Weakness and Strength

I was almost certain within the last couple of weeks that I didn't care ever to write again. I went from being utterly, severely, and hopelessly depressed to an even darker state of wishing I were dead. I'm too cowardly to take my own life; but if someone wanted to take it from me I wouldn't protest. Sure, my death would just about kill my mother and most likely turn her into an atheist, but I didn't much care. Thus far, this has been the darkest period of my life, the causes of which were loneliness and rejection.

One of the absolute most dearest friends I have been blessed with in this life emailed to me an article about an exact experience as mine, also encountered by the late Henri Nouwen, regarding loneliness and rejection: Wesley Hill's "Henri Nouwen's Weakness was His Strength" published by Christianity Today. I didn't like the title, I admit, as I self-reflected that my own weakness is most certainly not my strength. I also confess that I only reluctantly read the article. More to the point, I half-heartedly read the first on-line page, and then clicked away. Whether or not I would return to the article was not clear. I only thought that I was not yet willing to read it, or learn from it, or perhaps I was not ready.

Our author, Wesley Hill, and I share the same "affliction" as that of Henri Nouwen -- not merely same-gendered attraction but the desire to love and to be loved by a man. Wesley notes: "Even after weathering that storm [of falling in love with one of his male co-workers], he [Nouwen] regularly fell back into the experience of wanting more intimacy than simple friendship usually affords." Wesley quotes author Philip Yancey: "I go back through [his] writings and sense the deeper, unspoken agony that underlay what he wrote about rejection, about the wound of loneliness that never heals, about friendships that never satisfy." (emphases added) For single gay men, who have devoted themselves to singleness and to celibacy due to their conservative evangelical understanding of homosexuality and the Bible, friendships can never assume a satisfying role or inner need as can a romantic relationship.

This notion of rejection may not be rejection proper, meaning that men constantly reject engaging us in a romantic relationship, but rather a placebo feeling of rejection that is perceived as rejection proper. The loneliness that accompanies singleness (and celibacy) feels like rejection -- as though nobody loves you, wants you, or even likes you. This is not true, of course, and that is why I call this a placebo feeling; but the feeling is prominent and overpowering regardless. One senses that, if no one loves me, then why should I love myself? You may respond, "But God loves you, and your family loves you, and your friends love you. How could you feel unloved, unfriended, or unwanted?"

If feeling loved by God, family and friends were ultimately satisfying, then no one, whether heterosexual, bi-, pan- or homosexual, would ever seek romantic relationships. There is an element to romantic/emotional/sexual monogamous relationships that is fulfilling where other relationships fail to satisfy. When a person desperately longs to love and to be loved romantically/emotionally/sexually in a monogamous relationship, and then either cannot experience it or denies him- or herself the expression, feelings of loneliness can lead to placebo feelings of rejection; and, of course, to the "wound of loneliness that never heals," and the "friendships that never satisfy."

There are some children of God who can endure the emotional and psychological pain of singleness and celibacy. Though, truth be told, this pain nearly ruined Nouwen during one particularly dark season of his life. He limped his way through this period, with the help of friends and, of course, the strength of the Holy Spirit within him. But, lately, I have been maintaining a profound and massive Christian sympathy for those believers in Christ who cannot endure this immense pain but seek to be faithfully partnered for life to another like-minded soul of the same gender; and, as my close friends know, I don't care what anyone thinks of my so-called Christian sympathy. But I digress.

Though I admire Nouwen's resilience, as well as his emphasis upon the Eucharist, and the person of Jesus Christ; though I am encouraged that Nouwen was not one to "[endorse] a soupy 'spiritual-but-not-religious' outlook," as noted by Wesley; that Nouwen "repeatedly directs his fans and friends to 'know nothing but him [Jesus] and proclaim him at all times and at all places'"; though Wesley states that Nouwen's weakness was his strength; and that, ultimately, "offering one's wounded self to a needy other is achievement enough"; none of these aspects helped me. They seemed little more than superficial psudo-spiritual band-aids on a gaping wound of a seeming insurmountable darkness.

Not one of the above truths helped me zero-in on the Why? of my pain. Not until, just recently, I understood that the loneliness that was fueling my depression was caused by me measuring my self-worth, and even my physical and metaphysical desirability, upon the approval of others did I realize the path out of that nine-week dark wilderness. I did not know that I was doing that; I needed a gracious Light to illumine my mind as to the immediate cause of my desperate state. Once I understood the cause, I was able to correct my thinking, and then to read Wesley's article.

Still, encouraging me to focus on the Eucharist, or the person of Jesus Christ, or to "offer my wounded self to a needy other" did not and would not have brought about this much-needed illumination. I remember two weeks ago sitting in worship and crying through the entire service -- the entire service. I was singing the hymns, and praying the prayers, and listening intently to the message preached; I was trying so hard to focus on Christ and Him crucified and risen; and I was looking for the comfort of the Eucharist. Still I cried. There was no comfort. I would not be comforted. But now I am comforted.

I am comforted by the fact that my self-worth is not measured by the fickle and subjective opinions of others; I find comfort in friends who genuinely love me: my new friend Rich, Mrs. Pat (and Mr. Bob), Dale, Justin, Helen, Jennifer, Linda, Jerry, Shannon, Hugh, Sonia, Rhonda, Bill, Jenni, Ed, Sheri, Jennie, Mickey, Rene, Robin, Ken, Judith, Kevin, Laura, Patty, Sandy, Rosie and others. The darkness that was my utter loneliness blinded me to the human sources of strength that were at my disposal, encouraging me not to give up, informing me that I am a creature of worth -- even if I had trouble believing that.


My photo

My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.