The “Gift” of Celibacy

The gift of celibacy is mysterious, alluring, and evasive. Sometimes it seems very easy to speak of the “gift of celibacy” while at other times, we find ourselves struggling for words to describe what we’re experiencing. We’ve never had a great reveal in which God has shown us everything that celibacy is, could be, or will be for us. We certainly have never experienced a sense that we were called to live a celibate life from the instant we were born. In the best moments, we catch glimpses of the Kingdom of God within our celibate vocation. In the worst moments, celibacy can seem like a bit of a fool’s errand. Vocations are like that, with moments of up, down, and everything in between. We’ve caught glimpses here and there, which reassure us that God cares about guiding and directing our way as the Good Shepherd.

The gift of celibacy is a divine mystery. The gift of marriage is equally a divine mystery. We’ve both benefited from seeing celibacy lived out in a range of contexts, yet no context can be exactly the same as our context. As much as we can learn from our favorite monastic communities, we still need to find our way in our lives. At times, Lindsey has been lead to specific Scriptures like Luke’s account of the sending of the seventy to find a vision for a celibate way of life. We’ve reflected deeply on core values that we think reflect the essence of living celibate lives. But we are also deeply aware, sometimes painfully aware, that while many Christian traditions have resources to help people navigate practical concerns associated with the gift of marriage, there’s not much out there for people trying to cultivate the gift of celibacy.

We have shared before that we feel God has called us to a celibate vocation together. We’ve often felt resourced by God as we’ve pursued this path. We might even say that we feel like God has given us the gift of celibacy. However, being given the gift of celibacy doesn’t mean that it’s easy to pursue this pathway in life. Both of us have had to discern how exactly God is calling us to live. On one level, we know that “celibacy” is a part of how we’re supposed to live. On another level, that direction creates more questions than it can possibly answer. Why do we feel so strongly that we’re partners, that we’re a team, and that we’re family? Why does language that communicates our life together seem impossible to find? What do we do when we realize that we know people, close friends even, who are waiting in the wings to hear us pronounce that our journey into celibacy proved unworkable for us? How do we create space to say, loudly and clearly, that living a celibate vocation is not about avoiding sex? And all this says nothing about the day-to-day stressors associated with taking air as human beings.

Together, we have been exploring the gift of celibacy together for over a year. We have a sense that there are certain key virtues that lay at the heart of a celibate vocation. We have tried different experiments to cultivate virtues like hospitality, spiritual maturity, and humility together. Some experiments have proved more fruitful than others. One great way to cultivate humility is to learn when to call an experiment a failure or even counter-productive! We’re not perfect, and we do not pretend to be for an instant. Our friend Stacey recently shared that her pastor signed off on his emails with “Stumbling toward Christ with you,” and collective bumbling about seems to definitely describe our assorted experiments. We can’t tell you why eating dinner together every night has stuck while trying to pray particular daily office prayers together has continually bounced. We don’t know why we’ve found it easy to converse non-stop while driving in the car together but find it next to impossible to select a movie we both enjoy. We’re amused that we’ve managed to host overnight guests more easily than having tea with local friends. Life is funny sometimes.

In our time together, we have connected deeply with Christ. We have shared here that we experience an unmistakable presence of joy. There is something about how God has placed the two of us together that just seems to work in our lives. But, our life together would fail to reflect the fullness of Christ’s life if we did not find ourselves joining in with Christ’s pain. We have been profoundly impacted by the reality of the broken world around us. We have hit our limits in being able to bind up the wounds of the other, learning that frequently the only option we have is to listen to each other share our individual pain, cry together, and present that pain to Christ. We have watched close friends spiral into depression and isolation. We have tried to discern how best to pray, how best to be present, and how best to give counsel. We have experienced a sobering reality that people can sometimes take our words as the “answer” and wind up pursuing incredibly self-destructive paths. We’ve also experienced the pain of being misunderstood and misrepresented. We have had our story dismissed as meaningless, deceptive, destructive, and even dangerous. For every ounce of human encouragement that we’ve had to pursue this way of life together, we’ve had to navigate a pound of biting criticism. That can be incredibly difficult, especially when the criticism can rock us to our core. Yet, time and time again, as we enter that core, we find Christ willing to meet us again… and again… and again…

And perhaps that’s what the gift of celibacy is all about in the first place. The gift is given in such a way where Christ promises to be there in the absolute darkest moments, shining His divine light.

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