I had some very colorful people in my family growing up. One was my Aunt Sudie. She had a different taste in books, food, furniture, and especially music. I always thought of her as more . . . refined, cultured, even more civilized. When I went to visit her, I could always here the soft background music of Birmingham’s only easy listening radio station, WQEN. Everything was slowed down in her house. Well, everything, but intellect. She was a thinking lady. Every response was measured. And even her clothes always seemed to match. I remember playing dominoes and chess with her on Sunday afternoons. You can guess how that went. My taste in music back in the 1980s leaned toward the Bee Gees, Boston, and Bob Dylan. One afternoon on top 40 WERC, I heard that our easy listening station was switching over to country format. I thought “poor Aunt Sudie.” The next time I saw her, it didn’t take long for her to bring up the subject. “How about that? Now I’ve got to choose between being a rock and roller or a honkytonk red neck.” I sympathized with her . . . a little. While I wasn’t an easy listening fan, I didn’t like the idea of someone being forced to listen to music they didn’t like.
Replaying that scene in my mind lately has given me pause because . . . I felt like I was being forced to choose between two things I don’t want – the virginity of bubble-gum popping teenage girls or the celibacy of black-robed Gregorian-chanting bread-making Benedictine monks. I wrestled a bit with that over the years. Who did I identify with? I knew no one who had chosen this life. In the Protestant world, there’s not much to identify with if you’ve chosen a life of celibacy, other than a cold pew in the back of a church. I know what their congregations think of single men. I won’t go there. Actually I identify with refugees, hostages, people with no identity, and others displaced from war-torn areas of the world. I relate to the people of Israel. But I know my real identity is in Christ alone. As Galatians 2:20 tells me:
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
It’s interesting that the word “crucified” in this verse is in the perfect tense. The crucifixion was in fact a past action that has present results. Like Paul, I have died to all the expectations and assumptions surrounding a single man in the 21st century. Or I should say, it’s an ongoing process. All Christians are called to do this. But I think people who have chosen celibate life more fully embody that reality. We are more dependent on Christ every day of our lives. So even though a social identity may be a natural part of the human equation, it’s something we have to die to, much more so that any other segment of the population. When you get down to it, we don’t live natural lives. Those of us called to celibacy live supernatural lives. I’m sure Paul went through an identity crisis. Living a life as Saul, he had the responsibility of living in obedience to Mosaic Law. But instead of trying to find acceptance with God through following a set of rules, the person of Paul was now living by a new set of principles based on the Holy Spirit living inside of him. Just as it was the rules Paul had to cast aside, we oftentimes have to cast aside our very own language, our very own social identities. Because in a very real sense we are living outside our time zone. The world sees clocks on a wall and the oscillations of a cesium beam in the form of an atomic clock. We see an ocean of infinity that doesn’t need time. The world sees children holding hands with mom and dad. We see spiritual children in the future that can’t even be counted. We have even chosen to cast aside family and children. But remember that the Bible tells us we will not be forgotten. Isaiah 56:4-5:
4 For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant;
5 Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
When I have an identity crisis, these are my go to verses. So I don’t like the sound of virgin? It doesn’t matter. I don’t like the sound of celibate? It doesn’t matter. I don’t want to be a monk? It doesn’t matter. One day I will have an “everlasting name.” I understand that to mean only eunuchs will have an everlasting name. Not moms. Not dads. Not preachers. Not teachers. Only eunuchs. I have no idea what that everlasting name may be. When I’m watching all the other parents pamper their children in church and I’m feeling rather childless, I remind myself that I will have an everlasting name. When the church throws a Christmas party and invites all the families but does not invite me, I remind myself that I will have an everlasting name. When I’m trying to think of people to include in my will, I remind myself I will have an everlasting name – and that my children in the future will get more than that. I don’t look at it as a consolation prize. It’s a biblical promise. All I can do now is savor the mystery.