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I had a recent conversation with a friend about creating safe spaces for people to be authentic. He asked me why I sometimes feel disconnected from the church people and I said it was because of a perception in my head. That perception being that, because people at church smile a lot and don’t talk about their problems, they don’t have any problems.

Because clearly smiles indicate perfection. Right.

I should know better by now.

And stories that my friend shared confirmed this. We talked about conversations and group settings where we’d been open with people about who we really were and what our real struggles were. The consistent response to our openness is…more openness! He and I both recounted experiences of being open, other people being open as a result, and us all knowing about each other in really beautifully authentic ways.

The end result is that I remember I’m not the only one with a challenging life.

But I wonder how to make the situation better.

For instance, I’m a Jesus-follower, a gay man, married to a woman and working as a counselor where my task is to integrate humanist and spiritual principles for people in crisis. And we’re having a baby. I’m part of…three(?) worlds. For me, this means living in acute tension most of the time. My body is healthy, but the emotional and mental dissonances cause lots of weariness and stiffness and the all pervasive sad mood.

One of my hardest challenges is feeling like people forget about me and my situation. I make this assumption because they don’t say anything. And because most of the time, I’m not in acute crisis, so I feel funny and a little guilty bringing up baseline stresses.

So then conversations with friends at coffee shops and at church and at community groups and in the bouldering gym circle around everything under the sun…food, cycling, movies, music, art, writing, theology, cynicism, how we think the church can be better…but conversation never comes back to marriage and particularly never comes back to sex unless I make a concerted effort to make them do so.

There are the exceptional occasions when a friend opens up about their sexuality. Usually the conversation has something to do with pornography and/or sexual abstinence and lust. When we have these conversations, I feel like I really know the person. You just can’t talk about sex without developing a new level of intimacy with a person.

Similarly, you can’t talk about stress and suffering and a person’s deepest challenges without developing a type of intimacy.

I wonder if we avoid deep conversations because we’re afraid of intimacy.

I wonder if we avoid talking about pain because we’re afraid of pain.

I wonder if we try not to get too deep with people because we’re afraid we can’t help.

I wonder if we don’t open up for fear of being judged. Still.

Meanwhile, the single most powerful factor in keeping me from exploding off the deep end(wherever that sidewalk ends) is the relationships in my life. People who are open with me and make a safe space for me to be open back. People by whom I know I am loved.

So then, my endeavor, for always and forever, is to create a safe space around me for people to be open and real. To uncover and explore deep hurts and struggles, big doubts and scary questions, ugly deeds and regrets, and all with no fear of being judged or rejected.

There are people around me who do the same and I am so thankful for them.

My hope is that more people will join me in overcoming fear and pursuing deeper intimacy with people. This is one of the greatest gifts God has given us, to be able to be connected to one another by His Spirit, in His name, sharing His love. Let us do so boldly and with joy.