids, I’ll never be without a family.

I see friendship through the lens of celibacy.

For many single people, friendship is a gateway to romance or marriage. But celibacy has taught me to value friendship for what it is, and not what it can become. I don’t feel burdened by the fear (or thrill) of friendship turning into “something more,” because I’m focused on celibacy as the end goal. I see friendship itself as something to pursue, enjoy, cultivate, and commit to. As a single person, I’m not previously engaged (no pun intended) with duties to spouse or children, so I have more time and energy to devote to friendship. Celibacy has shaped my theology of friendship, and I hope it’s also made me a better friend.

I see marriage through the lens of celibacy.

Having only observed marriage from the outside, I’ve managed to find ways that singleness is like marriage, which helps me identify with married people. But celibacy does remove me from some of the practical aspects of marriage — things that are hard to grasp as a mere spectator. This can be a problem. For example, if a married friend turns down my invitation to dinner because he wants to spend time with his wife and kids, I can have a hard time accepting that — not intellectually, but emotionally. I realize his family is a priority, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the idea of spiritual family in Christ. (I’m family, too!) This is one area where my head and my heart need to work it out, and I admit there’s still a lot of room to grow and mature.

I see singleness through the lens of celibacy.

Christian singleness looks and feels a lot different from its worldly counterpart. Outside church walls, singleness is often disassociated from celibacy and rarely considered GOOD. But I’m learning to uphold singleness as a gift from God. The Apostle Paul was single and hoped others would embrace that same “gift” (1 Corinthians 7:7). And, of course, Jesus led the single life, too — for about as long as I have! He encouraged those who were able to remain single to gladly “receive” it (Matthew 19:11-12). Because Paul and Jesus were pro-singleness, and because God himself is pro-happiness, I know it’s possible to be happy without also having sex. That’s why I’m so convinced that singleness is the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage!

Review: Spiritual Friendship

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Talk about being behind the curve. Most Christians who identify as gay or same-sex attracted devoured this book and tweeted their reviews months ago. Luckily, Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship is pretty timeless; after all, its themes are rooted in the musings of a 12th-century monk and, as the author suggests, the Bible itself. So there was really no rush. (Not like the rush to binge-watch Fuller House on Netflix, which I did.)

As he makes known in the subtitle, Hill is a celibate gay Christian. His first book, Washed and Waiting, started the conversation that launched a thousand other conversations (and blogs) about how those who experience same-sex attraction can live faithfully as Christians. Spiritual Friendship is a sort of sequel, fleshing out some of those ideas, raising more questions, and presenting friendship as a way for gay people to find love in the Church.

Part one explores friendship’s role in culture and Church history. Hill notes that, until very recently, friendship held an honored place among Christians, most notably in the long-lost tradition of “vowed friendships” between people of the same sex — ceremonies that bound two friends together, making them accountable to each other in the sight of God and man. Hill believes we should recover this practice, although it’s unclear how that would look in modern churches.

The concept of vowed friendships is what’s getting lots of buzz — and some beef — especially in Protestant circles, where tradition takes a backseat to the Bible. (Sola scriptura, you know.) We simply don’t find such ceremonies in Scripture. What we do find, Hill suggests, is a robust theology of friendship. He gives several examples of profound friendships in the Bible: David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, Jesus and his disciples. Friendships that look a lot like family. Friendships that model the love and devotion we’d expect of God’s people, but that we don’t often see in the Church today. Even if he can’t persuade us to revive certain (some would say, obscure) traditions, Hill does convince us that Christ-centered friendship is something we MUST pursue and promote.

Part two explores practical concerns for celibate gay folks in the Church, including an entire chapter on suffering for the sake of friendship. Hill doesn’t gloss over the disappointments and struggles that celibate gay Christians face — especially the fear of losing friends due to marriage, relocation, or our own weaknesses (i.e. codependence). He also talks about the problem of falling in love with your friends — something many gay Christians have experienced (and some straight ones, too, I imagine). Although I relate to Hill’s realism and raw emotion, I did start to worry that Spiritual Friendship would be a repeat of Washed and Waiting — a book I loved but felt lacked a certain hope. Thankfully, the final chapter eased my fears. The last pages are filled with hope, along with stories of how Hill has found healing through the gift of friendship. He rounds out the book by giving us ways to redeem friendship in the Church — advice I’d encourage all churchgoers to heed.

This book is thoughtful, often beautiful, but not everything I dreamed it would be. I think that’s because this conversation is still so new. The Church has really only begun to talk out loud about the complexities of living faithfully with SSA. That’s where I hope this blog and others like it will be of some help, as we continue to explore everyday ways to find happiness in our pursuit of holiness. For anyone who wants to better understand the hopes and fears of celibate gay Christians, Spiritual Friendship is a good place to start. And, Lord willing, there will be many more conversations, books, and blogs to come.

A Very Celibate Valentine’s Day

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Last year, a friend of mine sent me a picture of his “hot” date on Valentine’s Day. It was a brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream — and possibly human tears. (Cell phone camera, so it’s hard to say.) This is what Valentine’s Day can look like for single, celibate Christians.

But it doesn’t have to.

I’ve been single on Valentine’s Day for the past 32 years. (And every other day of the year, too, but that’s beside the point.) Yet somehow I’ve found things to love about it.

Remember in elementary school, when classmates passed out mandatory valentines and those horrible candy hearts? Sure, I got cards from people who’d never talk to me again after February 14, but it was fun getting “love notes” from the friends you cared about, and the kids who signed more than just their names.

When I was a teenager, sometimes my parents would leave me a gift on the kitchen counter. Maybe a stuffed animal or a coffee mug decked with hearts — just a little something to make Valentine’s Day special for the boy who never had a valentine. Meanwhile, hormonal girls at school huffed over not getting flowers from their insensitive boyfriends. Tragic…

In college, I’d often stay home on Valentine’s Day to spend time with my “Husband” (Isaiah 54:5). That’s about the time I fell in love with the Song of Solomon. I pored over Puritan commentaries, whose typological readings of the book celebrated the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. Coming to terms with faith and sexuality, learning what celibacy would look like for me, I took comfort in seeing God as the divine bridegroom — and I still do.

Today, at 32, I still love Valentine’s Day. I love reaching out to friends and family, or even someone who wouldn’t expect it, with a valentine via text. It’s also an opportunity to thank God for the gift of marriage — a chance to rejoice in marital bliss (even if it’s not my own). In the last few years, I’ve teamed up with friends to do outreach on Valentine’s Day, including helping a church host a dinner for homeless women, and rallying support for a fundraiser to aid victims of sex trafficking.

So yeah, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big cry-fest for me. It’s always been a day of love.

However, there are people in my life (and yours) for whom the holiday is unhappy. Maybe someone who is divorced or widowed. Maybe someone who really wants to be married and is wrestling with God’s timing and will. We ought to be gentle with their hearts, especially on a day when romance is shoved in our faces, as if that’s the only place to find love.

This year, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. It’s a perfect opportunity to reach out to single folks in your church. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them. Tell them God loves them, too. Remind them love is real and available to them outside of marriage. There’s love in friendship — those people who’ve mastered the art of loving at all times (Proverbs 17:17). There’s love in the church body — a spiritual family that transcends bloodlines. There’s love in service — putting other people’s needs before your own. There’s love in the pages of Scripture, where God reveals his devotion to us. It’s all over the place, if someone would just remind us.

A very celibate Valentine’s Day can be a very happy one indeed. Come to think of it, brownies and a scoop of ice cream would make it even happier.

Hold the tears.