A problem has crept into my singledom. I mean, beyond the obvious array of things that make it hard for everyone. The whole question of relationships and marriage has an edge to it for me I don’t like. It’s become what I like to call one of my “beasts,” the dark and shadowy things I need to face honestly in order to survive singledom and the dating game without losing myself to cynicism and bitterness. This beast is that, in my heart if not my head, the question of my prolonged singledom has become a question of theodicy, a question about the justice and goodness of God.
This wasn’t intentional and it’s certainly not a good thing. It’s too much for me to put on God. And it’s also far too much weight to put on the shoulders of any new relationship that might come along. It just doesn’t work that way. But here I am. And I need to figure out a way past it, to deal with these emotions positively rather than pushing them aside.
So how did I get here? And, what can I do to overcome the problem?
I figured out I was gay in 1990, when I was ten years old. I was living in conservative rural parts of the country at the time, and, while homosexuality was starting to be discussed openly in the media, it was still very much outside the mainstream. Moreover, being a rule-follower by inclination, I was predisposed to a more rigid interpretation of ‘the plain text’ of Scripture. And so when I accepted my family’s Christian faith as my own when I was seventeen, I also accepted that my sexuality and faith were fundamentally in conflict.
I responded at first by bracketing my sexuality. My coming to faith involved so many positive transformations in my life, I simply expected that God would change my sexuality too. I longed to be straight, not just to be ‘normal,’ but because to me the ideal of marrying and creating a family was the most beautiful life I could imagine. Obviously, heterosexual marriage was a possibility, but any woman I cared enough about to consider marrying was also a woman who deserved to be loved, cherished and adored and not just be the least bad of my options.
As the years stretched on, I resigned myself to the fact that celibacy was going to be the most likely outcome for me. It was a bitter pill to swallow. It involved giving up on what I wanted most deeply in my life. And so it involved giving up a bit of faith in what God might do for me, and a bit of my conviction of God’s goodness.
Eventually, through a lot of prayer and learning in Christian asceticism, I was able to see my celibacy as a kind of vocation. It was hard and didn’t really feel natural for me, but it felt right and there was beauty there. I was never ashamed or guilty for my sexuality, and I genuinely viewed my celibacy as a gift of thanksgiving for all that God had given me.
But it wasn’t to last. God vanished from my life. I made it through this for months, but God’s absence just became too much. The life I had so intentionally constructed on what I believed was stable ground was revealed to be a house of cards. I felt like I was coming out of my skin; I couldn’t sleep, lost my appetite, and developed mysterious pains in my neck and shoulders. I began taking long angry walks every night screaming into the darkness for God to acknowledge me. It was an overwhelming experience of desolation. And I had never felt so alone.
I was completely shattered. I had taken a huge step of faith for God and not only did God not catch me when I fell, but it felt like God had been the one to push me off the ledge in the first place.
Once again I had to give up on the old dreams and cobble together new ones. As part of this process, I finally affirmed my sexuality for the first time since I was seventeen. I allowed myself for the first time in adulthood to dream of the possibilities of building a life with a good man. And thus began my dating life.
So here I am, almost a decade later with little to show for my efforts aside from a couple brief stillborn relationships and a lot of bad dates. The vision I hold in my heart feels further away than ever. To make matters worse, that vision has crystallized into a sense of vocation. I genuinely feel called to explore the full depths of what two men can do in relationship together, as iron sharpens iron.
And here’s where the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad theodicy problem comes in.
Once upon a time, I prayed to be straight so I could in good conscience marry a good woman and raise a family. And God’s answer to that prayer was ‘No.’
Then I came to terms with vocational celibacy and offered up my sexuality completely to God as a gift. And God’s response to that gift was ‘Thanks but no thanks’ (to put it far more politely than how it felt).
And now I’ve been dating for the better part of a decade, and for the past six years, since my faith recovered from its Dark Night, I’ve offered that up to God too, praying for that dream to be either fulfilled or taken away if it isn’t to be. And so far, God’s answer to both options has again been ‘No.’ It’s too soon to know whether that’s an actual ‘No’ or just a ‘Not yet.’ But I’m afraid of what that might mean for the future. I’ve had to give up on so many dreams already, I’m terrified for what it might mean for me to have to give up on this one too. God has said ‘No’ to so many prayers already, it’s hard not to wonder what exactly is the prayer God will say ‘Yes’ to. And every dream I’ve had to give up on, my trust in God’s goodness for me has shrunk a little.
Now I know this isn’t fair. And that’s why I’m writing this. And I certainly didn’t set out to make such heavy demands on God’s goodness. It’s all just a result of the whole sequence of events in my life since I was ten years old.
But what can I do about it? How can I rescue my relationships, with God and with others, from this unfair burden? I don’t really have the answers for this. It’s a work in progress. But here are a few things I know help:
- I can embrace what of God’s goodness and grace I do experience all around me, from the beautiful sunlight washing through the forest canopy on my morning run, to the smile lines on the face of a father picking up his toddler.
- I can appreciate and be grateful for the time I have with good friends and family. My support system may be smaller than I’d like, but it’s stronger than I give it credit for.
- I can bring all of this honestly and openly to God. Not to be facetious, but God can handle it. If I believe God’s goodness is big enough to hold my hopes and dreams, then I have to believe that God’s goodness is also big enough to hold my disappointment, my anger, my frustration, my embarrassment, my shame, my sorrow, my scarcity, my loneliness, and my vulnerability.
The tie that binds all these ideas is not to waste the blessings in my life for the sake of the blessings that aren’t. It’s the rule of good stewardship: if we are faithful in little, then more will be given. And even if that doesn’t happen the way I’d like it to, at least I’ll have enjoyed what there is to enjoy. Because at the end of the day, God is good. And the evidence of that is all around me.
Thanks be to God. Amen.