It was 2013, seven years since I had first admitted to myself that I was primarily attracted to men. I had let a number of friends into the secret, along with two pastors at my church and my immediate family. Due to my understanding of biblical teaching, I had decided not to pursue romance with men.

But I also wasn’t trying to become straight or somehow fit romance with a woman into my life.

This left me in a tricky place, an uncomfortable tension between hope and reality — the hope for relationship and intimacy, the reality of life as an American single. I thought I had everything I needed to make it work: Scripture, a relationship with Jesus, and the help of the Holy Spirit.

What could I be lacking?

But it wasn’t working. I was trying to white-knuckle my way through this weird, often inscrutable life with not much more than 2 Corinthians 12 and a Covenant Eyes account. Both are valuable tools, but neither was much help in my current predicament: I was developing awkwardly strong emotions toward one of my friends.

Like, sure, maybe reading about the thorn in Paul’s flesh was helpful. But what was I supposed to do?

Discouraged and distressed, I nervously met with a pastor at my church and told him what was happening. He asked thoughtful questions and didn’t advise me to end the relationship as other spiritual leaders I’ve known would have done. He offered me some food for thought, a book to read, and a blog link — he wasn’t sure if he agreed with everything there, but he thought it was worth a look.

A blog! I knew there were resources online, but I had resisted the idea of consulting the Internet. Who knew what wackos were peddling what bizarre claims on that wild n’ wooly place, the Web? How would I decide what voices I could trust to guide me?

It was just easier to stick with the things I knew I could trust. But I knew that’s how my resource pool had remained so limited.

I began reading — first reluctantly and then breathlessly — this other blog. Here were the words I didn’t realize had been written or even could be written. Here were people who knew that you can’t always white-knuckle this stuff.

They were trying to parse out the tension I was feeling; they were trying to chart a wise path through the murky water where I was struggling.

Their response wasn’t a platitude about Finding Your Identity In Christ but thoughtful empathy, stories, and more questions. And they didn’t say my frustrations and disappointments were all symptoms of internal immaturity — they offered humble critique of the Church’s shortcomings and how our communities might grow to help us thrive instead of just survive.

It was the first time I got a sense of other people out there, somewhere, who got me. I felt like a zebra who had been raised by horses learning that somewhere there were other weird stripe-horses and that, together, our stripes had a purpose.

But they were still so far away!

Around this time, I stumbled upon these words in Zephaniah 3:

“I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,
so that you will no longer suffer reproach.
Behold, at that time I will deal
with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
At that time I will bring you in,
at the time when I gather you together;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.”

This image of a scattered, mournful people jubilantly gathered and restored captivated my imagination. What would it look like for my distant tribe to be gathered together? What would it take?

I knew Zephaniah was primarily talking about the people of Israel, but didn’t this reveal something bigger about God’s heart and will that I could lean into? Didn’t he long to change our shame into praise and renown?

A powerful prayer formed in my heart and took hold of me.

“Gather us,” I prayed.

I repeated those words over and over again. I prayed that my scattered and lost tribe would be drawn together, our fortunes restored before our eyes.

It was a prayer for my own benefit, but also for all of us.

Two years later, I started working with my church to create Intersect: a gathering for non-straight people in our congregation. I prayed that God would use me to answer my own prayer for belonging.

Not long after that, I got connected with Your Other Brothers and started spending time with these guys. God has been answering my prayer through Intersect and Your Other Brothers.

I now have people walking with me who know instinctually what kind of support I need and how to care for me.

I’ve run into other complicated relational situations, but I’m walking with people who’ve been there before.

With each passing month, I feel less separated from my tribe. The figures in the hazy distance have resolved into real faces and bodies I can touch.

We will all have our days and nights of white-knuckling it till the sun returns, and 2 Corinthians 12 will always be there when we need it.

But God made us to walk together.

I’m thankful for all of you — whether I’ve met you yet or not — because you’re God’s answer to prayer! I’m here to give back and help build a better place to belong however I can.

Have you seen God answer prayers for your community and belonging? Where do you lack community? How can you give back?

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  • Welcome, Ryan! I am so glad you are sharing your story with us. You obviously have much depth of thoughts and feelings that will benefit us all.
    I love the way God answered your prayer! He is the primary One who takes care of us. Still, as you said, “God made us to walk together”. I thank God for all the love I feel that he gives me through friends!

    • Thanks Marshall! I’m so thankful for the opportunity to contribute.
      I feel like a lot of the wrestling/learning/growing I’ve done over the past several years has been in that area–how to depend on God primarily, but at the same time see (and expect to see?) his providence mediated primarily through the church. Still trying to figure out the details of how it’s supposed to work, but being able to pray confidently for God to meet my needs, somehow, has been incredibly helpful.

  • Thrilled to be walking with you, Ryan. I love your metaphor- a zebra raised among horses. How true that is.
    I am so thankful your pastor was supportive and wise when you approached him. I am so thankful for God placing that leader there for you.
    Can’t wait to hear more of your story!

  • It’s awesome to have you writing with us, Ryan. Excited for the new stories and perspectives you’ll bring to this community. It’s been such a joy already having you on the podcast multiple times and getting to know you beyond the Web.
    Community has been such a piercing theme in my life. I lacked it, I found it, I lost it, I rediscovered it, I often find it on shaky ground — it’s always in flux. Community takes work. Lots and lots of work. I’m learning more and more that it’s less about the getting of community and more about the equal participation in said community. I have something to offer, you have something to offer, we all have something to offer.
    Maybe I don’t necessarily need a community — maybe a community needs me. And the community thrives with everyone contributing.

    • Hey Tom, I’m so excited to start contributing!
      I had a very memorable conversation with one of my pastors last year (HI MATT) where we talked about how, ideally, community should be like a good Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone joyfully brings something out of love for the others. Maybe you know you make a mean apple pie, so you exercise your gifting. Or maybe you hear that nobody’s planning to bring mashed potatoes, so you make those, because you can’t have Thanksgiving without mashed potatoes! But either way, you don’t think of Thanksgiving as “how can I extract the most amount of food with the least amount of commitment,”–you think of it as an opportunity to serve others and feast together!

  • Hi Ryan! I am so glad you can join us! It is funny how you mentioned this passage from Zephaniah 3, because I posted the exact same passage on the Yobbers page on Facebook. I have very little support where I live. You are either side A or straight. There is almost no side B, or at least I have never met any. The culture here is ‘either – or’; there is no in between like me. I find it discouraging at times. Many times people (even my own family) tell me I should just indulge, give in to my passions and lust. But I know there is something better waiting for me. I just need to hold out longer. The discovery of YOB has been an answer to my need. Technology had made it possible to find connectivity with the same people who experience the same garbage as I do. It is a poor substitute for actual contact with another human being, but given the options, I will take it. WELCOME ABOARD TO THE GREATEST JOURNEY OF YOUR LIFE!!!

    • Hey Bradley! Thanks so much!
      Yeah I love to hate the Internet (and hate to love the Internet) but at the end of the day it’s really remarkable that pretty much none of this would be happening without it.
      Do you mind if I ask where, roughly, you live? Sounds like a challenging place to be.

      • I don’t mind at all. I live in Lubbock, Texas. It is a city of about 250,000, in pretty much the armpit of the state. It was the home of Buddy Holly and Mac Davis. Texas Tech University is located here. It is also a very conservative area, described as the buckle of the Bible Belt. At the same time we have a sizable gay community, just not militant.

  • This touched me this morning Ryan. I read it during a jury duty summons odly enough. Some of the most meaningful steps I’ve taken towards community have been birthed from digging into a small group meeting. After that it’s been developing a one on one friendship. Right now I’m wanting a relationship with another guy and for the first time I’ve kinda felt like God’s ok with me checking that out. The way I give back is by being genuine. Heck, I did that…and take the time to dig in sometimes.

    • Thanks for reading, Robert! Yeah, I think the powerful work of community usually happens in smaller settings. Glad to hear you’re investing in small group and one-on-one friendships! Sometimes it can feel like you keep showing up and keep investing with very little payoff, but I think it’s worth it in the long run.

  • Glad to have you on board Ryan! I really hope you the best when it comes to creating ministry for SSA folks in church communities.

    • Thanks Eugene! Looking forward to seeing what God does through YOB and Intersect! Thanks for your encouragement and prayers : )

  • A little over a year ago, I decided to really test Christ in His words to be persistent in prayer and have prayed for a best friend (and brotherhood) almost every day since. It’s been one of the best years of my life just meeting a lot of godly men and having different men’s groups starting.
    The thing that I need to work on is being a good friend to them as well. I tend to focus on my own needs too much.

    • Thanks for reading, Steven, and continue to lean into those prayers! It’s so encouraging to hear that your persistent prayer is bearing fruit. I love how in Luke 18 we are invited to bring the same requests to God over and over again, even to the point of seeming like we’re being a nuisance–but I’m convinced we can never be a nuisance to him.
      Even for those prayers where God still has me waiting, it’s been so liberating to be able to be honest with myself and with God about the things I really want, deep down, and to ask God for those things confident that he WANTS me to ask for them. If nothing else, each ask is a teaching opportunity where I open myself up for him to grow me.
      To your last comment, yeah I think that’s a place where we’re all growing!

  • Welcome Ryan…enjoyed reading this post. I’m afraid I don’t have any community in real life…since moving to the south from New York. It’s been enough of a challenge to fit in anywhere at all in this small town where everyone seems related somehow and/or knows everyone else. That alone has placed me out of the loop and then there’s the church I go to where I’ve been treated in a way that is deplorable and very depressing. I won’t go into all of that, but they see me as a reprobate for having visited the Methodist church…for reading anything else but the KJV…for so many reasons. Since family runs the place, I have no choice but to attend…I have tried to be a part of things but the comments people make to me are too much at times!! But…I make do and have the Lord…so that is great. I pray that somehow the Lord will provide a brother to be friends with.

    • Dave, thanks for the welcome, and I’ll pray for you! God sees you, hears you, and you’re on his heart.

      • Thank you so much for your kind words! I dread going to church as I was “accosted” by a member I saw at the store today and they wondered why I wasn’t in church last Sunday night. I was honest…I had gone to the Passion cantata at the Methodist Church…and it was beautiful and Christ-honoring…but I know that did not go well. Thanks again for your encouragement…I need to be reminded I’m on God’s heart in this time

  • God has given me two blessings that have envolved connecting me to people who help me to keep going in life by God’s Word. It’s a LOOOONG story though hahahaha
    I feel that I lack community in my church. I know of some guys who may be dealing with SSA but the church still just leaves it alone at least from what I can see. I don’t mean to say that some pastors don’t know how to go about helping someone who’s gay in the church. Hey, my pastor handled it so very well when he found out about me. But I know not all of the people would think that I could still come to church even if I told them I was going to work with a celibate life. I plan to give back by making sure to love, help, and be there for anyone who may be dealing with something especially if it’s normally seen as taboo; if they come to me.

    • Gavin, you seem so cheerful and outgoing–I think your church is blessed to have you! (Not that being somber and introverted is not a blessing in its own right *cough*Tom*cough*). It’s awesome that your pastor handled things well. So glad to hear that. Looking back, I think once I knew my pastors were on my side, for me and not against me, I felt like I could weather so many challenges, including feeling like I didn’t have much community at church.
      I think as we conquer shame in ourselves, we become equipped to help others conquer their shame. I think you are well-positioned to give back in those ways.

      • Haha yea *cough* *cough* Tom *cough* :p :). Thank you Ryan you’ve made me smile! I think I was an extrovert back when I was a kid and sexuality didn’t matter so much. I remember how natural it felt to make friends with other kids at the park and how I liked being around friends. Having to be secretive about things in order to avoid possibly being disliked, I think, is what has played a big part at least in me being an introvert. You’ve got good pastors!
        I think you’re right. Once we see that we’ve made it foreword after all the sadness, loneliness, pain, anger, fear, confusion, and feelings of helplessness etc., it seems like it would only be natural for someone to want to help another who they see are going through the same struggles that they’ve already gone through.
        Thanks again Ryan!

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