I originally wrote this about a year ago in response to a message I received from a colleague asking “How do you do the abstinence?” I had posted something on Facebook about being gay, celibate and Christian and I guess you could say it was a ‘coming-out’ moment of sorts. What followed was a bunch of people reaching out to me with various responses and questions, including other gay people who were confused about my decision to remain single by choice.
One of the weird things about coming out is that acquaintances suddenly feel like they have the right to ask very personal questions about your private life. I would never ask a straight colleague about their sex life out of the blue! One of my colleagues sent me this message, and while it felt a little intrusive at first, it seemed like an important question, so I’m posting my response below for everyone else to see. I hope that it might address any similar questions you might have about singleness, celibacy, and my personal religious convictions.
“So I have to ask… how do you do the abstinence… that must be really tough. I admire you for doing that for your beliefs….”
“Haha, I was wondering how long it would be before people started asking questions about my sex life lol. I imagine celibacy without context sounds pretty weird and crazy to most people, but I think it makes a lot more sense in the context of a particular worldview.
We all crave a love story. No human being can thrive without love, and we all have this deep desire to be truly known and intimately loved. In our culture, we usually seek that kind of love in romantic and sexual relationships, but I’ve found a different kind of love story – one that runs a lot deeper for me. I think that behind our cultural obsession with sex is a much deeper desire for genuine intimacy. Learning that Jesus loves me more deeply than any human relationship changed everything for me! We often think of God’s love as a distant, conceptual idea that doesn’t really have much bearing on our emotions or daily lives, but Jesus isn’t like that at all. He was the mighty creator of the universe who stepped into the world as a humble human being, lived a life of compassionate sharing, and then committed the greatest act of love by dying for me on the cross then rising again. One of my favourite verses ever is in John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” I truly believe this is the greatest love, the purest affection, and having an ongoing relationship with such a loving person is MY great love story.
One of the great things about this love story is that it also means being brought into a whole family of believers. We see each other as true family, and the sort of intimate friendships I’ve experienced in community are a huge part of what makes celibacy plausible. I’m so blessed to have a number of very close friends who know me intimately and love me deeply, so I very rarely feel like I’m missing out on love! My best friend and I have a very special friendship; we can confide in each other about anything, know that we’re always there for each other, and commit to making time to visit each other regularly. Just a few days ago he took some time off work to drive to Sydney and spend a day with me for my birthday; we enjoyed 13 hours straight of hanging out together, chatting about everything from stupid jokes to deepest feelings, and telling each other how much we love each other and appreciate our friendship. He’s straight, but our friendship (one of many that I enjoy in this community!!) is to me is such an expression of love that I rarely feel that being single means I’m any less loved. I could share half a dozen other stories of people like this who help me feel known and loved without needing a sexual relationship to do that.
Of course it’s hard sometimes (all the time!) and there are sexual desires that persist – and that’s part of what makes me human. As much as I’m all about finding ways to healthily express these desires for love in healthy and platonic ways (because repression is a terrible idea!), sometimes there are just desires for sex that I won’t act on. But everyone has desires that they choose not to act on, or at least mature grown-ups with self-control do anyway. All of us have different frameworks and values that determine which desires we act on freely, and which desires we subdue in order to express other, deeper desires that that take priority. For me, the most fundamental desires, the ones that are at the core of who I really am, are the desires I have for knowing Jesus’ love and showing my devotion to him, and I am happiest and most at peace when I can live as who I truly am, letting these desires shape every other decision I make.
I think another really important thing about celibacy is that love is expressed, not just by the sex we have, but also by the sex we DON’T have.* It might sound weird to think of not having sex as an act of love, and more usually people think of celibacy as depriving oneself of love. But just like you might choose not to hook up with a hot guy you meet on a work trip out of love and devotion to your partner, I see celibacy as a beautiful expression of my love for Jesus. So even as it means enduring some unmet desires, it also means expressing the deepest desires from the core of my heart.
It’s also easier to endure some of the inconveniences in this life when I can look forward to the beautiful wedding in heaven that God has promised all believers. The last two chapters of the Bible in Revelation describe this beautiful scene of Jesus being united to his bride, all believers, and enjoying the ecstasy and intimacy of a pure kind of love that we can only dream of in this world. Looking forward to that day and knowing that I’ll have an eternity of an intimate union with Jesus puts things in this world into perspective.
Sorry for such a long-winded response, but big questions sometimes need big answers!”
What would your answer have been if you got this message from a colleague?
*I owe this idea to Ed Shaw’s outstanding book The Plausibility Problem.