My last few blogs (here) have been a discussion on reframing celibacy and singleness. We had help from Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen and his excellent, helpful writings. He says that singleness and marriage are equal vocations (callings) in which we have a choice in choosing. But with either relational status “space” needs to be reserved for our relationship with God ultimately. In my last blog, I posed some important questions that need to be examined if you are walking out a single lifestyle for a season or lifetime. What is life going to look like and who will walk with me? Living out healthy sexuality should be a collaborative effort between God, ourselves, a few trusted friends and a safe community.
Speaking of a safe community, how can the church be a part of the solution for singles? What about for those men and women with a same sex background and a traditional sexual ethic?
Preach it and Teach it
We have plenty of conferences, sermons and Sunday school classes on marriage and family—and that’s a good thing. Perhaps it might also be a good thing giving some air time to the idea of flourishing as a single person. If singles feel “invisible” in the sea of family life, this sure would help them to be “seen”. Teach biblically on how singleness and marriage are both valid, equal vocations. Discuss the benefits and difficulties of both relational statuses. Preach on what it means to live out healthy sexuality and relationships for individuals, whether married or single. Brainstorm with your congregation about how to love and support couples, parents, children and singletons within the community. Because community is what everyone needs.
Help Them to Thrive in Their Single Relational Status
Questions for singles like “What’s wrong with you?” or “When are you getting married?” are amazingly unhelpful. For same sex attracted men and women who are choosing celibacy, there can be extra baggage to work through. Sometimes if shame has been experienced around sexual desires or activity, we can feel unworthy of participating in God’s Kingdom like others. So, what would specific discipleship look like to these men and women? How can churches help celibate Christians find their spiritual callings and utilize their gifts in service of church and culture? The church can benefit when we are truly alive in Christ.
Longings and Desires Matter
There have been many seasons in church culture where I have felt like I’m only a “quasi” person. The remedy most often presented to this partial personhood is finding my “other half”–then I will be whole and fulfilled. Also, singles can sometimes bear the stigma of being seen as asexual, neutral or genderless beings without longings and desires. Yet, God has designed us to be spiritual and sexual people created for deep personal connection. We long for fullness, emotional, physical and sexual intimacy because that’s how He has made us.
I think most LGBTQ men and women feel their basic longings for love and intimacy are often invalidated. They are seen as “unreal” because the desires are for someone of the same gender. Is it possible for us as Christians to honor the boundaries God has put around the expression of our sexuality and still affirm the legitimacy of what LGBTQ men and women feel? Forgoing having some of these deep longings met to live out ones convictions means they are still there and matter. We all need the support of our Christian communities to help us steward our God given desires in a healthy way.
Questions: Intimacy, Family and Community?
The biggest question for celibate Christians is, “What are intimacy, family and community going to look like for me?” I’ve seen friends answer this question in a variety of ways. Some will choose to live with several other friends (married and single) in “intentional community”. Think “Golden Girls” circa 2018. I know others who have been practically adopted into other families—sharing holidays, important events and daily life. Still, others find a best friend or “soulmate” to share home and life with—but celibately–like a committed friendship. Despite the possibility of temptation that may be present, you have to admit it’s creative.
Wise counsel for those wanting to explore marriage
People get into marriages for lots of not so great reasons. I’ve met many men and women who have genuinely dreamed of being married and having children. Still, it’s always a good thing to get wise counsel for anyone who is seeking marriage. What is involved in the motivation? To appear “normal”?– (like anyone knows what that is). We’re always a mixed bag of motives no matter the decisions, but it’s good to sift through these questions. Also, I’d encourage transparency about one’s sexual history or same sex attractions to the future spouse as early as is appropriate. I’ve seen many marriages end when the information comes out during the marriage. In our current culture you want to give any marriage as much good foundation to start as you can.
I discussed several times throughout this series, that there are rare community celebrations for a single person. There are no weddings, showers or anniversaries, but perhaps a birthday, job promotion or graduation if you’re lucky. What are ways you can celebrate and honor the singles in your midst? How can singles be included in the workings of the community—besides doing time in the nursery? What opportunities are there to participate in weekly worship services and seasonal events like Advent and Lent? Everyone needs to be recognized and affirmed sometimes—once again, it’s how God designed us.
Program DirectorA staff member since June of 1992, Scott is a key player in the WGA discipleship ministry. He plans, organizes, and implements every aspect of the Thursday night support group. In addition to public speaking, counseling group participants and training leaders, Scott maintains personal contact with many group members and it is to Scott’s credit that many group members feel personally welcomed, cared for and loved. Although he holds a degree in graphic arts, he attributes his ministry qualifications to the “school of hard knocks.” God’s abundant grace continues to be the instrument of growth in his life, and he desires to be firmly grounded in the forgiveness and freedom of relationship with Jesus Christ. Scott attends a Presbyterian Church.
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