Why I Call Myself “Celibate”

A reflection by Lindsey

There has been a fair amount of discussion in certain places around the internet on whether people can call themselves “celibate LGBTQ Christians.” We’ve written quite a bit already on why we use LGBTQ language to describe ourselves. Today I’d like to offer some more thoughts on why I call myself celibate.

Simply put, I call myself celibate because I see celibacy as integral to how I experience my sense of self, my life in Christ, and my life in the world. My celibate vocation influences so many of my decisions that it’s impossible for me to envision my life any other way.

I haven’t always been committed to celibacy. I hadn’t even encountered celibacy as a word until I was 24 years old. It’s incredibly difficult to live into a vocation if you don’t even know what to call it.

When I speak of vocation, I often think of a room that has many doors. One door is “marriage” while all of the other doors are entry points into various celibate vocations. Celibate vocations are diverse, and it’s entirely difficult to know which exact door God wants to open fully.

I grew up in a family where everyone got married. Extended family functions were literally gatherings of tons of nuclear families. Everywhere I looked, I saw family lived out at the center of virtue. The adults in my life impressed upon me the ways parents provide care and stability for their children. I saw a lot of healthy examples of marriages, and I spent a long time considering what role marriage might play in my own adult life. I deeply appreciate all of the lessons I learned about what marriage is and what marriage could be.

Nonetheless, I developed these kind of niggling feelings that it might be best for me to forgo getting married. When I was in college, I thought I might be bi-vocational. I easily saw myself moving into doing college ministry while working as a college professor. It seemed rather irresponsible to give myself to both pursuits while also trying to care for a family. Later on, in graduate school, I had a profound sense that I had zero desire to be a parent. This realization hit me like a ton of bricks, and I started to question conventional wisdom that marriage was both the default way of life and a necessary rite of passage.

Almost immediately, I had a sense of deep and abiding peace wash over me when I realized that I could forgo marriage. Yet, I found myself in a place that some would describe as “overwhelming with creative potential” in much the same way real estate agents speak of the potential of home requiring significant repairs. I felt like I had entered No-Man’s Land. There was no roadmap, but I thought I might be able to find a way forward.

At first, it was really hard to find any help figuring out what I should do. I was attending churches that placed marriage on an incredibly high platform and never spoke of either singleness or celibacy. I had a vague sense that nuns lived celibate lives. I tried searching for information on Catholic religious life to find models even though I didn’t have the foggiest idea what I was doing. I figured I’d save all of the theological questions I had about Catholicism for another day. I was desperate for any information about what my life could actually look like, and I wanted to find models where celibate people lived together in community.

After spinning my wheels for quite a bit, I started to get some traction. I sensed God calling me to live my life in my current Christian tradition where celibate vocations are slightly more visible. I began hanging out with lots of different people who were living celibate vocations. While I never quite experienced an overwhelming sense of “Wow, I totally belong here,” I did start to notice patterns found within celibate vocations. I was overwhelmed by the distinct sense of family found in every monastic community I visited. Monastics cared for one another in deep, profound, meaningful, and lasting ways that even appeared to reach beyond the grave. This sense of family varied a bit depending on the size of the community. I remember visiting a community of over 400 nuns where the nuns lived in a collection of small homes with two to six nuns per house. Every time I met a group of monastics, I was amazed at how wonderfully human all of them tended to be. I noticed that the most hospitable monastics also tended to be those who had also cultivated meaningful relationships with other monastics in their community. I had never been so glad to see the stereotype of “All monastics are people who have absolutely shunned all forms of meaningful human connection” so completely and entirely disproven. Many monastics encouraged me to continue cultivating my own vocation, and some directed me towards specific people living celibate vocations outside of the monasteries.

Then my younger brother got married. All of a sudden, people younger than me were mature enough to make the decision to get married.

Being the firstborn comes with a number of implicit assumptions. I realized that everyone thought it to be rather odd that I wasn’t married. I did the only logical thing I could think of and spent a few days at a monastery before my brother’s wedding. I knew in the absolute depths of my being that I did not feel called to marriage. I found myself at a crossroads of vocation. It was time to take the next step.

The problem I faced was that I didn’t have a clear set of next steps. I couldn’t go to my church and say, “I’d like to make a public profession that I intend on fully embracing celibacy.” Even though I had been trying to spend time with any celibate person I could find, everyone I found lived in a monastery as a monk or nun. I had university debt to pay off, and my story didn’t seem to mesh with any of the monastics I talked to. It bothered me that almost every church I could think of was prepared to help my brother marry, but I couldn’t think of any church that was prepared to help me embrace celibacy. I thought back to everything I had learned from the monastics that I had already met. I couldn’t help but remember people who had entered monasteries later in life. All of them had started living out celibate vocations long before they committed to a particular monastic community. I heard a chorus of voices telling me, “I entrusted myself to God’s care.”

So I did the next thing I could think of: I stood in the privacy of my own prayer corner to ask for God’s help in cultivating a celibate vocation that would bring me life. I knew that I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew equally that the time had come for me to tell God about my earnest intentions. The time had come to trust Christ that he would guide me as the good shepherd. The time had come for me to start to say, “I’m celibate.”

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