Day 6: When Celibacy isn’t a Gift

This is Day 6 of 7 of my Devotional Series on Celibacy written a year ago. While much of my thought process has changed since then, it is important to share where I sincerely was in my journey with God and my vocation.

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. John 6:60-71 (NIV)

Do you feel a calling to celibacy? If I were to answer this question I usually say I think so. I first noticed the beauty of the celibate vocation when I was seven years old. I remember talking to my mom and somehow the topic of unmarried Roman Catholic priests came up. “Why can’t they get married?” I asked. “Doesn’t everyone get married?” My mom answered, “Well, priests don’t marry so that they can better serve the Church. The Church is a priest’s spouse and his children are the parishioners.” I remember my heart leaping. There was something so compelling about that.

Growing up, I never pictured a wife or kids in my future. My fantasy was my own place with plenty of space for friends and family to stay with me if they needed it. I wanted people to always be in and out of my home. I imagined sharing my life with my best friend or a roommate, but my naïve brain didn’t understand this was rare for people outside of marriage and romantic relationships. Was this a call to celibacy? Perhaps. Or I was just gay and had no word for it yet.

When I became a Christian at age 17, I visited monasteries and befriended Roman Catholic priests. The freedom within celibacy enabled by its asceticism and hospitality continued to speak to me. The routine of prayer, fasting, and hospitality I saw in monastic communities was the kind of life I desired for myself.

Would I be celibate regardless of where I end up on the question of sexual ethics of same-sex marriage? Perhaps. I hope so. What Kyle and I have is beautiful on its own. This doesn’t mean my vocation always feels like a gift.

I struggle to frame celibacy in terms of gifting. In American culture, we put so much stock in autonomy that we overlook the complexities in how people arrive at their state in life. Not all vocations feel emotionally satisfying or seem to be the best possible world we can live in. Perhaps you have become the caretaker of a sick family member; a path you wouldn’t have chosen for yourself but no one else can do it. Maybe you became a widow at a young age and feel distant from God in the midst of unplanned grief and confusion. How are you supposed to find meaning in your circumstances if we keep insisting vocation is always a gift?

I have close friends who feel their call to celibacy is rooted in God prohibiting them from a same-sex relationship. I know other queer folks who want to be married, but have tremendous difficulty finding a spouse. In my case, my Christian tradition prohibits same-sex sexual activity, I fell in love with a man, and have tried to honor God in the best way I can.

Whatever the case may be, God is present. He gives meaning to our joys and sufferings even when our state in life doesn’t seem like a gift. Queer people are usually doing their best to follow Jesus, and I have to believe that counts for something. Whatever the reason you find yourself living a celibate vocation, know you are a beloved queer child of God who keeps praying, “O Lord where shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”

Life-creating Spirit, give us peace that you are are in the midst of our confusion and uncertainty. Brighten our days with your warmth. Give us peace in our discernment to follow your will. Direct us to mature in our vocations with a clear conscience. Amen.

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