On February 23rd, in front of friends and family, held up by four community pastors, I began my formal discernment process with the Nashville Family of Brothers, and I couldn’t get through the first sentence of my promises without falling apart in tears. You see, Enneagram eights like me come off as USDA-approved assholes, but underneath that battle armor is a tenderness and child-like desire for family. I cried because, in that moment, I was showing the people in that sanctuary the deepest desires of my heart; I was letting my heart publicly begin to hope for family, and the tender part of my heart found that beautiful and terrifying.
If you aren’t familiar with the Enneagram, you can learn more at The Enneagram Institute. It’s a personality assessment and growth tool first developed by a 4th-century monk trying to understand and address the emotional wounds of himself and his brothers. The Enneagram is in vogue with Christians these days, so much so that the group Sleeping at Last has embarked on multiple albums dedicated to the Enneagram. (Okay, Pieter, get to the point.) Sleeping at Last recently released their song about Enneagram eights—the personality profile that describes me well—and I’ve been struck by how accurately the song describes my inner experience and explains my tears on February 23rd.
The song tells the story of a boy who is weak, vulnerable, and injured by the world around him. At a young age he discovers an armor that could protect him, but at the cost of leaving behind childhood innocence. The armor allows him to fight for fragile, helpless, and broken things like he once was. The man—no longer a boy—trains hard by allowing adversity to break him and make him stronger. He feels most alive when he is fighting for those in whom he sees his younger self. The armor also protects his heart from being seen, from letting someone in and being rejected again, from letting someone see his tenderness and being blindsided. But despite all of this, the man in the armor is tired. He wants nothing more than to stop fighting, take off his armor, and let someone in. Underneath the armor, he’s still a boy in need of family. For this man, the thing that takes the most strength isn’t putting on the armor and fighting for others, but instead taking off the armor and letting others know him. But he is strong enough. And to his delight, letting someone in only gives him more strength to fight for the vulnerable with more heart, more purpose, more tears, more sweat—all of his brokenness.
I was letting my heart publicly begin to hope for family, and the tender part of my heart found that beautiful and terrifying.
I am that boy who had to put on armor. I fight for those who I see myself in, whether it’s providing counseling to gay college students trying to make sense of their sexuality or starting EQUIP to help parents and pastors offer gay teens what I needed but didn’t get or starting a monastery so gay celibate men like me can find committed family. But standing in front of my friends and family on February 23rd and making those promises required me to take the armor off. I couldn’t get through the first sentence: “I hope that God has called me to family with the men discerning the Nashville Family of Brothers.” Part of my tears was fear of letting my heart grow to expect God will grant me this family. I’m terrified to hope only to be let down again. That tender boy’s heart can’t take it, not again.
But that fear was overwhelmed by joy and hope seen in my tears. After all of the work over the past decade battling to find answers, enduring spiritual abuse and abandonment, and seeing myself injured and others wiped out by spiritual warfare, I finally made it. As I saw my future brothers in the audience, heard another brother make the same promises, and multiple pastors laid their hands on me to pray for this endeavor, the boy inside of me finally felt like it was safe to step out of the armor and hope.
If you’re like me, you need family, but you’re afraid to expect to find it. It seems safer to learn to be satisfied with your current loneliness. I’m still scared. There’s no guarantee that this is God’s will or that the wills of men will cooperate. But I have to believe that the desire for family—a desire that God put into me—is good. I have to believe that I will do so much more for God’s kingdom if I find family. I have to believe that God didn’t just make me to fight, and that it will soon be safe to love. So in the words of the song, “I’m all in, palms out…I will pull my whole heart up to the surface…And I will give all I have.”
What about you?