Committing to Celibacy

I love Disneyland. Always have, always will. You can rail against the consumerism, crowds, expense, and all other evils Disney inflicts upon the world and I will not budge in my love of this magical place. As I walk down Main Street and look up at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, I see magic and whimsy and fun. Sleeping Beauty is, in fact, my favorite of the classic Disney movies on which I grew up. Flora, Fauna, and Merryweather will always make me smile and laugh. Maleficent is a fabulous villain who turns into one of my favorite creatures of all, a magnificent dragon. Prince Phillip is by far the most dashing of the classic Disney princes, and his horse, Samson, is brilliant. The incredible use of Tchaikovsky’s waltz makes my soul soar, and the widescreen background paintings by Eyvind Earle inspired by the Flemish and German styles of Van Eyck, Bruegel, and Durer are stunning works of art in each and every scene.

Yet, there is one thing that bothers me to no end, that rubs the wrong way against every feminist fiber of my being – the waiting. Aurora spends her life, protected as Briar Rose, in the forest with her fairy godmothers until her 16th birthday when she will both be finally free of a potential curse and also get to jump right into an arranged marriage. She falls asleep, and must wait for her prince to kiss her to break the spell. Her life is actually on hold until this happens, and not just her life, but that of her parents and the whole kingdom. Everything hinges on her waiting. Her life doesn’t start until she is rescued by her man. She has no power, no choice, but to wait.

The Sleeping Beauty by Edward Coley Burne-Jones

I didn’t grow up in the “Purity Movement” of the 90’s, but I was adjacent to it and I can’t help but notice the parallels between that lifestyle and Briar Rose’s. Like Snow White, those of us who grew up in Christian circles are often taught that “someday [our] prince will come” and then we can fulfill our roles as godly women by being wives and mothers. Oh yeah, and then we can finally have sex, the sex we’ve been holding out on so we can be the perfect pure brides on our wedding night.

So what happens when our perfect prince never shows up? Do we continue to wait and wait and wait, holding out hope that he’ll appear and we’ll be sexy-yet-pure brides later in life, when we’re a little plumper and saggier and a lot less patient? What if it turns out that some of us aren’t even attracted to the prince, but would prefer a princess? What then? What if the princes we like just don’t like us back, but choose other princesses instead?

Do we throw what the Bible says about sex out the window and just have at it with whomever we like? Do we listen to what much of the world teaches about sex, that it’s a necessity, a right, a rite of passage to maturity, or not that big a deal? Do we grow frustrated, bitter toward the church and perhaps even God for not following through on the things we thought we were promised?

When what we are taught about sex as Christian children can be boiled down to “wait until marriage to have sex” even with “because this is how God designed sex and it’s better for you” added on, a lot of us are left flailing around to find our own way. Because, well, it assumes we will get married to some snazzy godly man, and probably sometime between high school and the age of 32. So what about the rest of us? The man who would love to get married, but the women he’s interested in just aren’t into him. The woman who fell in love once or twice, but it was never reciprocated. The man who has never been attracted to women, but yearns for another man. The woman who has no interest in men as anything other than friends. The divorcee, widow, or widower who had a lover they thought would be lifelong, but instead is lost to them. The rather surprisingly large amount of us who just end up waiting a lot longer than we thought we would.

Waiting, as a theology of sex, sucks. It requires a fulfillment at some point for it to work. When one waits, one assumes there will be an end to it. Rather than WAITING for sex we should COMMIT to chastity. And this commitment to chastity should be between us and God. No one else. Other than just being a bit creepy, the whole promise ring to someday be replaced by an engagement ring then wedding ring thing is flawed. This turns our promise for purity into one made to an imaginary future spouse, which brings up the issue mentioned above. If anything, this purity for a future spouse is a mere side effect of the greater beauty. It is good, yes, and is indeed God’s plan for Christian marriage, but it is not the main purpose of chastity.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 shows us that everything, even our very bodies, are meant for the Lord.

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.  “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

We are not our own. We should choose to be chaste because that is what the Lord requires of us, what glorifies him. Because if he truly is the Lord of our lives, that should mean our entire lives. Our relationship with God as single people committed to him so much that we trust him even with our own bodies and desires is beautiful, and so much deeper than purity for the sake of a maybe-someday-possible marriage. When we say to God, “I desire to have sex, to feel that connection with another person, to enjoy that pleasure, but I trust you with everything in my life, even this” we are trusting that he is good and his plans are best. This is just another of many areas in which a single person can practice putting God and his desires for us first, rather than giving in to our own desires. It is not easy. It can hurt, can even break our hearts, but it is the evidence of a true commitment – one to our heavenly father instead of another person. Trusting ourselves in his hands. Celibacy is a beautiful act of worship.

My encouragement to anyone who is single is that you research what the Bible actually has to say about chastity and sexuality because it is a much deeper, more beautiful, more whole theology than the perfunctory teachings of “wait until marriage.” Romans 12:1-2 says, 

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Please don’t think I’m trying to give all the answers to all people regarding this complicated subject in one short post. There is much more to say, and I hope to continue this conversation in the comments, in future blogs, and in personal conversations. I just hope to see generations of single men and women who do not merely wait, but actively choose to worship God in our bodies and with our very desires and dreams. May we trust in God so much that we can sing to him the way the Sons of Korah do in Psalm 84:

“How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of Hosts!
My soul longs, yes,
faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for you
to the living God.
Even the sparrow finds a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars,
O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house,
ever singing your praise!
Selah
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca
they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength;
each one appears before God in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
give ear, O God of Jacob!
Selah
Behold our shield, O God;
look on the face of your anointed!
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper
in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold
from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
blessed is the one who trusts in you!”

Comments

  1. Thanks for this! My understanding of the theology of sex has been growing in the last few years. Sometimes I feel stuck as there is not much out there that is good. I appreciate the flipping of how to commit verses wait and the importance of that difference.

    • I’m glad that came through as it’s a subtle but life changing difference. Let me know if you find any other great sources as you continue to seek understanding in this area!

  2. Thank you for this refreshingly biblical look at a hyper-intimate topic . I am wearied by the unbiblical presentations I have heard recently (and all my life) regarding chastity, sex, and marriage. Have you read Lauren Winner’s REAL SEX? She comes at it from an orthodox (or nearly orthodox) Jewish perspective, but I find real wisdom in her approach as well. Also, kudos for the SLEEPING BEAUTY analysis, painting, and PRINCESS BRIDE meme!

    • I haven’t read it but will add it to my ever-growing list of books to get to when I have time! Glad you enjoyed the references. 😉

  3. Yes, I think we have forgotten a lot of facts about life in general. Not all princesses will meet a Prince Charming. They need not spend time worrying about that. Not all princesses are perfect either. Actually, I don’t think any of them are. Not all princesses can dance and sing, and waltz around like they don’t have a care in the world. Not all princesses fix their problems with a kiss from a boy. Not all of them will find happily ever after. I don’t think any amount of money, castles, boyfriends, or honeymoons can ever do that. I think all of this is true for men too. Not all of them will find their Cinderella. I’m content without finding a princess. While I think all girls are beautiful, I’m committed to the celibate life. By that, I don’t mean I’m committed until I find a wife. I mean I’m committed until I die. That means I’m content to live my life without sex. Like you said, I’m not waiting on anything. I’m living my life, a fulfilled life. I’ve done a lot of things husbands and fathers wouldn’t think of doing. The only kink in the rug is that I’m not a teenager holding a “True Love Waits” sign. I’m not a daddy taking his daughter out to a “daddy/daughter dance” either. How bizarre. I’m approaching 60, but I don’t look at calendars and hardly ever wear a watch. I definitely don’t need a married man on Sunday mornings telling me I need to be married by 23 or I’m “living in sin.” So when it comes to Christian sexuality, I think we need to put down Disney and pick up the Bible. And, as harsh as it sounds, we need to tune out a lot of churches and preachers and theologians of our time. God made us. He knows what is best for us.

    • Thank you for sharing your perspective and a snippet of your experience with us! It is much appreciated. I second the call to pick up the Bible and listen to God.

  4. This was definitely missed in my experience as a single and am excited to redeem my experience by teaching my daughter to commit, not simply wait.
    Thank you!

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