Lives That Go Unwitnessed

It hurts the most after spurts of laughter. For instance: I was recently working out in my apartment and heard the Free Willy theme song. Naturally, I started singing because somehow I knew the entire Free Willy Theme song, and by the end of it I was raising my hands and singing (Throwback 90s Praise Band Style) in between reps of bicep curls. By the time I was doing tricep kickbacks, I could barely sing the words because of the lump in my throat created by the memory of how the kid saved the whale and the whale saved the kid. When I suddenly realized how ridiculous and hilarious the whole thing looked—the singing, the raised hands, the lump in my throat and the Free Willy Theme Song—I started laughing hysterically. By the time I got to shoulder presses, the sharp pain of loneliness set in: another moment gone unwitnessed.

Sometimes I feel it when I arrive at my destination after a long road trip. I pick up my phone with an urge to text Someone that I got where I was going, and it occurs to me that no one knew I left. Sure, some friends knew I’d be out of pocket at some point, but they didn’t know when I was leaving or when I’d be back. They weren’t aware of my existence in real time and space. Sometimes I turn to social media to let The World know I made it somewhere they didn’t know I was going—to let them know I still exist—and the “likes” calm the subconscious fear for a moment. Of course I call and text friends to talk of my excursions and hear about theirs, but that’s what’s disconcerting: I increasingly find myself telling them about my life rather than sharing it with them.

This post comes to you from someone who’s actually really happy. I’ve been blessed with amazing friends, a church I love, a job I’m passionate about, and endless opportunities to go on adventures that bring me to life. I’m blessed with good health and the perspective to see something hilarious every 12 minutes. I feel it in the best times though: the tug that it’s not good to be alone.

While I see people throughout my days, I find myself bouncing from circle to circle with very little overlap between the different groups. I find myself showing up at pre-set times and telling folks about the life I lived since we last spoke, about the moments that went unwitnessed. It meets the need, makes me happy, and keeps me from feeling totally lonely, but something still feels off. Something feels off because telling people about the moments that make up my life is very different than sharing the moments with them, and there’s no one to share in the moments.

It’s not just my life that I want witnessed though: I want to know the quirky little details of someone else’s life as well. Sometimes I catch myself imagining my friends’ morning routines because I’m just curious as to how their days are actually spent. I’ll wonder whether they make coffee first thing in the morning (a french press?), or turn music on and dance (which playlist?), or sing in their cars or cuss in traffic. It’s those everyday moments of nothingness that make up our lives, the time in between the times when we catch up with each other to talk about all that transpired.

What I’ve longed for more than anything is a shared history with someone, where (together) we recount the way this place or those people or that near-death experience shaped us into the people we are today. There is no shared history, though, because the places and people and near-death experiences were things I arrived at alone and left alone. Then I moved into another space where I would tell other people about those experiences, grasping for the adjectives to capture it as accurately as possible so they might come a little closer to understanding who I am and where I’ve been. But they don’t really know.

We spend a lot of time talking about “community”, but if we’re going to avoid leading lives that go unwitnessed then we need to think practically and realistically. What most of us are longing for is a lifelong commitment to sharing a home with someone else—we’re longing for family. When I say “us”, I’m referring to most humans everywhere, not simply gay people. We see it in the gay community too, because gay people are a subset of human people, but we’re all longing for it. Since this is a holy human longing, and it’s not good for man to be alone, and Christians are concerned about the ways both gay people are going about fulfilling this legitimate human longing, then we need to expand our understanding of the ways this can be lived out.

Whether it’s an intentional community, best friends who make a covenant, families that open their homes to friends for a lifetime, or even a close-knit neighborhood where folks commit to one another and have open door policies: we need an avenue for intimacy in shared households. We need to be family. Christians continue to be surprised when gay people partner off with one another or pursue marriage, but we’ve yet to offer any sort of practical path for them to find family. Folks still think the answer is to schedule a dinner sometime a few weeks from now. There are rumblings of a fresh perspective here and there, and I’m hopeful many will move from the imagination to action, but it’s yet to materialize. If a positive alternative doesn’t pan out practically, we will have a generation of young people who feel they’re choosing between a shift in their understanding of marriage or leading lives that go unwitnessed.

Julie Rodgers

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.

24 thoughts on “Lives That Go Unwitnessed

  1. Right after I had thought the tune of this journey had become a gleefully static melody. Tell me, do you enjoy plucking at the strings that attach directly to my emotions of longing and heartache? Do you think these notes add even a tiny amount to the beauty to the array of notes that create the overarching song of our faith? Do you delight in reminding us constantly of our pain so that we can never forget reality, and by remembrance always act toward something even more magnificent?

    • Well, I’m glad you resonated, even if it’s not about the cheeriest topic :). I do hope our honesty about reality will compel us to live into more of the vision we see in Scripture for community. I think everyone would benefit from that, all people everywhere.

  2. I’m the luckiest person in the world, when it comes to partners. But I do often feel the lack of a truly close community, and I worry that it will be worse if I have children. I want people around me and my family who I can drop in on unannounced, do and receive favors from, and know well enough so that I find them both intensely annoying and irreplaceable. I only have that sort of bond with my wife, my family and with one close friend from home.

    It’s not the same thing, of course. But there’s an alienation problem in our culture, and I’m not sure what the solution is, but I think a whole lot of different types of people could use it.

    • You’re absolutely right! I don’t think this is simply a gay Christian problem at all, though many of us feel it acutely when we consider our futures. The solution probably isn’t a large scale one as much as a small scale. I know I’ve personally started thinking much more intentionally about where I live, who I live with or near, and how I can create a kind of “drop-in” space in my place. I wasn’t thinking about that prior to entering these conversations, and if we all started thinking about what we could individually do, then we’ll start making small changes in our communities. Anyway, thanks for sharing a little about your situation.

  3. I am shocked that this seems to be a surprise to you. It just makes me wonder what you believe is going to happen. You really all seem to have some Pollyanna view that others are going to take responsibility for you not being lonely instead you deny yourself companionship and wonder why loneliness pops up.

    • I think this applies to all of us, gay or straight, married or single, celibate or gay-affirming. The cure to loneliness isn’t romantic love. Yes, that’s a major component for many people, but what about the widowed, the elderly, the ill, the divorced, and the downright unlucky? Finding companionship isn’t an individual responsibility. It takes all of us being aware of those around us and their needs. It requires hospitality and sensitivity. That’s what Julie is calling for here, and I think it’s a clear message whether you agree with her views on homosexuality or not.

      • Yes- I think raising this is one of the truly important things people on spiritual friendship and similar blogs are doing. Loneliness and isolation is a problem our society doesn’t seem very interested in grappling with. It wouldn’t suddenly be cured if a handful of celibate gay Christians decided to start looking for partners.

  4. I love reading these bittersweet posts about loneliness and community. As I contemplate a future that likely doesn’t involve marriage as I’d originally planned, I find myself longing for closeness with friends that is just comfortably fitting into each other’s lives. I like it when my friends come over and help themselves to the dinner leftovers, and when we remember weird little details about each other or think the same thing at the same time. Unfortunately, though I have some friends like this, it’s hard to get to that point and takes a long time.

    Enough said, thank you for capturing this so beautifully, Julie.

    • Thanks for sharing a little here, mc! It’s always nice to hear others are longing for the same things. I know the echos I’ve heard from others here have helped me to realize many, many people are longing for the same kinds of relationships, which gives me more confidence to reach out to others and attempt to move toward this way of being in the world.

  5. This is exactly what I’ve been trying and failing to convey to my pastors at church! I’m mostly happy, I even appreciate a good portion of my alone time…but I feel so disconnected from other humans! My life is wonderful and simultaneously painful, and I don’t know how to help alleviate this loneliness.

    Thank you for expressing this so well!

  6. You hit it spot on. It is difficult to explain to others how a life unwitnessed or shared can be so isolating and how scheduled interactions rarely account for true community. I seriously feel as though my life is becoming exceedingly boring because the only interaction I have are the intentional, scheduled times I have with my friends. There can be a deep seeded fear of living a life unwitnessed and social media tends to be a horrible substitute where most people attempt to find fulfillment. I pray you continue to have hope and that your words will allow eyes to be open to a new level of relationships within the church.

  7. Seinfeld illustrates how ‘single’ people can do family. Kramer or George is always popping in to Jerry’s apartment and vice versa. Being alone can be tough. As a Pastor, I often minister to ‘the widows’ who were alone with out a spouse. We are moving into a ‘new’ home in two weeks. We will have a game room with a pool table, slot car race track, and video games. The back yard has a water fall, gold fish pond, hot tub and swimming pool. We want to minister to single people through Bible Studies, get together’s, cook outs, etc. People need friendship and fellowship. Jesus and 12 Disciples show us that. What we don’t need to do is to go against the clear Biblical teaching on romance, sexual intimacy and marriage.

  8. Julie, have you thought about living with or near a good friend? I don’t know that it matters whether the person is male or female, or whether you’re roommates or neighbors. I’ve found that when I live with or near people I love, we are more naturally part of each other’s lives, and we don’t just see each other at pre-set times.

    In terms of longer-term (and more literal) family-building, have you considered becoming a foster parent? You may believe that children should have two parents, but as you know, most kids in the system empirically don’t and won’t, and you could be a better parent than they would have otherwise. For all I know, you are already doing this, or you may have decided not to–foster parenting is no kind of protection from heartbreak, and single parenthood is a tough path.

    Either way, I agree with you about the importance of building family and community. Hugs.

  9. i had a celibate gay Christian say to me recently that he wished he had a friend who wouldn’t clean up his house when he knew he was coming to visit. I understood what he meant. We all want to be able to participate in the un-made-up lives of others. We want that level of intimacy and that level of realness. We want to have a witness to our lives and be a witness to the lives of others

  10. As always, thank you Julie. Beautiful and achey at the same time. I pray that people will read this and not just say, “Huh, interesting” but will actually work on ways to change the culture of unwitnessed lives.

  11. Julie, thanks for these thoughts. I resonate deeply with the experience of having unshared and unwitnessed moments and I appreciate your honest in not pretending it’s something you get used to or that goes away over time. What I am wondering though is your thoughts on what it practically looks like to cultivate deep and healthy relationships. Biblically we see that marriages are supposed to become one. We also see David and Jonathon become knit together in spirit. But what does this mean? When should friendships seek this level of connection, of knowing and being known? And when do I seriously consider the warnings from people around me that “co-dependency” and “enmeshment” are lurking around the corner of every friendship that I long to experience more of life with?

  12. Julie, thank you for the very thoughtful and tender post. I’m so glad a friend asked me to read it. As a man who has been celibate into his mid 40’s I hear you. There is something imperative about wanting to be seen and known in the most intimate of ways. It’s important and profoundly human. To me I have found in part, it’s a lesson in loving well who God puts in front of me and holding the times with others and alone as equally sacred, submitting to what is. This light chat with a checker at the store, this quick text to a friend, tears shed with a brother, they matter. And I may long for one sacred soul, but these souls are significant and remind me that I do too in the here-and-now, this moment and into the next.

    • I think the words co-dependency and enmeshment are used too frequently in the self help/counseling/church world. I wish Julie had covered this level of connection, but there was probably too little time and space. I think its a cruel world to live without these kind of connections, but it takes 2 (or more people). If there are feelings of co-dependency, maybe another person isn’t able to receive or appreciate the way another provides love. These codependency issues happen in marriages too. It’s just always easier to call out in others. I also think it’s important to consider where I am seeking fulfillment. If I am able to recognize my strengths, weaknesses and hear God speak to me through scripture and prayer, I find that I can go to others and share my struggles without (as much!) fear of co-dependency. God has a way of working out co-dependency if we let him. I haven’t found that perfect balance either. Sometimes I know I am projecting unmet needs, other times I say “it’s not me…it’s them”. It’s an almost unbearable struggle at times though and that’s what I can’t grasp as well as I’d like. I am also more grateful for those friendships that have been established over time to be healthy and ask God for more of those.

  13. I always relate so much to your posts, Julie. Thank you for writing this, it articulates what I have not been able to. I sent the link to a couple of close friends and it helped spark some healthy discussion.

  14. This is so beautiful and sad. This loneliness is a huge problem for unmarried straight Christian women as well ,and given the male/female ratio in the church, many of them will remain unmarried. Personally I would be thrilled to have a larger family of adults even if I do marry…
    Is there some actual online site for people looking to create these kinds of families with each other? I mean I know that is not a very organic way for these new covenant families to come into being–but then again many more traditional families begin with online dating these days, too….

  15. Hi Julie,
    Just wanted to let you know that your blog along with the other bloggers on Spiritual Friendship have been a source of healing for me. The outline of my story is certainly nothing new under the sun as far as denial and acceptance. For about a year and a half (this May marking the end), I had slipped into agnosticism from Christianity (Catholicism, specifically). I was bitter, very angry, and felt drastically alone. I had left Christianity but privately my mind was in chaos. I felt like I was in Plato’s cave trying to discern the hieroglyphics. I knew about this site before my parting ways with Christ. I kept reading it perhaps subconsciously hoping to find my way to the other side of the mountain which, it seems, most of the writers here have a tread a path. It was my one peaceful accompaniment in the chaos. Eventually, I returned. The Church’s teaching on gay sexual ethics is still somewhat of a gray area for me but I have made peace with obedience. I certainly would not have come to this point without this site and your writing. So…thank you!

  16. I could never describe to you the healing I am experiencing through reading your posts. I am only 19, but of course wondering what life will be like for me when I finish school and branch off from my family. I appreciate your vulnerability so much. It helps me so much to read about how you have wrestled through hardships that I’ve gone through or am sure I will in time. Thank you so much.

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