A lot has been written about love, from a romantic point of view. So I thought I would write something about my personal perception of love, from a platonic point of view. Actually, I prefer the term Agape – the all encompassing, sacrificial, love for God and neighbor, the kind of love God has for us. Back in my 20s and 30s, I pretty much took it for granted that everybody was aware of and respected those called to marriage as well as those called to celibacy. I took love for granted, whichever path I chose. I envisioned a Sunday School class door that read “eunuchs for the kingdom.” I had hope for acceptance. Since my background was Protestant, there was very little information in my church on celibacy. Everything centered on nuclear families – wedding anniversaries, birthdays, Father’s Day, etc. My dad kept telling me don’t worry about everybody else. From about the age of 16, he included something about singleness in our devotions at bedtime. “Apostle Paul. You can be like Apostle Paul. There’s nothing wrong with that.” I would read the scripture and he would explain. I listened. Okay, so I was taking a different path to love. I would be able to love everybody in a way that married people couldn’t. The only problem I didn’t count on was that the church would not love me back. I never dreamed that the Southern Baptists would ban single men from preaching or serving in the church. After youth group and college and career, whatever love they had turned into suspicion and “what are you waiting for,” “the right one will come along,” “you’ll know her when you see her.” And of course I didn’t have the money to put in offering plates to buy their love. I began to ask myself “does the Catholic church have a monopoly on the gift of celibacy?” I’m not sure you would call it a monopoly, but they are the only church I’m aware of that has any insight on the subject. That’s why I find myself in my 50s contemplating changing churches.
I have not give up on love, though. I can look back over time and recognize people that showed an uncommon love towards me. The key word there is showed. They went beyond just talking about it. For example, I put a high value on talking to people one-on-one, not on texting or emailing. But that’s almost unheard of today. “If you don’t want to be with her, what’s the point in calling?” What is shocking to me is how many church people have bought into this perverted mindset. We have a culture today where fathers warn their daughters at a young age to be leery of all men, especially older men. But when they end up barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen, the church asks “why couldn’t anybody reach out to her?” Truly sad. I would go as far to say that parents are the biggest obstacles in their children’s lives today, especially if those children are single adults and have chosen the celibate life. Once the child becomes older than they were when they married, they are in uncharted territory. Parents often think they can rely on their own judgment to lead them in the right direction. They think parents always know best. Breaking news: Parents don’t always know best. Their advice will mean very little at a certain age. While I’ve always loved and respected my parents, they were not qualified to counsel me on celibate life. Making the decision, yes. Providing guidance, no. So the big question for parents is what’s their definition of love? Is it limited to the family-centric romantic love that will bring them grandchildren? Or does it extend to the unlimited agape love found in celibacy? I’ve thought about this quite a lot. I’ve come to the conclusion that in order to faithfully travel the road of celibacy, a person must have mentors outside family. It is absolutely mandatory. I had one in particular who I related to like a sister and still do today.
So what is love? The world will tell you it’s about hooking up and having multiple orgasms. The church will tell you it’s about nuclear families and the maternal instinct of nurturing and the fatherly instinct of providing and protecting. The Bible will tell you it’s a balance of both. Most of my closest friends are elderly, widows and widowers, and people who have lived through tremendous tragedies. I can see how the loss of a spouse can redefine a person’s concept of love. And others like myself who have survived near death experiences have had their definitions of love altered and priorities rearranged. For me, love is about the small things. Things so small you would never think they matter. It’s about being sensitive and not making assumptions. Stop and talk to me, leave an empty chair for me in your family at church luncheons, call me, write real letters, tell me my life means something to you, tell me you love me, show me you trust me, ask me something about art or nature, invite me along on your next family adventure, invite me to your church, ask me to talk to your children. Treat me like a real member of your family and not like an unknown anomaly that requires an obligatory “singles sermon” every couple of years. Tell me you understand what celibate chastity is. All I’m leaving on this earth is a legacy of memories. Does my legacy of celibacy mean anything to your family? If so, what? Assure me that you’ll remember my life and that my love is just as significant as any member of your family. Show me that blood is not thicker than water. Is that too much to ask?