Building a Life Together: Imagining the Possibilities

As we interact with more and more people both online and in person, we encounter new challenges that compel us to reflect on aspects of our life together in ways we have not yet shared on the blog. We’ve seen how others with different perspectives react to us and our manner of living our faith and sexuality, and a common thread we’ve noticed is that people often learn of our circumstances and question how likely we are to continue living as a celibate couple 5, 10, 25, 50 years down the road. Both here and in other places on the internet, we’ve seen it suggested that in all likelihood, we’ll either give up on celibacy at some point or give up on our dream of a future together. Perhaps these speculations are fueled by the human tendency to skepticism over anything that deviates from social and cultural norms, but we have to wonder if part of the issue is that we haven’t devoted much time yet to sharing what we envision for the future of our community of two. Over the past few weeks as we’ve been looking back over posts from eight or nine months ago, we’ve realized that most of our posts specifically related to celibacy focus on how we got to where we are now rather than where we see God leading us. In today’s post, we want to share with our readers five possibilities we imagine for our future as a celibate couple. Some of these are directions where we are confident that God is leading us. Others are fuzzy, distant possibilities that will require years more of prayer, guidance from our spiritual fathers, and candid conversations with those we love and trust most.

When thinking about life together over the long haul, we keep returning to our shared spiritual life and how much effort it takes from both of us to ensure that we are living into this aspect of celibacy. We came to our current Christian tradition from very different religious backgrounds. It has been an adventure to watch and learn from how God shows us that our distinct perspectives on spiritual matters complement each other. Nevertheless, we constantly hope that God continues to develop in us a truly shared spirituality. In some ways, it seems like we’ve experienced some first fruits in surprising places. We welcome every way God might draw us closer to Christ through continuing to merge our various spiritual practices, and we believe firmly that God is calling us into a deeper, more unified spiritual life together as our relationship with each other continues to grow.

We also have great hopes that God will continue to show us more about our vocations as teachers. Though we work in vastly different fields (Sarah in theology and Lindsey in engineering education), we’ve already seen bits of evidence that God is calling us to strengthen each other in our commitments to helping students get the most meaningful and intellectually challenging educational experiences possible. Sarah’s experience of teaching as been that it comes naturally and is a great joy, even amidst occasional frustrations. Until getting to know Sarah, Lindsey’s experience of teaching was anxiety provoking and sometimes came with significant dread. As we’ve begun sharing a household, we’ve found that both of us have uncovered important details about our vocations as teachers. Sarah has inspired Lindsey to take greater interest in the needs of students, and to seek teaching opportunities that are the right fit emotionally even if not affiliated with more prestigious educational institutions. For the first time, Lindsey has begun to see teaching as a clear part of Lindsey’s vocation. Lindsey has challenged Sarah to empathize more with students who have little interest in theology but are taking a course in this field for a university requirement — particularly students majoring in STEM fields. As a result, Sarah is developing a better sense of how to reach students who enter introductory theology classes with apathy. Every term we’re both teaching, we notice more examples like these. If God intends to use both of us as educators, we pray that he will continue to open up new insights to us within the context of our relationship.

All our regular readers know by this point that one of our primary goals in blogging is to offer support to other lay people like us who are discerning the possibility of making a commitment to celibacy — particularly those who are LGBTQ and/or pursuing celibate partnerships. So many people have contacted us with questions about their own life situations. Each time we receive this sort of email, we devote some time to praying for that person and asking God to help us respond in the most helpful manner. As this happens, we find ourselves hoping for additional opportunities to help other lay people who are considering living some non-monastic form of celibacy. Neither of us knows much about legal matters, but we’re fortunate to have a friend at our church who is knowledgeable in this area and is willing to guide us to the best resources for ensuring that we have non-marital legal protections. Once we learn more about the process of managing our legal relationships to each other, we sense that God might be calling us to provide help and support for other couples like us as they sort these and other matters for themselves.

Though we try to write in an accessible, reflective style on the blog, we also have an interest in making a more academic contribution to conversations about lay celibacy. Our own Christian tradition has a long history of celibate vocations, but nearly every resource we’ve encountered from within our own tradition discusses celibacy solely within the context of monasticism. Sarah is especially interested in taking on future academic writing projects that explore the question, “What would a theology of non-monastic, lay celibacy look like in our Christian tradition?” Both of us have seriously considered creating an online repository of documents and other media related to celibacy that represents a plethora of Christian denominations. We’ve been contacted by untold numbers of people whose denominations say nothing whatsoever about celibacy (or so it appears), or have only negative things to say about the practice of celibacy. If God opens the door for us to provide these kinds of resources to the people who need and desire them most, we would consider it a great honor to fill that role.

Since we first began making plans for sharing a household and living together as a family, we’ve also been discussing how to broaden the scope of our practice of hospitality. Though we both consider our relationship with each other the most meaningful relationship in our lives next to God and the saints, we would welcome the expansion of our two-person community. As we’ve prayed about how God might be calling us to extend our family, we’ve both felt inspiration to (eventually) move into a larger home and offer the unused bedrooms to people who are recovering from addictions and experiencing difficulty reintegrating into work/school after taking time off to focus on getting healthy. We want to offer a safe space where those in recovery can get their needs met for basic resources and emotional support and stay for as long as necessary. Because of Sarah’s experience with different addictions, this issue is near and dear to our hearts. Very few people outside the recovery community realize how few opportunities for this kind of support exist in the “real world” outside of treatment centers and group meetings. There is a great need for resources to bridge that gap. For the past several months, the two of us have felt a clear sense of call to work toward this goal in future years when we are more financially established.

Of all five items discussed in our post today, the next is certainly the fuzziest, most undeveloped possibility for our future as a celibate couple. Sarah has mentioned before that one of the most difficult aspects of celibacy for Sarah is the fact that celibates do not get to become mothers and fathers, at least in the biological sense. Sarah has devoted and continues to devote considerable time to reflecting on how best to direct the desire for motherhood. While Lindsey has never felt any inclination toward parenthood, the two of us occasionally discuss the possibility of taking in foster children and what that would mean for the celibate vocation we live together. In an ideal world, there would be no need for foster care. In an almost-but-not-quite-ideal world, there would be enough interested couples living marital vocations that no need would exist for celibates like us to be foster parents. But we don’t live in an ideal world or even close, and there are so many children who will never know what it is like to be loved by a parental figure. There are kids who will spend their entire lives in group homes and abusive foster care situations because there are so few good potential foster parents. Then, there are some kids who can’t be placed because available foster families aren’t able/willing to manage disabilities, behavioral problems, mental health diagnoses, etc. We don’t plan on pursuing this anytime in the near future as it is a decision that would require long and serious discernment, but if God should call us to provide an unloved, uncared for child with a Christian home, basic needs, a solid education, and two very loving and firm adults, we pray that we’ll be prepared to answer that call.

These examples are mere glimpses into the hopes and dreams we have for our future as a team, a partnership, and a family. The possibilities are both exciting and frightening, and we hope that the right decisions on all of them will become clearer as we grow in greater love for God and each other. We have a mutual feeling that this isn’t the last time we’ll be addressing this topic.

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10 thoughts on “Building a Life Together: Imagining the Possibilities

  1. I’m completely of the opposite opinion. Perhaps because I routinely practice abstinence in my heterosexual marriage, and due to illness some months already practice celibacy internal to a relationship, I would say that as long as Sarah’s wish for children and Lindsdy’s career don’t get in the way, there is no reason whatsoever that your relationship needs to end.

    Even with my views of homosexuality being manageable in a heterosexual relationship, I see no reason why Lindsey and Sarah shouldn’t be together as celibate friends even if one of them “gives up” on being queer and celibate. It is clear from what I have read on this blog that Sarah brings out the best in Lindsey, and Lindsey brings out the best in Sarah.

    In my own relationship, though there is no same sex attraction involved, we’ve become very close with another couple who are from an extremely different Christian tradition. There are some signs of a wish to convert to our tradition, but that isn’t why we love them. It is because the wives have become extremely close over a shared bond of only children, albeit at opposite ends of the intelligence and physical spectrum as well as opposite genders (their daughter J is extremely precocious and well read for her age, and I think I’ve said before my son C has cerebral palsy and is officially now “intellectually disabled”). Our wives are heterosexual, no doubt about it- but they’re as close and loving as the relationship I see between Sarah and Lindsey.

    And I guess that’s why I don’t see any need whatsoever for Sarah and Lindsey’s relationship to end, in *any* situation. Whether living out their monasticism, or even if God calls them to eventually go in different directions, this relationship will exist throughout this life at the very least- and quite possibly into the next.

    • No one is telling us that we *should* end our relationship. We never intend to end it because of our careers or any other reason. It seems that people are more confused by the mere fact that our relationship exists in the first place. What we reference at the beginning of the post is skepticism that our relationship will last — not insistence that it should end.

  2. You seem to be stating your belief that a celibate couple would be inherently inferior/less preferable to a married one. Am I reading too much into this to suspect that the preferred married couples you’re talking about are heterosexual ones? While the two of you may or may not one day decide to become foster parents, it concerns me that you seem to think that you or other couples like you would make for less than ideal parents. This is perhaps the first time that old pejorative “self-hating” has ever come to mind as I’ve read one of your blog posts.

    I’m sure you’ll be aware that there’s been extensive research into the effects of same sex parents on their children, and that despite an extended, concerted effort to brand same-sex parents as worse than heterosexual ones, not one iota of evidence has ever been found that indicates that this is true. As a married lesbian who looks forward to becoming a parent one day, perhaps I’m taking this a little personally (and I apologize for that). But I do want to challenge this idea that just by dint of being celibate and/or same-sex you would be substandard candidates for parenting. Is there a specific religious reason for this belief? Do you believe that non-Christians are also inherently worse parents for children in other religious traditions? In your nearly-ideal world, would all children not being raised by heterosexual Christians be better served by being taken from their parents and being given to heterosexual Christians, if only enough heterosexual Christians could be found?

    • Hi there. Sarah here responding to this. I had to go back and reread the entire post to understand where your comment was coming from because I was very confused when I first read it. Now I see how one might read a couple of sentences with the meaning you inferred. On behalf of both Lindsey and myself, I apologize for the fact that we did not choose different words when we stated the following:

      In an ideal world, there would be no need for foster care. In an almost-but-not-quite-ideal world, there would be enough interested couples living marital vocations that no need would exist for celibates like us to be foster parents. But we don’t live in an ideal world or even close, and there are so many children who will never know what it is like to be loved by a parental figure.

      I’ll try to explain a bit more about what we actually meant.

      First of all, we believe strongly that any couple who would make good parents should be able to provide foster care or adopt children. We do not believe that heterosexual couples are better parents. In fact, one of my past posts calls out the false claim that gay people are bad parents: http://aqueercalling.com/2014/06/05/the-obscuring-of-orthodoxy-or-when-half-truths-reign-supreme/.

      Second, there is no such thing as an ideal parent. All parents are thoroughly human, and all make mistakes regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

      Third, we do not view ourselves as lesser people than married couples whether gay, straight, etc. We believe that considering our current understanding of our celibate vocation, we would not be ideal parents. If we were to feel called to providing foster care in the future, we would have to modify how we understand our celibate vocation. Our saying that we wouldn’t be ideal parents, at least right now, has nothing to do with our being LGBT. It also has nothing to do with our not having sex. It’s about the way we live our celibate vocation, and because of that it’s difficult to see how foster children could fit into the picture. But it’s something we’re still thinking about for the distant future because the thought has arisen for us on multiple occasions.

      Fourth, we do not believe that any category of people — rich, poor, gay, straight, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, what have you — is inherently worse at parenting. We find that sort of claim absurd.

      I hope that clarifies. If you need me to clarify further, I can. Thanks for pointing out another way our words could have been interpreted.

      Sarah

      • Gosh Sarah (and Lindsey), I really jumped to a huge conclusion there, and I’m sorry. Thanks for clarifying- it really didn’t seem like the sort of thing I’d expect from you, but feelings do run high on these sorts of highly personal matters, and I’m sorry.

        • I’m actually glad that you raised this point. Since I replied to your comment yesterday, I’ve been thinking a lot about issues related to welcoming children into a family and how that may or may not be one of the central differences between the vocation to marriage and celibate vocations. In our Christian tradition, marriage necessarily involves an openness to welcoming children, whether children actually come or not. But not all Christian traditions view marriage in this way. Because of our own experiences, we have understood the desire for bringing children into one’s family as a feature of marriage, but not of celibate vocations. That may not necessarily be the case, though. We do know single people who have adopted and provided foster care, but those people are open to the possibility of marriage and do not see themselves as celibates in the vocational sense. But that doesn’t mean there’s no celibate in the entire world who feels called to welcome children who otherwise would not have a home. It could definitely be a manifestation of the value of hospitality. Like we said in the post, it’s not unheard of for celibates to take in children.

          One of the challenges for us in even considering the possibility of foster care in the future is that we really have no idea right now of how to approach the question of, “How would children becoming part of our family change the way we live celibacy?” That’s also raised some questions for me about how other life changes could have an impact. For example, in the future as our parents become older, how might caring for an elderly parent change the way one lives a celibate vocation? Or, if something were to happen to one of our siblings and we needed to step in immediately and take his/her children into our home, how would that change the way we live celibacy? All very important questions, and I probably wouldn’t have been spending a day thinking about them if you hadn’t raised the point that you did.

          Sarah

          • When I was in Africa a few years ago visiting an Aunt of mine (who is a nun and a medical doctor), she took us to a boarding school for physically and mentally disabled African children which was run by an aging, disabled priest. His school allowed poor families, who were unable to provide care for special needs children, to find a place for those children short of fully institutionalizing them. Seeing that crippled old priest surrounded by a throng of exuberant, thriving young disabled Africans is one of several experiences which had me convinced of the value and dignity of celibate vocations long before finding your blog and the celibate lgbt community. (Of course, running a school is very different from filling a parental role, and a priest is very different from a lay person, but it seemed relevant.)

          • That sounds very inspiring. What a lovely image I’m seeing as you describe this. 🙂

          • “But that doesn’t mean there’s no celibate in the entire world who feels called to welcome children who otherwise would not have a home. It could definitely be a manifestation of the value of hospitality. Like we said in the post, it’s not unheard of for celibates to take in children.”

            This jogged my memory about having commemorated St Theodora of Alexandria at Vespers on Wednesday. She was known as the monk Theodore, and raised a child who she was wrongfully accused of having fathered.

            http://oca.org/saints/lives/2014/09/11/102570-venerable-theodora-of-alexandria

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