Part 3: What Heartbreak and Heartache Have Taught Me About Community
I’m a verbal processor and am usually a miserable failure at not gushing most details of my life with anyone trustworthy who will listen. I must have shared about my feelings for Corey with dozens and dozens of friends those first first two years, even if it was difficult for me to find the right language. Many of my celibate friends empathized and connected through their own stories of heartache and longing—friends who listened to the same laments over and over again and friends who called things as they saw them. My Side A friends, who were open to same-sex relationships, were thankful that I was finally coming to terms with my humanity and experiencing what most typical boys experienced a decade earlier. They helped me know that what I experienced is merely a part of life and a part of growing up. I had few examples of what to do with romantic feelings as a celibate gay man, which made it difficult to know how normal or abnormal my experiences were. As I learned, falling in love and going through heartache and heartbreak is just a part of life, celibate or not. I was thankful for the advice and empathy my friends shared as well as their enduring patience with me.
As a celibate gay man, I never thought I was supposed to fall in love. Matthew Vines, the popular gay-affirming apologist, has said that one of the worst things that can happen to a celibate gay man or woman is to fall in love. I don’t know if it is the single worst thing, but I think it is an especially excruciating challenge for many of us. In the celibate world, there are few models or examples of just getting through experiences of falling in love, and as a result, few talk about that experience openly. More than one of my celibate friends have participated in the wedding of the man or woman they were in love with at one time. For many of them, that was a heartache they endured silently. What they were feeling was something they believed they needed to reject or fear. So often they endured these intense feelings silently and alone.
Some of my affirming friends lost faith in their convictions about celibacy after they experienced mutual romantic connection. It was easy to get caught up in the rush of feelings that you never thought were possible and a connection you never believed could really exist. In most cases they eventually experienced heartbreak but almost always didn’t stop pursuing romantic relationships after that first experience. The veil had been torn down, and they suddenly realized what, in a sense, they’d been missing. The challenge for celibate gay Christians is: How do you walk right up to the edge of the brink, look your feelings in the eye and acknowledge that they are real and important, but still choose not to walk down the path that these feelings are naturally inclined to lead?
It has also been comforting to walk with many of my friends through their heartbreak (both gay and straight). Many of my friends have welcomed me into the most tender areas of their hearts during these particularly difficult seasons. I’ve been blessed to just sit and cry with friends grieving breakups and have walked alongside friends who’ve spent years navigating romantic feelings that severely complicated their lives. I’m deeply thankful for the ways my friends have both modeled pain and been willing to share their lives with me during some of the most trying periods of life.
For me personally, I have found solace for my pain by diving into a rich theology of suffering. I tried to synthesize a bit of what I’ve read and studied in an essay I wrote a few years back (“Reflections on Suffering“). In my better moments, I turned to prayer, diving into the Paraklesis service , or the Akathist “Jesus, Light To Those in Darkness.” I also listened to a great deal of Christian music about longing and comfort. Hymns like “Be Still My Soul” and “Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” and songs by The Brilliance like “Mercy” and “Hands and Feet” were comforting. In my more secular moods I often found solace in albums by Sam Smith, Adele, Sia, and A Great Big World, as well as ballads from Les Miserables, Bare a Pop Opera, and many others. In their own way, each of of these emotional outlets helped give voice to my heartache and brought me comfort. Even when prayer is difficult I force myself to be in the Liturgy each Sunday and attempt in various ways to raise my lament, as well as my praise, to God.
Heartache and heartbreak are nothing new for sexual minorities, just like they’re nothing new for the rest of humanity. A broken heart and a lost love are bound to happen to all of us at some point or another. So how do you live with heartbreak when you were never suppose to fall in love? I’m thankful for these experiences but they haven’t left me with real answers. I am still just trying to do my best to know myself, my heart, and my community in light of these experiences. I know that I will fall in love again, and that it will be different than my experiences with Corey and Brad but I hope that I will approach it from a new perspective and with increased maturity. I know that I will be less afraid when it happens, and when I need support I know who I will turn to. My community of friends and family helped me to get through these difficult seasons of life; many sexual minorities sadly don’t have that support.
A major question for Christian sexual minorities, is how our communities will respond to our experiences. Can we look to our churches and our friends for the support and empathy that we so dearly need in these seasons of intense pain and turmoil? Must we sanitize and polish the groanings of our hearts so that we avoid any hint of indulging what must be rejected as sin? Are we prepared to begin trying to answer the deeper questions that face gay Christians about our hearts and our love? These questions and so many like them are what many of my friends wrestle with on a daily basis, trying to make sense of what their faith asks them to do with their sexuality and their heart. How can our churches be less afraid of where their answers may lead them so that they are willing to enter into these questions alongside those who are most directly impacted by the answers? This is the challenge that we as a church face, and we must each take some time to just listen.
Gregg Webb is a provisionally licensed professional counselor living in Chicago, IL. Originally from St. Louis, MO he was born and raised in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He currently attends Christ the Savior OCA parish in downtown Chicago, where he sings tenor in the choir. You can follow him on Twitter, as well as at his personal blog www.eleisonblog.org.