Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Importance Of Friends (or: What Beats the Loneliness)

A few months ago, I got the following advice from Jay in response to the post I'd written titled Am I An Eleanor Rigby?:

As for loneliness, I only have this advice that works for me. Memory is the biggest foil for loneliness. Remember your friends, your travels, your family, the times when you felt comfortable and at peace. Think about them often, and try to make new memories by seeking out friends and having a good time. When you're with them, enjoy the moment and be blessed! When you're not, remember that they're still out there and still love you. Right now an intimate relationship might be denied you, but you can find just as much validation and joy in your friends and family.

Feel better, and God bless.”

Jay, your advice has helped.

One thing I have struggled with a lot in my life is loneliness. Because of some of my low self-esteem/self-confidence issues, lack of social involvement with others as a child, and fears about people finding out about my struggles with homosexuality, I've had a tendency to hide myself in near complete isolation a great deal of the time—I can be a real hermit. In doing this, I've made myself so terribly lonely at times. Contributing to that feeling is the fear of being rejected by others. There have been a lot of people in my past that I have tried to reach out to and be friends with who simply wouldn't respond back to me. They didn't want to be friends with me, I guess. And I've tended to take that personally as something purely against me.

I don't think I realized it exactly, but shortly after high school, for about three or four years, I think I just quit trying to make friends. I tried to be friendly or nice to others, but I wasn't trying so much to make friends with anyone. I thought it was pointless for me to even try. So many people had turned away from me that I think I just didn't want to be hurt anymore. So, I just didn't try. I'd given up on that.

One of the first bits of advice I ever received from anyone at Exodus International was that I needed to try to build some good, healthy friendships. I think the man who suggested that to me could see into my life just enough to know how friendless I really was at the time. So, because of that, he pushed me to find friends, to try once again to make friends, and to not just give up on that effort. I believe he also told me that it might be hard for me, that there would probably still be people rejecting me in the matter, but that I shouldn't just give up on that effort and be friendless the rest of my life. I think he knew, rightly, too, just how important having friends would be for me in my fight to overcome homosexuality. That's definitely something I've learned. I couldn't do this without the help and support and prayers of other people.

Looking back over this last year, I can say it was certainly one of the hardest years of my life. My preacher, of all people, showed no interest of helping me, which made me question just how open about my struggles I could be with others and just how trusting I could be of my church. I took a job that stressed me out and literally just sucked the life out of me. I was depressed and frustrated, and in general was seeing my entire life get turned upside down and inside out and it just is a miracle to me that I never lost my sanity throughout it all (I think I came close to that a few times actually). But, it was just a very difficult year for me. There was a lot of change for me, and I've never been one to handle change very well; I tend to resist that. I've struggled to see myself differently, to see others differently, to give up certain sins—all sin in my life really, and to learn how to trust God and others in my life. And I have struggled with making friends. I've let my feelings get really hurt many times this last year while trying to be friends with people. I've taken things a little too personally a few times. But, as I look back, I realize I have made friends. Some of my employees showed me on a few occasions how much they liked me back this last summer. There was one particular day when I was feeling so down, and my boss was just railing at everything I did, and a few of them wrote me a little note, left it on my desk, telling me how much they appreciated me and were uplifting me and encouraged me by not only that but by including a verse from the bible on the backside of the note. The verse was this: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under temptation, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12) I was very moved by what they did, and I kept that note and reflected on it many times when things at work weren't going so well.

I was able to strengthen two former friendships as well this last summer. Two of my workers were people who I'd worked alongside of in previous years. I could often go to them and vent and also get advice, and I allowed them to help me be a better boss by listening to them. But, I also saw that the two of them always stuck by me. When everyone else seemed to be abandoning me there towards the end of things, they stuck by me. They cared and they helped me. I'll admit that bewildered me a little. I'm not used to people, other than family, doing that. And I realized by it that these two people are REAL friends. I only hope I can give back to them as much as they've given to me. I hope I can be and am being as good a friend to them in return. Like I already mentioned, I have a tendency to turn away from others and hide myself, so that's been something I've had to work through with them. It's like I keep expecting them to eventually turn away from me, so I have to keep stopping myself from turning away from them first (that's what I used to do to keep from being hurt).

I also found a friend in my Exodus counselor this last year. He's helped me so much in just being there for me and helping me work through some of the feelings of frustration and confusion I've had, but also to help motivate me to change my life for the better. I'm eternally grateful for him, and I thank God for leading him into my life. And I can say the same for my mentor through Setting Captives Free. Both of these men have helped me so much and really I don't know what I'd do without them.

I've also made several Internet friends. I took a chance back last winter, just before Christmas of '06, and sent an email to a nineteen-year-old college student in Maryland. He had been featured in his campus' newspaper for having stood up for his Christian convictions concerning his struggle with homosexuality during a “God hates Fags!” rally, in which he was not only called a “sodomite” by one of the speakers, but was also told he'd never get to heaven because of his homosexual temptations. He stood up to those people and “set them straight,” so to speak, and his college newspaper had decided to write an article about him and his struggles. I instantly admired him for being so open about his struggles, but also for having so much faith in God and for standing up so boldly for other Christians struggling with these things. I emailed him thanking him for what he'd done and offered him a bit of encouragement as well. I took a chance in doing that, because it was something I'd never done before due to a lack of trust for people over the Internet. But it's one chance I've never regretted. He responded back to me, and what has followed is a deep friendship that I cherish with all of my heart. I've made such a wonderful and godly friendship with him. Through that friendship, so many old wounds have been healed in my heart. We typically write back and forth to each other about once or twice a week, and we've done that for a little over a year now. My hope is that eventually I'll get to meet with my friend in person. But it's just been so great knowing him because we understand each other, can encourage each other, can lift each other up, pray for each other, and we actually do have a whole lot in common that we can talk about besides our struggles. I honestly do just love him to pieces. He's one of the best friends I've ever had.

I've made other online friends as well. I'd consider a great number of my fellow bloggers to be friends. I say that because you've been there for me and prayed for me and you've helped me by being so willing to share in this fight alongside of me. I've talked with a couple of you through email and I've made some good friendships there. You know who you are, and I'll thank you from the bottom of my heart for being friends with me. You're gifts from God, quite literally. And so are all of my friends.

Looking back, it sort of surprises me just how many friends I have made. I'd prayed for a long time for God to send people into my life, and I see where that's happening. I have friends now for the first time in my life! I have real, genuine friends who know me and like me and want to be around me. Sometimes that really does dumbfound me. I spent so many years thinking I wasn't worthy of friendship or of love. So many people had rejected me or made fun of me or turned away from me, and I think I was so full of self-hate as well for a few past actions that I just literally couldn't see how anybody could ever think otherwise about me. I thought I was unlovable. But I'm seeing where I was wrong for thinking that.

When it comes to loneliness, I continue to struggle with that at times—sometimes quite severely. But I know that when I try to do as Jay suggested and think back on all the good times, and to know that there are people who love me, who care about me, who do want to know me, and to know how God feels about me, the loneliness goes away. What's helped the most, really, is just finally realizing how God feels about me. He loves me—me, this horrible sinner who in no way deserves His love or anything else from Him! And that overwhelms me. I just try to think of all the good that really has been in my life, all those good times, all those good feelings, all those people who are my friends (even if I can't always be around them), my family and the warmth and love I've received from them, and how much God loves me and wants to spend time with me, and all those lonely feelings just go away. I thank Jay for his advice. It does help to think about these things, and to place them in my heart.

It just occurred to me that this is my fiftieth post, and I really can't think of a more befitting subject to have written about for this occasion than the subject of friendship. I'm glad I decided not to give up on making friends. It would have been so easy for me to have just accepted a lonely, friendless existence and lived the rest of my life in isolation. That would have been the easy thing to do. I'll admit, I think it's hard making friends. It's hard being a friend sometimes. For one, it's a two way street. Someone once told me, and I forget who, but they said, “In order to make friends, you must first be a friend.” I think that's great advice. How can a person make friends if they're not first willing to reach out and offer friendship to others? Or, for that matter, to respond back to people who offer you friendship? It can't be done. You have to reach out to others in order to make friends.

My hope is that all of you out there are making friends too and not just living lonely lives in seclusion. I hope you are at least trying to make friends, and have not given up. If you have given up, believe me, you're missing out on so much in life. Life is really hard living when you have no friends. When you have no friends, you have nobody to fall back on when the going gets tough, or who you can enjoy your life with, or get support or advice from, or love.

One of my favorite quotes is this: “No man is a failure who has friends”. That comes from the movie It's A Wonderful Life. And like George Bailey, the main character of that movie, I'm beginning to see just how wonderful my life is, and can be. I have hope now. And I realize there are going to still be plenty of lonely days ahead of me in my life. But I know now how better to handle those times. I have friends I can go to, and new friendships to make. I have good memories I can linger on. And, above all else, I know I can always turn to God. I can always lay my head upon His breast, talk to Him, and feel the radiant love that He has for me shining through. And that's what beats the loneliness.

5 comments:

Beast said...

Wow! Congratulations you've found friends around you!

But, this post made me feel so SAD to realise Christians are not doing their job properly, or I AM NOT DOING my job properly as a Christian. There are countless people out there who crave for love and attention. At times, I think it's a bit narrow minded and self-centred for me to be so tucked up in the struggle and battle I call SSA. I think by reaching up to God and reaching out to lonely people that we find our battle less and less severe.

Hope you continue to do well, and remember we will be here to listen and befriend you!
Beast.

Joe Moderate said...

Brandon,

Hey man, it's cool to read your thoughts; thanks for putting them out there. I'm sincerely sorry to hear about the loneliness you're feeling, though. What is it about loneliness that is so deep and overwhelming? I need to meditate on that sometime.

Just wanted to say hello and that I've been reading some of your blog. Good stuff!

I know this may sound strange coming from a gay guy, but I just want to encourage to continue living your life with integrity to your convictions. By all means keep talking about, exploring, and questioning your faith and values. But I want you to know how admirable I think it is to live according to what you believe is right. I see you trying to do that, and it impresses me.

so from one guy trying to live with integrity to another, keep up the good fight :-)

Joe

Brandon said...

Thanks fellas. I appreciate the show of support and the warm comments. That really means a lot to me.

Jay said...

Wow... It seems I've forgotten my own advice recently. Thanks for posting this, Brandon. I'm glad I could help, though the credit goes to God.

Peace!

Brandon said...

You are welcome, Jay. And you're right. The credit certainly does go to God. But still, I'm glad He used you to knock some sense into me. Thanks for doing your part. :)