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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6 thoughts on “Why I Call Myself “Celibate”

  1. You said you were at the time worshiping in the Roman Catholic tradition. I am not Catholic myself but I have many Nuns in my medical practice, but I also have celibate lay members of the church who are in the community but give themselves to church service. The Catholic church seems to be more responsive to members with a “blended” calling.

    • Lindsey will respond to this later, but I’ll provide a quick point of clarification. Lindsey has never been Catholic. I was once Catholic, though Lindsey is the one who wrote this post. Nonetheless, the Catholic tradition has informed both of our understandings of celibacy. Still today, many celibates from within that tradition inspire us. -Sarah

      • While visiting the Missouri Contemporary Religious Art Museum MOCRA) in St Louis I met a priest in disguise–ordinary clothes, warm, friendly, open demeanor, genuine interest in me and my friend–who told us that the LGBTQ community who had not long ago met for liturgy in the basement of the church nearby, are now “integrated” (his word) into the whole big group above, and wouldn’t we like to join them next Sunday?

        It was an inspiring experience–the museum design and contents, the history of its transformation, and the persons who visit or work there–so . . . so much like what we dream of and hope for in Christianity. Peaceful atmosphere,, beauty in suffering (the art spoke gently but forcefuly–one or two of the installations by a gay artist), reverence for human searching.

        All are welcome in this place–all. Especially the halt and the lame (me, my friend, and probably everyone else in the world). For the new visitor, surprise and wonder are the first responce. Then gratitude. Then an inner joy.

    • Hi Lloyd, apologies for not being clear in the initial post. I have never worshipped exclusively in the Roman Catholic tradition for any length of time. I have spent time in broader Roman Catholic environments where I had opportunities to discuss my questions with various Roman Catholic ministers (priests, religious, and lay). During those seasons of life, I was regularly attending services in a different Christian tradition.

      Thanks for the comment! -Lindsey

  2. Lindsey, thanks for telling your story. This came up through someone else I know tonight and it has been cathartic. I realize that I have been living a celibate life but feeling rather aimless not having developed a vocation yet. I can’t keep filling my life up with things to do rather I need purpose. What I needed was help visualizing how celibacy is a gift in my life. It is not that I have a gift for celibacy rather following a celibate life is a gift and I think you have described this quite well.
    You said, “I was attending churches that placed marriage on an incredibly high platform and never spoke of either singleness or celibacy.” This is so true our churches need to develop a broader imagination with respect to those who are not going to get married and the church needs to celebrate it as a good thing- as a positive lifelong commitment.

  3. I always dreamt of being married and having a family and then one day, after I guess, quite a bit of searching and asking, I was in the orchard on the farm where I lived in Christian Community and had a picture lets say. The picture was of God holding out a ring box, like a proposal. When I opened the ring box rivers of colour and life flowed out and God said being celibate isn’t being left on the shelf, its a gift of colour and life. Its not grey & boring. Been through many places with the celibacy in my own life and in 2014 when I felt it was time to give it up (various reasons but there was no1 else involved) I was signed off sick for two weeks and spent the second week seeking God. I returned to the stop where I met Jesus in 1993 and felt He was still there, waiting. I could see Him standing with his arms folded, waiting and I felt it right to recommit to the gift. Jesus said ‘this time will be full of colour and life, not full of strife like it has been’ ‘that’s done you no good’

    I wrote this poem to mark the occasion:

    You said it was a gift of colour and life and not being left on the shelf
    But over the years the colour has gone
    And the shelf has beckoned me in
    The colour has drained and all that remains is toil and struggles and self
    Strife and striving to please fill my days
    And failure consumes the nights
    For the new bud to appear the dead branch must be pruned and thrown into the fire
    To burn with the striving, the self and the shame and wrongful desire
    I return to the place I made my vow in ’93
    And realise God has not changed it is I who rubbed out the colour with strivings and stress
    And I know it was He who gave me the call not man not church but God
    And as I sit and the wind blows strong
    The cobwebs of yesterday are blown away
    And I see colour and life and hope and rest.
    A new day to dawn, a new palette of colour has just begun.

    Things haven’t been easy for me since that time but I know, pretty much beyond doubt that celibacy is right in God for me and He has promised colour and life. I see you two, Lindsey & Sarah and others whom I’ve met through social media to be part of that colour & life and I praise God for these gifts of friendship.

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