"Just when all those around me were assuring me they loved me, cared for me, appreciated me, yes, even admired me, I experienced myself as a useless, unloved, and despicable person. Just when people were putting their arms around me. I saw the endless depth of my human misery and felt that there was nothing worth living for. Just when I had found a home, I felt absolutely homeless…..Just when people were thanking me for bringing them closer to God, I felt that God had abandoned me. It was as if the house I had finally found had no floors. The anguish completely paralyzed me. I could not be reached by consoling words or arguments. I no longer had any interest in other people’s problems. I lost all appetite for food and could not appreciate the beauty of music, art, and even nature.
All of this was triggered by the sudden interruption of a friendship." - Henri Nouwen
One of the most common stories of Christians that struggle with homosexuality is the story of losing a particular meaningful friendship. When this loss takes place, it is one of the most agonizing seasons of faith.
It can be worse than struggling with homosexuality.
Dealing with homosexuality isn’t a walk in the park. It sucks. I would trade places most days of the year to be in the shoes of someone who doesn’t have to deal with same-sex attraction. Gratefully, I have friends who are trying to understand my story, be there for me, love me, and give me the chance to love on them. I'm not the easiest person to get along with. I’m grateful I have friends that stick around.
There is also so much joy when friends understand this is going to be rough and they stand by your side the whole time. It won’t be easy walking alongside a Christian that struggles with homosexuality. We are emotional to a degree that some men feel uncomfortable and don't know how to handle a crying man.
But not all of the friendship is hard. Sometimes it’s great. It’s fun. It’s normal.
And so, I want to offer 5 tips for Christians who are entering into a friendship with a Christian that struggles with homosexuality and lost a friendship that was very meaningful to them. Thanks to the writings of Henri Nouwen and Wesley Hill, I was able to receive the love and care from others as I processed the loss of my important friendship. I think the Church can benefit from their writings as well.
1. Listen to the Story.
Listen to the Story. Figure out what chapter you just entered. You can’t fix stories, they have already happened. Understand that you haven't been a part of this broken friendship and now you just entered into their story. You have no responsibility for our behavior, and you are not yet responsible to offer opinions or advice. Just listen and understand. Ask clarifying questions. Why did this friendship mean so much? How did you meet them? What were the good and bad times of the friendship? Was God a part of this story? Where other friends involved? Was there a community involved? Listen and ask questions to understand the story. Don’t try to fix it.
Also, we are going to have a lot of feelings. These feelings most likely won't be right, but during this specific season of life, they might be the only voice we have left to explain what is going on in our hearts.
When I was getting ready to attend Biola, I was really excited because I knew I was going to have the chance to make a bunch of new friends and have that college experience, well, Christian university experience.
And I did.
And it was fun.
but I also had to live in two different worlds.
One world was dealing with my same-sex attraction, trying to understand what that means, dealing with the shame I had because of this, making sure nobody knew I struggled with this, and trying to act as masculine as I can so nobody would know.
I fooled some people.
The other world was literally just enjoying the college experience.
I was fortunate to have that.
I was able to develop healthy normal friendships. I had a couple of years of that. Going out to eat late at night, eating all the fast food available, playing video games, especially Halo 2. Going on road trips, retreats, debating theology and talking about how free will is the only right way of thinking. Seeing my friends do stupid and immature crap and laughing about it.
I was in the prime of creating friendships and feeling like I didn't have to deal with same-sex attraction.
I loved it.
I kept my struggle a secret for about two years and realized I needed some friends to process this, so I started sharing with some friends and it was great. I was still treated like a normal person.
But by the time I was 20, I screwed up and destroyed a friendship that was a part of my local church. It was painful, but because I was still attending Biola and had a whole other community, I was able to get over that friendship really quick.
But something happened that year I didn’t expect. I met a friend, and this friend changed my life.
In Henri Nouwen’s story, he had a similar experience,
“Among my many friends, one had been able to touch me in a way I had never been touched before. Our friendship encouraged me to allow myself to be loved and cared for with greater trust and confidence. It was a totally new experience for me, and it brought immense joy and peace. It seemed as if a door of my interior life had been opened, a door that had remained locked during my youth and most of my adult life.”
I had the same experience. This new friend opened up a door in my life that I didn’t know existed.
I was finally allowing myself to be loved. I was allowing myself to be valuable. I was allowing myself to let my needs get met.
My new friend shared some of his story with me and we were able to feel connected. He didn’t struggle with homosexuality, but he was also fallen, just like all humans are.
What a great truth to truly understand.
Our friendship developed in such a natural way. Especially since we lived in the same dorm and went to the same University. Our lives were just flowing together.
Our friendship was one. It was amazing. He knew I was attracted to him and processed a lot of this with me. I started going to therapy and learning more and more about myself. I learned I needed touch. I learned that time was important for me. I learned that the transparency I was experiencing was extremely valuable to me, and I was learning I needed to be more open with friends and I started telling most of my community about my life.
My buddy had one important rule in our friendship, he would treat me like he would treat other guy friends. So, I was treated like a guy.
It was amazing.
For a couple of years our friendship was deep, normal, and healthy, then something changed. He started dating a friend and I lost it.
Now I won’t get into the details of this because it gets quite complicated and I want to address it in the future with a more formal way,
but overall, we had a different idea of friendship and marriage.
and because of that, I let the anger and hurt that started forming in me become my leader and my king.
I treated this friend like crap for a long time and then came the consequence of that,
we were no longer friends.
Henri Nouwen wrote what I think is the best words to describe this experience of a friendship falling apart.
“But this deeply satisfying friendship became the road to my anguish because soon I discovered that the enormous space that had been opened for me could not be filled by the one who had opened it. I became possessive, needy, and dependent, and when the friendship finally had to be interrupted, I fell apart. I felt abandoned, rejected and betrayed. Indeed the extremes touch each other. Intellectually I knew that no human friendship could fulfill the deepest longing of my heart. I knew that only God could give me what I desired. I knew that I had been set on a road where nod boy could walk with me but Jesus. But all this knowledge didn’t help me in my pain.”
For a couple of years I was lost, angry, in pain, bitter, in rage, I didn’t want to live, I hated the Church and most Christians, and I hated marriage.
I was wondering why was God so silent in all of this? Why didn’t he tell me what was going on?
C.S Lewis was wrong when he said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.”
God didn’t say or do anything.
For a couple of years, I was yelling at him every other day.
What the hell happened to me? Why did I lose a friend that loved me so well and showed me so much and most importantly, tried to treat me like a normal guy? Why did this friendship mean so much to me? I had many great close guy friends that loved me so well, but their love was something that didn’t touch me the way this friendship did.
I think it was because the friendship helped me overcame the shame I had because a normal straight dude was comfortable with his body with me and gave me the benefit of the doubt that I wasn’t going to lust after him and walk with him in life as a best friend.
He gave me trust and gave me the opportunity to be loyal and not cross that friendship boundary.
I knew I was in the running to be his best man, that was something I was looking forward to. The one position a friend has that says, "This is my best mate!"
And it was now gone.
I don't think I'm going to have that opportunity come up again for the rest of my life either.
During this agonizing season of life, I heard of an up and coming teacher on the topic of Christians struggling with homosexuality.
His name was Wesley Hill and his book Spiritual friendship just came out.
I bought it and read it and finally, for the first time, everything made sense. He also went through the same experience. He used different language to describe his experience though.
In Hill’s book, in the chapter called, "Friendship is a call to suffer," he writes about the time he lost his friendship with a person he really loved. He described the first initial conversation he had to have with his friend as the friend started pursuing a woman he was into.
“Yea, good,” he said. “We talked. And we both feel the same way. We talked about being together. We’re both really happy about it. We like each other.” He laughed. He was smiling. The conversation trailed off. We talked about what we’d each do that night, what work we had left for the afternoon. We said goodbye. I was unprepared for what happened next. My hands were shaking as I placed the phone on the desk. And the tears came almost immediately. I knelt down and folded my knees under my stomach. Gripping the side of the bed, I sobbed. My eyes stung, I cried so much. The next day I stepped into the shower. I couldn’t stop crying. I covered my face with my hands, feeling the hot water cascading over my fingers, seeping in with the tears…..Over the previous several years, my friend and I had become especially close. We liked each other from the time of our first meeting, and our friendship had deepened through many evenings spent talking late into the night. I have never had a friend who loved me so deeply, or whom I've loved so much, I frequently thought…"
Later on, Hill continues to tell the story of how slowly and painfully this friendship fell apart. Although his friends said, “I’m not walking away from you. I’m not leaving. You're not losing me,” this friendship didn’t last.
“I wish I could say that my friend and I found a way through this tangle of grief and somehow managed to attain an even richer intimacy, but we didn’t….We tried talking, again about what had happened, but the collision of my ongoing sense of loss and loneliness and his burgeoning joy at newfound love ultimately proved combustible, and we decided a season of not speaking to each other would be for the best. That season turned into months and then years, and the friendship slowly dwindled.”
When I read this part of his book. I couldn’t believe what just happened. Literally, the exact experience he had I had. He sought out looking for truth and other experiences men like him encountered, and I did the same thing. It was as if I read what I wanted to write about, but I couldn’t do it. I was still drowning in my pain.
There are many reasons why Christians who struggle with homosexuality lose friendships.
There is the most important conversation the Church needs to have right now which is, "Why doesn’t the church value friendships and why is marriage and the nuclear family made into an idol and allowed to still be an idol?"'
Other reasons relate to a lack of understanding of healthy boundaries and communication. A lack of understanding healthy, deep, committed friendships. Understanding needs in a person's life. How to deal with the transitions in the social systems of life and stages in life.
The list goes on.
Right now here is the reality Christians need to understand,
Many Christians that struggle with homosexuality experience this very same narrative. We lose the friend that opened the door to us understanding how to be loved, dealing with shame, helping us understand who we want to be as a man, and also understand what are our needs. The list goes on about this particular friendship and what it did for us.
So the next part of the story takes place,
We are then left in the beautiful hands of the friends that have always been there since the beginning or we meet new friends that happen to show up in this very dark chapter of our lives.
2. Sit with them in the pain.
Henri Nouwen wrote something I think is so beautifully well put.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life
This is going to be a long process. We will be grieving the loss of this friendship for a long time. One of the Professors from Biola, who was helping me navigate this issue and has a lesbian daughter who is married to a woman, told me, “Richard, this will take a long time to heal. Be ready for this, but there is hope.” At that time, I didn’t care about anything. I didn’t want to live and I was a mess. This is what drove me to eventually talking to my parents that I struggled with homosexuality because I knew things were going to get rough.
Listening to the story and sitting with us in pain are different actions. One of my favorite stories in the Christian scriptures is the story of Job. After Job lost all his wealth, children, and was physically inflicted with pain, his closest friends came to be with him.
"When Job’s three friends heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was."
I love this. They just sat with him. That is all humans need sometimes. In the chaos of life, we just need to sit with each other and not talk and just feel the pain.
That is a gnarly idea.
3. Help them make a team.
Eventually, we are going to need friends to step into this pain with us. At first, we are going to want to be alone and raise our fist towards God and others, but then we will realize we need help. One of the issues we have dealing with homosexuality, especially if we are young, is that we want one person to help us fix our life. To some extent, many Christians do this with marriage, especially young newly married Christians. This is dangerous. We need a team. We need to fight against our insecurities and lies and ask a team for help. Henri Nouwen moved into a place of support to finally deal with the agonizing pain he was experiencing so he could receive the love he deserves and needs. Make sure your friend who struggles with homosexuality is building a network of support and friendship to deal with their needs in their life.
Don't be a Savior. Be a teammate.
They need to know that God sent many friends to be very close to them so they can eventually realize they have been loved by many and not just this one friend they had a falling out with. They need to began to fully trust the love their friends are offering them.
4. Invite them into your story.
The amount of pain we are experiencing can be rough, but we can still be there for you in your life. We need to be told that we are still in friendships with others and that we have obligations to do the best we can to support our friends in their own story.
During the time of the the falling out with my best friend, I became friends with a cool Mormon dude that eventually moved in with me and my housemates. For the first year as I was processing my loss, it was good to be rooming with someone who didn't even understand the true message of Jesus, that Jesus was the Son of Father, he was God, and was there in the beginning.
I remember I would have days I would be wanting to kill myself or die somehow and then I would come home to a friend that would ask me questions about Jesus and Christianity and it would help me remember that I was a part of a bigger story, a story of redemption, sacrifice, forgiveness, and newness.
I started realizing other humans in my life still have their stories going on and I belong to it. It wasn't just about my loss, but about the loss and gains of others. The joys and sufferings of others.
Don't be afraid to tell us your story during this time. We need to hear it.
5. Walk with them in the reconciliation process.
Now, this doesn't mean that we would be able to reconcile with our friend anytime soon. What this means is in our hearts we first need to reconcile with God. Any anger we have towards him we need to figure that out if we can, sometimes we can't and only time can help that. I needed years to realize that God loved me and that he was taking care of me and that I needed to ask for forgiveness for all the anger, bitterness, and rage that was in my heart towards him and others.
I also had to remember the cross represents the consequences of sins done to me. That was the hardest for me to accept. I wanted my best friend to feel pain and consequences for the wrongs I felt he committed to me, but I was forgetting that the cross covered that. That Jesus took on the consequences of abandonment that I felt. That is why it is so important to forgive someone even if we don't necessarily hear an apology from them.
"If you forgive others the wrongs they have done to you, your Father in heaven will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive the wrongs you have done."
"And when you stand and pray, forgive anything you may have against anyone, so that your Father in heaven will forgive the wrongs you have done."
"Drink it, all of you; this is my blood, which seals God's covenant, my blood poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."
We are part of the New Covenant, but to be a part of it means we need to have a heart of forgiveness or at least pursue that truth. I started to realize this through months of processing the pain and anger that was in me as well as realizing that my friends also were getting tired of our friendship always being about my pain.
I needed to move on and forgive or I was going to become someone I didn't want to be.
Once I realized this, a couple of years after this falling out, I was able to see the situations my friend and I were in differently. I had more compassion, understanding, and sadness at our falling out.
To some extent, I think what we went through happened because we were a product of our evangelical communities and we faced bigger issues that the church is trying to figure out now, which is the idolization of marriage, what is healthy true community, how important should friendship be, and how does the church offer healthy intimacy to Christians struggling with homosexuality. The church is starting to address this stuff now, it makes sense to me why we couldn't figure this out as 22-year-olds. At times I'm frustrated that this happened between us and other times I see the good this has produced in my life because it did help me in big ways which now is helping others, especially with the realization of what the 4TS were in my life that this friend gave to me.
Henri Nouwen also reminded me of the reconciliation process and how to have compassion,
"You keep listening to those who seem to reject you. But they never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. They confess their poverty in the face of your needs and desires. They simply ask for your compassion. They do not say that you are bad, ugly, or despicable. They say only that you are asking for something they cannot give and that they need to get some distance from you to survive emotionally. The sadness is that you perceive their necessary withdrawal as a rejection of you instead of as a call to return home and discover there your true belovedness."
I can keep going on with Henri Nouwen insights.
After I was able to finally forgive the parties in this falling out, I had a passion to help Christians that don't struggle with homosexuality understand how to help others who do struggle with it. I had developed other deep and meaningful friendships that prepared them for the chaos of a Christian that struggles with homosexuality.
I don't want other Christian friendships to suffer the way my best friend and I suffered. I want there to be hope, truth, and a path already walked.
This is what reconciliation can do, it opens up the doors of redemption and God using the mess in our life to glorify his name. I realized my experience and story can help other Christians that don't struggle with homosexuality to understand what it takes to help someone who does.
Communication, healthy boundary expectations, understanding of loyal committed friendship, the value of touch, time, transparency, and most importantly, TEAMWORK.