A white dress, a sharp suit, a flowered-up church, overpriced cake, a big party and a killer hangover the next morning... Does this ring any (wedding) bells?
Of course it does! It's what happens to everyone at some point, isn't it? To trundle up to that decorated altar and say the words that promise yourself to another person, the day which makes them your life companion, joy and happiness!
Well, actually, maybe not everyone. The truth of life is, not everyone gets married, and not everyone has a romantic relationship. Sorry, may have made that sound a bit worse than it is. You'd be surprised, but, a large number of people stay single for life, or at some point choose to live that way for a myriad of reasons.
(If you're single and know that one day you're going to have (or are looking for, over the course of your life:) a relationship and what follows on, then you're going to have to wait for the article in this series that is going to address that, i'm just addressing long/lifetime singleness and celibacy (sorry!), if you have a question for them to answer in their piece on singleness while waiting for a relationship then fire away on the link here. My advice until then: hold on, keep calm and carry on, talk to a friend on how you feel, confide and pray.
The concept of singleness celibacy in this modern, secular world may strike some as a bit, well, odd. The done thing these days is to go out to a club, bar, social, or even out with friends and hope to God you may at some point find a lovely lad or lass, and one day fall in love. But, it doesn't always work out like that.
This article is going to cover, in this format:
- Why people choose to be single and celibate.
- Celibacy as a vocation and in vocations.
- My thoughts on celibacy, personal engagement, struggles and discussion with celibates and married people about this way of life.
- Solutions to my struggles and advice for those considering single life and other vocations.
1. So why do some people choose to live a life on their own?
People choose to live singly for some common and uncommon reasons, some because of personal choices or experiences and likewise for religious. Some may have had a bad experience in a relationship, or have vicariously found that relationships can cause problems, can get hurt and that's not something they wish to handle. Some feel that they are not the right material for a relationship, and so choose not to. Some are quite content on their own and there's no need for them to change that.
These are some personal reasons as to why one may stay single and choose celibacy. 'But wait!', I hear you say, 'what has this got to do with God, and how do I engage and think about this as a Christian?'
'As a Christian' is a fundamental point. In my church (Catholic) the single life is a part of many ways of coming closer to God. Celibacy is a way in which one may follow the way Christ lived, singly and chastely. To imitate Christ is one of the best ways a Christian can grow, and is something we should all strive for. As well as a choice in imitating Christ, it is also regarded as a vocation and a gift. It is a vocation which must be discerned, thought through and prayed about, it is a calling. This calling may be a feeling that God is asking them to give up what could be part of their lives to serve him in a different way than to raise a family, this may be through spending more time in prayer, working for the Church ('big c 'as in institution), focusing on your spiritual life, your love for God and his love for you. Another lot of reasons is for helping others in their spiritual lives by being a role model (single people that work at their lives in God tend to be very good guides for others in ways different to those in relations, it appears). In my discussion with celibate priests, lay and married people, there is always a mention of the profound example which celibates show, something different about them spiritually and that there is a certain 'wisdom of celibates' in their ability to look at other people's love from the outside and offer advice.
2. Celibacy as a vocation and in vocations.
One may choose to be celibate in a vocational context such as 'Holy Orders' (as a Deacon, Priest or Bishop) or in the 'Consecrated Life' as a monk or nun.
As a person in Holy Orders there is much more time to be with the people, whatever time they are needed, they are much more available. As a celibate in Holy Orders or the Consecrated Life one can truly dedicate themselves entirely to God, he is the only focus in these lives. It is somewhere said that those who give up and offer for God shall receive great things in his kingdom. In being celibate, there is a striving to aspire to be like those in His kingdom, and for its sake. (Matthew. Ch. Somewhere, Verse. Somewhere).
However, as a vocation, celibacy is not a throwaway of a relationship, which as you may have read in the title to be a juxtaposition, but it is a removal of a bond on earth with people, to a new relationship and bonding with God. As it is in a religious vocation, just as for the common person, you should not enter single life out of fear, but love. If you fear marriage and relationships as a whole, then it will be equally difficult to engage with God, they are, and must be similar interactions.
3. Thoughts, engagement and discussion about celibacy
My thoughts on celibacy, if you haven't picked up already, are quite positive, very much so. In fact, as a person feeling a call and discerning the priesthood, I must at the same time discern and try to engage with celibacy. Of course, I've had my worries, doubts and issues with the thought of, and engaging with it, I'd be concerned if I wasn't worried in some way. You may think, as most people would, the celibate way of life is a lot to grasp. And, you're right, so very right. For any Tom, Dick or Harry, thinking that you could be spending a large amount of time or your whole life as a single person is quite truly daunting, and single life can be a real struggle, here are some of the things others and I have faced:
Loneliness. Loneliness can be absolutely depressing, even at the best of times.
Envy. Yes, envy, when you choose to not engage but see some great people in great relationships it can be challenging to be around them and not feel like you're missing out, everyone gets it at some point, I'd be lying if I said I didn't.
Love. Indeed, it is a bit problematic that even though you may choose to discern and try to completely give your life to God and his service in the fashion of a single lifestyle, that doesn't stop you from fancying someone or falling in love. OK, all cards on the table, this is very much the same with marriage or long-term relationships (sorry), being quite frank, sometimes you may fancy someone when you're in either of these, too. When you're single, it is almost inevitable that immediately having made the decision to think about single life, someone very lovely may well just turn up on the spot, and you become great friends. A great struggle is maintaining that friendship and making sure it doesn't go anywhere further, it could hurt one or both of you.
Feeling that being single is not normal. I must admit, it can feel as though you are doing something very alien, some of my friends seem to think so anyway, which is then compounded by their attempts to take me out to a club or bar, find a lovely lady and one day fall in love with her, oh dear, de javu...
They are very keen to quote a saying from St. Augustine: 'Give me chastity and countenance... just not yet!'
But here's something I've learnt while discerning this, and from receiving encouragement from some friends and mentors: you need to trust, a lot. You need to trust in God the same way in which you have faith in him and surrender to him. As with all things, giving something up is hard, companionship, I expect for most people, definitely is (we are humans, and we are made for each other after all). The surrendering part, in any aspect of life (particularly with life in God), is difficult, but we must. I was told that although there is something you're giving up, what you receive from God is exponentially larger, and I must admit, that there are noticeable differences in how I feel and what has happened to me by discerning and engaging with the single life; it has become succinctly positive, even coming to feel that along with priesthood or not, God may be calling me to be single. The way I interact with God, how I feel, pray, think and talk has changed dramatically, I wouldn't believe it if I saw it a year ago! The love for Him has increased, and the way I treat and love other people, friends, family and strangers is better, a great sense of relief, lightness and joy!
4. Some solutions to my problems and advice for those considering Single Life or Celibacy in other vocations.
Just as I had the struggles listed above, there were also solutions, thankfully! For loneliness, I've got to say, as well as Christ being an ever present companion, I have some great friends, priests and directors to talk about this with and get on with life! There must be a good part of acceptance of the loneliness in the single life, and an active use of the time spent with the availability one has as a single person. At times when I feel like i'm missing out, it's usually because I've forgotten the reason as to why I am discerning and trying to follow this way of living, the bigger picture and relationship with God must be the number one, and it is very true, this way of life is also a way of glorifying God, and serving him. At the times when there is a soft spot for someone, well, do your best, try not put yourselves in tough situations.
The hardest part which caused the greatest amount of worry about being single is that it is usually thought that it is weird and not OK, when actually, yes, it is OK, it's more than OK, in fact God takes pleasure in who you are, who you were made to be, and he calls people to do different things in life, and so, in a society where it's pretty much set by others how you're meant to get through life (as I described at the very beginning of this article; that everyone has to find someone); just stop. Take a moment and think... just wait... because, what if, bizarrely, this person that i'm meant to find and love with all my heart, to be my center, my 'life companion, joy and happiness' is Jesus?
If you feel called or interested in celibacy or a vocation that includes celibacy, do some research, think, pray and talk to your priest, friends, family or church leaders, these are all important groups of people to involve yourself with and help you.
If you liked this article or have any questions check out the other upcoming posts on my blog about discernment and vocations, or ask a question to Annie, or through her to me!
Thanks for reading,