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.

~ ~ ~

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?

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    30 Comments
    • Reply Mike Rosebush

      22 January 2019, 8:51 am

      Tom, we have never met. Never really talked to each other. But I sure do appreciate your honest confession and goal of centering yourself squaring into the bulls-eye of Jesus. You and I hourly seek to stay well connected with Jesus, amidst the reality of always being gay. I am 65 years old; I well understand our common tension, God’s grace, and the breakthroughs of when He clearly owns all of who we are. Such moments with Him are fleeting, luxurious, inspiring … leaving us longing for more. You and I (and every Brother in YOB, and every Brother who knows your story) travel the same trail, but never alone. You, my unmet friend, are always safe to travel it with me.

    • Reply bluzhawk

      22 January 2019, 11:06 am

      What a post Tom! It’s kind of a travelogue to the ground zero God brings us back to on this journey. Y’know what, you’re still here, pressing on to know Him better, and I really love that about you. I don’t believe God putting this ministry on your heart is a mistake, or the work that’s gone into this was wasted. Maybe you and this ministry are getting adjusted by God to be better used.
      If I had to guess, I’d say almost everything I thought right about Christianity has changed following Jesus. You have to give up what you thought for what is real often, and giving up and letting go is hard. Brotherhood’s just one of those things. When it was the greatest longing, I never found it. But when I let that go and like you said made Jesus that longing, I found I already had brothers in Christ, brothers made so by Him.
      There’s always going to be a place for a YOB as long as guys still struggle. But maybe moving forward the focus may be more on Jesus. It is wonderful to be able to be open and share our stories. It was here I could do that for the 1st time ever and it was the best, isolation is a prison. But any understanding I gained from stories wasn’t as helpful moving forward on this journey if it didn’t help me understand Christ more. Your last podcast on Jesus, for example, was so encouraging cause looking at him is better. Seeing him helps me understand the stories. If I had to pick a verse for what this can be, it would be Hebrews 3:1, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus…”
      Be encouraged to keep going. Of all the guys writing posts, you leave this mark of Jesus that no matter where we’ve been or what we’ve done, or how much we screwed up, there’s more and better to be found in Jesus. I don’t say it enough, but Thanks.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        22 January 2019, 2:32 pm

        So glad YOB could fill that story-sharing hole in your life, bluz. Thanks for being such an encouragement to me from the beginning. It all starts and ends with Jesus. May we never forget that in this community. Starting with me.

    • Reply Eugene Heffron

      22 January 2019, 11:32 am

      Very timely and moving post Tom. Its funny, I was recently just reading War of Loves by David Bennett. He has may chapters dedicated to talking about how straight people and Side A people have idolized marriage so much in our society. Reading this I’m nodding my head like crazy going “right on!” However, even though he is Side B he does offer a small critique of Side B people as well. We tend to idolize brotherhood and male friendships ourselves. And yes, its a hard hitting truth.
      In my case, how could I not? I lived 27 years of my life without any brotherhood or close friendships. I think just about anyone would bow down and offer burnt sacrifices to the golden idol of brotherhood after living a life like that. I’ve had a handful of relationships end over the past year. A couple of them were drama filled, the rest were people simply ceasing communication and walking away over God knows what. Makes me wonder if it is an endless loop, with all relationships in my life. The first meeting of someone with so much excitement and cuddles, then just them falling away because of life. Then on to the next new person. Lather, rinse, repeat.
      Its not all like that, I have a few people who have held on to friendship with me for quite a while and I’m so grateful for them. I too am trying to make an effort to put Jesus front and center instead of the idol of brotherhood. But its hard, so very hard. The 27 years of crushing loneliness really beat me down and make me crawl back to the idol of brotherhood. Why can’t the past just die?

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        22 January 2019, 2:27 pm

        Definitely not alone, Eugene. We’re all figuring this out together. The beauty of this place. The past can have such a strong hold on our lives. Hopefully the longer we walk this road, the past loses more of its grip. The future shines brighter. How I long to stake my life on an ultimately secure future rather than any brokenness in my past.

    • Reply Dean Samuels

      22 January 2019, 1:41 pm

      Incredibly post, brother. I know I have made brotherhood/friendship with other guys an idol many times before. Sadly it can still be a temptation if I am not careful. For those of us who grew up without some of that brotherly affirmation we needed, we can go too far in chasing it. I am sorry for what happened in your recent past to bring this pain back to memory- but I am thankful you are growing through it. I praise God for the community He is still building around you.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        22 January 2019, 2:27 pm

        Thanks, Dean. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one who’s chased and had to re-navigate these emotional/relational waters. Thanks for being such a vital part of this community. And my life.

    • Reply Pierre S

      22 January 2019, 2:37 pm

      This is good and its very honest. Every idol must be torn down. Those things that have places in our hearts that they shouldn’t. This post challenges me.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        23 January 2019, 1:28 pm

        Thanks for reading/commenting, Pierre. Your line “every idol must be torn down” reminds me of Rend Collective’s awesome song, “Every Giant Must Fall.” Idols, giants — obstructions that block us from actual abundant life.

    • Reply naturgesetz

      22 January 2019, 3:26 pm

      I’d like to think you read my blogposts when I tweet about them. Shucks, I’d like to think you even read my tweets. Realistically, though, you probably never saw this in a post I made a couple of years ago about one of my visits to the monastery:

      I also found in my room a small book titled A God Who Acts: Recognizing the Hand of God in Suffering and Failure, by Harry Blamires. Even though I don’t think of myself as having suffered or failed very much, i figured I’d see what it had to say. There were some good points. One is that if we’re attempting something good but don’t succeed, it can simply be that God’s providence needs something else. Another is that when we’re grateful for God’s gifts, it’s not enough just to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you:” God’s gifts are given to us to be used for his purpose.

      Some of what you’ve tried to do hasn’t succeeded in the way you wanted it to, but it can still have worked as God wanted it to. So even if it looks like failure, that doesn’t mean we were wrong to undertake it. All we can do is pray for the Holy Spirit to guide us and try to follow his leading. Then, whatever the outcome, we can be confident we were doing God’s will.
      Brotherhood, friendship, intimacy: are they different facets of the same reality or different things with some shared aspects? I don’t often think consciously of the sort of thing I want in a relationship, but I’d call it an intimate friendship. If brotherhood means something with more than two brothers, the void in my life doesn’t feel like a lack of brotherhood. It seems that I’d be very happy to have a close friend, but yesterday was my 76th birthday, and I don’t expect to find such a friend. By now, I’m used to living as I am, and I’m content to continue this way. There is no thought that my life is empty or meaningless or unfulfilled or miserable or tragic. To quote your favorite coach’s favorite line from “The Deer Hunter:” It is what it is.
      How do I make Jesus the primary focus? By going to Mass every day, hearing the scriptures, and eating his flesh and drinking his blood. I tweet verses from the scriptures I’ve heard every day except Sunday (when people should go to church and hear the word themselves). I tell myself that these tweets are a ministry to my followers.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        23 January 2019, 1:33 pm

        Thanks for commenting here, brother. Love that concept that a gift is meant to be shared. For others, for God himself. Good stuff that goes beyond mere gratefulness.
        Glad to hear you’re content at your current life stage. The hard part for me is having experienced healthy/intimate brotherhood before it got corrupted (or before I corrupted it?). Those times of my life felt healthier than all others, healthier by miles, and I want to get back to some other iteration of that. To be healthier for my own sake, yes, but for ministering to others, too. Feeling like a long dry well these days.

    • Reply Jesse White

      22 January 2019, 5:45 pm

      I’ve had the same battle over the last two years. My first year was with brotherhood and God quickly changed that path to keep me from falling too far down the rabbit hole. My second year was not with brotherhood, but with family. I had made my family into an idol, and last year it all came crashing down. It was painful, and pushed me into an unhealthy situation with another SSA man. Through it all, God was faithful to provide a better, stronger, chosen family that has loved me even better than my original family. Yet I too find greater meaning in even the simplest touches. I long for it sometimes more than I do for Jesus and that scares me. I pray it never becomes an idol the way my family had.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        23 January 2019, 1:22 pm

        Thanks for being bold here, Jesse. It’s a tough thing to admit what we’ve prioritized, even idolized, more than Jesus. Humbling and sobering. I hope your new chosen family is a healthier expression of past idolizations. I pray I find a healthier alternative in my own life, too.

    • Reply WaveDave

      22 January 2019, 8:30 pm

      I honestly don’t have much to add to what’s already been said…but I do know that any kind of ministry is hard…so very hard and having Christ as a friend that sticks closer than a brother has helped me out when I feel lonely…despondent…left out…forgotten. Praying is hard for me as I seem to have attention deficit issues…but even a short prayer like “God help me” or “Thank You Father” is heard by Him.
      In earlier years, I dreamed of brotherhood and all it entails…but the harsh realities of life brought me back to more level ground and in the end my hope is in Christ…who will never let me down. He is the one constant in a sea of change and new chapters in life. Don’t know if this makes any sense…but for whatever it is worth there it is!

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        23 January 2019, 1:17 pm

        Agreed that ministry is hard. Draining. Even emptying. How we all need our wells filled daily. A concept we addressed on the latest YOBcast.
        Indeed, Jesus is a constant. As idols rise and fall. Realizing this truth more than ever right now.

    • Reply Joshua Beck

      22 January 2019, 11:20 pm

      I was going to use the word timely before Eugene stole it, but man, Tom, I needed this post.

    • Reply Ryan Lewis

      23 January 2019, 1:15 am

      Thanks for this, Tom. I’ve lurked here ever since you started YOB, but I’ve always been unsettled by something I couldn’t articulate. I think you just articulated it.
      When you visited me last year, I was living alone in that dark apartment with no internet and hardly any furniture. (And I think I had a mind-map of sticky notes on the wall? Like a crazy serial killer haha.) It was soul-crushing. I live with a family now and it’s been so good for me, to just be a part of their lives, to have a place to belong. But I fear the day I’ll have to move out and go… who knows where?
      Thanks for being honest.

      • Reply Thomas Mark Zuniga

        23 January 2019, 1:17 pm

        RYAN. Thanks for lurking! I’ll never forget your serial killer wall. It inspired me to create my own. But I’m glad you have a more lively living situation now. I hope it remains a blessing for you for a long time to come.
        Keep lurking, brother. Always love hearing from you, too.

    • Reply Ryan Burger

      24 January 2019, 8:03 pm

      This is a thoughtful and articulate post, Tom! Thanks for writing it!
      When I start to feel convicted about putting a relationship above God, I try to pray and ask God to do whatever he wants with it. The real challenging part is when I realize that in order to pray that and mean it, I have to be okay with letting go of that relationship. Do you know the “no take; only throw” dog? (source attached https://i.imgur.com/q46L4QH.jpg ) That’s my heart! “Please, Lord, make this relationship healthy and use it for your purposes. But don’t take it away!” But the dog and my heart struggle to comprehend that they can only get what they want by letting go.

    • Reply Marshall R

      1 February 2019, 12:42 am

      Tom,
      I’m so sorry that you experienced this much hurt from brotherhood gone bad. I have felt that pain before when I lost friends because of marriage, their selfishness, or even my own selfish emotional dependence. People will always disappoint me, but ultimately God will not!
      One thing that helped me to have the right kind of brotherhood is, as you said, putting Jesus Christ first. When Jesus is the most important thing both to me and also to my brothers, then it works so much better! Many conflicts and other issues are resolved when we pray together.
      Another help came from me having a mindset of “How can I love, serve, and give to each friend?” not looking for what I can get out of it. This mentality is not just for Enneagram 2s! Jesus called us all to love each other unselfishly.
      Also, it helps to have a patient, long term view. We should work through all the pain and difficulties knowing that the resulting brotherhood will be worth it all!

    • Reply James M

      9 February 2019, 10:30 pm

      Tom I so appreciate what you wrote. This is my first time commenting. I’m in a chapter in my own life that I’ve not been able to navigate without Jesus. I’ve experienced deep gender identity and ssa struggles since I was about 4 or 5.
      You wrote essentially saying that you are recounting how brotherhood became the focal point. I’m sure you already realize this but I feel inclined to point out that even in the middle of your experiences, God in his infinite wisdom knew what you were doing, has and is already redirecting you. The awesome thing that I want to point out and dwell on is that you are responding to His redirection. How attentive to God is that. (It is very much attentive, lol) Even in the middle of experiencing simultaneous conflicting feelings that tend to overwhelm and essentially turn on a blender to emotions. You’ve responded affirmatively to God. That response is the eternal flair that God so desperately longs for all of His children to have.
      Personally, YOB is becoming a source of solidarity and encouragement. Thank you for being courageous and allowing God to work through you. I’ve lived, hiding for many years trying to pretend that I don’t experience same sex attraction. I’m at a place where I’m done with hiding, and I’m jumping of the edge trusting God to find friends, brothers, true hearts who are also walking the same path. I look forward to more reading and sharing.

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