A Series On Loneliness

!Cabrillo, 2012 191

Thou wentest forth in the Spirit of power, fresh from the baptismal wave, into the desert, that a pattern of the solitary life also might not be wanting in Thy Person. Loneliness, forty days’ fast, the sharp tooth of hunger, temptations from the deceiver-spirit,—all were borne by Thee with even mind, that thus all might by Thy working be made bearable to us.

–Ninth Meditation of St. Anselm, On the Humanity of Christ

Some thoughts on loneliness have been percolating in my mind lately, and I’ve decided that this will have to be a series of reflections, rather than just one or two posts. How to positively respond to loneliness seems to me to be the big challenge of life today for everyone, not merely the folks who’ve chosen the single life in response to their attractions to the same sex.

I’ve found great inspiration in this regard in the writings of Henri Nouwen, so I’ll be relying on much of his writings on the subject as a springboard for my reflections.

I’ve been rereading some of my favorite passages of his as I’ve been thinking about what I might write, and the opening lines of his excellent book Reaching Out seem to sum up the situation:

It is far from easy to enter into the painful experience of loneliness. You like to stay away from it. Still it is an experience that enters into everyone’s life at some point. . . You might have felt it as a young adult in a university where everyone talked about grades but where a good friend was hard to find . . . you still might feel it day after day during staff meetings, conferences, counseling sessions, during long office hours or monotonous manual labor, or just when you are by yourself staring away from a book that cannot keep your attention. Practically every human being can recall similar or much more dramatic situations in which he or she has experienced that strange inner gnawing, that mental hunger, that unsettling unrest that makes us say, “I feel lonely.”

He writes “loneliness is one of the most universal sources of human suffering today,” and that “too often we will do everything possible to avoid confrontation with the experience of being alone, and sometimes we are able to create the most ingenious devices to prevent ourselves from being reminded of this condition.”

(Isn’t this one reason Facebook and social media have had such resounding success?)

Henri Nouwen continues:

Our culture has become most sophisticated in the avoidance of pain, not only our physical pain but our emotional and mental pain as well. We not only bury our dead as if they were still alive, but we also bury our pains as if they were not really there. We have become so used to this state of anesthesia, that we panic when there is nothing or nobody left to distract us. When we have no project to finish, no friend to visit, no book to read, no television to watch or no record to play, and when we are left all alone by ourselves we are brought so close to the revelation of our basic human aloneness and are so afraid of experiencing an all-pervasive sense of loneliness that we will do anything to get busy again and continue the game which makes us believe that everything is fine after all. John Lennon says: “Feel your own pain,” but how hard that is!

I’ll be reflecting on these sorts of thoughts over the course of who-knows-how-many posts. Fundamental to a healthy approach towards finding fruitfulness out of loneliness is that last line of Nouwen’s: we need to first confront, head on, our deep loneliness. That’s the first step, it seems to me: honestly acknowledge how painful our loneliness is to us.

Guiding all of these considerations though, will be the theme of that great quote from St. Anselm: Christ suffered great loneliness too, for our sake, so that by his working, it will be made bearable to us.

So stay tuned. I have a lot to say, because, well, I have felt a lot of tremendous loneliness in my life. These thoughts won’t be hypothetical–they’ll be what has made sense of all of the loneliness in my life.

Hopefully they might help someone else in some way. In the meantime, here are all the other posts I’ve written on loneliness.

(Alex, this is for you!)

Advertisements

Some Thoughts On Redemptive Suffering

Lately, I’ve been going through some old writing of mine. This was something I wrote about suffering about five years ago. It was before I knew that I’d soon be Catholic, and was in the midst of the tail end of the journey that led me back to Rome. I was in the middle of a lot of painful things in life, so suffering was always on my mind, particularly the poignant suffering of loneliness and lost dreams and hopes which resulted from lots of things, including my desires for men, and the lost relationship with a woman who I believed I could have shared my life with. Five years on, I’m glad everything happened as it did, but back then I was a wreck most everyday. And to that, I say thank God I went through it all!

A good friend of mine had surgery today to remove a cancerous prostate. He and his wife have been in my thoughts quite a bit throughout the day. Sadly, I don’t think the surgery was the most painful thing today. The death of a dream and hope of having children is the most painful wound of all for both of them. It makes it so clear to me once again that suffering is not far removed from any of us.

Continue reading

On Loneliness

I recently had a priest write me an email about a parishioner of his who is feeling loneliness quite acutely.  This person used to be in a relationship, and now, as she has chosen to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church on sexuality, she misses the intimacy of her past relationships.

We know from Genesis that “it is not good for man to live alone,” but as has often been said, there are worse things than loneliness.  My favorite quote from C. S. Lewis often comes to mind when I find myself in the dumps because of loneliness:

If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.

Loneliness is the biggie–the one aspect of living out the call to chastity that is oh, so difficult to bear.  The sex can be lived without, though naturally with difficulty.  It’s the lack of companionship that’s the really difficult part.  What I have found necessary is tolive my life on a daily basis.  As Christ said, why worry about tomorrow, for today has enough troubles of its own?  I find that living the single life, on a daily basis, can be quite rewarding and fulfilling.  It’s the contemplation of a looming, long life of perpetual singleness that overwhelms one so easily, so when the temptation comes of thinking about myself as a single octogenarian, I try to settle down focusing on what today brings.  (And then I try to imagine myself in light of one of my favorite great uncles who was a bachelor his entire life.  As an octogenarian, he was one of the most joy filled people I’ve ever met in my entire life.  Being like Uncle Arvid is the goal.)

In the meantime, as an early quadragenarian, just a little over halfway to reaching my uncle Arvid’s age, loneliness is a poignant reality I live with to a varying degree each day.  I have found the worst thing that a lonely person can do is to sit about the house, moping.  I’ve been known to spend an entire day in bed (and this can still happen from time to time), but over the years, I’ve learned the obvious: this isn’t ever helpful or productive.  When I get in a funk, I make a concerted effort to get out of the house, usually calling up some friends to go grab a beer or a cup of coffee.  (OK…usually beer).  Thankfully I have a large network of friends so it’s a rare moment of loneliness where I’m forced to be by myself.  In such times, getting out of the house, whether walking my dog, or going to a favorite bookstore, or walking about taking photos, (one of my instant happiness producing activities) generally helps the intense feelings of loneliness be more tolerable.

From a spiritual standpoint, I’ve tried to view loneliness as a strange gift from God.  I choose with my will to view it in this light, and it has helped loneliness be more palatable to me.  Henri Nouwen, who we now know lived with attractions for other men, wrote remarkable words on loneliness in his book, the Wounded Healer:

But the more I think about loneliness, the more I think that the wound of loneliness is like the Grand Canyon–a deep incision in the surface of our existence which has become an inexhaustible source of beauty and self-understanding.

Therefore I would like to voice loudly and clearly what might seem unpopular and maybe even disturbing: The Christian way of life does not take away our loneliness; it protects and cherishes it as a precious gift. Sometimes it seems as if we do everything possible to avoid the painful confrontation with our basic human loneliness, and allow ourselves to be trapped by false gods promising immediate satisfaction and quick relief. But perhaps the painful awareness of loneliness is an invitation to transcend our limitations and look beyond the boundaries of our existence. The awareness of loneliness might be a gift we must protect and guard, because our loneliness reveals to us an inner emptiness that can be destructive when misunderstood, but filled with promise for him who can tolerate its sweet pain.

When we are impatient, when we want to give up our loneliness and try to overcome the separation and incompleteness we feel, too soon, we easily relate to our human world with devastating expectations. We ignore what we already know with a deep-seated, intuitive knowledge–that no love or friendship, no intimate embrace or tender kiss, no community, commune or collective, no man or woman, will ever be able to satisfy our desire to be released from our lonely condition. This truth is so disconcerting and painful that we are more prone to play games with our fantasies than to face the truth of our existence. Thus we keep hoping that one day we will find the man who really understands our experiences, the woman who will bring peace to our restless life, the job where we can fulfill our potentials, the book which will explain everything, and the place where we can feel at home. Such false hope leads us to make exhausting demands and prepares us for bitterness and dangerous hostility when we start discovering that nobody, and nothing, can live up to our absolutistic expectations.

Many marriages are ruined because neither partner was able to fulfill the often hidden hope that the other would take his or her loneliness away. And many celibates live with naive dream that in the intimacy of marriage their loneliness will be taken away.

Viewing loneliness like the beauty of the Grand Canyon isn’t very popular, but I find Nouwen’s view of the subject inspiring.  Thomas Merton’s view of the Israelites time in the desert in his book Thoughts in Solitude has also helped me come to terms with the loneliness I feel from time to time:

The desert was the region in which the Chosen People had wandered for forty years, cared for by God alone.  They could have reached the Promised Land in a few months if they had traveled directly to it.  God’s plan was that they should learn to love Him in the wilderness and that they should always look back upon the time in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.

I have a dear friend who is a consecrated virgin.  She and I have talked about the loneliness of the single life, and as someone a few years older than me, I find her insights from walking the journey ahead of me invaluable.  I still remember distinctly a conversation we had about her view of her relationship with God.  It is a very personal and intimate relationship with God, in a sense of Christ being her constant companion and friend.  She literally plans her day, talking with Jesus with an assurance that He’s there beside her all the time.  To an outsider looking in, they might assume she’s crazy when she says, “OK, Jesus, what should we do today?”  Personally, I like the idea of going grocery shopping with the Messiah.

That being said, obviously there is a lack of the physical comfort and presence of another human being.  No matter how close we may feel with Jesus, I can’t get a hug from him when I’m down.  I often think of C. S. Lewis wrote in one of his letters:  “It is quite useless knocking at the door of Heaven for earthly comfort:  it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.”

Certainly others can be the “hands and feet of Christ,” but no one can really salve the pain of loneliness of the single person.  Or, for that matter, the married man or woman who feels loneliness within his or her marriage. As Mother Theresa said, “the most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

So the question, naturally, is what is our response to loneliness?

Well, besides the obvious, (drinking craft beer with friends), I’m still trying to work that out.  These books have been invaluable for me in trying to figure out a healthy and creative response to the suffering of loneliness:

Elisabeth Elliot has catapulted herself into the pantheon of my favorite authors. She’s definitely in the top ten for me, and has to be listed as one of the most influential writers who have shaped my thinking.

Here’s a favorite passage from one of her books, with an admittedly lachrymose title: The Path of Loneliness.

Acceptance of discipleship is the utter abandonment of the disciple, the surrender of all rights, to the Master. This abandonment, in all cases, will mean pain. Christ listed some of the troubles His followers could expect, so that they would not be taken by surprise and thus discard their faith in Him. He didn’t offer immunity. He asked for trust.

As we have noted, Jesus published no false advertising. He was offering the kingdom of heaven–bliss, eternal life, fullness of joy. But He spoke of the small gate and the narrow road. He promised suffering, not escape from suffering. You cannot take up a cross and at the same time not take up a cross, or learn how to die and how not to die.

And another passage:

There are many things that God does not fix precisely because He loves us. (Emphasis is Elliot). Instead of extracting us from the problem, He calls us. In our sorrow or loneliness or pain He calls us—“This is a necessary part of the journey. Even if it is the roughest part, it is only a part, and it will not last the whole long way. Remember where I am leading you. Remember what you will find at the end—a home and a haven and a heaven.”

As Lewis said, “we’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering of this world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.”

Elliot says later that, “It is possible both to accept and to endure loneliness without bitterness when there is a vision of glory beyond.”

I feel that this misses the mark in some ways, despite how valuable I think her writing is. For me, the most compelling reason that makes suffering endurable is not the “glory” that might or might not come, but the fundamental belief that suffering is an invitation to love. Any later glory is ultimately irrelevant to a flesh and blood man whose only basis for belief in our coming glory is rooted in faith. My neighbor is someone I don’t need faith to believe in–I can shake his hand and help dig his car out of the snow. A faith that believes that our suffering, whether it be loneliness or something else, is something that can be used to gain salvation for those we love, as Colossians 1:24 tells us, is the strongest reason, and also I believe the most beautiful reason, for accepting, enduring and embracing suffering.

Interior Freedom by Jacques Phillipe has also been very, very helpful for me.  A friend felt led by God to send that book to me several years ago, and though it is a short book, it is dense with wisdom and I took a long time to read it.  It has helped me immensely.  One of the best sections from the book is this:
It is natural and easy to go along with pleasant situations that arise without our choosing them.  It becomes a problem, obviously, when things are unpleasant, go against us, or make us suffer.  But it is precisely then that, in order to become truly free, we are often called to choose to accept what we did not want, and even what we would not have wanted at any price. 

There is a paradoxical law of human life here:  one cannot become truly free unless one accepts not always being free! To achieve true interior freedom we must train ourselves to accept, peacefully and willingly, plenty of things that seem to contradict our freedom.  This means consenting to our personal limitations, our weaknesses, our powlerlessness, this or that situation that life imposes on us, and so on.  We find it difficult to do this, because we feel a natural revulsion for situations we cannot control.  But the fact is that the situations that really make us grow are precisely those we do not control.  There are many examples.

I think this applies so clearly to the loneliness of life, and to all those aspects of human suffering over which we have no control.

I’ll have to finish my recommended book list tomorrow.  But I’ll close with another quote from C. S. Lewis from another letter of his:

Well, thank God (for there is still part of me, a tiny little infantine voice somewhere amidst all the strong, confident natural voices, which can just thank Him, or perhaps only thank Him for being able to wish to thank Him) we shall not be left to the world.  All His terrible resources (but it is we who force him to use them) will be brought against us to detach us from it—insecurity, war, poverty, pain, unpopularity, loneliness.  We must be taught that this tent is not our home.  And, by Jove, how terrible it would be if all suffering, including death itself, were optional, so that only a very few voluntary ascetics ever even attempted to achieve the end for which we are created.  A propos—dare we gloss the text ‘Strait is the way and few there be that find it,’ by adding “And that’s why most of you have to be bustled and badgered into it like sheep—and the sheep-dogs have to have pretty sharp teeth too’!  I hope so.

The Yoke and Burden

I’m grateful God gave us the saints to inspire us.  Especially the ones who lived lives like most of the rest of us:  filled with weakness, foibles and falls.  David is one of my favorite characters in the Bible.  The man “after God’s own heart” gives me hope: continually up and down, living in times of both extreme consolation and desolation, and obviously living a life where he had difficulty controlling his passions.  If an adulterer and murderer can be in God’s good graces, well there’s hope for me and the rest of humanity.

I like Jonah a lot too.  God says to him, “go to Nineveh.”  Nope.  Off to Tarshish he goes.  God hounded him, and then when he finally comes to his senses, God saves him through the most bizarre means and sends him on his mission.  Then, if that’s not enough, Jonah gets angry at God for not destroying the city he was sent to warn to repent.  (Isn’t this proof that God uses weak people to do his work?)  The denouement, (which always makes me laugh when I read the story) is how histrionic and filled with self pity Jonah becomes when the plant dies that’s providing him shade.  One of the most pathetic moments of all of Scripture comes from Jonah’s mouth:

When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah’s head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.”

I’m grateful that Jonah was filled with depression and self pity, that Moses refused to speak for God, that St. Peter rebuked Christ three times, that Gideon didn’t trust God right away, and that one of our cherished saints is called Doubting Thomas.

The saints are human, just like me.  Filled with ups and downs, successes and failures in virtue, and susceptible to temptation.  Right now, I’m thinking of the many emotional and psychological ups and downs of David, since I find myself living in a moment of desolation.

St. Ignatius’ teaching on desolation and consolation is, well, a great consolation to me.  It’s refreshing to know that these ups and downs have been the pattern of life for all the saints.  I often find myself in a valley of sorts after a long trip away from home, when the reality of daily living sets in and the responsibilities which I gladly left behind make themselves known to me in stark reality.  After five weeks from home, after an amazing trip across the country, it’s back to the reality of the daily grind.  I don’t know what it’s like for the rest of humanity, but for me, after a vacation I’m less likely to feel a sense of rejuvenation than I am to fall into a bit of a funk for a few days–or longer.

I’ve lived long enough to know that this is the pattern of my life, but I only seem to recognize it after it happens.  I don’t seem to have enough memory to know preemptively that it will happen, but every time it does, I recognize it.  With the inevitable post vacation funk comes a swirl of temptations, focused on all of the ways in which I have tried in my life to find earthly consolation for the spiritual desolation I feel.

Of course, these means are always insufficient.  The thing to do in times of desolation is to take it to the Cross.  The only real answer that has ever been a salve for the times of desolation in my life come through the grace of God, when He seems to whisper to me, “take it up, on behalf of so-and-so.”

The temptations for me that have the greatest pull for me in times of desolation are, and always have been, related to my flesh.  I want to feel good, somehow, right now.  My rational mind knows that none of the sensual pleasures of the world satisfy, but the temptations that call to me with a siren song during times like these so often can overcome my reason and my resolve.  How comforting it is that one of the cornerstones of our faith, St. Paul said of himself in Romans 7, “the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.”

It’s easy to follow God in times of consolation–which is exactly why he brings us into desolation.  It’s there where we truly understand our need for Him.  What makes it clear to us is when we see, as St. Paul did, a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members.”

It is in times of desolation where we truly realize what Christ says in John 15:5, “apart from me, you can do nothing.”  Though it goes against my nature, I’ve realized that the times of desolation are the ones I need to be truly grateful for, since it’s then that I realize my true need for God.  It’s times like these that I echo what St. Paul said, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

As I walked through Costco today, restocking after my month long trip away, I realized I was walking around in the malaise of a blue funk.  I felt a little sorry for myself, like Jonah did.  I felt some pretty keen feelings of loneliness after spending a few nights with couples who are very much in love with each other.  Our Enemy likes to whisper to me thoughts of envy when I see how nonchalantly a boyfriend caresses the arm of his girlfriend in a restaurant, showing quietly the power of touch to convey love and caring, something that  those with same sex attraction, desirous of following the Church, probably won’t experience.  The tender caresses of people in love I think are the easiest means by which Our Enemy desires me to envy for others, because it genuinely fills me with an aching longing to have that in my life.  (I am reminded of the wise quote of C. S. Lewis:  It is quite useless knocking at the door of Heaven for earthly comfort:  it’s not the sort of comfort they supply there.)

Shopping for groceries for one can be a painful experience when one is in a desolation.  But sometimes, as today, the grace of God shines down through the blanketing clouds like a momentary ray of light, saying, “this way.”  As I walked around, filling my cart, thinking about the temptations that have been assailing me, thinking about the funk I’ve been in, it seemed God said, “For whom are you willing to carry this?”

I’m convinced God views our times of desolation as invitations.  Not merely to understand our entire need for him when temptations assail us, but to unite our spiritual funk to the Cross.  Literally to lift the depression we feel, willfully, onto our backs, on behalf of someone.  I immediately thought of the nephew of one of my friends, who I just found out lives with same sex attraction and is right now living a secret life addicted to pornography and cruising online for guys.  God brought him to mind, and through His grace asked me, “So…are you willing to strap this funk on your back, for him?”  Yes, Sir, I am!

The only means of peace and joy I have ever found in times of desolation comes when God gives me the grace to carry it for others, to willfully choose it, rather than be subject to its whims.  This is a powerful tool for redeeming times of desolation.  The desolations of same sex attraction can be profoundly painful, and these periods of desolation in the life of so many of us, especially our experience of profound loneliness from time to time, seems to fly in the face of Christ’s words:  “My yoke is easy and my burden is light,” and yet this is our call:  to take it up, even if it doesn’t always feel easy or light.

I have come to think about his yoke and burden in different ways that we naturally think about, in light of the saints.  St. Aelred of Rievelaux has changed my entire view of Christ’s yoke.  He said the profoundly beautiful words, “His yoke is charity, his burden is brotherly love.”  It’s not that the yoke and burden are easy–they become easy, because of the love of Christ flowing through us, when we choose to offer them up on behalf of someone else.

I’m reminded often in times like this of the beautiful scene in Fr. Robert Barron’s Catholicism series where he points to one of the most horrific portrayals of the Crucifixion I’ve ever seen.  He points to the Cross, and says that here is a picture of the most joy filled person who ever lived.  This, I’m convinced, is what it meant when Christ says His yoke is easy, and his burden is light.  The pains of life become easy and light, when we choose to accept and embrace them, with our will, out of love for others.  I think this is what is meant by becoming “living sacrifices.”

I don’t know how long this funk will last this time around.  But through the grace of God, I’ll carry it for my friend’s nephew.  It doesn’t make it less of a funk, but I’m convinced, through God’s economy, it does great good. And it makes it much more bearable.

(But I’d still like it to go away).

Thoughts on Falling in Love

There is an interesting phenomenon going on in the blogosphere right now amongst those who adhere to the teachings of the Church on human sexuality, and who embrace chastity, and yet label themselves as gay.  These folks collectively accept the moniker of gay or lesbian, embrace a notion of “being queer,” and of celebrating their homosexuality.  Aside from the fact that I think this is opposed to the language the Church uses about man, I think this results in a slippery slope.

I wrote the following in response to a blog entry I read, which had the following paragraph:

“What they don’t realize is that while the homosexual inclination is itself objectively disordered, the overall experience of the homosexual, even including falling in love, is not objectively disordered.”

Surely “falling in love” becomes something other than than the “disinterested friendship” the CCC teaches us about.  I notice on the part of the “gay identity” crowd that there is much parsing of the language of the CCC (in ways which no other section of the CCC is parsed out). Falling in love is not truly friendship, by any stretch of the imagination. It moves outside the very realm of friendship and moves from philia into Eros. I would submit that the only appropriate modes of love between members of the same sex must be confined to “friendships,” and the aspects of love which are appropriate to friendship are forms of storge, philia and agape.

When we fall in love with another person, romantically, we move towards the realm of that which is objectively disordered. I know that you all disagree with this, but when one “falls in love,” it is no longer a disinterested friendship, even if one believes that such a romantic relationship can be ennobled.

In my own life, I have made a conscious decision to avoid becoming close to men for whom I might become romantically drawn towards. I think this is prudent, and I think adheres to the wise counsel of the Church in focusing on “disinterested friendship.”

This comes from a long history of having crushes on other men, and realizing that in embracing these feelings of romance towards other guys, I no longer can see them objectively as merely friends. They become objects of my affection which contaminate those friendships, and besides, they can easily lead to occasions to sin. When one has “fallen in love” with another man, one delights in the memory of him, the coming of him at his next visit, in a way that I believe God has not ordained for same sex friendships. It is not that friends who aren’t romantically attached don’t long for the next visit, but the longing obviously comes from a very different emotional place. I think the totality of the disordered inclination ALSO includes this “falling in love” aspect of relationship, which moves us beyond the realm of “disinterested friendship.” Once we allow ourselves to “fall in love” with a member of the same sex, we have set up a pseudo relationship rooted in Eros, which I believe is counter to our good, and counter to God’s plans for our lives.

What is the fulfillment of a romantic love, felt for another man? If one begins to accept that falling in love with another man is objectively ordered, how does that play itself out? Are you no longer “getting together to hang out,” or are you now “going on a date?” Do you hold hands in the car or in a movie? Do you cuddle on the couch, watching a movie? Do you stare into each other’s eyes over a candle lit dinner in Paris? Do you linger in a hug, in the same way a man and woman linger in a hug? Do you caress the face of your beloved, in the same way a man caresses a woman’s face?

There is a great difference between the joy of friendship, that say, Lewis and Tolkein felt for each other, and the joy of “friendship” I have felt in the past when I’ve had my own “beloved.” Lewis and Tolkein I doubt ever fantasized about the emotional high they felt in each other’s presence. And that’s what romantic love is so often about, particularly in the first stages. Any study of the Inklings showed that their friendship was completely disinterested, which is what made it so rich. They experienced what Lewis calls the “What? You too?” phenomenon, which is very different than the notion of “falling in love.” My views of my friend, where I without a doubt “fell in love with him,” were doomed to disappoint. There is no appropriate method of fulfillment with a romantic love between two men or two women. There IS an appropriate mode of fulfillment between two men and women who love each other, strictly as friends, and that fulfillment is the great gift of the brotherhood of commonality and enjoyment of the person. When romantic love enters into a same sex friendship, at that point, I’m convinced this falls into the rubric of no longer being a disinterested friendship.

So too with a married man or a married woman who become friends, and have a “romantic” relationship with each other, even if it is physically chaste. There is something very self-indulgent when a married person becomes too close to a member of the opposite sex. When these friendships are pursued, they serve one purpose: to make us happy, and for the warm feelings the contemplation of the “beloved” brings. It is self-interested, it is self-motivated, it is self-indulgent. A married man or a married woman can have wonderful, and even close friendships with a member of the opposite sex, but they are wise to understand that the boundary must be the same one which we who are same sex attracted must recognize: it must be disinterested, and devoid of any sort of romantic feelings. Indeed, the canary in the coal mine is the first flush of romantic feelings. In my own life, the joy I felt with certain men when I felt romantically towards them was merely self-indulgent, no matter how ennobled I believed myself to be in my desire to love them “with a Christ like love.” Ultimately, any romantic feelings that I had for another man I think were narcissistically motivated, and I think this is the case for any romantic feelings between the same sex. For me, what this means in my life is that I consciously avoid becoming close to any man for whom I might be tempted to “fall for.” Why? Because I want to see him for the man he is, not as the man of my dreams, or the man who makes me happy when I contemplate him. For me, I have come to realize that my past contemplation of a male beloved are self-indulgent fantasies, escapist in nature, in the very same way that a married man fantasies about another woman to help ease the dissatisfaction he feels in his own marriage. The legitimate, and very real dissatisfaction that a same sex attracted man feels is loneliness, but the wrong path to ameliorate that pain is the path of “falling in love.”

On Truth, Love, and Happiness

Occasionally, as I contribute to this blog, I’ll depart from time to time from my primary format of Letters to Christopher.  This morning, I wrote a rather lengthy response to a troubling blog entry, with the rather provocative title, “How To Win A Culture War and Lose a Generation.”

This was my response:

Let me start my comments by saying first, that “I’m one of them.”  I’m a guy who likes guys.  I’ve been attracted to guys for as long as I remember, but have always believed the unified teaching of the Christian faith on this issue.  So much so, that at a time when I really wanted to be with a man, I didn’t modify my beliefs like those at the Gay Christian Network who are Side A do, I instead willfully said to God, “I’m done living by your rules.”

The question that I always come back to when it is concerning love is this:  what does it mean, to truly love another?  Is love whatever we say it is?  It seems that the definition of love we have now has essentially become exactly that.  I say what love is, and no matter what that looks like, then it is love, because I define it as such.  C. S. Lewis wrote about St. Augustine’s view of love and virtue this way, in Abolition of Man:  “St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it.”  The classic definition of love in Christian philosophy through the ages has been, “to love is to will the good of the other,” which is akin with Christ’s definition, loving others as we would love ourselves.  The caveat, in that, of course, is that we don’t always love ourselves in the ways in which we would if we could see ourselves through the eyes of God.

The call to love, I’ve become convinced, must be determined not by our particular concepts of love, or the way others may want us to show love to them, because in some cases, to acquiesce to the way some want to be loved is to actually not love them at all.  I will tell you this:  I recently went to a priest (I’m Catholic) and out of compassion, he told me to find a man and settle down with him, so that I can be happy.  That was not love, though the priest believed he was loving me.  His compassion towards me, and my loneliness, was not love, in the truest sense, since I know that my subjective concept of what I think might bring me earthly happiness is not the way that I will be happy, ultimately.  Some aspects of my life which make me unhappy could be mitigated:  I could have a companion to come home to, other than my dog; I could have a sexually active life and enjoy that aspect of the human existence; I could have someone to travel with and plan my life, but ultimately, those forms of happiness are not worth the cost of disobeying God.

God says no to us, and to me, in particular, because he loves me.  The younger generation needs to understand that God’s commandments lead us to the blessed life, and one of the hallmarks of showing our love for God, as Jesus told us, is to “keep his commandments.”  If you are a Christian with LGBTQ friends, and you urge them on in believing that God is “Side A,” or ever has been “Side A” concerning this subject, you’re not doing them any favors.  You’re urging them on in believing a lie about themselves, about God, and about what will make them happy.

Look to the life of Dan Savage as a case in point.  We now live in an age in which openly gay men and women readily admit that monogamy in gay relationships doesn’t mean faithfulness in sexual fidelity–it means you live in an open relationship, which understands that one’s “needs aren’t being met,” and so though you share a life/home together, from time to time, one needs to go taste the waters of a distant shore.  Is there anything about that which resonates with God’s view of love?  “Our needs not being met?”  Love is “laying down your life for one another,” right?

Or do you think that because a man is a gay Christian, he will be able to be faithful?  There is something inherent in homosexuality that is never satisfied.  The common experience of other gay men reveals that to be the case:  just google the phrase “gay monogamy.”  Serial infidelity is now expected to be the norm, and it’s not a secret–it’s become a part of the culture, since gay men have readily admitted that it’s nigh on impossible to stay sexually faithful.  Why is this?  I am convinced it is because there is a hunger within someone like me which can never be satisfied in the arms of another man.

We live in a day and age where we have chosen to believe that everyone’s happiness will come to them in the manner and ways in which they have decided they will be happy, and that the most important virtue now is to defend and celebrate whatever means it is that they have chosen for their happiness.  Marriage is now being sacrificed on this altar of “happiness by whatever means a man decides for himself,” and somehow this has become the greatest virtue, and the greatest expression of love, and indeed, the greatest sign of Christian virtue.

Our love for others must be guided by the truth about humanity, and that truth comes to us through Christ himself.  Distilled to its essence, as he taught us, we need to love God with all our hearts and souls, and to love others, as we would love ourselves (if we knew the manner in which God would have us love ourselves).  God isn’t opposed to homosexuality in Scripture because he wants someone like me to be lonely:  his commandments are a seal of protection against the false belief I have of what I think will make me happy.  His commands, telling me not to fulfill my desires, is the path to peace and happiness–even if there are moments where I may shed tears over the loneliness I may feel.

When I see how much the younger generation encourages their LGBTQ friends in embracing a man-made label about themselves, and when they encourage Churches to change the 2,000 year teaching on marriage, I don’t see love.  I see a mockery of love, a love which encourages others in a false notion of what will make them happy.  The younger generation who is weary of the culture wars has been duped, and are in my mind, victims of the war.  Seek out those who have lived this life, who will be honest with you, who will share with you the scars of infidelities and jealousies which are rampant in this way of life.  Don’t just be guided by Glee, or by Ellen DeGeneres:  seek out the lived experience of those who once lived this way, and found it to be empty.  Be objectively open to the possibility that society has gotten it wrong, and the Church, and Christianity has been right about this forever.  I’m one victim of the world’s view of homosexuality–it has only brought me pain and sorrow, and I am grateful that God’s commands provide me a hedge of protection.  Though it causes me loneliness at times, it is not onerous, but rather it is an abundant and precious loneliness, filled with peace of soul.