Until I quit dating and decided to pursue celibacy, I’d never actually met a single Christian who was not interested in finding a mate. Have you ever met someone who has chosen singleness? I am not talking about being single as an inevitable state before getting married. Being not-yet-married is not the same as making a conscious decision to forsake the possibility of love and marriage in order to pursue the Lord’s work wholeheartedly. I am referring to singleness or celibacy as an act of sacrificial worship, offering one’s body as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2).
More than five years ago, as a twentysomething, career-oriented woman, I decided to pursue celibacy. My decision was not well thought-out; on the heels of a breakup, I decided to drop out of the dating-and-romance race for one year. As I came to depend more on prayer, Scripture and meditation to exert control over my mind and body, I not only persevered through my new austere life style, but found it to be a profound learning experience. I realized I came to see men as more complex people when there was no possibility that romance could develop. I found I had much more time to devote to my Lord’s service without all the excitement of meeting guys, dating them and eventually moving on. Now, not quite six years down this road, I love celibacy. It has been a profound experience of growth and worship. I would be honored if God saw fit to keep me single. On the other hand, I have taken no vow; I am not a nun. If it becomes clear than marriage is right for me, I can live with that too. No matter which path I follow, I will always be an advocate for singleness because I deeply believe that it is part of God’s plan.
So, why choose singleness?
There are a couple of direct New Testament references to singleness. Our Lord said: "For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it" (Matthew 19:12).
While Jesus gave validity to the single life in this passage from Matthew, it was the apostle Paul who explained in detail why singleness can be such a productive lifestyle choice for those who serve God.
"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord" (I Corinthians 7: 32-35).
So, are singles part of God’s plan? Jesus indicates they are. Why is singleness useful in the Kingdom? Paul explains that following God with reckless abandon requires people to leave behind all earthly attachments that distract them from the Lord’s affairs.
These two passages really cut to the heart of me. I do want to offer my whole life to my God’s service. I long for my heart to be aligned with His. If remaining single will make me more available for His service, then I can think of no better use of my life.
In the last few years that I have been pursuing celibacy, I have been shocked to hear some of the assumptions people make about single Christian women. No, I don’t feel like God owes me a husband and I don’t feel disappointed that one has not appeared. No, I don’t have trouble getting dates. In fact, I have become an expert at avoiding and/or turning down potential suitors. No, my father wasn’t absent or abusive or bad to my mother. He is a good Christian man who has been a faithful, loving husband and father for more than 30 years. And no, I am not angry at men, hiding from men, gay or sexually confused.
Yet I do understand why so many folks need to "explain" my choice. Our culture, both the larger culture and our Western, protestant, church culture, has no place for single women. There are no official channels for women who wish to dedicate their lives to the Lord’s service. If a woman chooses to give up the possibility of being a wife and giving birth to children, then that woman must be damaged in some way, right? Truth be told, I do not believe anyone consciously thinks I am damaged. But I do suspect, based on the concerned looks and pitiful glances of the church folk, many of my brothers and sisters think I am settling for a lesser version of God’s will, a sadder, lonelier life than what God intended for me. In fact, I am wholeheartedly engaging life, serving my God with loyalties undivided. I feel nothing less than blessed.
Although I love my life, I am making a sacrifice. The idea of spending the rest of my life without sex … well, that is a hard reality to bear. Also, I admit that, in fits of girlishness, I have indulged in imagining who my perfect match would be—what that big, strong, humble, God-fearing man would be like. I have the occasional weak moment, moments of doubt or frustration.
Neither the pitiful glances nor the moments of doubt have led me to question my decision. Somehow Jesus makes celibacy seem like such a good deal. "’I tell you the truth,’ Jesus said to them, ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life’" (Luke 18:29-30). In this life, I choose Jesus and gladly follow His lead wherever we may go. I believe that whatever I give up will be restored to me in ways I cannot possibly fathom. For now, I will continue to pursue celibacy as a spiritual discipline and an act of sacrificial worship, giving cheerfully from what I have to a God who has given me everything.