You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (Galatians 5.13)
With deepest gratitude to Sylvia Gomez and Jon Duncanson for teaching Walt and me about The Bowl.
Veering Into What?
Though less now than before, we socialize most gay kids alongside straight kids without allowing for differences taking place in their minds and bodies. There’s a reason for this. Humanity needs to reproduce. So gay boys and girls grow up observing rites of passage that reinforce heterosexuality. In America, these include “going steady,” first kisses and dates, school dances, sexual initiation (rounding the bases until you hit a homer), engagement, marriage, childbirth, and restarting the cycle with a new brood of procreators. As a result, the gay youth’s personal circumstances—where he/she lives, family traditions and values, religious upbringing, ethnic background, etc.—seriously impact the point where he/she can veer off this course.
But veering off the beaten path with its clearly marked milestones means veering into what? Gay longings are the same as straight ones—loving companionship, stability, affection, and integrity. Without a proven model to emulate or social and legal bumpers to steer them, many gay people step right out of the closet into the woods. It goes beyond dangers associated with looking for love in wrong places—promiscuity, substance abuse, emotional injury, and so on. When love presents itself, many of us jump in over our heads. We fall too easily and give up far too easily. After a few failed tries, many of us settle for “single life,” which basically means self-imposed loneliness or frequenting places where it's most likely Mr./Ms. Right-Now will drift by. This suggests gay men and women struggle less with finding love than making it last.
I admit I’m knee-deep in presumptions here. I’ve also not mentioned many straight people wrestle with identical issues and tendencies. I beg forgiveness for this. My intent is not to perpetuate these stereotypes. It’s to guide all of us—gay and straight—away from considering them worthy of us as believers. The wisdom and discipline we gain by following Christ are not to be minimized in how we approach our personal lives. If anything, His principles apply more aptly to our most intimate relationships than anywhere else in our lives. Our relationships' importance to us, our desire to sustain them, and our ability to build them on Scriptural truth give us ironclad reasons to infuse them with faith.
Too often we presume since our partners know us so well, we’re free to indulge lower instincts—our sinful nature—and prevail on their love and forgiveness after the fact. And they may continue to love and forgive us. But every time we wrong them, we build higher walls and set narrower boundaries. We compromise real freedom and ease that make for healthy relationships. This isn’t just reckless of us; it’s contrary to our faith. Galatians 5.13 says, “You were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love.” Relationships founded on service in love are relationships that last.
“You Gotta Get a Bowl”
Very quickly, Walt and I gathered the dynamics and stresses common to people in love are fundamentally the same for everyone, regardless of gender or orientation. One is neater than the other. One is more candid. One manages money better. Etc. Hence, the first phase of any relationship is invariably its most fragile and bruising. But especially as a freshly minted gay couple, every time we bumped into each other became a crisis. Our insecurity goaded us to magnify minor mistakes into intentional affronts. As expected, there was a fair share of “Shouldn’t he know this by now?” and “Why would he assume this?” and “This is who I am. Better get used to it.” We wanted our love to last. We just had no idea how to make it last. When we mentioned our anxiety to our friends, Sylvia and Jon, they smiled. “You gotta get a bowl,” Sylvia said. Jon agreed and they told us about the bowl—what it is and how it makes love last.
“People tell you the surest way to stay together is never to go to bed mad. Well, the bowl’s like that, only better,” they said. Here’s what we learned. When two people fall in love, they create a third entity—their union. It’s made from both of them, but it has a life of its own. It becomes the most important thing they share, and both make it their duty to nurture and protect it. “Think of it as a bowl between you guys,” Jon and Sylvia told us. “You need to love that bowl more than anything in life—in particular, more than yourselves.” They explained the bowl’s survival depends on each partner filling it with an act of kindness for the other every day. It’s the motive for the gesture—not its size—that’s important. “There will be plenty of times you won’t feel happy with each other,” they said. “But even if it’s the last thing you do, you don’t let a day pass without doing something nice for the other guy. So what if you don’t love him at that moment? You still love the bowl. You’ve put a lot into it. You want it to last.”
Now, 18 years later, I see Sylvia and Jon taught us the principle in Galatians 5.13. Commitment and intimacy don’t liberate us to give in to whimsy and weakness. They free us to show our commitment to one another in intimate ways. Every day, we add a special act of kindness to the bowl. A candy bar. Doing the dishes. Vacation tickets. An “I love you” Post-It on the mirror. A new car. Size and distinction don’t matter. Our willingness to nurture and protect the bowl is all that counts. Love worth having is worth the effort to make it last.
You gotta get a bowl.
(Tomorrow: Golden Opportunities)