Following Jesus

Chastity

August 17, 2021 by

WiseVirginEmbed
"The Wise Virgin." Artwork by Karl Thylmann.

I love weddings – most of the time. Sometimes they are bittersweet, as was the recent wedding of a classmate of mine. We are both forty-three, and had both assumed we would remain single for life. But God had a different plan for her and I found myself floundering. Will it ever be me who gets married, or will I remain single? Where was the peace I had about the life God has given me?

In my last post I shared some of the challenges of living out the vow of obedience I took as a member of the Bruderhof. As do other religious orders, we take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those who join a celibate order know when they profess their vows that they will never marry. But the Bruderhof is not an order of celibate men or women. Rather, we are a community of families and singles, and chastity – faithfulness to God’s intention for human sexuality – is expressed differently for those who are married and those of us who are single.

When I joined the Bruderhof I struggled long and hard to come to the point where I was ready to remain single for the rest of my life if that was God’s plan. (I was twenty at the time.) As in many churches, there are more women than men in the Bruderhof, so I knew this wasn’t a hypothetical question. Many of us will remain single, not necessarily because we feel a vocation to singleness, but because the opportunity for marriage is not given to us. But at the time of my vows I was ready for any sacrifice God or the church would demand of me, and that fact – that I made my vows having come to terms with this issue – has been a rock to which I have returned countless times.

My twenties were tough; most of my classmates married, and I watched them start families one by one. I went through a period of rebellion where I didn’t care what happened to me because I thought I wasn’t good enough for anyone. If I died, I didn’t think it would matter, and without realizing it I became cold and hard inside, allowing “singleness” to define every aspect of my life.

Fortunately, I found my way through that desert – in fact, it was the outreaching love of both brothers and sisters around me that led me through and out the other side. I remember in particular one young married couple who took time to hear me out, who let me put words to the pain of letting go of what I wanted and allowing my will to retreat and God’s to take over. They in turn offered me words of comfort and hope in the form of a letter that I still treasure.

The road to peace was long and painful. People tell you that if you are lonely or feeling purposeless, you should do something for someone else. But I was tired of hearing things like “fulfillment is found in service to others.” I didn’t want to be fulfilled through busyness (I tried that, and it only left me more discouraged and drained). I wanted the fulfilment I thought would come through marriage and family.

At the time of my vows I was ready for any sacrifice God or the church would demand of me, and that fact – that I made my vows having come to terms with this issue – has been a rock to which I have returned countless times.As my twenties drew to a close and I found myself still single, I wanted for once to feel and understand and have it be a reality to me that the love of Jesus was enough; I wanted to really feel his love for me not as a nebulous thing that I couldn’t get hold of. I wanted a tangible love, and I didn’t see how that was possible with an unseen being. But after the storm it came – that love – and with it, peace. I was not a mistake. The love of Jesus will never fail as human loves often do, and it will take me into the other world when the time comes. No earthly husband can cross over with me, but Jesus can. At the time of this peaceful realization, I wrote this:

As single sisters we must keep seeking to be the bride of Christ. We are promised that Jesus can fill any void. We are promised that a very special love is given to those of us who are single – a love for Jesus that is more complete and undivided than the love of those who are given the gift of marriage. We must believe in this unity with Jesus as our bridegroom, even if we have to ask for it each day. Nowhere else is true and complete fullness of life offered.

That was in 2009. Life has continued, sometimes filling me with inexplicable peace and complete fulfillment, other times leaving me reduced to the same old questions. Like recently. Why am I here? What is my life for? Why have I been denied a life partner? How can I find fulfillment?

I have never felt a vocation for celibacy, and it’s not something I have chosen. The following words were given to me by another single sister, and I love them because they so beautifully express some of my own thoughts:

We who are not committed to you, Jesus, in either a consecrated celibacy or marriage, are coming to renew our covenant with you.
We are still on the road to which you have called us, but whose name you haven’t given us; we are carrying the poverty of not knowing where you are leading us.
On this road there is the pain of not being chosen, not being loved, not being waited for, not being touched . . . We don’t belong. Our house is not a home; we have nowhere to lay our head.
Even though we have become impatient and depressed . . . we still say “yes” to our road . . . Because our hearts are poor and empty, they are available. We make them a place of welcome for our brothers. Because our hearts are poor and empty, they are wounded.
We let the cry of our thirst rise to you.
And we thank you, Lord, for the road you have chosen for us.
— Anonymous

Thankfulness. That’s something my dad always reminds me of when I have difficult days. There is always something to be thankful for, and if your heart is thankful then burdens are easier to bear. But back to my point – can a single live a celibate and fulfilled life even in a community of families where everything we do caters to family life? Short answer, yes. Long answer – well, you’re reading at least a bit of it.

I feel so blessed to live where I do, in an environment of community and love where it is expressly important that each person is placed where they feel fulfilled and valued. And when I stop to think, I wonder at how we are God’s instruments in ways we don’t even know. Some younger women who now have families of their own have reminded me of conversations we had when they were trying to discern their calling. Unbeknownst to me, what I said to them helped or encouraged them. For the most part I don’t even remember the particular moments, but I thank God that he allowed me to be a small instrument in his hands. My good friend Dr. Alice von Hildebrand often speaks of “spiritual motherhood,” a motherhood that is open to every woman regardless of marital status. Be a spiritual mother!

Another thing that has helped me is the realization that this life is temporary. This is not a morbid thought! Rather, it helps put the difficulties of life back in proportion, knowing that in eternity every tear will be dried and every longing fulfilled. I am only here for a brief time and the life I have here will remain on earth when my sojourn here ends. No husband, no children, no one will be with me when I stand before God, and somehow that knowledge helps me keep things in perspective.

And of course there are friends. Society puts so much emphasis on the importance of a romantic partner that it can be easy to think of a husband as the answer to my need for companionship, that he would always be there, would always understand. But you don’t have to look too far to see that not every marriage turns out the way the partners thought it would, and perhaps you won’t find the soulmate you so deeply long for in marriage. Yet look around you. You are loved. There are people who care about you and who will pick you up when you fall. It’s just that they don’t necessarily come in the form you were expecting.

Others’ crosses always look easier to bear; I think that’s part of human nature. For the most part I don’t like to think of my singleness as a cross, but sometimes it does feel like one, and on the hard days (or weeks or months) I must pick up my cross and carry it. On the easy days, it carries me, and I realize that I am fulfilled and that God has given me a wonderful life that I wouldn’t trade with anyone.

VivEmbedVivian and Valerie at a Wild West photo booth. Photo courtesy of author.

I didn’t choose celibacy, but through the grace of God I have learned to see the blessing in it. There are times when the lack of a soulmate is deeply painful and I feel completely alone. But more often I see the gift that I have been given – that I am available to care for the sick or infirm, and thus have formed friendships with people like Valerie, an older single sister in our community whom I have been privileged to care for these past three years. I have travelled the world. I have been given responsibilities in the church that a married woman, fettered by the duties of family life, would be unable to carry out. I won’t deny there are seasons when I lose the plot and turn in on my own loneliness, but then I turn to those around me, share the burden, pick up the pieces and decide to count my blessings.

In the end, we are promised the most glorious wedding feast of all.

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About the author

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren

Vivian Warren lives at The Mount Community, where she cares for the elderly and works in the community kitchen.

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