Maturing Towards Celibacy

A reflection by Lindsey

As we’ve shared in many places, we regard both marriage and celibacy as mature vocations. I have made arguments that I think the Church should consider offering pre-celibacy counseling in order to help people discern a sustainable celibate way of life. My own journey into celibacy has been challenging. I’ve mostly found my own way, and I still regard myself as building the plane while I’m flying it.

Maturing towards celibacy has required me to take many deep looks into myself. Moving through many Christian traditions along the way, I’ve been confronted by different questions that demanded answers. I’ve also learned that some traditions asked better questions than others.

How can I align my mind, heart, soul, and body? Along the way, I’ve learned that God in a wondrous act of mercy has given us incredible tools to discern our vocation. My mind, heart, soul, and body seem to have a system of checks and balances that I could employ to test the claims made by various well-meaning Christians. When Christians suggested that my being LGBT could only be the result of demonic possession, I could search my heart and soul to know that I had earnestly committed my life to Christ and his care. As I began to study the meaning of 1 Corinthians 6 in light of Jesus’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, my mind told me that even if I were to come to regard myself as a cisgender, heterosexual person, I would still find myself liable for losing the Kingdom of Heaven because of other kinds of sins. My mind saw that it was incredibly difficult for anyone to obliterate all traces of greed, slander, and envy. My journey towards celibacy has involved finding my own story that unites my experience of mind, heart, soul, and body with Christ.

Where do I experience abundant life in the Kingdom of God? This question has been one of the most paradoxical for me. I first started with trying to listen to my Christian tradition tell me where I could most strongly encounter the Kingdom of God: go on missions trips, learn how to pray for other people, commit myself to regular patterns of Scripture study, share my faith with other people, etc. However, despite my best efforts, much of this counsel seemed ill-fitting. As an introverted engineer, I felt like I was constantly being forced to choose between different parts of myself. Journeying towards celibacy challenged me to find abundant life that acknowledged as many aspects of my personality as possible.

How can I find the “Yes” within the celibate vocation? Admittedly, I considered this question hard. Many of the congregations I was involved in saw celibacy as simply abstaining from sex. The people around me also exploring celibate vocations were compelled by an effort to avoid sexual immorality. I had a true watershed moment when a friend provided me with a a chapter of Poverty, Celibacy, and Obedience: A Radical Way of Life. Diarmuid O’Murchu makes a powerful argument that the vow of celibacy must be viewed as a vow for relatedness. O’Murchu’s observation helped me shift my thinking from “avoid sin” to “embrace people.”

How can I find strength to continue when celibacy seems incredibly difficult? I began my journey into my celibate vocation standing alone in my apartment. It seemed fitting that I was alone: I had spent years seeking spiritual direction to discern a celibate vocation, and I didn’t feel like anyone had any valuable counsel for me. As I was reflecting on how many of my friends had already entered their marriages, I decided I could enter into my celibacy. I thought since they had enough life experiences to commit to the marital vocation, I had lived enough life to commit to the celibate vocation. I told God, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I trust that You’ll help me.” I started talking to other people living celibate vocations, asking them to help me learn to pray. Learning to pray was of first importance to me because I felt like only God cared if I managed to find a life-giving form of celibacy. Later, I asked celibate people what their lives looked like on a daily basis. I found my own pattern to celibacy as I emulated aspects of their lives that seemed to mesh well with my circumstances. It seemed that I derived more strength from my vocation as I found a rhythm for my own celibacy.

Throughout all of my explorations of celibacy, I continue to fall back on the same question, “Do I trust God to guide my way?” I’ve been amazed as I’ve asked questions, given myself permission to make mistakes, and acknowledged that I certainly don’t have the answers even as I know my own vocation is tucked behind the image of God located at the core of my being.

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4 thoughts on “Maturing Towards Celibacy

    • “Avoid sin” was a very early directive, but it was never a question. I found O’Murchu’s book to be incredibly helpful about shifting away from questions about avoiding sin.

  1. First, Lindsey, I love your (and Sarah’s) blog. It seems honest and courageous and Spirit-filled, and I think Christian thought on vocation needs a lot more of that.
    Second, two things really spoke to me in this post. The first is the understanding of celibacy as openness to relatedness. I spent a year or two in college discerning a vocation to the Jesuits, and I found very helpful their understanding of the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience as vows of freedom in order to be more giving of time and love to other people. Jesuits aren’t poor because material goods are bad, but because poverty makes them more nimble and authentic in serving others. Chastity, too, was emphasized not as an avoidance of a good thing (sex, family), but as openness and availability to serving others. That won’t work quite the same way for you, as a lay celibate, but it has to be important to see celibacy as not a restriction, essentially, but as a freedom towards something.

    Also, I think yours is a good example of growing into a vocation. It is so hard to see what it will be like to live a certain way, until one tries to live the life. This is why religious orders have novitiates, so that people can try out the life, to continue to discern if that life is for them. Dating is, I guess, the same way for marriage. You have to jump in, take the leap. I have felt much better about my path once I took my own advice.
    With prayers, Sam

    • Hi Sam! Thanks for your comment here.

      I agree wholeheartedly that there’s more to monastic vows than meets the eye. I personally have benefitted a great deal from getting to know monastics at different stages of their formation.

      Discerning a lay celibate vocation has had a bit of a double-edge to it. On one hand, I’ve enjoyed the freedom to jump in and try things. On the other hand, I’d like to see the Church provide more resources to people discerning lay celibate vocations.

      Thanks for the prayers!

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