A reflection by Lindsey
One of the hazards I encounter is that Christians talking about celibacy frequently speak of the gift of celibacy. The gift of celibacy is treated on a level much like the gift of teaching or the gift of administration. If someone says he or she has a spiritual gift of teaching, then we often assume that means he or she is good at teaching. It stands to reason then that people might assume I’m good at celibacy, it comes naturally to me, and I don’t have to work especially hard to cultivate a celibate vocation because I feel called to celibacy. In many people’s eyes, I must have the gift of celibacy coupled with an odd human constitution that allows me to experience a great deal of joy even if I’m not having sex.
We’ve reflected elsewhere on our blog about how we regard the “gift” of celibacy, but what I’d like to do today is to reflect on what happens when one’s vocation doesn’t come naturally. We regard radical hospitality as the first defining virtue of a celibate vocation. But honestly, practicing out that virtue is a tremendous struggle for me. Practicing hospitality can be exceptionally draining the vast majority of the time; and, practicing radical hospitality only ratchets up the demand.
A continual commitment to hospitality is hard for me because I’m an introvert. To make matters even more difficult, social skills are definitely not my forte. Everything I know about relating to other people has been learned through hard fought lessons. So many things that people take for granted in social situations, I’ve had to learn. I have my fair share of embarrassing moments with one crowning example being when our couples therapist asked me in front of Sarah how I might start to get to know someone I’m just meeting. I was beyond clueless, struggling to get past my first tentative reply of, “You ask them their name?” knowing full well that our therapist had slightly more advanced social skills in mind. I have to work hard to muster anything remotely like confidence in social situations, and truth be told, I’d rather curl up and hide in my room most of the time than meet new people. If my friends were to think about the first words they associate with me, hospitality would be virtually absent from the list.
Yet, I regard radical hospitality as a core virtue of my God-given vocation. As such, I’ve made an active choice to try and cultivate hospitality even when it does not come naturally to me in the slightest. I find some refuge in trying to practice a radical hospitality centered on Christ, His Incarnation, and His example, but I certainly am not pretending for an instant that I have it all sorted.
When I’m practicing radical hospitality, I try to leverage my personality as an introvert as much as possible. I’d rather focus on building rich, meaningful, and deep relationships with a few people as opposed to perfecting the gentility associated with being an ideal host, a social butterfly, and a person who can attend to the most minute aspects of social cues. If radical hospitality necessarily had to involve the latter, I might as well be trying to sail a ship from a completely landlocked country. Instead, I work with what I have: my natural tendency towards generosity, my complete appreciation for the realness of human experiences, and my almost canine sense of loyalty. I live as simply as possible to try and always have a little bit more I can give to another (even if that gift is as immaterial as a smile and a kind word to the person collecting my toll money). I’ve worked through a lot of my own issues associated with trying to be human in this fallen world, so I can appreciate the authentic spiritual journeys of others. And I’m always looking at building my list of friends rather than transitioning away from friends after a season of closeness. The more vulnerable a person has chosen to be with me, the much more likely I am going to be his or her friend in a decade’s time.
I do not have a gift for small talk, and equally, I have zero interest in seeing how small talk could ever be a gift that I should work towards cultivating. Instead I spend a lot of time asking God to show me which people I should try to get to know better. I look for opportunities to be around the same group of people over time to give myself time (and space) to figuring out how to practice hospitality as best as I know how. I’ve been incredibly surprised that God keeps putting people in my path in a meaningful way, but I know that it’s not for an instant a relational network of my own building.
There’s a certain gift in not being interested in small talk. I look for places to hang out where it’s much more likely that people are engaging in deep talk. As such, I’ve seen that virtually every human being is staring bravely into the face of some very hard battles. Being present as people share what assails or ails them, I find myself frequently moved into prayer and encouragement. Encouragement unlocks my own excitabilities in such a way that some people don’t even realize I’m an introvert because I could play an extrovert so convincingly on television. But more to the point, in trying to get to know people in their hidden-away spaces, I increasingly feel the spark of prayer rise up in my heart as I try to present their concerns to Christ.
I don’t know where I’d be without trying to cultivate a celibate vocation. It’s the demand my vocation places on me to be radically hospitable that has pulled me out of my own shell and into a rich network of relationships with others. It’s been my natural cluelessness about how other people establish friendships that has led me to ask God for help. It’s been my desire for guidance that has spurred me to seek out men and women living celibate lives to ask them how they pray for the needs of the entire world even if they live intentionally detached from the world. It’s been my own battles with social anxiety and depression that have shown me that none of us have life as figured out as we think… and that many people are open to receiving an authentic dose of encouragement from a generous heart along the way.
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