“I’m lonely”, I said a few weeks ago in a phone conversation with a friend. I wore my favorite grey hoodie with the hood pulled over my head as I leaned against a bookshelf in my empty apartment. A few of my closest friends recently moved away, and not only are they top-notch folks that I miss for who they are, they’re also glue-like folks who bring people together.
When they left, they left a hole significantly larger than the size of their lives because the relational dynamic they created dissolved along with their physical presence. “I know I just feel lonely tonight, and that when I wake up tomorrow I’ll be bright-eyed and chipper, but I can’t keep from blowing this moment up into an entire future strung together by thousands of nights like tonight until I become an 81 year old sitting in a cold cabin with cats scurrying around while I listen to Lesbian Campfire Music and reflect on the tragedy of a long life shared with no one.”
I can be dramatic. But few things are as adorable as elderly intimacy. Whether it’s lifelong friends laughing together or an old couple holding hands, elderly intimacy wins the Most Adorable award in my mind. The laughter and hand-holding tell stories of years of intimacy created over witnessed embarrassment, shared silence, long rants, quotes read aloud, being let down, saying “I’m sorry”, choosing forgiveness, choosing vulnerability, choosing “Yes” day in and day out for a shared lifetime. It looks sacrificial and painful and comforting and boring and beautiful and—when it’s shared with the same person for tens of thousands of nights in a row—adorable.
“This whole celibacy in community thing is kind of an experiment,” my friend and I agreed. “There’s hope for a life of congruence, honesty, integrity and intimacy, but we can’t look ahead to others to see if it actually works out for them—if they remain faithful and the Church pulls through to become the family we long for it to be.” We’re not delusional enough to think no humans anywhere have ever been committed to lay celibacy and established intimate relationships with others in the process, but when it comes to the modern Gay Christian Panic that’s swept over us the past few decades, this is a newer path.
The ex-gay narrative lost momentum once we observed the trajectory of the ideas played out over time, and as we look for answers on how to be fully integrated, relational men and women who are intimately connected with others, the celibate-finding-family-in-the-church vision is the primary direction we’re headed.
We’re imagining and recovering ways of sharing life that involve all those things that lead to flourishing: every day moments of laughter, hospitality, vulnerability, service, coffee in the mornings and beer in the evenings with the family we’ve chosen for the long haul. It’s exciting and it offers a realistic biblical hope because it’s precisely the vision Scripture paints for the Church. I’ll seek it out, hope for it, and strive to live into it until the day I die (by the grace of God).
I have to be honest, though, and say there are nights when I fear this is only viable in my twenties because many share my situation. I fear friends will slowly marry off or move away and the intimacy they experience in their family unit will move with them, while I remain. I fear our communities will be elated by the imagined gains dangling before us with mobilization, and people will bounce from city to city, dissolving true community and creating “communities” that will dissolve again when the next opportunity arises. I fear I’ll cycle through friendships that are meaningful but disposable, and my life will become tens of thousands of nights strung together by ever-changing faces and shallow introductions.
I hope and I fear and I hope. My friends and I have spent a lot of time thinking about what we can do to create the kinds of communities that will offer an answer to the problem of modern loneliness. We’ve talked about spiritual friendship, communal living, turning down opportunities for career advancement out of a commitment to be rooted in a long term community instead.
Many people—gay and straight, married and single—are imagining ways of sharing life that will strengthen single people, married people, gay people, straight people, churches and communities, and we’re filled with hope that this might lead to flourishing across the spectrum. We’re tasting it in the present and imagining what it could eventually become if it extends for decades. We’re sharing that vision far and wide with great hope.
But on nights like the recent one, where I stood in my empty apartment with the hood pulled over my head, I’m reminded of the vulnerability of hope. My hope is in God: that He’ll give me the strength to be faithful in what can often seem a daunting endeavor, and that He’ll be faithful to provide me with what I need. And my hope is in the church: that others will share my heart to see Christians being family to one another in long-haul, every day intimacy kinds of ways.
It’s vulnerable because I can’t will that into being. I can’t force it. I can’t say “Yes” for other people in churches planted in communities across the country. So I guess this is me using this tiny corner of the internet to let Christians who stumble upon it know that we need you to say “Yes” too.