The Surprising Comfort Of Celibacy

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If I live to be 100 years old, the one thing I will remember about the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage is their assumption that gays were “condemned to live in loneliness” without marriage. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve come to realize that they were just expressing what most Americans already felt and what most churches already taught – that a family and comfortable sex lives were required to enter adulthood in America. I’ve written for years about the church’s idolatrous worship of sex, but never thought I see the day when the U.S. Supreme Court would declare marriage a constitutional right. But this didn’t happen overnight. So what was it that made Justice Kennedy believe that gay people were “condemned to live in loneliness?” The church. Not just the Catholics and Protestants, but all of them. Where do people get married? The church. What institution has traditionally set the standards for sexual ethics? The church. I believe Kennedy was calling out churches as hypocrites because the sexual ethics that they preached didn’t match the sexual ethics that they practiced. He packed a lot of punch into that one word, “condemned.” I can hear him asking churches, “Who are you to condemn those who can’t get married when you can’t remain faithful in your own marriages?” “Who are you to talk about marriage when half of your congregations will get divorced?” With “condemned,” he was also taking a stab at church weddings and the false separation of church and state that has existed in this country since its founding. Indeed, here we have a case where the church is not condemning the state. Rather, the state is condemning the church. So this contrived separation may get even wider. What condemned gay people to live in loneliness? Are we so naive as to believe that they didn’t have sexual relationships because they didn’t have marriage licenses and the blessings of church weddings? No. What condemned them was the church’s idolatrous worship of heterosexual marriages and families. What condemned them was the absence of any other alternative besides family life. What condemned them was the church’s narrow mindedness and inability to see reality beyond their own stained glass windows and rose colored glasses. What condemned them was their own pride, greed, and unwillingness to talk about such matters in their churches. So I think Justice Kennedy was also saying to the church, “You made some false assumptions. So I’ll make some false assumptions.” For instance, the church has also seen single adults as adolescents until they married. So, the Supreme Court lumped them in with gays too. Why not? They never had an identity to begin with. It was like Kennedy was giving the faithful a taste of their own medicine. He took the church’s own traditions and unwritten rules, twisted them around a bit, and threw them right back at the pulpits.

However, all of these assumptions and elevation of marriage to a civil right also underscore why lifelong virginity is a spiritual gift. Not only is it difficult in and of itself, society’s dismissal of it does not lead to a life of comfortable acceptance. Yes, I get lonely, very lonely indeed. But I don’t think I’m any lonelier than Christ was while on this earth. I don’t expect the state, church, or anybody else to do anything about my loneliness. I accept it. I relish it. And I dare say most of us with this gift would say the same thing. I realize that for a person to live today with unmet desires is unheard of and that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is sacred as scripture. But all traditions and family legacies were tossed out the door when Christ entered the world. I live by different rules. In a real way, I see my role today as making comfortable people uncomfortable and taking the padded cushions out of comfortable padded pews. I don’t look to a marriage to define me as an adult. God has already done that. I don’t look at surveys. I don’t take votes. And I don’t care how popular or unpopular I may be. I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that just because the Bible allows for a life of marriage or celibacy that half the people must be married and half the people must be celibates. That will never be the case. Even if there have been only five people with the charism of virginity since the time of Christ, the Bible is just as true today as it was 2000 years ago. God is not a God of democracy. He is a king. He does not have to consult a supreme court. He is the court and final judge.

Loneliness

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“Field of Dreams” by Steve Henderson.

Since my blog deals with virginal celibacy, there are two groups of people I talk about: Those with the gift of celibacy and those who are waiting on marriage. What’s interesting is that people who are called to the celibate life forever also pass through a time of waiting on marriage. While I do think there is some genetic predisposition to celibate life, I don’t think anybody is born with either lifestyle encoded in their DNA. If they were, the charism of virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven would not be possible. A gift requires not only a giver and a receiver, but also a period of time without the gift and a period of time with the gift. However, receiving a spiritual gift is not like receiving a birthday gift. There are no lollipop whistles, no songs, no candles, no hugs from Aunt Mattie Lou. No chocolate covered candy hearts to give away.  It actually can be pretty quiet.

Have you ever been in a crowded place and thought you heard someone call your name? I have. Sometimes there is another person named John close by and then sometimes I don’t know what I heard. But whatever the case, I always stop what I’m doing, get really quite, and listen really hard. I think God sometimes uses loneliness in the same way to get our attention. It’s like a call from the spiritual realm. First, ask yourself if there is anything that is making you feel lonely. For example, do you spend time with friends who have boyfriends and girlfriends? Do you find yourself often in “couples” situations? Do you hang around couples expecting children? Do you attend a lot of weddings? Do you spend a lot of time babysitting? All of these scenarios can create an artificial loneliness that is void of any godly direction. Cares of the world need not become a part of our lives until we are married. Young ladies, you are not required to babysit during your church services. Learn to say no. When we have an active prayer life, I think loneliness can actually be a good thing. It forces us to take a look at ourselves – as God does – without any external trappings of manmade success or pleasures. It forces us to rely on him. It peels away the husk and reveals who we really are.  More importantly for the single person, it allows us to define our loneliness and determine if anything is lacking in our lives. Is it a longing for a husband? Is it a longing to be with other people? Or, is it a longing to be closer to Christ? I think wanting to be closer to Christ can be interpreted as loneliness. And that is a very GOOD thing. Christ spent much time on this earth as a lonely man. Not only that, he was a very poor man. He never owned anything beyond the clothes he wore. He never owned a home, property, mode of transportation, not even a cemetery plot. So much of the world’s idea of happiness today is tied up with what we own. Everybody has to have the biggest, fastest, loudest, brightest of . . . everything. Our very identities are tied up with what we own, especially for men.

But the person who is called to celibacy is able to experience loneliness as a sacred closeness to Christ.   When people think of celibacy today, their minds automatically go to “no sex,” when actually celibacy is more about being completely alone and depending on God for everything.  It’s about sacrificing the pleasures on earth for something better in heaven.  Our pain and loneliness is a constant reminder for everyone that there is nothing in this world that can satisfy us. Not a thousand friends. Not a million dollars. Not even a celebrity model for a husband or wife. That only in heaven with Christ by our sides will we find ultimate love and companionship.  So if you have a crush on someone and they are not reciprocating, your first reaction should not be “I’m not attractive enough to get their attention.” It should be “who do I really love?” Use it as an opportunity to discern if God is calling you to marriage or celibacy. Sometimes God can only speak to us when we are lonely and very quiet. If you find yourself in that spot, ask yourself these two questions: Do you believe God made everything in the universe, including sex? If so, do you believe there is anything else in the world better than sex? Do you have a passion for something that comes close to your sex drive? I’ve always been drawn to people who have special needs including Down’s syndrome, Savant syndrome, autism, mental retardation, and intersexed people. For me, making a connection with one of them is better than any sex I could experience. Do they ever feel lonely?

You bet they feel lonely. This may sound completely backwards, but a person has to be lonely in order to relate to people who are lonely. That includes special needs people and Christ. So if you’re in the process of discerning celibacy, remember that your sex drive can be transformed supernaturally into a passion drive. Don’t look at loneliness as a completely negative part of the human experience. Experience it with Christ and be still and listen to his suggestions. The word of the Lord may not come unto you as it did Jeremiah and say “Thou shalt not take a wife.” But he may come in other ways. Don’t hang a sign on your single life that says “looking for marriage” because it could very well close doors that need to be open. If you look at your life as a jet airliner that has to make a choice between two runways, marriage or celibacy, set a course in that direction, but don’t start a descent for landing until you are sure that’s where God wants you to be.  If you drop your plane down to marriage altitude, it will be much more difficult to bring it up again to the level of celibacy if that’s what God ultimately calls you to do.  We all leave a legacy on this earth, and what runway we land on is woven into it. So savor your time alone on this earth. But don’t accept the world’s defiition of lonely; because if you are walking with Christ, you are never really alone. Keep your destination in mind.