For one of my graduate school classes last year we learned to create lists of goals with a counseling client, a process called “goaling.” Our professor went through the process with a classmate and then asked each of us to break up into pairs and work through goaling with our partner. After dictating to my partner, a close friend of mine, we were instructed to begin talking through how to order them and to make sure they were just hard enough to be difficult but not so difficult as to be impossible. After doing this together I had assembled what I felt was a good list. It covered the major areas of my life: spiritual, educational, personal, and financial. My partner felt that after looking at my list something was missing. He didn’t say what he thought that could be other than that it just felt like my list was missing something. At that point it dawned on me the things that everyone else in my class’s list included but were missing from mine. So I leaned over to complete my list that he had been recording on his laptop and wrote the following at the top of my list:
- To marry the man I love.
- To have a family who is centered on Christ and that we would grow closer to Him and to each other.
- To have a home that is a refuge for many.
After writing these it took me a moment to absorb the shock of actually verbalizing these desires. My friend was then satisfied that I had written an honest list rather than merely the list I felt I should write. After looking at it for a moment I then deleted the three additions and left the list as it was originally.
This whole process of goaling impacted me more deeply than I realized at the time. By adding those three goals, I manifested some of the deepest longings of my heart. By deleting them I symbolically engaged in my constant internal struggle and submitted my desires to the wisdom of God as understood by the Church. When, after much coaxing, I shared this story a month later in a class’s practice therapy group, several of my fellow students reacted through tears. Their reactions externally manifested my own unspoken grief over the path my life is required to take as I struggle to remain faithful to the wisdom and guidance of the Church. I still am not sure what to do with these desires and for the most part I ignore them or grieve them privately. My desire for a husband, a life lived together, and the family that grows from that love is at the heart of my grief as a celibate gay Christian. While many of my single Christian friends also struggle with desires for marriage and family they at least can include such goals on their list. They may be frustrated and potentially unreachable goals but at least they have a place on their list.
When I talk about these desires and about my experiences falling in love with other men my newer friends often comment that this is the first time they witness my humanity. My celibate vocation doesn’t equal the supernatural removal of these desires, rather their subjugation. This is why I always appreciate when my fellow conservative gay Christian friends open up about their own longing for a partner and for a family as well as their experiences of falling in love. Wes Hill in particular has done this beautifully in the last half of his recent book, Spiritual Friendship and my post “Grief and Faithfulness” also touches on some of these struggles.
I share all this in an attempt to keep our conversations about LGBT issues connected to the experiences of LGBT people rather than always in an emotionally disconnected and often inhuman context. All of these conversations are complicated and there is room for both intellectual thought as well as lived experience but too often intellectual thought dominates. I want to help my Church and the broader churches that continue to hold to a traditional sexual ethic speak truth in a manner that reflects the experiences of those whom the theology personally impacts. Remember the costs of celibacy and the required, often radical, reshaping of goals. Help us grieve what we are forgoing but also help us to see in the church a future where new goals can be found and a full life lived. If we are to set aside some of the most basic and core desires of humanity help us know that those desires are both true and worthy of grief, but also that they are not ultimate and that a full life of community and family can be lived even in their absence.
Recently the furor about SCOTUS, gay marriage, and LGBT people has gotten to me more than usual. I think what bothers me the most about so many of these conversations is how abstract and how impersonal the conversations inevitably become. As a gay man who is also an Eastern Orthodox Christian I constantly feel pulled in a million directions as I try and remain faithful to the traditional understanding of the Church. I decided my best response to the conversations is to simply present one small experience from the last year. I pray that by doing so I may help restore a small bit of humanity into this broader conversation.
Gregg is currently pursuing a graduate degree in Counseling at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO. He is a member of All Saints of North America, Antiochian Orthodox Church. He can be followed on Twitter Follow @eleisonblog and contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.