I wrote a post earlier this week that highlighted some of my fears for the future related to loneliness. As some of my closest friends have moved away, I’ve caught myself coming home to an empty apartment more often than I’m used to, more often than I would like. People responded with such thoughtful feedback: encouragement, challenges, pertinent questions and words of solidarity.
It seemed fitting to respond to some of the questions in a consolidated manner, and this one opens the door to exploring some related questions about how exactly we might all come alongside one another: “Julie, when you put on your hoodie and stare into space in your apartment, what are you really longing for?”
When I talk about loneliness, people often assume a romantic relationship with a woman is what I’m really longing for—that it would solve the problem. While that would offer a sort of built-in companion to come home to, I’m not longing for a sexual or romantic partner. I’m not longing for a wife, or someone to make out with, or even someone to have a really intense conversation about the depths of my soul with; I’m longing for everyday intimacy.
I’m longing for someone who will crack jokes with me. I’m longing for someone who knows me well enough to know I solve problems in my head before speaking them out loud, for someone who knows when to challenge that or when to let me be. I’m longing for someone to share a highlight from their day like: “Hey I passed this miniature horse on the way home and thought about how awesome it would be to have one as a pet.” I’m longing to hear about someone else’s day over dinner in the living room so I’m reminded that the minutia I just obsessed about for 30 minutes is actually not the most important thing in the world.
I’m not longing for an intense holding session or for raging gay sex; I just want to wear my fat clothes with others who will let me poke fun at their quirks and do the same to me. I don’t think this needs to be met through one special person who will make my dreams come true, and the things I’m longing for don’t require me to step outside the boundaries God laid down for human relationships. I’m longing for intimacy—for friendship—for something celebrated in the biblical vision for human connection.
The struggle for me comes when (like I’ve recently experienced in gatherings with young adults) “relationship building” is a bounce from chipper-chat to chipper-chat about where we work, where we went to college, and how CRAZY the latest ice storm was. I long for the church to be a real, authentic, let-your-hair-down family to one another. It can, at times, sound like we want the church to make a mad dash toward any and all gay people to beg us all to move into your homes.
While I would love to see more families opening their homes to single people, I don’t intend to paint a picture of celibate gay men and women as weak, needy, lonely people—desperately in need of the church to extend pity. Not at all! My hope is for us all to share life together, in whatever capacity we can, with a mutual give and take across the spectrum of gay and straight, married and single. What many of us are longing for is a place—a family—where we can give our love away.
Several married people have pointed out that they’re lonely too; they need more than their spouse for relational wholeness. Many moms would love for someone else to gush about all the finger-painted pictures on the refrigerator for once. One of the reasons celibate gays aren’t in more of these homes, gushing about the finger-painted pictures on refrigerators, is because everyday intimacy is rarely established across the divides. It’s just awkward because it’s not the norm. People respond to gay people with suggestions to find a gay partner because we’ve set ourselves up to roll with people in similar situations, but I’m afraid we’re all missing out when we congregate in our separate pockets of society.
While it would be great to share a house with other celibate folks ( I would love to do that someday), it would also be great to have a regular routine of picking up pizzas after work and heading straight to a family’s messy living room. The house can smell like cat litter; the children can throw hissy fits; we can never get to the part about my day totally sucking—and the thing I’m longing for will be in full swing the whole time. We all need friends from all over the spectrum; we just have to push through a little awkwardness.
Several people have mentioned that this requires commitment and diligence from all parties involved. Celibate men and women can’t skip around the country from city to city and then wonder why we don’t feel intimately connected to our immediate church community. I couldn’t agree more. Many writers here have suggested the need for us to turn down that ideal job in order to plant deeper roots in the community we’ve chosen. We could also remember we live in the middle of a city, a community, a physical neighborhood where others are probably in much greater need than we are, and we can seek ways to join other believers in making life more bearable for the hurting. We need to put ourselves out there, making a concerted effort to create the kinds of communities we long to see.
At the same time, I would hope—for the sake of those who feel marginalized in our churches—that the burden won’t be placed on gay people alone. I’ve braved a lot of small talk in shallow gatherings in hopes of establishing these kinds of relationships, but I would hate to tell my gay friends at low points (who win a battle if they make it out of bed in the morning) that they should just try a little harder to put themselves out there. What they’re longing for is a place to belong, not a place to introduce themselves—with a few memorized lines about their jobs—to strangers they might cross paths with in 6 or 7 weeks. They’re longing for family, and they just might need to be invited in before they can brave entering in.
I don’t think there’s one easy answer, or that one group should bear the burden, or that anyone in particular is to “blame” for the problem of modern loneliness. But I think it’s brewing beneath the surface for many of us in different ways, in different seasons, and that one of God’s answers to this problem is for us to share them with one another in mundane, routine, everyday intimacy kinds of ways. Not only will this alleviate some of the pain people feel, but it is right and good as an end in itself, and it’s a testimony to those in despair: There is a place to be truly known and loved, and that place is Christ’s church.
Julie Rodgers shares life with inner city youth in West Dallas. She also writes and speaks about faith and sexuality, so check out her blog or find her on Twitter:@Julie_rodgers.
Wonderful words, Julie, and so true. I loved your other post too. Thank you.
As a straight person who is affirming and supportive I also feel lonely when I go to church so I ended up looking for community outside of the church. I spent most of my adult life with my life revolving around the church but when I came out affirming no one seemed to care if I walked away from the church. I’m not sure that church people are that good at connecting with people who are different than they are. I suggest you look outside of the church for the kind of community that you long for.
Liz! It makes me sad to hear you were unable to find community in the church. I think you’re right that many Christians have a hard time walking with people when their views start to change or they move in another direction. I have so much respect for my Christians friends who say they’re “all in” with people they love no matter what, even if disagreements arise. I have a lot of hope for the church though, and know countless Christians who don’t fit that description, so I intend to continue pressing in even if it can be challenging at times.
I remembered a TEDxTalk I watched last month called “The Lethality of Loneliness.” It examined research on isolation and social connectedness and their relationship to physical health. The psychologist speaking suggested we should view the feeling of loneliness like hunger or thirst. Rather than seeing it solely as a negative emotion, we can view it as an internal cue directing us to reach out to our friends and family. That was comforting for me. The ability to mitigate my loneliness is (to some extent) within my control if I’ll take the initiative. I can ask a buddy to go out for a beer, have a Glee marathon with my sisters, or call up an old college friend.
This will likely cause some folks to roll their eyes, but there’s a lyric that I love from an early 2000’s Christian band called Plus One (you know, the Christian alternative to The Backstreet Boys and N*Sync?! Yeah…). The chorus goes, “If you need love, take the time and be love. Breathe it out, create love. See how things can turn.” That lyric has stuck with me through the years. While we certainly need the church to do their part, truth is, I already have a lot of people who know I’m gay and love me. I just need to keep doing the hard work of deepening my relationships and making time for others.
Thought I’d add that. 🙂
That’s a good word! I have to say though: I wasn’t so much intending to say “I’m lonely! I need friends!” (I actually have great friends to grab beers with). I was more wanting to start from my own recent experience of intimate friends moving to share some broader concerns about the potential for that to continue happening throughout life. Calling friends to catch up is a great temporary solution, and it might lead to deeper connections over time, but my concern is more that we’ll have to continually start over as we cycle through friendships as single people. Hopefully that won’t be the case, but those are the kinds of fears that come up. You make a great point about isolation though, and the need for us to monitor where we are internally and to reach out to whatever community we DO have rather than waiting for it to come to us. Great to see you around!
I totally get that. …And I think I got it a little better the first time around, haha. There’s definitely a feeling of loss that comes from a change in an established relationship. It’s important to own the fears and grief, like you’ve done in these posts. I feel like the best answer is to keep turning to our communities, even if they are shifting and evolving as we age. They’re one of the primary places God meets us in our need.
It is intriguing that our model of community is pretty foreign to New Testament culture and even most of church history. People didn’t move around as much as we do. The world has become a smaller place. With that change comes questions of our priorities. We take in consideration how new jobs and new opportunities impact our families, but there’s little concern for how it impacts our friends and church families. Maybe that’s ok, but maybe it deserves more reflection.
I’ve been reading “BONHOEFFER: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas, and found his attempts at building Christian community very interesting. He also came from a family that was just gifted in extending hospitality. I’ve met a handful of couples gifted in this area, which had been a lifeline to me in the past. I have longed to be part of a marriage that is able to reach out this way as well, but have married a rather reclusive fellow. Just last week, though, he offered to make dinner for the group of friends we were traveling with – I was thrilled. I pray that this will be a baby step in the direction of opening up our home to others…although I think it might take years. For some, it is painfully difficult to open up. Being hospitable is a lost practice in the church – I wonder if it goes along with the dearth of prayer and meditation on Scripture – the depth of our lives with Him. Bonhoeffer emphasized these things in the building of community, and it was interesting to read how they came together. (And served to help many in a terrible time in history.)
Love that book! It was inspiring to me on many different levels and just a fantastic read. Yeah, I think we will all have to take small steps in getting there; the vision many of us talk about isn’t something I expect to see happening tomorrow. But we won’t take steps in that direction if we don’t share our hopes, and steps in that direction are a big deal (like you noted). I’m glad to hear you’re keeping these things in mind and seeking ways to be hospitable, even if it’s awkward and unclear. I’m also thinking through what it looks like for me to grow in all these areas as a single person, and there just aren’t clear blueprints. Thanks for sharing!
Was hanging out with a few friends tonight and this very topic came up- it was so good then to read your post and have our own thoughts on this affirmed. The problem is, for those who are at a crisis point in their loneliness, it might be hard for them to believe that this kind of everyday intimacy will help assuage their feelings of isolation. But I believe that if even just one person sticks closer than a brother to another person, who they know is in crisis or need, you will find them light up with confidence and hope again, just because you are with them and show that you care. I really hope that people start getting this message and start acting on it too. I think sometimes we are missing out on opportunities because we don’t think it will amount to anything but why not try? For example, I am thinking of going to a church event which involves sewing and I can barely thread a needle but it also involves drinking some wine, so that is a good motivator ha-ha 🙂
I think more people will be open to these kinds of things the more we talk about them. I was thinking yesterday about how much more people seek to include me in these ways once I’ve shared some of my hopes with them; they simply didn’t know that was on the table or desirable before I talked about it. Also, I think many have fears that they have to have their lives together, their house clean, their kids in line, in order to invite people in. When they hear others want to be invited into the mess of life, it’s desirable for them as well. Anyway, go get your sewing on haha!
Two comments, really: first, the main reason that these long-term relationships come about and endure the push and pull of reality is a shared sense of mission (not just commonalities of taste or happenstance). Obviously, the most common shared mission is raising kids, but you also see it in people who have serious commitment to, say, feeding the needy, or educating/evangelizing others, or an artistic passion. It doesn’t have to be super-fancy– my mother has had 50 year friendships with other women in her quilting club, for example. But I don’t think that club would have lasted as long if they weren’t putting some of their effort into making layettes for the crisis pregnancy center and NICU, quilts for deployed soldiers, etc. Friendship doesn’t happen as the primary event; it comes out as a secondary effect of doing something else together with other people– and that “other thing” won’t last unless it’s (directly or indirectly) doing good for a third group of people. Sorry if that’s confusing, but I can’t really put it better than that.
Second, have you heard of the Beguines/Beghards? They were groups of lay women and men (respectively) that first developed in the low countries in the 13th century; some lasted until the 20th century. They were lay people who lived close to each other– in adjoining houses, or sometimes in separate apartments within the same building. They could leave (to marry or just to leave) when they wanted; their property remained theirs to dispose of as they wished; they were expected to support themselves by suitable work (not usually in common with the others). BUT, they prayed together twice a day, heard Mass every day together, and usually ate together also. The women’s communities were mostly filled with women who entered as young women who couldn’t or wouldn’t marry (the intense wars of the middle ages left the sex ratio wildly skewed at times; and the fate of an unmarried, unprotected woman was grim). The men’s communities were more often filled with worn-out older men, much more like the Catholic Worker houses tried to do in the 1930s.
I wonder if something like that wouldn’t bear fruit today. There are many, many people who are in this sort of situation– being gay is only one of many reasons adults find themselves alone (and probably for the duration).
Great points here, Janet. I do think friendships that are built on a shared mission tend to endure longer and have a stronger bond. The friendships I have that are born out of a shared mission (or shared passion) tend to be more balanced because we’re brought together by something that’s beyond ourselves—the focus isn’t inward. Not only does it serve the kinds of purposes the Scriptures call us to as Christians, but our needs are met in the process. I like that.
I’m a little torn on whether or not I think friendships born out of that are “better” though because I think friendship is a good end in itself—each getting outside of him or herself for the sake of knowing and loving the other. I’m glad you brought this up, as it’s something I want to continue thinking through. Caring for others should be a central part of our lives regardless.
Also, the kind of community you described is definitely something I would like to be moving toward with my life, even if it’s rather organic and informal. Thanks for sharing all this!
I recently discovered this site and the many blogs. It has been a blessing and I have read you alls words and finally been able to realize what I’ve been going through and that I’m not alone. I’m too a gay Christian. Within my church we have what we call Ministry houses. They are houses where single folks of the same sex live together. Currently there are 4 of us. While there are still days of loneliness it is nice to have that group of people that are together in fighting this spiritual battle of life every day together.
Thanks for your writings! You put into words what my daily experiences are and I am very encouraged in knowing others are processing through the same things in their lives.
HAPPY VALENTINES DAY JULIE!! You are cherished and deeply loved by the Lord (and by the rest of us here too!) He says to you on today: “Rise up and shine for My glory is upon you!!” He is the lover of your soul! He has given you a candy heart “Be Mine.”… don’t you feel his overwhelming LOVE for you, your quirks, your smile, you passion?! He says today you are a sparkling example of him!! He is calling you deeper in this next season – more time with him, yes more! He’s a jealous God!! Say NO to the good so that you can say YES to the excellent. His plan for you is INCREDIBLE and will be unfolding more rapidly in this season so you must be completely fixing your eyes on Him. He’s serious. Very Serious about you. …..And sure, we want to meet you and we want your time (if you ever come to a conference or visit Houston let us know!), and your writing resusitates broken, wounded hearts and breathes life to folks…. He’s asking you to give up some things that you’ve loved in this season that were good for a while but he needs you to give up some things so that room can be made for His BEST for you!!! Get ready!! Get ready!!
Julie….I am new to this site and have just read your piece Everyday Intimacy Played Out. As I read I was brought to tears as you talked about wanting to fit n into the “normal” everyday life that so many have. I pray that you will find that “family”. I am not gay, but have a brother who is and have been trying to understand more about what he’s going through in his life. He has chosen a life different than you. I’ve come to have great respect for those of you who have chosen celibacy as a life walk with Jesus. You are courageous and honorable and I know that God has a special place in His heart for you. I pray that God will satisfy your longing! .I am one of those lonely “married” people” you spoke of and feel I can understand a little. If I didn’t have a family of my own, I would be even more lonely! I also have another brother who is a missionary in Cambodia and has chosen a lifestyle of celibacy and has ministered alongside other missionaries with families for many years now and God has satisfied his needs in so many ways….he has more children around the world than you can shake a stick at…..greatly loved by many! Our God will supply every desire of your heart as you serve Him!!
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What is most sad about reading your words in the last two posts, Jules, is how often times I think, “Why has the church pigeonholded your healing into an issue of sexuality?”
Hear me out – What you appear to crave is to know and be known, which is what is taught to us by our mothers, fathers, caregivers, teachers, and other loving adults, while we are children… something that appears lost in your story and thus, that very thing that is sexualized (sadly). Now, that healing is wrapped up in a political/religious blanket that puts out the fire of Love. Intimacy Suffocated: That’s what I see happening through your posts…
And I tell my survivor community that I pray for you, my friend. (And I do not pray often, but for you… it feels right.) I pray that you see how the organized church sexualizes your desires (and uses them against you). I am concerned that you will turn you into one of the most lonely of servants of the Light out there.
You are Light and I see it in you… and I grieve when I see how you’ve become trapped in a rigid world of definitions of Love that is not permitted to flow outside of boundaries that keep you suffocated and others safely ignorant and in power. If you take sexuality out of this conversation, what you seek is family… that is how it appears to me. It’s almost as if you are looking for a long-lost twin sister…
I assure you, she is within. Her name is Julie… and when you know her deeply, she will lead you into new definitions of intimacy, family, love, and sensuality that will not require such extrinsic reinforcements from external authorities… go within. You know what is happening… Love, light, blessings – from a soul sister…
If I may say, I don’t think this loneliness is solely felt by those that identify as gay, or single, or religious, or non-religious. I think this is a loneliness that comes from deep within, one that we all have. I think we all seek family. We want to be known and to know. The church can be a great place for that (church being a body of believers) and like other human ways can be a rough place for that. For all fall short. I think what Julie writes here is not necessarily something that she has been pigeon holed into, but a common bond many people feel on Earth. A bond that those who seem to really understand that we must die to ourselves, so that we may really live…feels deeply. My challenge to Julie would be to not feel discouraged, but take that loneliness and pour out into others, as it seems you do quite often.
In either scenario Romans 8:1 There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Julie as the man for the family you desire. Challenge the church to step into that role, to live out once again Acts 2:42 not just for us gay Christians, but for all of us who fall short of perfect.
Julie: The only antidote to shame and loneliness is desire. Genitally or not, celibate or not, married, single, straight, bi, gay, trans whatever,, what we need is to see desire shining in the eyes of those who claim the identity of Christian, especially as they engage with us. We need touch, hugs, and cuddling just like everyone else. Model the love and transparent authentic intimacy that you want to see from others. Be the change you want to see in the world and don’t withhold your own attractions and love for the people around you. Provide non-judgmental positive regard and intentional presence to all of those who enter your company and you will give space for human flourishing and give room for God to move. Our judgment gets in the way of our joy. Keep open to Jesus in whatever form his spirit comes in. I have grace for you and so does he.
Namaste” – St Drucifer of Holy Hill
aka Drew VanDyche
Edutaining the World &
Making it a Better Place to Be
“…and don’t withhold your own attractions and love for the people around you…” Dude – that was so condescending to write to someone you only know through a blog. I don’t believe Julie’s post deserves such a patronizing reply. Her words aren’t a cry for personal relationship advice, but are rather aimed at spurring more thoughtful interaction as a Body of fellow believers in Christ.
But why wouldn’t you just have a relationship? Wouldn’t that solve your problem?
TLDR: I agree that this sort of intimacy is beautiful beyond compare when it works, but it sure isn’t easy to cultivate.
Beautiful posts, Julie. You hit on so much truth in your observations and reflections.
I think the sort of community you’re talking about definitely takes work to cultivate. You’re dead on with that.
As an introvert, I take a long time to develop that sort of relationship with anyone, and usually need explicit permission and relentless invitations before I open myself up to that.
One way that I was blessed about two and a half years ago was when I started a Bible study with four other men that I didn’t know hardly at all for my church. I wasn’t out at the time, and felt I couldn’t relate to these married with children 30-somethings when I was just a 23 year old closeted gay kid. But from the get go, all the men in the group were upfront with hugs and affection and one of them that I didn’t know at all hounded me to get me to come over to his house on a Monday night.
That Monday night visit to have dinner and play a game turned into a weekly tradition that continued for two years until I started grad school last fall. He and his wife showed the type of hospitality you touch upon here. They welcomed me in to their home and were fine with me seeing all their dirty laundry (literal and figurative). After two visits, I was “family”, and to this day, their home feels more “home” than my own place.
I guess all this is to say that it is possible, but so incredibly difficult. If he hadn’t been such an outspoken and friendly guy, it may have taken years to develop the intimacy that I had with their family within a few short months.
Since I started grad school, I moved about 45 minutes away, so our weekly visits are now monthly. And I am not sure how to even go about building those relationships in my new city. I know it likely won’t happen as easily as it did before, but I don’t feel like going around trying to force myself into a hospitable home.
I don’t know. I guess it can start with me being the one to make the first move, but it’s not particularly in my nature to do that.
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I love this post. And as a single heterosexual person that has no guarantees I’ll ever be married a LOT of it resonated with me. It also made me really thankful for the community I have. I’m living as an expat in China, and —at least my experience here—is that simply being expats in another country away from family and long-time friends tends to break down a lot of walls and makes people more willing to be “real” with each other more quickly. Families invite you in to share Christmas day with them, or Thanksgiving, or Chinese New Year. Because everyone is away from their extended families the church more naturally fills that role (at all times—but of course it’s more noticeable for me during the holidays). It’s one thing I’ve learned/experience here that I hope I can remember/help others experience when the time comes to move back to the states.
Thank you for sharing these thoughts, Julie! I’ve recently discovered this blog, and as I’ve reflected on the values and desires expressed here, it’s putting me more deeply in touch with my own longing to experience “family” within my church community, beyond just my biological family. I think this idea of everyday intimacy is so beautiful, and I’m realizing more and more what a gift it can be to share with one another. My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about how we evangelicals today often err on the side of idolizing the nuclear family. I’m interested in discovering how God will guide us into a richer life of church-as-family, and I hope it involves lots of opening our home, chatting over beer about our days, and walking alongside friends (married, single, young, old…) through the highs and lows of life.
Thank you for this post. Often after work I’m tired and I long for the everyday intimacy of having someone with whom I can be physically present with, but not need conversation or activity to be the focal point. I feel many of my social activities end up being ‘mini events’ rather than sharing every day life.
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