In our previous blogs and in our workshop, THE conversation raises some serious questions regarding popular Christian teaching surrounding marriage, sex, sexual purity and single celibacy. Our unspoken and underlying assumptions:
• Marriage and sex in the context of marriage are prerequisites for a satisfying and fulfilling life.
• Single celibacy is a sentence for a life of deprivation and loneliness.
These assumptions not only contradict Biblical teaching but are the source of pain, resentment and many destructive choices.
• Our single and celibate friends feel God has cheated them and desperately seek to get married rather than hopefully living as if God can truly satisfy them.
• Many who are single would argue that a good God who wants good things for us could not possibly expect celibacy as this is absurdly cruel and unusual punishment.
• Those in church leadership who promote a celibate life for those who are single, as unmarried, divorced, widowed or same sex attracted Christ followers, are viewed as dogmatic, irrelevant and uncompassionate.
• Our children absorb and observe these attitudes and by the time they are faced with their own choices regarding sexuality and marriage, many fall into the traps we’ve unwittingly created as a result of our failure to align our assumptions with Biblical teaching on single celibacy. As a mother of adult children, I’ve seen this first hand as friends encounter these same protests from their children who grew up in church environments.
I would like to suggest some ideas for course correction. After all, how is it helpful to point out the problem without offering practical solutions? If you’ve been following our blogs, you’ll recall that we’ve been laying a foundation in previous entries for a descriptive approach to God’s design for the body, sex and relationships. We start by nurturing this perspective in the children we influence. We strongly encourage you to access the many resources available to you at theconversationworkshop.com. Beyond this, we can also make intentional changes to the way we talk about marriage and singleness. The following are some suggestions that can help us to elevate the vocation of single celibacy in our home and church environments:
• Use the phrases, “If you get married…” and “if you have children…” rather than assuming that this will be the future of our children and youth. This change communicates that the vocation of marriage is not an expectation for their lives.
• Authentically share the ways God is satisfying you. Talk about His very personal words spoken to you, His gifts that you receive, the moments of love and comfort that you experience with Him. Try to avoid using churchy language in your descriptions in order to create interest and avoid immediate dismissal of your words.
• Watch secular movies and television together, listen to music together, and read together. When you observe a character seeking human love as the ultimate experience in life, point out with compassion that human love can never truly satisfy our deep need for the perfect love for which we are made.
• Point out to young people that Jesus calls us to love others. We are invited to love others with Jesus’ self-giving love apart from a sexual or marital relationship. A single and celibate life does not have to be a life devoid of love.
• Avoid a hyper focus on relationships and dating with your kids and also with others. Don’t ask, “Why aren’t you married?” or “I wonder why he/she isn’t married?” Don’t ask your kids, “Are there any cute boys/girls in your class?” And certainly, stop trying to find partners for single friends.
• Do not label or isolate people by relationship status. Instead, model discovering each person you encounter as a whole person, refusing to define him or her as single or married. Focus on uncovering the unique ways each one reflects the image of God.
• Invite singles into your family/home affirming them as persons and welcoming the gifts that they bring. Our family has three “adopted” family members who are single. We aren’t doing them a favor by the way. God has used each of them to bring beautiful and irreplaceable gifts to our lives. They get to experience all the ongoing joys and trials of being a part of a family and investing in the lives of the children who call them aunt or uncle.
• Encourage your kids to develop intimacy with God. Ask them these questions regularly: “Where did God show up for you this week?”, “What good gifts did God bring you today?” and “When have you felt closest to God lately?”
• Read stories with your children about the lives of those heroes of the faith who found abundant and satisfying life with God as single and celibate persons.
Maybe most importantly, are we personally convinced that it is really possible to live a full and satisfying life as a single celibate person?
I’ll just close with these words of a friend describing Brother Lawrence, a monk who labored in a monastery kitchen and repaired sandals for 49 years. “He is now so accustomed to that Divine presence that he receives from it continual comfort and peace. For about thirty years his soul has been filled with joy and delight so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to find ways to hide their appearing outwardly to others who may not understand.” Yes Brother Lawrence! Teach us your ways!
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