December nights in San Diego can get surprisingly cold from time to time. After throwing a thermal over my t-shirt, I pulled over the thickest sweatshirt I could find and slid my jeans right over my warm sweats. In the process, I remembered a pair of purple wool gloves that I took from Mama Lewis just before I left Oregon and covered my hands. Opening the door, I turned to my roommate sitting at his desk, dreading the difficult conversation to come, I mumbled, “I’m going to tell Steven.” Walking out the door, I heard an empathetic “good luck” slipped through just before it closed.
Tentatively glancing up the staircase, I sighed and started dragging my feet, plopping the thousand-pound anchors on each step. Once I finished yanking my apprehensive body to the entrance of my dorm, I saw my good friend, hands in his pockets, slowly walking over from his dorm just across the parking lot.
Steven and I had known each other for two years now and had been close friends over the last year. We’ve had countless conversations before but none like this, none so personal. I would say some of them were more like intellectual debates while others were primarily silly disagreements for the sake of optimism and pessimism. So I knew exactly how he would lead conversation, deeply clinging to Scripture with primarily conservative ideas. He’d call me an idiot and tell me I’m wrong, leaving me exposed, naked, and once again, abandoned.
While I silently hauled my lifeless body up another set of stairs, he coolly scaled them beside me, waiting for me to initiate something. As we got closer to the top of the stairs, pressure began to swell, pressing on my soul and bawling for freedom. After building it up for hours upon hours, I couldn’t suppress the pressure any longer. The words were violently pressing on my tongue, and like a long-dormant geyser erupting, I opened my mouth: “Steven, I’m gay.”
Silence filled the air as my heavy words lingered above us. Nothing. We took a few more steps. Nothing. Where was his outburst? Where was his reprimanding? Where was the condescension? Pure silence. For a moment, we stopped walking, and I looked him in the eyes. Looking at me as he faintly squinted and gently flexed his forehead, he responded.
One simple, four-letter-word response: “Okay.” A straight-forward, “okay.” Not a disgusted “ooookay,” not a terrified “okaaaay,” or not a scoffing “oookaaaay.” Just an abrupt “okay” without contempt, without judgment. A mellow okay of considerate curiosity. A conscious okay of intentional acceptance. A moderate okay of hospitality.
Indirectly, he invited me to fill the conversation with my experiences and my thoughts, liberation. My burden of rejection dissipated into the illusion that it truly was, and I realized that I was wrong. My presuppositions about him and my ideas about his character were wrong, elaborate fantasy that could not last in the presence of love.
Sometimes, we’re just wrong. We respond to the world with what we think is best. When friends come to us in times of sadness, we tend to encourage them with the words faith and hope, but these words fall short. Faith just left me wrestling with myself, wondering if I actually believed. Hope just reminded me of my hopelessness, considering the worthlessness of life. Independently, they’re insufficient. By themselves, they’re powerless.
It’s love. When a person is waiting to be belittled and unheard, love keeps the dialogue open for the individual to fill with their self, with what weights their heart. When a person is ready to be torn to pieces, love creates space for them to process with you, free of judgment. When a person is on the brink of quitting, love shows them that they are not alone, that humanity is designed for community. When a person is about to give up, love invites them to stay engaged in the ongoing, perplexing conversation that is the concept of God. It. Is. Love.
As we walked back to where we started, the conversation began to dwindle. With his flawless conclusion, Steven comforted me: “Sean, you are my friend, and I still love you.” Following my gratitude, he topped it off with a hug, and to my surprise, my life was changed. He had done it all. Through love, I discovered faith. Through love, I discovered hope. Through love, I discovered God. Love won.