Once upon a time, I cofounded Your Other Brothers. Beyond this online brotherhood, I also worked behind the scenes to establish an offline one. One where I live, where others could visit or escape to as a refuge or maybe even come live, too.
It would be a physical embodiment of this ministry effort online. A physical place to minister to one another offline. A symbiotic relationship, I saw it.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but for a few years, I made brotherhood my idol. I saw brotherhood online and brotherhood offline as two good and sacred and otherwise worthy endeavors.
But looking back on the mountain, I see it so clearly now. So madly obvious. How I made this pursuit of brotherhood, even ministry, my idol.
And I got the wind knocked out of me on the asinine climb.
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It’s a hard thing to grow up without brotherhood for the first twenty-plus years of your life and then expect to be relationally well-adjusted. To mark all the right boundaries. To make all the right decisions. To maintain all the right focuses.
For months beyond the fallout, I’ve given myself a hard time. When brotherhood didn’t work out how I thought it would — not at all — I blamed myself. I still do. I’m human; it’s hard not to self-blame.
But I know I’m also a product of my upbringing. That I still have wounds needing closing. That I can’t be expected to be perfect in every relational pursuit, individually and collectively.
Last summer, I moved out of a communal living space where I’d dwelt for two years, a dynamic I’d blogged and podcasted and otherwise publicly shared about. I still felt passionate about YOB, still believed in this storytelling mission online, but I needed an offline change.
My offline brotherhood wasn’t dead, per se. But my version of and vision for this brotherhood certainly was, and to regain my sanity I needed to venture back on my own. If only for a little while. Needed to reassess and realign the things that mattered most in my life.
I needed to slay this sneaky idol of brotherhood. For years, brotherhood had been this “worthy endeavor” stealing more of my attention and fixation than Jesus himself, the Thing this brotherhood was to be centered upon.
I stopped reading Scripture.
Prayed only for my needs.
Skipped a lot of church and spiritual communities beyond YOB.
I often reserved my “Jesus moments” for retreats and conferences and not so much the day-to-day. You know — the 99.5% of where life is actually lived.
I’ve had a lot of hard nights in the last year. Lonely ones. Tear-soaking-pillow ones. I’ve felt past regrets like weights in my gut and future fears like weighted tops, spinning without end.
If one community can fall apart, what prevents my next one from doing the same? Should there even be a next?
Am I just one of those people — one of those men — who’s too messy, too emotional, too idealistic for intimate, imperfect community?
I moved into my own place last year, and I’m still having my sleepless teary nights. I survive for a little while, and I find something of a groove or groovelet.
And then the waterworks. As my alarm clock turns from 2:00 to 3:00 to 4:45 without so much as a blink, staring at an endless ceiling that wormholes me back. Back to idolatrous brotherhood.
I’ll be honest: the thought of ever again living with another human, another man or men, feels impossible to me at the moment.
Communication is so hard.
Expectations — on both sides — are constantly in flux.
And if the fellow humans are also same-sex attracted (SSA) or gay, add in a host of other dynamics that I could write literal textbooks on: emotional dependency, jealousy, inferiority, shame. I’ve lived in such particular arrangements with several different folks for the last few years now.
I can no longer recommend such a home life to others in my shoes.
I do have my peaceful, restoring moments, living alone. Every square-inch of my 600 square feet belongs to me and has a purpose. I have a spot on my floor where I sit and pray every morning. Mostly for other people, since I still like praying for myself throughout the day.
I pray for my family.
I pray for my friends.
I thank God for my family and friends. For these physical walls and this roof of refuge, however lonely they enclose me some nights. For physiological warmth in this bitter Blue Ridge, relational cold.
I thank God and pray for my brothers. All of them. I pray for reconciliation. I pray for the Spirit to move, stir, blow in their lives — and hopefully connected to mine. For him to fix what is so desperately humanly broken.
I pray for a personally proper pursuit of brotherhood. A healthy, worthy pursuit. No longer an idolatrous one.
I pray for more of a thirst and hunger and drive for Jesus, above all else. I pray for more of a desire to love people, to love as the Savior loved, a supernatural love that just comes so unnaturally to me.
I pray that in any of life’s blessings, brotherhood at the top of my personal list, nothing else tops this pursuit of God. That out of this God-fearing well, all other buckets are filled. Not any other way around.
Childhood/adulthood wounds aside, I never again want to long for a brother or an assortment of brothers more than I long for Jesus. What a chasing after the eternal wind that is.
I want Jesus to be what wakes me up and keeps me connecting with other men, even when I feel incapable or unworthy of love. I want to love others because that is the way of the cross. It is what Jesus calls me to do.
I want to keep breaking down this idol of brotherhood. I’m not finished yet. And even when I do “finish,” I want to remain vigilant, looking for seeds that sprout back into these weeds.
It’s been the most painful year of my life, breaking down this idol. I really don’t want to repeat this process again.
Ultimately, brotherhood is still very much something I hold dear. Something I always will hold dear. Ironically, it’s something that has helped sustain me this year as other idolatrous expressions of brotherhood failed me.
Somehow, a brotherly hug feels ten times as meaningful today as it did a year ago. Because I now know the fragility of each embrace. How fleeting any relationship can be.
God has provided incredible brothers to walk me through this latest chapter of my journey, and for them I am so grateful.
I do not pretend to understand fully this hellish journey of the last year, but I also know God wastes nothing.
I must tell myself this over and over amid the continuing deconstruction of the last year: God wastes nothing.
He sees the unseen.
He emboldens the weak.
And he brings forth spring from winter.
Have you ever made brotherhood an idol in your life? Have you made your sexuality or pursuit of same-sex friendships greater than a pursuit of Jesus? How do you make him the primary focus?