Two years ago, as I was just beginning to think more critically about my faith and sexuality, I attended a wedding. It has been interesting to revisit the memorialized emotions that accompanied the ceremony, to examine the well-worn paths down which my uncertain thoughts routinely fled when confronted by longing and sorrow.
Weddings used to primarily remind me of all I couldn’t have, my easily startled psyche darting away from the encroaching shadows of jealousy and isolation. I would think, over and over, “I want this. I still want this.” There was always a bitter ache, a subcutaneous anxiety. Pain threatened my convictions and wove itself into every sensation. Unsurprisingly, I imagined that watching my best friend get married would be a similar experience, just exponentially moreso.
I was wrong.
Earlier this month as I stood to his left, watching the proceedings through increasingly blurry vision, I was pierced by a lancing bolt of… well… I’m not totally sure. Something composed of shards of joy, wonder, loss, excitement, and pain—all emotions I am accustomed to feeling on any given day and yet so qualitatively different in that one moment.
The second we all bowed our heads and closed our brimming eyes I stumbled into that kind of prayer that is as much actively experienced as it is passively submitted to, like diving into a surging wave. I later ducked into a hushed room at the back of the church to scrawl a short note, trying to capture the fleeting pathos of that instant:
I cried when I prayed for them. I’m crying now as I think about it. There is something profoundly affecting about throwing the full force of my relationship with God toward the well-being of another. True prayer. Or at least a glimpse of it. Intercession borne aloft by joy and distress; passion—unbridled and feral passion—clawing toward heaven with my halting breath in its lungs. Magnificent that my elation and sorrow might be used to surround them with grace—the fire of prayer engulfing and refining all of me as I beg that they have future of hope and abundance.
My chest is quietly bursting. Old wounds are tearing open—not from injury but because the skin of my soul is expanding, too much life to be contained within the old carapace.*
I was ready to battle against the negative emotions that I had come to believe were inevitable facets of a not-entirely-voluntary celibacy; prepared to sublimate jealousy into gratitude, fear into trust, resentment into hope.
But I wasn’t ready, not even close, for the relentless salvo of devastating beauty that blew apart whatever fortifications I had previously constructed. I’m deeply thankful for this remarkable dismantling—my utter exposure being, I think, a catalyst for the eruption of furiously transformative prayer. Yes, there was a kind of pain, a kind of sadness and longing, and yet they were wholly caught up in—even a part of—an irrepressible exultation of abundant life.
Guys. This is kind of a big deal for me, and the slow movement away from those now-overgrown trails toward conversations about vocation and community has made all the difference.
While I imagine that the intensity of the emotions will diminish over time (I’m not particularly fond of feeling like a walking-talking-twitching nuclear reactor), and while I acknowledge that such intensity is problematic in itself, the fact that I experienced the aforementioned emotions—in all their jarring multiformity—as constructive and good rather than as corrosive and threatening is a rather seismic shift.
Before, when my understanding of my sexuality was dominated by a severe and singular “No,” the various thoughts/feelings/anxieties would simply pile up around me like a suffocating tomb. Now, even as my understanding remains hazy and in-process, there is a definite sense that things are finding a place, that my experiences are being built into something more beautiful, more purposeful, and more solid. There is still a lot of mystery here, to be sure, but it is mystery suffused with anticipation rather than fear.
At the very least I feel more reconciled to myself.
One final point is worth noting: two nights before the recent wedding the groom-to-be asked me how I was holding up, if there was anything about the preparatory festivities that I was struggling with. (He’s a keeper, everybody.) It was this: watching how much joy the union of these two beloved people brought to their families and surrounding community—the eagerness with which everyone pitched in, the glowing smiles and knowing glances that flashed between the parents or other married couples, and the unabashed celebration of it all.
The persistent awareness of the fact that there was nothing I could do, or at least nothing that I could think of doing, that would bring this much happiness to those around me stung considerably. Whether this is just a failure of my imagination, a failure of society’s imagination, or simply the unavoidable reality of things, it’s a problem.
In any case, I am humbled by what I have learned over the past few years, between these two weddings. While there is still much to think through and work over, it would be hard to exaggerate how much gospel I have found in this conceptual reframing, how much hope I have encountered as I stumble along, constantly being surprised by the ways Christ is at work in me.
This language of vocation that the writers at Spiritual Friendship have been trying to flesh out isn’t meant to be a tacked on consolation prize or an apologetic for why celibate gay Christians are called to some super-special expression of the faith. It is, rather, an attempt to re-express truths that should never have fallen silent: that our sexuality, in its fullest sense, is not an irredeemable waste from which we must entirely isolate ourselves nor is it a moral desert in which our sanctification can find no sustenance.
As a younger person who is very much right in the middle of that time of life where almost all my closest friends are married or moving toward marriage, this constructive framework of vocation, this promise of the attentive affection of God, has been an expansive source of grace and peace for which I am immensely grateful.
* Let us all take a moment and be thankful that I don’t write whole blog posts when I’m that emotional.
Matt Jones is a student at Fuller Seminary who blogs over at A Joyful Stammering and can be followed on Twitter: @AJoyfulStammer.
These are really lovely thoughts Matt. Thanks for sharing them. They remind me of how Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding. How he seemed perturbed when his mother alerted him about the wine running out because his “time has not yet come”. How he may have been thinking about his own wedding with his bride the church even as he lived a life of celibacy on earth. How he may have been thinking about what it would take to get to that wedding, namely pouring his blood out for his bride’s sins, as symbolized by him changing the ceremonial washing water into wine. I just posted about how our same sex attraction is a manifestation of our inborn sinful nature in my blog Confessions of a Gay Evangelical Christian coagec.wordpress.com, and while it may preclude us from enjoying marital relations on this side of eternity, it comforts me to know that Jesus my ultimate groom loves and cleanses me and that I will have a wedding one day!
Overflowing grace… That’s what this is!
this is brave and beautiful I am so happy you shared this.I feel lighter and more hopeful for the vocation I am stumbling towards.
Well, praise God then, I’m glad. Thanks for the kind words, Kathy.
Actually, I would love to read your posts that are this “emotional”! Your emotions add grace, authenticity, power to your words.
Trust me. I totally lose control over adverbs. It ain’t pretty.
Beautiful. I love weddings. I love the romance involved, the symbol it represents, and the fun it invites. And I love the feelings you so accurately portrayed. I think one of the most important things we can do with our vocation of friendship is fully express our joy and love for someone else in their moments of joy. C.S. Lewis said it best: “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” Imagine this “unbridled” joy and love of yours and compound with another’s, until eventually everyone is bursting at their seems. A glimpse of Heaven perhaps.This love–it’s highly euphoric and it’s intensely real!
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I appreciate your last sentence – love definitely is “intensely real,” grounding us in what is true even when it isn’t imminently apparent.
Thanks for your beautiful reflection, brother. I’ll keep you in my prayers. There are more of us celibate 20-something Christian men around than you think. I’m straight but, like you, celibate, and I have many of the same struggles you do. Let’s pray for each other. God bless you!