Tag Archives: Marriage

Through The Lens Of Celibacy

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I’m going on 33 years of singleness. It’s nothing to boast about and nothing to brood over — it’s just a fact. But when you’ve been doing the “eunuch” thing your whole life, you do start to notice how your perspective differs from other Christians, not to mention the world. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the ways celibacy has shaped me, and how I’ve come to view life through that particular lens.

I see family through the lens of celibacy.

Part of being a Christian is expanding the definition of “family” to include our brothers and sisters in Christ — our spiritual family. I imagine celibate people think about this more often than those who are married with children. We’ve learned — we’re constantly reminded — there’s more to family than genetics. As someone who’s not planning to procreate, “starting a family” means something very different to me; it means making every effort to embrace people as family who don’t share my genes, my last name, or my home. Loving them like flesh and blood, learning what it means to be adopted by God. Celibacy confirms what I already believed about the Church: whether or not I ever get married or have kids, I’ll never be without a family.

I see friendship through the lens of celibacy.

For many single people, friendship is a gateway to romance or marriage. But celibacy has taught me to value friendship for what it is, and not what it can become. I don’t feel burdened by the fear (or thrill) of friendship turning into “something more,” because I’m focused on celibacy as the end goal. I see friendship itself as something to pursue, enjoy, cultivate, and commit to. As a single person, I’m not previously engaged (no pun intended) with duties to spouse or children, so I have more time and energy to devote to friendship. Celibacy has shaped my theology of friendship, and I hope it’s also made me a better friend.

I see marriage through the lens of celibacy.

Having only observed marriage from the outside, I’ve managed to find ways that singleness is like marriage, which helps me identify with married people. But celibacy does remove me from some of the practical aspects of marriage — things that are hard to grasp as a mere spectator. This can be a problem. For example, if a married friend turns down my invitation to dinner because he wants to spend time with his wife and kids, I can have a hard time accepting that — not intellectually, but emotionally. I realize his family is a priority, but it’s hard to reconcile that with the idea of spiritual family in Christ. (I’m family, too!) This is one area where my head and my heart need to work it out, and I admit there’s still a lot of room to grow and mature.

I see singleness through the lens of celibacy.

Christian singleness looks and feels a lot different from its worldly counterpart. Outside church walls, singleness is often disassociated from celibacy and rarely considered GOOD. But I’m learning to uphold singleness as a gift from God. The Apostle Paul was single and hoped others would embrace that same “gift” (1 Corinthians 7:7). And, of course, Jesus led the single life, too — for about as long as I have! He encouraged those who were able to remain single to gladly “receive” it (Matthew 19:11-12). Because Paul and Jesus were pro-singleness, and because God himself is pro-happiness, I know it’s possible to be happy without also having sex. That’s why I’m so convinced that singleness is the HAPPY ALTERNATIVE to marriage!

A Very Celibate Valentine’s Day

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Last year, a friend of mine sent me a picture of his “hot” date on Valentine’s Day. It was a brownie topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream — and possibly human tears. (Cell phone camera, so it’s hard to say.) This is what Valentine’s Day can look like for single, celibate Christians.

But it doesn’t have to.

I’ve been single on Valentine’s Day for the past 32 years. (And every other day of the year, too, but that’s beside the point.) Yet somehow I’ve found things to love about it.

Remember in elementary school, when classmates passed out mandatory valentines and those horrible candy hearts? Sure, I got cards from people who’d never talk to me again after February 14, but it was fun getting “love notes” from the friends you cared about, and the kids who signed more than just their names.

When I was a teenager, sometimes my parents would leave me a gift on the kitchen counter. Maybe a stuffed animal or a coffee mug decked with hearts — just a little something to make Valentine’s Day special for the boy who never had a valentine. Meanwhile, hormonal girls at school huffed over not getting flowers from their insensitive boyfriends. Tragic…

In college, I’d often stay home on Valentine’s Day to spend time with my “Husband” (Isaiah 54:5). That’s about the time I fell in love with the Song of Solomon. I pored over Puritan commentaries, whose typological readings of the book celebrated the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. Coming to terms with faith and sexuality, learning what celibacy would look like for me, I took comfort in seeing God as the divine bridegroom — and I still do.

Today, at 32, I still love Valentine’s Day. I love reaching out to friends and family, or even someone who wouldn’t expect it, with a valentine via text. It’s also an opportunity to thank God for the gift of marriage — a chance to rejoice in marital bliss (even if it’s not my own). In the last few years, I’ve teamed up with friends to do outreach on Valentine’s Day, including helping a church host a dinner for homeless women, and rallying support for a fundraiser to aid victims of sex trafficking.

So yeah, Valentine’s Day isn’t a big cry-fest for me. It’s always been a day of love.

However, there are people in my life (and yours) for whom the holiday is unhappy. Maybe someone who is divorced or widowed. Maybe someone who really wants to be married and is wrestling with God’s timing and will. We ought to be gentle with their hearts, especially on a day when romance is shoved in our faces, as if that’s the only place to find love.

This year, Valentine’s Day is on Sunday. It’s a perfect opportunity to reach out to single folks in your church. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them you love them. Tell them God loves them, too. Remind them love is real and available to them outside of marriage. There’s love in friendship — those people who’ve mastered the art of loving at all times (Proverbs 17:17). There’s love in the church body — a spiritual family that transcends bloodlines. There’s love in service — putting other people’s needs before your own. There’s love in the pages of Scripture, where God reveals his devotion to us. It’s all over the place, if someone would just remind us.

A very celibate Valentine’s Day can be a very happy one indeed. Come to think of it, brownies and a scoop of ice cream would make it even happier.

Hold the tears.

Singleness Is Like Marriage

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Obviously, we could talk about the millions of ways singleness is different from marriage. But I’m a “big picture” kind of guy, and one way to keep an eternal perspective is to focus on what single people and married folks have in common. Not only does this help me relate more to my married friends, but as an added bonus, it also helps me to be content in my singleness. So, without further ado, singleness is like marriage because…

You have to work at it.

There’s so much talk of working on marriages, but so little talk of working on singleness. Part of the problem, of course, is that singleness is viewed as a temporary state on the way to marriage, where the “real work” begins. But in much the same way marriage does, singleness requires time, effort, planning, prayer, and maybe even counseling. If it looks like your singleness will last awhile, it’s worth asking, “How can I do this well?” We can’t expect things to fall into place without putting in the hard work. We don’t expect it with marriage; we shouldn’t expect it with singleness.

It comes with blessings.

Marriage comes with (ahem) benefits. Aside from sin-free sex, there’s also a measure of security, the hope of children, and the honor of being a living metaphor of Christ and his people. And yet singleness, too, comes with blessings. (Although, if you’re watching too many romantic comedies, it may be harder to recognize them.) Being single affords some of the opportunities Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 7:32 — a chance to focus on “the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.” Single people can minister in ways that require time and energy that married people simply don’t have. That’s a real gift.

It comes with challenges.

If we’re honest, I think married and single folks actually share many of the same challenges. The sins we often associate with single people — lust, discontent, and selfishness, to name a few — are just as real (and dangerous) for husbands and wives. These are things we fight against, not as married or single people, but as CHRISTIANS. The challenges may look different on the surface, but the root sins are the same.

God approves.

Some religious people have elevated marriage too much, deeming it the epitome of happiness, or even worse, godliness. Others have allowed the pendulum to swing too far in the other direction, idolizing singleness. In recent history, of course, the former has won out. (Recruiting offices at monasteries don’t get much business these days.) But one path is not nobler than the other. Single people will learn lessons that married couples never will, and married people will learn lessons that single people never will. We’re all in the business of glorifying God. Whether single or married, if you’re living a life that honors God, then he approves.

It’s temporary.

And here’s where I get really theological. You see, along with companionship and procreation, marriage exists to be a symbol of God’s faithfulness to his people. Jesus said, “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Matthew 22:30). That’s because in the next life we’ll all be married to HIM. The shadows will give way to the greater reality, and we’ll see what earthly marriage represented all along: the joining of Christ to his people. This means that singleness, too, is a temporary state. All of us, whether or not we are married in this life, look forward to that final marriage described in Revelation 19, where we become the collective Bride of Christ.

Can You Be Gay And Christian?

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I don’t think there’s any debate about whether or not a Christian can experience same-sex attraction and yet remain faithful to God, living in obedience to his will for sex and marriage — either by pursuing marriage with someone of the opposite sex, or choosing to remain celibate. The answer is yes: you can be gay and Christian. But let’s explore the question that often follows: “Should Christians call themselves gay?”

About a year ago, someone emailed me and asked, “Are you heterosexual?” Despite being trained by Christian culture to avoid calling myself gay, and despite my impulse to write back with a full-blown essay on labels and Christian identity, this question had a pretty clear answer: No, I’m gay.

Of course, “gay” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For most, it simply means being attracted to the same sex; for others, it means you’ve chosen to embrace or identify with homosexual behavior. That’s why when I came out on the blogosphere several years ago I chose to say, “I’m (kinda sorta yeah not really) gay.” Although I’m still careful with my terminology in mixed company, today I’m more comfortable using the term “gay,” especially among friends and family who know what I mean. Namely, that I’m attracted to men but committed to God’s design for human sexuality, which excludes homosexual behavior (i.e. gay sex).

Confusion over the term “gay Christian” is understandable, as it can mean one of two things: 1) a Christian who experiences SSA but believes homosexual behavior is sinful, or 2) a Christian who experiences SSA and believes homosexual behavior is acceptable and blessed by God, but only within the confines of a loving, monogamous relationship. Simply put, the first position is orthodox and the second is not. The disparity between the two has sparked an ongoing conversation about whether or not Christians should call themselves gay at all.

I don’t typically call myself a gay Christian, but I’m not opposed to those who do. The Church often spends more time talking about what Christians who experience SSA ought to call themselves (or not call themselves), rather than talking about how the gospel has shaped their lives. Rather than encouraging and equipping them to face a world that tells them to submit to their sexual desires. Rather than ensuring they have a church community that supports them as they pursue the countercultural path of holiness, whether that’s celibacy or a godly marriage.

My advice is to let people say “gay Christian” and explain what they mean. It’s possible they’re doing more for the kingdom by using that term than those who spend time debating whether or not they should. The label itself is a peripheral issue.