When Less Is More
– by Dave Quintana
What are the challenges and rewards of intentionally remaining single?
True confessions. I recently turned fifty. I can no longer pretend that I am prematurely gray. When I wake up in the morning and something hurts, it is now a good sign – I am still alive… My routine in the morning often looks a little something like this: Get up. Stretch out the joints. Head for a run. Take time to pray. Board a plane. Get into conversation with the person beside me. Tell them I travel a lot in my work with young adults and professionals.
At this point, I can see them trying to place me in their register: Who is this guy? We tend to chat around the issue for a while before they take the plunge, “So, what exactly is your work? Are you a minister?” “Well,” I reply, “not exactly.” As I share about my call from God and my desire to live for him with all of my life for the rest of my life they ask, “Are you a priest?” “Well,” I reply, “not exactly.” As I see them struggling to construct a box to fit me in, I take the opportunity to share with them something at the core of my life. I am single, on purpose. I plan to stay that way, for the Lord and for others. Forever. Our conversation often takes a deeper turn; sometimes I think I unsettle people, or sometimes I think people find me unsettling…
In this article I would like to present the single life as something more, not less. I would like to present the positive choice to remain single as a “state in life” and a question for serious consideration. Of course, there is much discussion about the challenges of single Christians, but my conviction is that the Lord is renewing a call to intentional singleness in our day. In an age largely focused on sex, money, and power, I would argue that biblical celibacy has profound witnessing power.
Celibacy, or intentional singleness, is a call (or vocation) which the Lord wants to renew in our day. If God’s plan for most people is marriage and family life, and if that is a good thing (remember Genesis 2:18 “it is not good for the man to be alone”), then why might God want men or women to live single?
So, why live single?
Firstly, let us note that in Matthew 19 and Luke 20, Jesus explicitly connects the single life to the kingdom of heaven. Celibacy will be part of the “new order of society,” the “new creation” he brings into this world. Secondly, for Jesus (and Paul), the call to remain single is fundamentally a discipleship issue. I do not see the disciple being called to leave behind “everything, but…” In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul encourages those who are single to seriously consider remaining that way, for the sake of “undivided devotion to the Lord.” This advice, though challenging, is good. When asked why I am single, I respond that it is for the Lord and for his kingdom – to be free and available for the love and service of God and others.
I want to live a life of prayer and consecration to the Lord. While a married man can live this type of life (and there are stellar examples of those who do and did), the single man has a few advantages. In the Old Testament the Levites were not given any portion of the promised land. It was the Lord himself who was to be their portion. So I believe that in a special way, those living single for the Lord can have a particular relationship with him, and be satisfied with the Lord himself as their portion (see Psalm 16). This is the spirit of Theresa of Avila, a single, consecrated woman in the 16th century who said, “Solo Dios basta” (God alone is enough).
As well as living for God, remaining single helps me to live my life for others. I have a freedom to love others, generously and without partiality. As a single man, I am free to be “a member of every family, yet belonging to none.” I don’t need to focus my affections on one woman, or one set of young people (my own children). I can love generously and impartially. This was first made real to me as I met men from the Servants of the Word brotherhood while I was at university. Living single for the Lord, following a rule of life and rhythm of prayer, doing campus outreach from their “urban monasteries” – I found the life of these men both “the furthest thing from my mind” and “intriguingly attractive.” I tried it on, and it fit.
How do I know if it’s my call?
Once people have got over the initial shock, a question which arises with amazing frequency is, “How do I know if it’s my call?” Firstly, let me say a few things about this (or any) call. It is not easy and it takes some serious discerning over a long period of time. It is not as simple as a lightning bolt from heaven or the lack of sexual desire!
A true call tends to be a combination of factors, all of which grow over time. A sense of “hearing” from God that this is a good and right way for you to respond to the Lord as his disciple. The conviction that comes from the Bible that this is a way God invites people to live for him. The confirmation and affirmation of those who know you and your character, and the grace and blessing that come to all who live in the way that God has designed them. Of course, one of the great advantages of the single life is that one can “try it on for size.” This is a little harder to do with marriage…
Over the years I have worked with many young people to help them discern whether they might best live single or married for the Lord. Whoever the person, whatever their background, here are my key recommendations for those who want to seriously consider the single life.
- First, offer your life to God. Every area, your sexuality and your “state in life” included. As they say, “if he is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.”
- Talk to someone (a trusted counselor or church leader) who knows you well and who could have some perspective for you on how you might best live your life for the Lord.
- Do some reading – there is a lot of wisdom out there that can help you consider the many different questions and issues involved.
- Consider having some contact with others who live this type of life.
- Trust the Lord. He knows what is best for you; he knows what you are created for. His plans are always for good – even if they are far, far different than what we might at first prefer.
Dreams and aspirations
As a young man I had many dreams and aspirations for my life which I now find hard to reconcile with how I live today. I can honestly say, however, that none of my dreams featured the peace and contentment, beauty and gratitude I experience in the life of single devotion to God that he has called me to live and that I have chosen. The words of Psalm 16:5-6 have become a living reality for me, “You have assigned me my portion and my cup… The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places…”
To say that it has always been easy and fun would of course be untrue, but the experience of Paul in Philippians 3:8 rings true with me, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…” I have learned the secret of godliness with contentment. So for me, less is more.
Some recommended reading
Thoughts on a Single Life by John Wesley
Virginity: A Positive Approach to Celibacy for the Sake of the Kingdom of Heaven by Raneiro Cantalamessa
A Biblical Theology of Singleness by Barry Danylak
Seven Silver Rings by Julia Faire
Celibacy for our Times by Yves Raguin
Dave Quintana is an elder of the Servants of the Word, a missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord. He is also a regional coordinator for the Sword of the Spirit in Europe and the Middle East. He lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
This article is from Living Bulwark, used with permission. It was originally published in Eagles VantagePoint Magazine, Setember/October 2009. Used with permission.