One of the thoughts in our culture right now is the idea of how unfair and hard particular situations are. It’s an interesting time. I think maybe in past generations we sort of pushed down a lot of our feelings of hard. In other words there was a lot less analysis of and concern for our feelings. Part of that was simply the fact that we had less free time, less technology, less ability to see the whole world around us and compare our lives to others.
Whatever the case we are making up for it now. Hard is the new cool. Everyone needs to somehow earn their hard merit badge. I get it. I’m part of it. While there is nothing wrong with acknowledging hard things, I wonder at what point this becomes counterproductive. Fairly quickly I think. It also can be really confusing. I think this is especially true in the church when it comes to sex, marriage and singleness. And I mean the whole church today, not just evangelical culture, but all the different church cultures.
At some point in the last twenty years an idea started that I call the Marriage Is Hard Movement. I think the idea was that we needed to realize that it’s hard, not over romanticize it, and see that it’s not the answer to our problems. It doesn’t complete us as it were. Now there were some good things about this. It’s good to acknowledge that marriage isn’t easy, that it doesn’t solve all of our lack of fulfillment issues. Marriage should not be an idol. Beyond that it was good for married people to be able to be real with each other and with friends that all is not perfect in marriage.
But there have been unintended consequences to this. For one a lot of people talk about it being hard when really their marriage isn’t that hard. Also a lot of people talk about it without actually trying to grow in it. Finally it has made people more afraid of marriage. It seems to me to be counterproductive to tell 20 somethings that marriage is extremely hard when they aren’t getting married as it is.
Lately though, what we’ve seen is a surge in talking about how hard singleness is. The Christian marriage market isn’t what it once was we hear. There are no good Christian men (women) we hear. There’s a whole lot of people who have chosen to delay marriage, waiting for the perfect time or the perfect one or the one God has for them. There are people expecting their Reformed Romance story to happen and it doesn’t. And so they become disillusioned and or desperate. Both of which are bad. And so being 30 and single is hard.
But wait, not to be outdone, having to be celibate is hard. Particularly as we think about those who aren’t called to Celibacy For The Kingdom but are instead celibate because of the fall of man. Whether it be because of past wounds, context of life (think war zone, geography, missionary etc) or being attracted to the same sex, this idea that I would have to go my whole life unmarried, even though I desire that sort of relationship is hard. I’ve heard people talk about the idea that it’s unfair to “condemn” people to celibacy. Or that Celibacy is too big of cross for most to bear. Heck that is the basic reason that the supreme court gave us same sex marriage. Justice Kennedy said that no one should have to be alone – let alone celibate.
For 500 years we protestants have avoided celibacy, even Celibacy For The Kingdom. So now we are in a sort of tough spot. If celibacy is too big of cross to carry or if no one can actually remain celibate (not have sex) then how can we demand of anyone. And yet we also turn around and make people afraid of marriage. Talk about confusing.
We make it even more confusing though. Here is the basic message. Your singleness (regardless of reason) is a gift so you should embrace it. But you should get married because it’s impossible to not have sex. So no one is called to singleness, but marriage is really hard. So singleness is easier. But you shouldn’t be single. But if you are it’s not your fault. But it’s too big a cross to stay that way. But there aren’t enough good christian people to marry.
So basically there is no message!
There are so many things at play here. The idea that we are entitled to have our desires fulfilled. Even as Christians we sort of act like that is the goal . . . even if it’s long term. Also, as stated earlier, we have no history of celibacy outside of the Catholic Church so that sort of creates a mess. Not to mention that our culture tells us that hard is bad and that I should have no bad.
The reality of the Christian life is different.
First we live in a fallen world. Therefore life is hard. It’s not what it was created to be. However life is not bad. It’s a gift. Every single life is a gift. Every single day is a gift. The first question is do you want to be focused on the gift or the hard?
Second, in actual Christian theology hard and good are not opposites. You can have both joy and hardship. That’s part of the point. And part of our witness.
Third, desire fulfillment is not the goal. Holiness is. Instead of allowing the hardness or our context, no matter how hard it is, we are called to obey God. Not only that but if we allow the hardness to press us more into Jesus, then that leads to more holiness. So if I’m married and it’s hard, I lean into Jesus and stay married. If I’m single and desire marriage, I lean into Jesus and trade sexual fulfillment for holiness. If I’m celibate for life because of the fall of man (for any of the above mentioned reasons) then I lean into Jesus. If I’m called to Celibacy For The Kingdom then I embrace that and honor my vow. If I’m divorced or widowed I follow God’s instruction for that.**
The bottom line here is that there is no cross bigger than that of Jesus. No burden greater than His. Jesus acknowledged His cross but he didn’t whine about it, or walk away from holiness. While we won’t do that perfectly, it’s still the answer that we must have. It’s why the road is narrow not wide. Marriage is hard. Singleness is hard. Celibacy for life is hard. All of it can, if we let it, point us to Jesus . . . and Holiness. Which is the goal.
** I haven’t addressed divorce specially here much in the past, but I will address it more soon.