It was a Valentine’s Day I’d never forget—not that my dating career had given it much competition. I was a sophomore in college, and my prospects of finding a girlfriend seemed as bleak as the chill gray sky of West Michigan in early February. So when my friend Matt invited me over to his dorm room I was happy for the company.
I’d met Matt the first semester of our freshman year. We were both biology majors and looked the part. Tall, lanky, and slender-faced with prominent noses, sometimes we were mistaken for brothers. He was from Canada, where his dad was a Christian school teacher. I was from northern Michigan, where my parents were dairy farmers. But we both loved science. And “Star Trek.” So he overlooked the fact that I had never heard of Tim Hortons, and I forgave his inability to name the four stomachs of a Holstein. We became fast friends.
But this day something was different. As we took a seat on the couch, there was a weight on his heart as heavy as the wintry sky.
He started out with a question. He wondered what I thought of homosexuals. That question should have cued me into a deeper pastoral concern. It didn’t. After my convoluted answer, somehow he felt safe enough to go on. But his next words were slower in coming, settling in the room as quietly as a feather: “I’m gay.” With the disclosure came the painful back story: The terrible, lonely questions as a boy. The terror of unwelcome feelings and unspoken desires. The unanswered prayers at church. The deep shame.
As he finished, we sat in silence.
As Matt spoke, I had been racking my brain for words. Words to make the pain go away. Words about how his attraction for men did not change God’s unconditional love for him. Words to remind him that his sexual identity did not trump his core identity as a child of God. Words to assure him of our continued friendship despite the difference in sexual orientation. In the silence, I looked into my soul and found no such words. In the stillness, I heard God’s whispered call to action that still echoes. Taking a deep breath of obedience, I asked my hurting friend if we could boldly go where our friendship had never gone before: I asked if I could give him a hug.
Looking back, that holy moment in a dorm room was not the Valentine’s Day I would have chosen. There was no chocolate or flowers, no candlelit Hallmark romance. No girl. But that moment pointed to a deeper kind of love. For Valentine’s Day was soon to give way to the season of Lent and a bigger story of passion. In the pain, Matt and I found ourselves under the cross, with a Savior who in his loving came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). In that simple gesture of friendship, we were reminded of a God who did reach out with a nail-pierced embrace big enough for us all.
In a world of too much information about almost everything, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.
—Barbara Brown Taylor