Called To Be Celibate?
Reactions when I tell people I feel called to singleness all come with good intentions but overwhelmingly are of surprise and sympathy. Often reactions fall under one of the following three beliefs. When we hold these up against the Bible however we see a much more positive picture of singleness and life without sex.
1. You will be lonely and miserable.
I have to admit that I love the Lukas Graham song, 7 years; the song is the perfect example. The second verse starts:
Once I was eleven years old, my daddy told me,
"Go get yourself a wife or you'll be lonely.”
We can be guilty of thinking of marriage and romantic relationships as the fix for loneliness. Loneliness certainly isn’t God’s intention for us. Genesis 2 says “it is not good for man to be alone”. We sometimes misinterpret this as “it’s not good for a person to be single” but that is not what it means. Adam and Eve’s union as the first marriage is one part of the story, but Eve is more than just Adam’s spouse. She is his friend, his helper, his community. God creates human beings to be in community with one and other. Marriage is one example of this, but not the only way.
My greatest fear when I felt God calling me to singleness was that I would die alone and be miserable. I am gradually learning how false that fear was.
Being a part of the church means I am surrounded with a loving family (John 1:12, Ephesians 2:19, Romans 8:14-17). Like all families we don’t always get it right, but I have developed deep intimate friendships which give me great joy and companionship. In fact, my singleness has allowed me the capacity and time to develop far more deep meaningful relationships than many of my married friends who, rightly so, have to spend time strengthening and investing in their marriage partner.
2. Sex is the deepest form of intimacy.
Perhaps what has reinforced this first point, is that we tend to elevate the sexually active relationship above any other kind when it comes to intimacy. The Bible describes sex as two becoming one, an incredible description of its emotional, mental and physical closeness. But the Bible does not restrict intimacy to sex in the way culture does. It is filled with intimate relationships of all kinds. Jonathan and David’s friendship shows a depth of emotional intimacy that goes beyond any bromance I’ve encountered! The Bible suggests that there can be a radically counter-cultural depth to friendship. Sex is not the magic trump card. Intimacy and significance can be found in many different relationships and are available to the single person as much as the married one!
3. You are denying your true self.
Our culture can seem to suggest that you are not a fulfilled person, you are not really truly expressing yourself, if you do not have sex.
I’m same-sex attracted, so one of the most common responses when I explain my choice of celibacy, is the comment that I am denying my sexuality or denying my true self. I would agree to a point. I am denying myself something. Sacrifice is a non-negotiable in the Christian faith (Matthew 16:24). We are called to lives of sacrifice whether we are gay, straight, married, single, old or young. It means recognising God is greater than we are—that his will is more important than ours. When we are willing to give something up to follow God, he does amazing things with it. Just look at how Paul talks about the merits of what God can do with a single person in 1 Corinthians 7 and the example of that in his life! Whatever the reason someone chooses, or finds themselves as single, it can feel difficult and costly. Let’s not shy away from this.
Sacrifice is the act of putting God before something else. Oftentimes sacrifice makes us rely on God in a way we wouldn’t otherwise. For some that will look like singleness, for others it looks like marriage. Through friends, I’ve come to see marriage is an incredibly sacrificial calling - I often find myself thinking that perhaps my singleness is less of a sacrifice than continually looking to serve the needs of a spouse (Ephesians 5:22-33)!
Choosing not to actualise my sexual desires is not suppressing my sexuality. It’s expressing it in a thought through and profoundly countercultural way. Singleness is as much an expression of my sexuality as sex. Although my sexuality is an important and wonderful part of me, it’s not what determines my true self—it’s not the basis of my identity. It isn’t gay, straight, bisexual, married or single. Our identity is as loved children of God.
Everyone has the potential for multiple deep, fulfilling and unique relationships in which to practice loving, being loved and sharing intimacy with others. Single people are not doomed to misery, loneliness, lives bereft of intimacy and a house full of cats. Quite the opposite (unless you like cats). Whatever your relationship status, sexual orientation or thoughts about marriage and singleness, you are loved. You are a part of a family. You are a full and complete human being.
This article has been written by Luke Aylen, a writer for Living Out, a group of Christians who experience same-sex attraction and seek to bring out into the open the questions and dilemmas that gay Christians can often face.