I’m Brandon. I studied English, and now I teach math; I love Jesus, and I also like guys. I’m seemingly full of contradictions, but they make for interesting stories.

I’ve been pledging to YOB for almost two years now. I’d label myself a lurker: I rarely post or respond to Discord discussions, but I do actively keep up with them. I attended one virtual retreat back in 2022, and when I heard the dates for the 2023 camp retreat announced, I was conflicted.

On the one hand, I wanted the opportunity to meet and engage with a community of whom I’ve deeply desired connection, and this retreat would also occur over my fall break; on the other hand, I was deeply anxious and afraid of going and then feeling isolated and alone.

My roommate ultimately convinced me to go, and I signed up at the last possible hour.

On my long drive to the retreat, I grew anxious. Arriving seven hours late and missing early opportunities to connect left me feeling overwhelmed. Add to that the exhaustion from ten weeks of teaching and fighting with insurance for three months. The last 14 months have been heartache after heartache with seasons of loneliness, numbness, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Upon my arrival, I was found by Tom, a now familiar face, who helped me get settled before I latched onto my next familiar face, Eugene. Although exhausted from a long day of work and driving, I could not sleep that first night. The anxiety of being in a new place with new people kept my mind racing.

Saturday morning started with prayer, breakfast, worship, and solo reflection, and I was excited for my first meeting with my tribe (small group). It was a structured conversation in which I knew I could participate, a place where I could share these feelings of anxiety. A time to make connections. I thoroughly enjoyed my tribe; diving into the stories and hearts of my fellow brothers was such a huge blessing.

From structured tribe time came unstructured downtime — a surreal experience. I felt out of place and overwhelmed with everyone grouping together and hugging and having deep conversations. I didn’t know where to go or where I fit in. At the same time, I was drawn even more to this community.

There was so much love and tenderness in this space. I wanted to be a part of it, but I didn’t know how.

For years, I attributed my sexuality to being unable to connect with other guys around me. It was a deep cut when I felt those same feelings of isolation and inadequacy flooding back. Maybe the problem was just me.

I don’t know what kept me from breaking down there. It might’ve been the anti-depressants keeping me afloat or the mercy of the Lord giving me strength not to spiral.

I joined in on some guys throwing frisbees and then later playing volleyball. I am not athletic or sporty, but I felt comfortable enough to hide behind the camaraderie of sports. But when those activities ended and I couldn’t hide anymore, I felt frozen in place.

My anxiety wanted invisibility, while my heart desperately wanted to be seen. I found safety in some tribe members who were aware of my emotional well-being and served as a safety net in those difficult moments.

Before I knew it, Sunday arrived. The main, structured part of the retreat was done, and it was time for first goodbyes. Goodbyes are weird when you feel out of place. I now knew these 49 other guys, but I didn’t know who to approach. Some walked by and avoided eye contact; with others, the goodbye felt forced, like they couldn’t get out of it.

As the number of guys dwindled, the rougher the goodbyes grew. I wanted to feel connected, and it felt like I had failed.

Sometimes when we pray the answer is not a “no” but simply a “not yet.” After that first large group of guys left on Sunday, things did feel slightly easier having fewer people to engage with. I spent a great lunch with many of the guys I’d not yet connected with, enjoyed a lovely hike while sharing life stories, and played games with my new brothers.

It wasn’t perfect, but it was good. At the end of our retreat on Monday, I felt some sadness over a blossoming connection, something I had been hoping for that entire weekend.

This was a difficult retreat. I entered into a space where this was a family reunion for many, not just a first meeting. I was with guys who had already been connecting online and were now getting this chance to meet. These were beautiful things to witness but also hard things to swallow with my own loneliness and desires. I wanted hugs and deep talks, but I didn’t know how to get them.

I’ve since returned home and gained some space to sit with my feelings from this first YOBBERS retreat. Initially it seemed like I had a horrible experience and would never return.

But I do not regret attending this retreat. Instead, I’ve begun finding a newfound energy to invest. Along my seven-hour drive home, I reflected through a series of questions:

What does it look like to create community with my new brothers who I may not physically see until the next retreat?

How do I manage my expectations that brotherhood does not mean best friends?

How do I love these men well and not just focus on my own gain?

When I debriefed my retreat experience in therapy, my therapist brought up Philippians 4:11:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

I struggle with contentment. I am beyond blessed and grateful for the community and friends the Lord has given me over the years, especially since moving to a new city three years ago. However, I struggle with this lingering feeling that what I have isn’t enough or that something is missing.

For years, I’ve attributed my social anxiety and lack of connections to my sexual attractions. I always thought that if I was just like the other guys, my need for connection and intimacy would be met easily.

Even with my “Side B” brothers, I quickly learned that this anxiety didn’t just disappear. I’m not planning on being married; as a result, I get caught up in making my community perfect so I don’t have to worry about being alone.

My community isn’t perfect, nor will it ever be. I can want more from my community while still recognizing the ways the Lord has blessed me through the people already here.

While still on this side of heaven, I must learn to be content.

Do you struggle with finding the perfect community? How do you persist through social anxiety, particularly in new settings?

About the Author

  • Brandon, I admire your vulnerability and courage (funny how those go hand-in-hand) – both in writing about your retreat experience and even attending in the first place. I’ve often thought about how much more anxious I’d be about these retreats if I weren’t the one organizing them. Because I definitely have anxiety leading up to the retreat. But I also know I’ve gotten acclimated to the community over the years, and plenty others still have some acclimating to do! I always applaud anyone who takes the leap to join us for a weekend. It takes massive courage just to show up, let alone participate in everything we’ve cooked up.

    Grateful you decided to join us last-minute! Shout out to your roommate. Haha.

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