Today I was watching this video on YouTube and was surprised by the very first statement, “I know that the pain of rejection stings.” I immediately responded (yeah, I talk back to YouTube videos all the time), “what if being single is not a rejection but a blessing? What if being married is actually the curse?”
Let’s jump into this and discuss what many in our society and especially in the Christian culture often misunderstand about the states we are called to in this life….
It’s May Not be for Just a Season
In my 20’s and early 30’s I was immersed in the subculture within Christianity known as evangelicalism. Within that group there is this kind of folk theology that is often propagated (let’s be honest, evangelicalism has a lot of these folk theologies) that insists that marriage is God’s natural plan for every believer’s life. Christians are destined to be united with one other individual in marriage and they are to live out the perfect model of Christ and the Church through that earthy union. This is wrapped up nicely in the capitalist culture where clergy can make money off parishioners through officiating weddings and renting out the church grounds, etc. Not to mention, the marriage unit is a much more stable, docile unit compared to the single believer who typically makes much less money and is harder to control over time.
This is even emphasized in this video I watched toward the end when they say, “keep your heads up, brothers, someone is out there for you if you follow God” as if belief in and submission to God somehow automatically qualifies every male Christian to a wife.
This is simply not the case.
The biblical reality is, Paul was quite clear. Marriage is born out of weakness. It was in his time and it is likewise in our own. Marriage is inherently a crutch to be used against sexual immorality because the cold, hard fact is, many (if not most) people cannot live a godly life without compromise as a single individual. As a single you must contend with seasons of loneliness, with moments of feeling lack, as if part of you is missing. Sometimes we are confused about what it is we are supposed to be doing (if anything) for God. Add to this a biological need in many people to procreate and produce offspring and it is no wonder God made the union of marriage in the first place. In fact, there was something inherently “off” with even Adam, before he ever even fell, as God mentions some time after he created the first man, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Ge 2:18). We can tell from what he included in his statement that it was certainly about Adam needing a second half, another person in which he could share his life with and everything that it entails. As a man who has lived much of his life as a single and a celibate I can attest, the temptation to fall into unproductive habits or patterns is quite tempting.
But, this does not mean marriage is necessarily the answer either. In fact, I would argue that it most often is not. Yet, there is still an argument that most probably should at least consider marriage as a more stable, more productive state in their life. After all, Jesus did say, “All cannot accept” the reality of living a celibate life for God. Then again, the disciples were having quite a struggle with the realities of marriage, too.
The real dilemma is the modern evangelical teaching already described: the idea that God has destined everyone with a soulmate and we will find him or her if we are just good enough, or submit ourselves to his will enough or are moral enough. Unfortunately, this is just not how it works. God never actually promises us anything other than eternal life if we believe that God raised him from the dead and confess that he is Lord of our life before men. He does not promise us that our Christian life will be net better than our old lives. In fact, I can attest that my life post-salvation is actually, measurably worse off than when I was a Buddhist. Well, at least when comparing how the world views better or worse. But, God never promises us in the Bible anything about our health or our wealth or that we will be famous or influential. These are status symbols of the sinful world (which evangelical Christianity seems to be married to).
Paul makes it clear that he did not have all the answers: “I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Co 7:7). So it’s pretty clear that both marriage and a celibate life are gifts from God. After all, he created each one of us pre-programmed with a set of works “that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Let’s face it, some people really have no business being married. You know who I’m talking about. We all do. My parents were actually a perfect example. Neither one of them were in any sense of the world ready or capable of getting married and having a healthy relationship with each other (or anyone for that matter) and today, some 40+ years later, their marriage is a dumpster fire of biblical proportions. I remember growing up with them constantly fighting. I remember when I was maybe 11 or 12 begging my mother to leave my father so we could get away from all the oppression and verbal abuse. She stayed (because that’s what their generation did), but it never really helped me or my siblings. We all now have or have had horrible relationships of our own, often repeating the same patterns, finding people very similar to our parents and ending up broken, unable to trust others, and completely dumbfounded by how we got there.
For Christians it should be a different calculus from the beginning. Marriage is not destined. It is not even biblically preferred. Unfortunately, too often, believers mistake the feelings they are having with loneliness or a desire to share their life with someone else as a sign that they should find a marriage partner when, in actuality, it is God preparing you for something else entirely. He might be molding and shaping you for a future of helping other people in their own marriages. It might be giving you those feelings of lack, and loss, and confusion so that you can write a fiction book about it or because he wants you to become a comedian or there might be one co-worker you don’t even know yet that will need to hear a word of encouragement or caution from you (some people can suffer for years or their entire life just for a five minute conversation at the gas pump). We simply do not know what God is necessarily doing in our lives while he is doing it. This is his way of encouraging us to trust him completely.
I can often look back through my life and see his fingerprints all over it. How me moved one individual here or there, how he protected me from that person, how I was tempted but he provided me a way of escape. Some of the craziest things have happened to me over the years that were simply impossible, yet, they came to pass. But, God usually does not tell us what he’s doing when he’s doing it. Sometimes, he opens up a lack in our life for the expressed purpose so he can later fill it.
Are you a single person who is lonely? Maybe God is giving you those feelings, that sense of lack, so that he can later be the one to give you purpose and give you fulfillment. Maybe it has nothing to do with another human being. He might not be calling you to marriage but to a closer, deeper relationship with him.
God also does these kind of things as a means of gently, daringly nudging us out of our comfort zones so we can view the world and our actions and our behaviors differently. There may be something happening in your life that he knows you will be better, healthier, and more like him if you did away with it. Let’s face it, we all have sin lurking in closets of our souls. Maybe we have confessed and asked God to take them from us. Maybe we don’t even realize we have them or that they are even sinful. But sometimes God will give us a nudge and let us know that it’s time to grow.
There is also the chance that this “period” that Christians often mistake as a waiting period before they get married and their life actually begins is really their life already beginning. I never would have dreamed when I was 17 or 18 that I would spend the greatest portion of my life as a celibate Christian. I remember back then all I really wanted from life was to find a beautiful wife, settle down and have a few kids. But, life really did not end up that way. I mean, it still could, right? Thankfully, though, the feelings of lack and loss that I experience in my early 20’s have gone away. Even with the recent shift I’ve experienced (where I think he might be preparing me for a future wife), it is not like when I was younger. That lack is not there. The desperation is not present.
And, I have to say, over the last 13 years as a celibate, they have been some of the best years of my life – especially the last 10. I experienced no desires at all for the comforts of a woman, no longings to come home and find someone waiting for me at the door. In fact, I can remember many nights coming home from work, unlocking my front door and stepping in side, closing the door behind me and I would just stand there in the dark, feeling the emptiness of the house, the silence it screamed from the lack of any other soul present – and I was truly exhilarated by it.
To be honest, I’m really not sure why these other feelings have surfaced. But, I’ve learned over the years to just relax, accept it, and move forward in faith, surrendering my own will (as best I can), fighting my own flesh (the proverbial war – Ro 7:15), and step out with complete trust that whatever God does in me, through me, to me – it will be, ultimately, for my benefit (1 Co 2:9).
It’s Really Doubtful that It’s About You Being Unaccomplished
There seems to also be a misunderstanding that the lack of a spouse has to do with you being unprepared, unaccomplished, or somehow unattractive (i.e. you don’t make enough money, you don’t have physically attractive features, etc).
I disagree with this entirely.
When the shift occurred not long ago and I suddenly (and surprisingly) found myself desiring a wife, I began finding these videos on YouTube from individuals who were talking to men about the modern dating scene and how men can better maneuver through the dating scene and find higher quality matches.
As I watched these videos, every time answers were provided I found myself quite uncomfortable. Some of the advice given was to always be dating multiple women at the same time (because women apparently like this) or always wait until the woman brings up the discussion of long-term relationships, or watch for all these red-flags in women, or the fact that you have to prepare yourself to make money, have a six pack, and do things like snoop through her phone to see if she’s dating other men simply because this is the reality of the dating world today.
Quite frankly, I’m just not interested in that. Maybe I’m horribly wrong and don’t understand the reality of dating or women or even marriage. But I repeatedly came away from these videos saying, “if this is how it is in the modern era I have no interest in dating at all. I would rather be single the rest of my life.”
It’s Only About Your Looks or Wealth if You’re Fishing in the Tepid Pool of Lost Souls
The problem, of course, was the sources I was going to get advice. A Christian should not be getting advice from unsaved men on how they should conduct themselves on dates (or if they should be dating in the first place). After all, no biblical Christian is going to recommend I go through a woman’s phone to snoop on her. They’re also not going to suggest I date multiple women at the same time or that I should use a certain set of women as candidates for short-term relationships.
Not long after I started watching these videos, the thought came to my mind and I switched my search criteria to “single Christians.” Almost immediately, the content, expectations, were utterly different. I could understand what the videos were saying, I could agree with the advice that they were giving. It made so much sense compared to the other videos. Yes, there were quite a few videos that were cringeworthy. You know the kind of people I’m talking about. The ones that exude fakeness. The ones that talk funny, like they jump out of bed every morning and their hair is perfectly combed and not a sinful thought has been found in their head. They are part of the evangelical sub-cultured cult that mixes a little of Christianity with a whole lot of capitalism and success and consumerism and folk theology and ridiculous amounts of positivism.
But there was one person on Youtube that I surprisingly found a great deal of sincerity and support from. Nastasia Grace. I stumbled onto her videos within a few minutes of running that new search and she was a godsend for me. I’ve since watched most of her videos and followed along as she struggled with what she would be doing on YouTube in the first place, talking about the benefits and disappointments of being not just single but a single Christian, and then ultimately how she met her husband and now how they are expecting their first baby.
But, her story, her advice, is so altogether different than what I saw from those first videos from “alpha” type people. And I’m not criticizing them necessarily. I’m just stating the fact that we are just operating on entirely different wavelengths. It’s foolish to try to get advice or understanding from people who think completely differently than you do.
For me, singleness has been a blessing for many years. I had a girlfriend when I became a believer (she claimed to be a Christian but I suspect otherwise). After struggling through a year in a long distance relationship, trying to plan our wedding by phone, we finally ended it (I don’t even remember when we actually called everything off or even who did it). From that moment forward I was a single Christian and that lasted until I was married at 29. After my divorce 5 years later, I have remained single since.
Through all that time, especially after my divorce, I never felt that feeling of loneliness or longing to share my life with someone else. Instead, I felt a satisfaction, a fulfillment within myself, that I was more than enough, that I wasn’t feeling as if part of me was missing or that I wished there was someone there when I was watching my favorite tv show or when I wanted to go for a walk on the beach.
Part of it, I think, was I had experienced enough of the struggles of marriage to know how all too frequently we romanticize relationships way beyond what they could ever possibly conform to in real life. Real marriage is hard. It is often unforgiving and can be hell on earth if you are with the wrong person or even if you are with the “right” person but you are going through a season of doubt or confusion or struggling with something.
Despite these newfound desires I have for a wife (if that’s even what I can call it), that feeling of adequacy in singleness has not disappeared. I’m still perfectly comfortable in my own skin. I’m still more than fine being alone. And I’m still convinced that Paul is ultimately right, “I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.”
Until my next post….
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!