Over the last few months I’ve been slowly working through what it looks like to grieve the loss of the “what might have been.”
For me the “what might have been,” is the husband I will never have. As a celibate gay man I will constantly wrestle with the intersection of my desires and my convictions. By following my desire to become like Christ through the life of the Orthodox Church, I must always be willing to give up anything that runs contrary to that life. For me, I’ve experienced this sacrifice most profoundly as I slowly grieve the real cost of my celibacy: saying no to a romantic and sexual relationship with another man.
It seems almost humorous that I’ve pursued celibacy since I first began understanding my desires but am only now really coming to terms with all that entails. It’s one thing to accept an idea when you don’t feel the concrete burden; but it’s something else entirely to still hold to a conviction when you begin to feel its true cost. Over the last year I’ve met several men who—if circumstances were different—I would eagerly pursue romantically.
I’m a romantic late bloomer I guess, but it is what it is. One or two of those mild crushes have developed into real, deep feelings of love and affection that would naturally lead me to pursue a romantic relationship. Instead of a future without an abstract husband, it is now a future without “_____” by my side. Dreams are easier to give up when you are only sacrificing a rough outline of a future, rather than a real possibility. As I’ve worked through these feelings, I’ve been processing quite a bit of sadness, sadness that comes from slowly grieving all that I give up for God’s call for my life.
It’s good to grieve, and as a future counselor I understand that grief and sadness have a real place in our lives. Grief gives us an appreciation for what we’ve lost as well as a renewed connection with our heart. It’s easy to discount and discredit our emotions and simply become numb, but grief and the process of grieving allows us to comes to terms and acknowledge the depth of our feelings. However, grief has its season and eventually runs its course. It is something we must go through, but we also know that in time, the depth of pain and loss will slowly pass. My self-denial and pursuit of celibacy in accordance with my theological convictions will have its cost but I must remember that it is for a larger purpose.
Despite of its cost, singleness and celibacy offer real gifts and blessings. As much as I long for a husband I also acknowledge the reality that—even if I did not have traditionally Christian convictions about sex—I have little room in my life, practically speaking, for such a relationship. While I may dream about spending my life with “_____,” I also cherish all that I am able to do because of my singleness. Spontaneous travel, greater financial resources, and most importantly the relational capacity to pursue close friendships with many close friends would be to some extent sacrificed if I were to pursue a romantic relationship. Time to cultivate numerous close friends instead of just one partner is but the icing on the cake for what God has called me to in my celibacy. Ultimately, however, my celibacy is not merely the outcome of a cost/benefit analysis; rather, it is the life God has called me to. I trust in his goodness and blessings and believe that while He knows the real cost of my singleness He also knows what is best for me and what ultimately will transform me according to His likeness. Faithfulness to God’s laws is not a mere obligation, but rather is the path through which we will most fully become the men and women we were, and are being, created to be.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33
Gregg Webb is Eastern Orthodox, and is studying counselling at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. He founded the Eleison blog and can be followed on Twitter: @EleisonBlog.
Great piece, Gregg! I enjoy your writing.
You’re a hero. Your struggles with your cravings, whims, appetites and desires are devastating to these passions, but you heroicly deny them. In fact, in doing so, you resemble Christ Whose Life was exactly this type of struggle, albeit with the passions of the flesh in a totally different natural inclination. As He went to the Crucifixion, so also do you on a daily basis. Our perversions and inordinate passions are nothing less than attacks by the billions of demons now extant on the face of the earth seeking to devour us and damn us forever in Hell. I would suggest your taking up the practice of praying the Litany to your Guardian Angel daily if you wish a supernatural remedy for these spiritual devices of the devil and his multi-billions of demons watching us carefully and planning all sorts of traps and snares for our souls. I would also, if I were you, take up the Chaplet of St. Michael for further assistance. Dealing with these perversions and passions isn’t possible alone, we all need supernatural remedies. God bless you.
Through my tears, you have my sincere prayers for you to live into the fullness of the life God intended for you.
Through my tears I wish you the fullest blessings of living out the life God has intended for you.
I’ve been thinking over this same theme in my own life.
“It’s easy to discount and discredit our emotions and simply become numb, but grief and the process of grieving allows us to come to terms and acknowledge the depth of our feelings.”
I liked that. In my Episcopal tradition — one that celebrates same-sex relationships — I’m sometimes jealous when what seem like genuine regenerate believers can develop and maintain a same-sex relationship, while I view the matter differently from a biblical hermeneutic.
Still, I feel like I would be betraying my own conscience if I attempted to engage what my heart often wants to engage — a rich, romantic relationship with another guy. This is by no means easy. But I also have to remind myself that even relationships are not easy, and they do not “solve” or “cure” loneliness, nor do they “complete” me (or anyone else).
It’s a blessing reading this post! Thank you Gregg 🙂
Thank you for sharing and teaching through your witnesa
Great article. The emotional part is the hardest for me to battle.
As far as the “what might have been” we need to focus on the fact that it “would be a very tough road”. Since it isn’t God’s design or what God’s best for us is, nothing good can come out of it.
God never intended Adam and Steve to work. Come to think of it Adam and Eve didn’t go all that smoothly but as rough as it was, it would have been a whole lot worse with the former.
Just remember that there are a lot of us out there, you are not alone in missing the emotional part, and as alluring as Satan can make it look, it would not be God’s best.
Gregg, thank you for sharing your heart with us. I can really relate to what you have said. And I agree there needs to be space to grieve. I have found in my own life that grief comes and goes in different seasons and in different ways. Some stretches are light and invigorating, and some the longings are more intense. I recently in the last four years have gone through a very difficult time after having several years of thriving, including being a leader in this area of ministry. My struggle caused me to seriously revisit everything. But even though I still feel weak, I can see how God has preserved me during this time. Protected me. God gave me freedom to ask hard questions and ultimately has answered them. God has given me so much freedom and grace and in the end his love just keeps drawing me, compellingly, so that again and again I make the decision to love him most.
When things are difficult I remind myself that I don’t have to have sex in order to love a woman profoundly. There is much intimacy to be had apart from romance. I think sometimes sex even obscures the deeper bonds that can develop without it.
Here’s to living for the big picture, bro. I am with you.
This issues brought up here (temptation and possibly jealousy) are why I tend to be reluctant to form friendships with gays.
I wonder how you met “several.” I can count on one hand the number I have knowingly worked with (I do not encounter them in church).
I treat them as coworkers and chat with them in a friendly manner, but make no effort to socialize with them outside of work.
My best male friends at work right now are both straight and married and I feel no sexual attraction toward them.
I would love to hear from others about this.
I wouldn’t want someone who’s uncomfortable around me to feel obligated to be my friend. That’s certainly no basis for friendship! On the other hand, I’m thankful that many people don’t share your misgivings. I, as a human being, do appreciate that there are at least a few other guys in the world who have befriended me. A world without close friendship would be a lonely world, and for that reason, I’m thankful for the work of this blog’s authors.
“A world without close friendship would be a lonely world, and for that reason, I’m thankful for the work of this blog’s authors.”
I absolutely ditto that!
I am a 26 year old male and am predominantly same-sex attracted myself. Maybe I did not make that clear.
I am deeply sorry if I gave the impression that gay men should not have close friendships. I intended no such thing. Indeed, I would love to form such friendships with other SSA men and women committed to celibacy and spiritual friendship.
The cruel truth is that if I develop strong sexual attraction to another man and it is reciprocated, I might be seriously tempted to ignore my conscience.
A straight man would not have to worry about that. Thus, willingness to form deep friendship with me in spite of my attractions is one of the most beautiful things a straight man can do for me.
There are plenty of men I can love very warmly and affectionately without any sexual temptation. I would feel safe forming a friendship with a another SSA man in that category, especially if he is committed to celibacy.
But, I have to mindful.
I totally get what you’re saying! I wish someone here at SF would write about that. In my experience, I’m 26, it is very difficult to make close friends with openly gay men. I do a lot of work in the Church and there are many gay men involved in liturgy and music. I would say that most, at least in my experience, don’t follow Church teaching. I have tried befriending some and have even hung out with them outside work but I find that it is not a healthy environment for an orthodox Catholic trying to follow Church teaching. For whatever reason most of the openly gay men I’ve met are very immoral in their talk. My closest friends are straight guys and I consider them brothers. We can veer off into not so clean talk, like most guys, but our shared commitment to chastity and a well-lived Christian life quickly steers us into the right direction. I’d like to have gay friends that share my faith but I’ve learned that most gays in the more traditional and conservative circles I’m in would never come out. It’s a tough situation to be in.
I touch on that tension a bit in this older post. https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/08/23/beauty-in-the-midst-of-tension/ maybe something there will be helpful!
Grateful for your honesty Greg. Thank you. I was married for a number of years and have been single for 30+. I find a lot of joy in living singly … being able to cultivate spiritual friends … being able to commit to what God places in my path … the freedom to grow in Jesus without distraction … St. John of the Cross comes to mind.
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Dear Gregg, I wonder what your thoughts are with regards to the stages of grief (denial/anger/bargaining/depression/acceptance) and accepting a celibate gay lifestyle, and also how friends and family might grieve in different ways? I have been aware of being gay since I was 16, about 12 years ago, and have wrestled with all these things at times. It is only in the past 2 years that I have come to any kind of acceptance of being gay at all (with many pressures from evangelical Christians saying it can be changed and is not a good thing to identify as.) But I still feel a lot of bargaining in my life with God is going on, of the “am I allowed this if I just do this?” variety. By way of contrast, because I only told my mum I was gay two years ago, she is still in flat denial and keeps asking me when I will get a girlfriend, which is hard for me to deal with and causes a lot of tension for me.
I also really feel for you, and am understanding of what you mean by the difference between grieving a fantasy of having a husband and that being a real person. I am still grieving over a friend from my last year in college. He is not gay, but when I first met him over a year ago I fell for him really badly in a way that I haven’t really fallen for anyone else. It was hard to keep the friendship going because of my strong romantic feelings, and need my grieve over the fact that things weren’t going to be leading anywhere, It threatened to destroy our friendship altogether (though we seem now to have salvaged a platonic friendship out it). But for me the grief is harder when it is a process which must happen afresh for real people I meet rather than just a theoretical partner.
I definitely think that some parents need a time to grieve over the loss of the dreams they had for their son/daughter, but this must pass in time. I think there are a lot of things related to the coming out process that may mirror the typical stages of grief. Anytime we come to term with reality being different than the way we knew it our processes of understanding is likely to mirror that of grief. Thanks for sharing!
Honest question: We know that the call of celibacy is a call to live and thrive without participating in God’s gift of sexual expression, but is the sexless-ness of celibacy always a call to partnerless-ness as well?
Hi Jude, this question is one I’ve been thinking about a lot fairly recently. This is entirely my personal view rather than anything official, but I’d say I suppose in some senses it perhaps depends on what you mean by a partner. For example, two friends might decide to live together in a house for company in an entirely celibate relationship to combat loneliness, and if those friends pledged a commitment to staying together for the long term, you could call it a sort of partnership. I knew of a old lady in a church I grew up in who was not (to my knowledge) in any respects gay but chose to live with another lady for company in her later years. In their case I think there must have been an understanding that they weren’t going to move house and would stay together until one of the died, as eventually happened. Using this logic, I can’t personally see why two friends who are younger might chose to live in the same house as “partners”, with no sexual interaction but with a certain commitment to being together in the long term (which would probably mean not marrying or moving without the consent of the other, as happens within larger permanent communities). But perhaps this is naive in the case of two gay people – I certainly think such an arrangement would need to be thought out extremely carefully, and Christians with much more age and maturity than me might consider it unwise. It also might be that “living in community” rather than “living in partnership” might be more prudent. Mark
Excellent blog. So glad you are here.
Thank you so much for this post. It is good to know that I am not the only feeling like this as I struggle to get my act together and choose the life God asks of me.
Besides obedience, which I understand is a big value for you (but incomprehensible to me) why else would you make yourself be so sad
Obedience is a very prominent theme in the Bible and Christian tradition.
Thank you for sharing this, Gregg. I think that one thing that helps to contextualize the grieving for a partner that comes from celibacy is the realization that all vocations call for this sort of grieving in one form or another. I think of myself and many of my mommy-friends — it’s not talked about a lot in Christian circles because of the sort of shiny-happy pro-family vibe that we’re all supposed to project but many women when they have a child go through a kind of grieving process. It can be very painful when you have to confront and deal with the loss of freedom that comes with motherhood. Even when we’re lucky enough to still be able to “pursue our dreams” there’s very little that helps to prepare you for the fact that once you bind your life to a vow or an obligation there are a lot of desires that must die. I suspect that a lot of what we now call “postpartem depression” is a manifestation of this natural grief, a woman’s experience of losing herself in giving life. It seems a manifestation of Christ’s saying that a grain of wheat must fall into the ground and die if it is to bear fruit.
Thank you for sharing Melinda! If anything this post has made me better appreciate all the ways grief and the processes of grieving play into our lives in countless ways. It’s definitely something i need to continue to reflect more on.
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