‘A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds.
For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.’ (Sirach 6: 15-17)
The journey out of homosexuality and into Christ-centered heterosexuality is unimaginable to many. That is apparent in the ludicrous way that the popular media frames ‘change.’ From cartoonish images of flipping off the ‘gay switch’ to ‘praying away the gay’ to intensive ‘camps’ that promise reorientation in a week, journalists seem intent on dismissing efforts to grow beyond the ‘gay self’ as nearly delusional.
What most fail to realize is that the journey to actually becoming a whole-enough gift for the opposite gender is a magnificent and arduous journey that cannot be reduced to a method. Rather, it involves a profound relationship with Jesus Christ. Through His advocacy, we can be reconciled to the intrinsic value and worth of our respective genders. Yes, we face real impasses to becoming the men and women of God’s design. Yet the fractured and shameful parts of our identities are no match for His power to redeem us. Such redemption is the task of His empowered Body, the Church.
Gender integration requires ‘grace with faces’: those walking partners we discover in the healing community who satisfy our deep longing for same-gender identification and intimacy. Here we discover the love/hate relationship we actually have with our own gender. Holy and humble friendships help us navigate the fear of rejection, the threat of desiring too much, and the surprise discovery that that we are actually good gifts to out comrades. Deeper still, we realize that our ‘homosexual’ needs are not erotic at all but rather deeply emotional.
These needs line up with how the book of Sirach describes real friendship: ‘a sturdy fortress’, ‘a life-saving remedy’, ‘a treasure, beyond price.’ These attributes describe beautifully my significant friendships. United in Christ, these comrades have freed me to be forthright, even painfully honest. Together we have discovered what it means to be men whose goal is faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
That is where Sirach’s emphasis on ‘the fear of the Lord’ comes in. Our fighting for the best in each other is informed by how God defines us. We offer great drafts of mercy to each other in our weakness. Yet such weakness also compels us to call each other onto the deeper, truer realities of God’s destiny for us.
Refusal to uphold a brother in truth is serious business. That is why many fall away. They define love as accepting whatever one wants at whatever point in time. Friends who fear the Lord know better. We know that to love another means to see him as God intends him to be. We become sturdy fortresses for one another, a life-saving remedy for those of us seeking to follow Jesus in a perverse, uncomprehending age.
‘Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.’ (Is. 32: 2)