Celibacy and Loneliness

“For both Aristotle and Aquinas, friendship stands at the core of human and Divine reality… If we get that wrong, we get it all wrong.” -Fr. James Schall

When I was a child, I used to have night terrors. When I had bad dreams, I would sit up in my bed and cry or yell while I was sleeping. My parents would have to come up to my room, gently wake me, and then help me fall back to sleep.

I don’t have night terrors anymore, but I do occasionally have bad dreams. Like the night terrors, I don’t always remember them. Once, when I was visiting a friend, he told me one morning that he had woken me up the night before. Apparently, he heard me having a bad dream, so he woke me up, made sure everything was fine, and told me to go back to bed. I don’t remember any of this.

This is one fear I have: suffering under a bad dream in the night and not having anyone around to wake me up, and to tell me to go back to sleep. It sounds silly. It makes me sound like a child. But this is not a childish fear. It’s a human fear. It’s a fear of falling into a brokenness that you don’t even realize and that can only be alleviated by those who have loved you so much that they know you better than you know yourself. It’s the realization that you can become careless or tired and unaware of your failings and that, from time to time, you need people to make up for your inadequacies. It’s the commonly admitted fear of dying alone that acts as a mask for the real, underlying fear: the fear of living alone.

This is the fear of celibacy. People tend to think that celibacy is only abstention from sex, but that’s just one very small part of the loneliness for those contemplating or living celibacy in contemporary America. Celibacy isn’t just being lonely because of the lack of sexual intercourse. It’s also lonely because of the way in which Americans conceive of a celibate life. The loneliness comes from the insistence that celibacy be a life without intimacy.

But the fact is, even those living faithful and fruitful celibate lives need others. We need communities, because we can never be complete selves by ourselves. Our perfection only occurs in relation to others. This, of course, is why friendship and community is so important for gay people: because it’s important for everyone. And while we don’t necessarily need people physically present while we dream at night, we do need relationships that fill our lives so that we are never truly alone.

This creates a challenge for churches. If churches believe that people have celibate callings, then those churches also have a responsibility to consider how to build communities with and for these callings. Churches must do much more than preserve and promote certain teachings. Doctrine will always be a necessary, but never a sufficient, way of relating to Christianity. Even when we bring Church doctrine into ourselves and assent to it, we will not be complete. We need something more. We cannot be fully ourselves by ourselves, because we can’t even know ourselves by ourselves.

Eve Tushnet has beautifully pointed out, “More thoughtful, personal, and culturally relevant theology in this area would doubtless be helpful, but what people most yearn for is a vision of what their futures might look like.” We need much more than a way to think. We need a way to live. And we need communities that have a space for us to live in, with and for each other.

Chris DamianChris Damian recently graduated from the University of Notre Dame and is currently pursuing degrees in Law and Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas. He can be found on Twitter @UniversityIdeas.

18 thoughts on “Celibacy and Loneliness

  1. This is great! Would love to hear specific ideas on how a church community might be able to do this. We have a youngish congregation, made up of mostly married couples with small children. Although recently, we are starting to get a few more “grey heads,” but we have hardly any single adults…just a handful really. We have small groups that meet twice a month in people’s homes as well as even smaller “accountability groups” where people can share more deeply about their lives. We’ve never had anything specific for singles. We’ve just included them into the various groups that are already functioning. But now that I’ve read your post, I wonder if this is enough for our single brothers and sisters. Would really love to hear any thoughts that you have on how churches can be especially mindful of what you have written about.

    • Hi Kristin, Thank you for your comment. That’s a remarkably hard question, in large part because I think it will take different forms in different communities. You’ll have to ask people what they need and desire. Wes and Melinda recently had some wonderful posts on hospitality. Wes’s can be found here:
      https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/01/02/on-hospitality-and-unstructured-time/
      https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/01/03/all-the-lonely-people-on-hospitality-again/
      And here is Melinda’s: https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/01/04/the-lonely-hausfrau/

      I think what these convey is the desire, not just for church programming and groups, but for individuals in churches to see each other and to welcome each other into their lives. I’ve been very blessed with friends and mentors who have been very generous in welcoming me into their homes, and I think this is the kind of thing we’re all looking for. I think, more than anything, churches should encourage Christians to become more interested in the people around them.

    • Hello again, Kristin. I believe Chris’ point that what this would look like in a church will be dependent on the community. It’s conversations like these, however, that are really encouraging to me, because finding where I “fit in” has been an issue for me in many churches…
      I am currently in my 4th year of graduate school, meaning I will finally be done with school in May, and I will be 26. As mentioned in previous posts, I’m a celibate gay Christian, so I’m single. It is hard, particularly in my home town (which is a small southern town), to find a group of others like me, but that’s nobody’s fault… there simply aren’t many 26 year old single students in small town USA.
      While I definitely don’t have a cookie-cutter answer about how a church should be “celibate member friendly”, some things to keep in mind from my perspective…

      1. The fact that people who are not themselves celibate are at least trying to find ways to include us is, in and of itself, encouraging to me. Let’s face it, many of us, regardless of sexuality, live with unsolved problems/questions on a daily basis that we may never find an answer to (sort of the like the “faith hall of fame” in Hebrews 11), but knowing others are trying to figure it out along with us makes it much more bearable

      2. While community with other celibates can be great if it’s feasible, I will be the first to admit that I absolutely love having friends/mentors that are married that can share their experiences with me. I adore watching my friends who are married interact with their spouses, because we know from the Word that marriage is an entity designed to reflect God’s love for His people. I don’t ever want to see the day that I’m only receiving counsel from and interacting on a close-knit basis strictly with other celibates. While we are awesome people, we have a lot we can learn from our married counterparts too! : )

      • Hi Josh,

        I find your response to Chris’ article very encouraging. I too am a gay celibate Christian, but am 28 and have been a curate (minister in church of England) in a large UK city for 6 months. The challenge for me has been simply finding other people my age to make friends with – my church has about 100 people but only three of us who are between the ages of 20 and 35. Also there are only a small handful of ministers in my city who are single and fewer still my age. It would be nice to make friends with a few others like me, but I am also blessed to have a couple in the church who have children my age who have left home and often invite me on cinema trips and for meals. I think once I get more confident in my church I will build deeper friendships with other families in church, but this may take time.

        I am lucky in that this year I live with a housemate who is an old school friend of mine and is in his last year studying at the uni. He leads quite an independent life and spends a lot of time with his girlfriend and often stays at her house, so I can’t honestly say we spend much time together, but at least for this year it helps a bit with the loneliness and allays some of my fears (such as of being alone in a medical emergency or if my house was burgled). I confess I am still not sure whether in the long term living on my own or living with another or others in a house is the best idea for someone in my situation – I still need to think and pray about that.

        Mark

  2. Chris,
    Come back in 5 or 10 years and tell me where all those people are. They will get on with their lives why nothing will change about your fears.

    • Hi Tim,
      Perhaps. I’ll come back in 5 or 10 years and let you know 🙂
      But, seriously, your point is well-taken. I do sometimes worry about how naive I am, especially given my age and how long I’ve been ‘out’ (about six months). But my main point is that, without having good friends, I wouldn’t even know about these fears. In a sense, knowledge of these vulnerabilities is a very good thing. Realizing our vulnerabilities is the result of being loved, of having others around us who know us better than ourselves. I’m only aware of these things because people have cared for me, and for that I’m incredibly thankful.

  3. Hi Tim,
    Perhaps. I’ll come back in 5 or 10 years and let you know 🙂
    But, seriously, your point is well-taken. I do sometimes worry about how naive I am, especially given my age and how long I’ve been ‘out’ (about six months). But my main point is that, without having good friends, I wouldn’t even know about these fears. In a sense, knowledge of these vulnerabilities is a very good thing. Realizing our vulnerabilities is the result of being loved, of having others around us who know us better than ourselves. I’m only aware of these things because people have cared for me, and for that I’m incredibly thankful.

  4. You were born without any idea that you needed to change an inborn part of you, which is of no harm to anyone or anything. Please think about what real thing caused you to turn against the way you were born. What real evidence do you have that this reason/cause is real/right/true? Your life is shorter than you can, in the first half of it, truly comprehend. I am so pained to see people make the mistake I made.
    Sometimes our bodies even give us signs that we are following a false thing. (Excess stomach acids, anxiety,… the list is endless) But if we always interpret those as something that we make fit with the way we happened to be raised, we may miss the true/real/actual message.

    • Those who attack the work on this site tend to bring a very secularized worldview that effectively equates romantic love with salvation and try to judge our experiences though that. It is a basic Christian belief that physical marriage is temporary and that a celibate life can be abundant, even if it not ideally what a person wants. The conception of human beings as sexual beings at core does not fit within a Christian worldview.

  5. Hello Ludwig,
    If you don’t mind, I’d like to take a shot at your question, “What real evidence do you have that this reason/cause is real/right/true?”

    Thank you for the concern that you express, and the question you ask is a real one, indeed! In fact, I’ve had to ask myself a very similar question hundreds of times over the years, being a celibate gay Christian. For me, it’s more like “What the heck am I doing this for? Why am I fighting this?”

    And you know? My answer is always the same. It’s because of my personal encounter with who God is, and what His Gospel tells us. It didn’t take me too long once I began to mature spiritually to understand one dark reality… I am a sinner. To avoid religious jargon, I’m screwed up in many ways. Sexuality aside, my life is filled with absolutely stupid, cruel, selfish things that I’ve done when I, without a doubt, knew better. These things have caused hurt to both myself, and to others. Again, sexuality and all thoughts/actions that result thereof aside, I know that I am just about as far from perfect as they come.

    But here’s the amazing part… God loves me anyway! In spite of all this… rather… because of all this… the God of the Universe made Himself into a man in order to take the punishment that was DUE TO ME for everything that I had done. Nothing I did merited His coming or His sacrifice.

    “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5-6).

    “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

    In light of all this, giving up a life of homosexuality becomes nothing like bending to the whip of a tyrant king, but rather becomes the same privilege that a wife has of being faithful to her husband who has loved her dearly for as long as he has known her, and has given of every fiber of his being to prove to her how much he loves her and has sacrificed his entire self for her because he loves and cherishes her so much.

    Your concern and your question is a real one, and, by me at least, it is very much appreciated. And this is my answer… this is why I fight… because He loved me first!

    Blessings!

  6. Thank you for your thoughtfulness in answering. I hope that this view sustains you in a full and happy life and that you will be able to help others who may struggle with it more than you do.
    I also understand your viewpoint, but late in life I came to fully feel/understand other viewpoints as well, including the one that can see this — that one set of feelings (feelings of being in a relationship with Jesus) cannot be relied upon any more as proof of something real than can another set of feelings. To dismiss some feelings, which cause no harm and thus cannot by any rational definition be “sin” (feelings of a loving preference for same gender), as false due to another set of feelings, the sense of a “relationship with a God who prefers we put aside that preference,” can be seen to have no rational foundation.
    And actually, if we had been raised without Christianity we would not feel the latter set of feelings, but would still feel the former. One is born in us and of no harm/sin to anyone; the other is taught us by our families and cultures.
    But I understand also that following God isn’t meant to be “humanly rational,” and so again I just thank your for answering, and for helping each other with a difficult topic.

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